For animal lovers who adopt and foster senior dogs and cats, the rewards can be immeasurable. Frequently overlooked, these animals often gain a new lease on life and return the gift of a home with the gift of their hearts.
“People who adopt senior animals receive unconditional love and companionship. They get to help a dog or cat flourish at the end of their years, and these animals are always grateful,” said Kate Fields, CEO of the Humane Society of Greater Kansas City.
Founded in 1912, the society was the first no-kill shelter in the metro. Today, its outreach and partnerships extend across the nation — and touch the lives of thousands of animals each year, including many senior animals.
“We give seniors a second chance, and they play an especially big part in our hearts,” said Fields.
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Like the Humane Society, Great Plains SPCA in Merriam is also dedicated to rescuing and serving senior animals.
SPCA’s CEO, Tam Singer, agrees that the benefits of senior caregiving reach wide and deep for both people and the animals.
“It’s joyful to see the compassion of those who give senior animals some golden retirement years,” she said. “Though the animals’ lives can be shorter, I see people cherish every moment they have with these pets.”
Dogs and cats are defined as “senior” based on several factors, including age, breed and health conditions, and there are many circumstances that bring these animals to shelter or rescue groups.
They can come in as stray or abandoned. They may have behavioral or medical issues, as well as related expenses for which owners do not have resources. Some are surrendered by people relocating to new living situations where animals are not permitted. In other instances, owners have died. Sometimes, cruelty is involved.
“Four years ago, I saw someone open their car door and throw a tiny senior poodle into the middle of the road,” Fields said. “Lambie, who has eye and other medical issues, was taken into a foster home by Pat Rankin, one of our volunteers. That dog is a having a great end of life that’s now lasted four years.”
Like Rankin of Overland Park, many people across the metro open their homes to foster senior animals.
From short-term to long-term hospice needs, the fostering community is key for these animals. As with other shelter and rescue groups, the Humane Society and Great Plains rely on networks of foster families to assist in their care of seniors until they find their forever homes.
In October, Douglas and Cheryl Cramer fostered two senior Labradors that belonged to a veteran who died.
“We saw a great need for foster homes and wanted to help rescue dogs in desperate situations,” Cheryl said. “We just want to make their retirement years the best.”
Animals with medical conditions, or those requiring hospice care, make up some of the greatest fostering needs.
“Dogs and cats can live for years, even when they’re ill,” Singer said. “Animals ready for hospice, or having been told they don’t have long to live, can live for years when they go to their forever home.
“Hospice can help animals transition at the end of their life and even give them a new spring in their step during their final days. Until we get an animal out of the shelter, we don’t know who they are. They don’t get to shine as bright in the shelter, even a great shelter, because it’s a stressful environment. When they have a home, there can be a return of joy and health.”
For those who might find the brevity of a senior animal’s life too much to bear, Tam suggests looking at the experience through another pair of lenses.
“Senior dogs and cats still need families and companionship. Don’t look past them in their golden years, but view that commitment in a whole different light,” she said. “You’re providing a nice retirement for them.”
Adopting a senior pet
Many shelters, including the Humane Society of Greater Kansas City and Great Plains SPCA, waive or reduce adoption fees for senior animals. These two groups also provide free medical care and medication for animals in foster care. The Humane Society waives pet adoption fees for veterans, regardless of the animal’s age.