Pet Connection: Old dogs, new lives

My heart breaks every day when I look at my Facebook feed and see posts about older dogs in shelters. They look sad, scared, hopeful and confused. I wonder by what misstep of fate they were separated from or given up by their families.

And I wonder why more people don’t adopt seniors.

My own experience in adopting a 13-year-old dog has, two and a half years down the road, been nothing but wonderful. Luckily for seniors in shelters, award-winning journalist Laura T. Coffey, ably partnered by photographer Lori Fusaro, has gathered the stories and photographs of 19 golden oldies – and the people who love them – in the new book “My Old Dog: Rescued Pets With Remarkable Second Acts.”

Released just in time for Adopt-a-Senior-Pet month, it’s a remarkable and heartwarming collection of aging dogs, lost or thrown away, who find second chances with people who look beneath their gray muzzles and slower steps to the loving heart inside.

There’s Fiona, who was 15 with mammary tumors when Rita Earl found her at a West Los Angeles shelter. Earl took Fiona in as a hospice dog, thinking she had little time left. But with TLC and home-cooked meals, Fiona blossomed. Now she loves to barrel down stairs, play with Earl and her other two dogs, and dance when she’s happy, which is most of the time. “She makes my heart burst when she looks up at me with that gray face, full of love,” Earl says.

Jimmy Chee, an 11-year-old retired racing greyhound, was returned by adopters three times through no fault of his own. He found his forever home with Bob Fitzgerald, who had suffered debilitating health problems and spent long, lonely hours at home. Fitzgerald worried at first about Jimmy’s age, but changed his mind: “This is a cool dog. He deserves to have enjoyment in life and relaxation and to be treated like a little king. He has a wonderful personality, and his age doesn’t make any difference to me.”

Advancing age caused Cullen, 9, to have to retire from his job as a service dog for Kristie Baker. Baker didn’t want to give him up, but she knew he would have to play second fiddle to a new service dog. Her friend Jeannie Curtin adopted Cullen, and now he enjoys a second career as a therapy dog who makes weekly visits to a children’s hospital. “My Old Dog” is more than sweet stories and photos. It shares information about rescue groups that specialize in seniors, such as the Grey Muzzle Organization, Old Dog Haven and Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary.

It discusses the most common health problems seen in older dogs – bladder stones and dental disease – both of which are treatable, as well as ways people can help oldsters, even if they’re not in a position to adopt. And it explores the phenomenon of pet-friendly senior communities and assisted living and nursing facilities, which are often good landing spots for senior dogs.

Coffey is passionate about the benefits of adopting an older dog – “They’re calm, mellow, sweet, loveable, and they’re usually already house trained” – but she also recognizes that senior adoptions can come with a tinge of sadness because people can expect fewer years with the dog (and let’s not leave out cats).

“We always want our dogs to live longer,” she says. “But when you go out of your way to help an older dog who has run out of options, you get so much in return: affection, gratitude, unconditional love and so many happy memories.”

The buzz

A one-eyed Chihuahua named Harley, grizzled from age, was named American Hero Dog on national television last week. The award, given by the American Humane Association, honored the 14-year-old dog for his journey of physical and emotional healing after spending the first 10 years of his life in a small cage at a puppy mill, with health problems including a diseased heart, rotten teeth, a fused spine, a broken tail and deformed legs.

After adopting him, Rudi and Dan Taylor of Berthoud, Colo., were inspired to start a campaign called “Harley to the Rescue.” The funds raised have saved and provided medical care for more than 500 puppy-mill dogs over the past two years. Harley goes on rescue missions, helping to calm sad, scared dogs, and makes public appearances to educate people about puppy mills.

Dr. Marty Becker

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton, author of many pet-care books. The two are affiliated with