Senior pets are among the highest risk animals at shelters, but they can be perfect companions for many people
By Kim Campbell Thornton
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."
Don't bug out if
your cat eats insects
Q: My cat likes to catch and eat bugs. Can they make her sick? -- via Facebook
A: Cats do love to stalk bugs. Anything that flies, hops or crawls -- flies, moths, beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, spiders -- catches their attention and activates their hunting instincts. According to feline nutrition expert Deborah Greco, DVM, insects make up a third of the diet of small wildcats and are popular with domestic cats as well.
We can see how you might be concerned, though. Bugs are popular snack items in some cultures, but for many of us, it's hard to overcome the ick factor. As far as whether bugs can make your cat sick, the answer is: It depends.
In most cases, crunching a few bugs isn't going to do your cat any harm. Think of them as the feline equivalent of potato chips. As always, however, there can be exceptions.
Stink bugs, for instance, may exude a nasty-tasting liquid when bitten. (We know this because humans have reported accidentally biting into them.) It's not necessarily poisonous, but it can cause drooling or vomiting or irritate your cat's digestive tract.
If spiders such as black widows or brown recluses bite back, their venom can cause serious illness or death. Bees or wasps may sting the mouth. Seemingly harmless ladybugs (Asian lady beetles) can cause chemical burns in a pet's mouth or digestive tract. Lightning bugs, also known as fireflies, produce chemicals that give them a bitter taste and may cause your cat digestive upset. Certain caterpillars are highly toxic or are protected by painful spines or stinging hairs. As with plants, the most colorful insects are most likely to be toxic.
Bugs can carry parasites. Cats can get stomach worms from eating beetles, cockroaches and crickets. That's one good reason to give your cat a parasite preventive year-round. And if bugs have been poisoned by insecticides and are then eaten in large numbers by your cat, he could become sick.
Otherwise, just think of insects as an additional source of protein for your little carnivore. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton
Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
top hero dog
-- 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, Colorado, 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.
-- The love of a cat can save a life. A man who was threatening to jump from the third-story ledge of a building in San Francisco reconsidered after a relative brought his cat, Trip, to the scene. We don't know what the orange-and-white tabby said to him, but the situation ended with the man being talked off the ledge and taken into custody. Relatives are caring for Trip. San Francisco Police Department spokeswoman Grace Gatpandan tweeted, "Never underestimate the power of an owner's love for their pet #kitten."
-- New pain management guidelines from the American Animal Hospital Association and the American Association of Feline Practitioners note that some alternative therapies should now be considered "mainstream options." They include therapeutic laser, weight management, exercise and acupuncture. Released earlier this year, the guidelines also added a section on feline degenerative joint disease, recognizing increased awareness of the painful condition in cats. Pain relief improves recovery time from illness, injury or surgery and enhances quality of life. Learn more at catvets.com/guidelines. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.
CAPTIONS AND CREDITS
Caption 01: A book about secondhand seniors highlights the special love an old dog can give -- and receive. Position: Main Story
Caption 02: Actor George Clooney fell hard for an aging cocker spaniel with a snack habit. Position: Main Story
Caption 03: American Hero Dogs are chosen through a combination of votes by the public and votes by a panel of animal advocates and celebrity judges. Position: Pet Buzz/Item 1