The Greying of Rescue
(aging owners, aging rescuers, aging adopters)
The human demographic shift to a population with a higher percentage of older people is having many effects on dog rescue.
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The human demographic shift to a population with a higher percentage of older people is having many effects on dog rescue. Rescue is getting in more dogs who need new homes because owners have become disabled or have died. Those of us working in Rescue are getting older and some of us are becoming less able, disabled, or dead. However the good news is that the increased pool of retirement age adopters offers oppertunity for dogs.
Although I speak of dogs in this article, it's equally applicable to cats, horses, and other pets. Probably especially applicable to long lived pets such as parrots and horses.
Rescue is getting more intakes that are due to owner disability or death. I'm including in the "disability" category those owners who are being consigned to some kind of "assisted living" or "care" facility , what I think of as "health prison", where their pets are not allowed.
In the last couple of years I've had at least two intake situations where the owner had died and the death discovered some days later. In the first case, it took authorities a week to track down the nearest relative, an ex-wife, who could give permission for the dog to be transferred to rescue. In the second case, two dogs were left orphaned, taken to the shelter in "protective custody", then transferred to rescue. I've also had two cases where the owner had become disabled to the extent of no longer being able to live independently, thus taken to some kind of long term health care facility where the dog was not allowed.
(Update : early Dec, 2016 : another owner death case with kind neighbor going over to the house to give care to dog. I was working on recruiting foster home or adopter, but then one of the sons decided he wanted the dog. )
Other rescue people report similar cases. Sometimes a kind neighbor provides interim care until a rescue situation or adoption can be arranged. Other times the dogs land in a shelter and may be at serious risk of being deemed "unadoptable" due to age or health or neglected condition.
These are all cases where there is no family member or friend of the owner who is willing to "inherit" or adopt the dogs. Cases where the owner has not made arrangements for the dog's care under this kind of circumstance.
These dogs are usually middle aged or senior and are usually dogs who are well behaved and who have been decently cared for for most of their lives. They are thus really wonderful adoption candidates for anyone who can appreciate the benefits of a mature dog.. Adopters who are themselves middle aged or senior are the most likely to appreciate these dogs The population of potential adopters is greying too, so there are more adoption applicants in those retired years, children (if any) grown and flown. That's a very good situation for a dog to be adopted into.(More on the topic of adopters below in its own section.)
Often due to a preceding period of owner ill health, the dogs are quite over-weight due to reduced exercise without compensating diet adjustment. Obesity is easily cured during fostering or after adoption : less food plus more exercise. Often the dogs have not been kept up on grooming, arrive matted, but this too is easily cured. When the owner is dead or otherwise uncommunicative, it can be hard to obtain vet records on the dog, also hard to obtain a behavior history. Sometimes a relative is able to search through the owner's records to find the vet's identity and other records. Sometimes a relative or friend or neighbor can supply behavior history. Sometimes phoning all the local vet clinics might get a hit. (Vet -client confidentiality should not be an obstacle when the client is dead.)
There's a cadre of very experienced rescue people, but they too are getting old. Some of our best people have died. Others just are not able to do as much, sometimes for reasons of health, sometimes because of diminished finances, sometimes because of re-location to homes less able to accommodate extra dogs. For those living in urban areas, zoning restrictions on numbers of pets allowed has further limited rescue accomodations.
Rescue needs to keep recruiting new participants. While the most critical need is always for foster homes, participation can begin with shorter term and easier jobs. I've been getting various people to do some of the shelter pick-up and transportation chores since I find longer distance driving to be more difficult (and my car is really old). That's a one-time chore that's easy to do.. If the transport person can spare me the time to help me take the dog for its first walk , one of us walking new dog and other walking one or more of my resident dogs, that's helpful to me and good experience for the helper. If I can get someone to do that first few days or week of foster care is a wonderful introduction for them. Asking one of my previous adopters to do a home check or to help a new adopter with simple training is another way.
(I personally find it difficult to ask others for help. I have to keep reminding myself of the prophet (and Nobel Prize in Literature winner) Dylan's advice "may you always do for others and let others do for you". All too aware that I am "older than I once was" and hoping I'm still "younger than I'll be".)
The population of potential adopters is greying too, so there are more adoption applicants in those retired or semi-retired years. That's a very good situation for a dog to be adopted into.
These adopters usually have had , loved, and lost several previous dogs. So they have experience and relatively reasonable expectations. They are home more than most younger people, ie those whose job takes them away from home for 9 to 5 plus commute time. They have time for walks and play. They can appreciate the more mellow nature of a dog who is middle aged or senior , and they can empathize with the lower energy level and physical limitations and are willing to help the dog with such issues. They understand that as one ages, good preventive medical care and wellness visits become important, as well as remedial care when problems occur. They understand that "old age is not a disease" and that remaining time can be very sweet and precious.
Their children (if any) grown and flown, though grandchildren may visit more or less often. While rescue people don't talk about this much except to each other , most of us know that the presence of children, expecially young ones, as residents in the home can create a risk factor for the dogs in the home. Studies of risk factorrs for relinquishment to shelters have found that the presence of a child or children in the home doubles or triples the risk that the dog gets dumped. We know that if parents don't vigilantly supervise and educate children in their interactions with dogs, the children can easily behave in ways that provoke the dog to growl or worse. Usually not malice on the part of the child, and very rarely any bad nature on the part of the dog. But the dog loses his home and quite possibly loses his life. Even without such an incident, the children take up a lot of parental time and energy and financial resources, leaving the dog at the tail end of the line for these. All too often a dog comes into rescue because the owner has recently birthed an additional child, creating an overload.
Visiting grandchildren are usually not a problem. I always tell adopters that if those kids are not vigilantly supervised or if there's any friction between visiting kid and resident dog, the dog can go into the safe haven of a crate or a bedroom with door closed. (That's also a prudent plan when a lot of guests are present, especially at holidays. Or when one adult guest is afraid of dogs or dislikes them.)
I said that in a very shocking way to focus your attention. I sometimes call this "the Sergei Grinkov lecture" , referring to the two time Olympic Gold medalist in Pairs Figure Skating who dropped dead on the ice at age 28.
The reality is that none of us is guarranteed any given period of survival. We all could die in a car accident tomorrow, or die in any number of other ways. Even though you are in perfect health as you read this, your precious dog could outlive you , be orphaned, and need to be spared the risks of being taken to the Pound.
It's imperative that instructions on who will take immediate custody and short (or long) term care of your dogs and other animals be available where it's dead easy for anyone coming into your home to find them. My own emergency instructions are posted on a bulletin board next to my landline phone and also next to my refrigerator. Those two places seem to me to be ones where anyone coming into my home could easily find them.
It would also make sense to keep this information on your person. Keep a copy in your purse or backpack or waist pouch. Perhaps this file and your medical file could be on a tiny flash drive carried in a wrist strap when you go jogging or horseback riding.. I confess that I haven't done this beyond having emergency phone numbers in my purse.
The other provisions that need to be made are for long term care or adoption. You need to discusss this way way ahead of time with family and friends who are potential "inheritors" or adopters of your pets. Those provisions should be in your Will, ideally in the form of setting up a Pet Care Trust. All 50 states now recognize these. To discuss this topic goes beyond the scope of this article. The help of an attorney with experience in Pet Trusts is advised, especially if you will be leaving substantial financial assets.