Special Needs and Senior Dogs Rock: They, Too, Need Love

Rocky’s humans wanted him “put down” because he was too old, but a shelter said “no”

We believe that our aging, disabled, and injured pets are family and deserve to live happy healthy lives.

“Despite his issues from his past life, though, all Rocky really wanted was love and attention, something he’d never been given during his first 10 years of life.”

In a previous essay called “Hospice For Dogs: Let Them Have Whatever They Want and Love” I stressed that we must do the very best we can for the nonhuman animals (animals) who depend on us for our goodwill and for having their best interests in mind. I focused on dogs, noting that our obligation to do all we can for them applies to individuals of all ages. In response to this essay I received a number of very supportive emails, including one from Lisa Murray, Marketing and Public Relations Director for Walkin’ Pets, in which she wrote, “I too went against my vet’s advice and gave my 14 year-old dog everything in the world she wanted to eat — and she lived 10 months beyond my vet’s dire predictions!”

Source: Lisa Murray, Walkin’ Pets

A few other people asked me what I thought about animals who didn’t need hospice, but rather were living compromised lives because they were aging, disabled, or injured. And, just as I was beginning to outline this brief essay, I came across an article by Caitlin Jill Anders titled “Family Asks Shelter To Put Down Dog For Being ‘Too Old’” that sickened me. Ms. Anders’ piece is about a dog named Rocky and it began, “After living his entire life with the same family, Rocky was brought to a big public shelter in Texas, and his family told the shelter it was because he was ‘too old.’ Before they left, they even asked the staff at the shelter to put Rocky down — but the shelter staff could see that Rocky still had so much life left in him, and refused to fulfill that request…Despite his issues from his past life, though, all Rocky really wanted was love and attention, something he’d never been given during his first 10 years of life.” Sadly, senior dogs over seven years of age are often the highest-risk group at shelters

Ms. Murray’s note piqued my interest in dogs who don’t need hospice, but rather are living compromised lives for any number of reasons, including neglect — aka abuse — by their humans that was experienced by Rocky. So, I visited the website for HandicappedPets.com whose leader reads, “We believe that our aging, disabled, and injured pets are family and deserve to live happy healthy lives,” and I was stilled and got slightly teary. I knew that products were available for dogs living compromised lives, but I didn’t know the scope of what is readily available for dogs suffering from all sorts of conditions. I then went to their blog where I read essays titled “Finding a Path to Adopting Special Needs Dogs,” “Beautiful Bonds Between Disabled Dogs and Their Humans,” “Happiness Found in Adopting the Harder-to-Adopt Dogs,” and “A Heart for Disabled and Senior Dogs.” I can’t say anything more than to strongly encourage you to go there and read these and other pieces.

Ms. Murray also suggested that I look at a music video called “TO THE PETS” the description of which is “Just a bunch of pets having fun with some Walkin’ Pets folks who help pets get rollin’!” Not only do I highly recommend that you also watch this video and share it widely, but I can’t imagine that you won’t laugh and cry when you see these dogs living the dream. 

Jack, a blind dog who was adopted when he was 13-years old

After reading these essays and watching the video, I thought about the time I met an old dog who was clearly totally blind. Jack lumbered along with his nose to the ground and occasionally bumped into things. I smiled because he seemed to be having a good old time, tail wagging wildly whenever he came upon an appealing scent. I assumed Jack and his human had been together a long time, but when I talked with the woman who was with him, I learned she had adopted him when he was thirteen years old and already completely blind. Jack had been given only a month or two to live because of bone cancer, and here he was, two years later and fifteen years old, still alive and one happy dog being. His human said he had an “awesome disposition” and always seemed content; he was always “polite with other dogs and humans.” I still think about Jack often, along with the woman who selflessly took him in and increased his quality of life when she thought he only had a month or two to live. A good lesson for Rocky’s humans and others who give up on dogs with compromised lives. 

I also thought a wonderful PBS documentary called “My Bionic Pet.” in which you can meet different animals, including dogs, a pig, an alligator, and a swan, who “have met with misfortune, whether from a birth defect, accident, disease or even human cruelty, [and] are now getting a second chance at life due to human intervention and technological advances.”

Special Needs and Senior Dogs Rock

Clearly, when we choose to share our homes and our hearts with another animal, we are obliged to do all we can to give them the best lives we can regardless or whether they are healthy or not (please also see “My Old Dog: Rescued Seniors Show that Old Dogs Rock” for an interview with the authors of My Old Dog: Rescued Pets with Remarkable Second Acts and “Older Dogs: Giving Elder Canines Lots of Love and Good Lives” for an interview with Jane Sobel Klonsky, author of Unconditional: Older Dogs, Deeper Love). 

The hearts of our companion animals, like our own hearts, are fragile, so we must be mindfully gentle with them. We can never be too nice or too generous with our love for our dear and trusting companions, who are so deeply pure of heart. When we betray our companion’s trust and take advantage of their innocence, our actions are ethically indefensible. These actions make us less than human and are simply wrong. 

Special needs and senior dogs are special beings and can be full of life. They also can bring us so much love. I hope that stories such as Rocky’s become far less frequent as people realize that not only do they have a cradle-to-grave obligation to give the dogs for whom they became responsible the best lives possible, but also that giving up on dogs with compromised lives is the wrong thing to do and sets a horrific example for other people, including youngsters. We are their lifelines and they are totally dependent on us for their well-being. That’s simply how it is when we offer them a place to live. They need to feel safe and loved and we need to do all we can for them. 

We are most fortunate to have dogs in our lives, and we must work for the day when all dogs are most fortunate to have us in their lives. In the long run, we’ll all be better for it.



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