Shep was 9 years old when the world as he knew it suddenly ended. The owner he’d known all his life was gone, and he was left in the unwilling care of an ex-girlfriend. The pound would have been the next, and no doubt final, stop in his life if we had not been able to take him into our rescue. Almost a year went by. He passed his tenth birthday. And then he met Kara. By Halloween Shep was cuddled up with her, watching scary movies, no doubt assuring her that he would protect her from all harm.


Charlie came to us via a call from the hospital. A lady had been brought into the emergency room and her dog had been left behind in an apartment 24 hours earlier. Charlie was frightened and confused when we got to him, but ready to trust people. We later learned that he was 9 years old and had been with the current owner for the last five.


It took a little less time, just ten weeks, to find a good home for Charlie. I admit that this time I didn’t mention his age on the website. Brittany called when she saw his beautiful face and read his description. She was disappointed to learn he was not younger, but she wanted to meet him anyway. They had lost an old dog recently and wanted to feel they had many years ahead with their next dog. As she petted Charlie, she said, “If I had known that we would only have Cody for four years…  I would have adopted him anyway.” I knew that Charlie had just found someone to love.


Shep and Charlie would not have done well in a shelter. “Nine years old” is practically a death sentence. There are people who want puppies and those who prefer young adults 1 to 2 years old. Ages 2 to 5 is less popular, but still okay. After age 5, the number of potential adopters drops off fast.


Very few dogs who have 9 or 10 years old written on their kennel card will get out alive, even though they apparently are in good health and condition. Often these dogs were someone’s well-loved companion. The person may have died or been put in a nursing home, and the family has dumped the dog with no more feeling than for the old clothes they dropped off at the thrift store. He may have been cared for, fed (often too much), had regular vet check-ups, be in good health and really very adoptable. The dog has loved and been loved, and can do it again if given the chance. Individual genes, plus the kind of life one has led, affect the expected lifespan of dogs and humans alike. My personal experience has been that the mature years can be the most enjoyable of all—still fun, but more sensible.


A few days ago, I met with Charlie, Brittany, and her mom Kim, and later with Shep and Kara. Their situations are surprisingly similar: two young ladies, living at home, working and going to school. Both Kara and Brittany mentioned some of the same advantages of having a mature dog. They are more about loving than playing. They are happy to be with you while you study and don’t demand the attention a younger dog would. They enjoy going for walks with you, but won’t be wild if you miss a day. In their busy lives these young women find their dogs to be calming.


In his earlier life, Shep was always outside and alone for long periods. Now he is an “inside” dog. He often goes to work with Kara or stays home with other family members. Charlie is adjusting to his new family and stays as close as he can to both Kim and Brittany. He enjoys walks with his family, something he never had with the senior people who were his former owners.


Both Brittany and Kara recommend adopting older dogs. Kara says that Shep is the best dog she has ever had, and she feels like he has always been her dog. “He was never a stranger.” Fortunately, everyone we know who has adopted a so-called “older dog” shares this experience. Age, like breed, is part of who an animal is, but if we can learn to see each one as an individual, we will open ourselves up to ever more wonderful relationships with them.


Photographer Joyce Fay founded Bro & Tracy Animal Welfare in 2000, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping individual animals get the right homes. The intention of this column is to share some of those stories.