Volunteer Hope Gentle checks in on animals at the LifeLine Shelter. All photos SPECIAL.

Older Pets Find Homes with Seniors

Shelters see it all the time. The typical person looking to adopt a pet will pass by older animals in search of a puppy or a kitten.

Cumming resident Skeet Wright has seen that for herself.

Miss Penny

“You go and look at these animals and your heart just breaks. No one wants a senior animal. They’re all just looking for the younger dogs,” Wright said.

She’d had a dog before and didn’t want to go through the puppy stage again. “I just thought … let me find one that I can give the best years to,” she said.

She and her husband, Les, last summer adopted a 7-year-old dog whose teeth were in such bad shape that PAWS Atlanta had to remove all but three of them before releasing her for adoption to her new family. The dog was also prescribed liver medication, which she must take daily for the rest of her life.

But the Wrights couldn’t be happier with their choice of tiny, 5-pound “Miss Penny.” She eats canned food and likes scrambled eggs and rice for an occasional special treat.

“She’s such a Miss Priss and she’s very dainty. She is just the best companion,” Wright said. “She loves to sit in your lap. She’s not super demanding. She’s just there for us. She loves our grandkids, too. She loves to play with them.”

‘What you see is what you get’

LifeLine Animal Project, which runs shelter operations for Fulton and DeKalb counties, has done “Golden Girls” and “Golden Oldies” events to promote adoption of older animals. November is national Adopt A Senior Pet Month, and there are groups devoted solely to senior animals. Among them is the Grey Muzzle Organization.

Since 2008, Grey Muzzle has provided more than $2 million in grants for senior dog programs to 190 nonprofit organizations nationwide, according to its website. Among them are grants for programs that help seniors adopt senior dogs.

Denise Fleck, president of the organization’s board of directors, said one benefit of choosing a senior animal was, “with older dogs, what you see is what you get!”

“They have already grown into their bodies and personalities, are often more low-key and just love to sit adoringly at your side,” said Fleck, of Villa Rica. “It is important to remember, however, that a 7-year-old senior dog can be quite different from a 13-year-old. So senior dogs, like senior people, have a range of needs and activity levels, but all still have so much love to give.”

PAWS Atlanta has partnered with Grey Muzzle on projects such as helping to pay for some of the extra medical care senior animals may need.

Founded in south DeKalb County in 1966, PAWS Atlanta is Georgia’s oldest no-kill shelter. The shelter usually has about 175 to 225 animals on site and in foster homes.

Suzie Sloan, the shelter’s director of development, said medical conditions are often barriers to finding homes for senior animals.

“Every dog and cat that comes into our shelter gets whatever they need in order to be healthy and prepare them for their forever family,” she said. “Senior animals are usually house-trained, really chill companions, and they’re just so grateful,” Sloan said. “Many senior pets we take in recently lost their owners, so they’re used to being in a loving home.”

Living and working with senior animals

LifeLine Animal Project currently has more than 1,000 animals at its Fulton and DeKalb shelters and in foster homes. About 20 percent of them are seniors, or ages 8 and up, according to Karen Hirsch, public relations director.

Hope Gentle says older dogs often require less work than younger ones.

A devoted animal shelter volunteer since 1994, Hope Gentle has been attached to the Fulton shelter since 2003.

“Generally speaking,” she said, “an older dog is less work.”

That’s a huge bonus at her Austell home, which she’s currently sharing with 11 foster and adopted dogs and cats. Four of the six dogs are at least 13 years old.

“I’m never lonely, and if I hear a noise in my house I don’t wonder what it is,” Gentle said. “I get my exercise walking the dogs two at a time. The good thing about walking an older dog is they don’t pull as hard.”

She’s at the shelter for 10- hour days, twice a week, to do everything from laundry to transporting shelter animals to rescue groups who’ve agreed to take them. “Last Saturday, I drove a duck and a sheep to Save the Horses,” she said.

Gentle, who served in the U.S. Army for 20 years, was featured a few years ago in a LifeLine newsletter about the veterans among its staff and volunteers for Memorial Day. “As much as I am grateful for my military experience,” Gentle was quoted as saying, “had I been able to work with an organization that helps animals, I would have chosen that path without hesitation or regret.”

Mountain and Dew

A Grant Park couple, Alycia Linke and Amiel Tomlin, wound up with two new senior pets a few months ago when they went to LifeLine looking for a companion for Pam, their 2-year- old rescued chihuahua.

While they also own 15-year- old Bear, they could tell that their chihuahua was really missing their 16-year-old dog, Peggy. Linke gave Peggy to her mother after her mother’s cat died.

After that, “We noticed a change in Pam’s behavior,” Tomlin said. “She didn’t eat a lot. She seemed very sad. She just wanted to lay down all day long.”

Tomlin said Linke started tearing up when she found an 8-year-old chihuahua named Dew on LifeLine’s website. “Right then, I know we were getting this dog,” he said.

They took Pam with them to meet Dew at LifeLine’s DeKalb shelter. The dogs instantly hit it off. Done, they thought.

Mountain and Dew

But then they met Mountain, another 8-year-old chihuahua who’d entered the shelter with Dew. When they saw Mountain and Dew curled up together, they knew they couldn’t break them apart.

Tomlin said their dogs’ energy levels are perfect for their household because he and Linke work a lot. He’s a radio broadcast technician and Linke’s a photo stylist.

He said he wants to show love to those dogs that get the least, when it comes to adoption.

“They’re older. They may not live that long, but at least you can give them those cool last few years. These are like my friends and we look at them like family,” he said. “If I had a young kid, which we may one day, I want them to understand that there is beauty on both sides. Everything isn’t perfect, and get out of the mentality of young, old and good, bad and something not being worth something or not.”

Skeet Wright, Miss Penny’s owner, said people searching for new pets should “give senior animals a chance.”

“Just look at them. Don’t just look at the puppies,” she said. “They’ve got great personalities, and they’ll appreciate you.”

How you can help

PAWS Atlanta — The shelter expects to reopen to the public in August. During the COVID-19 pandemic, you can help by becoming a monthly supporter, virtually adopting animals, hosting virtual happy hours, creating Facebook fundraisers or donating supplies from the shelter’s Amazon Wish List. For more information, visit www.pawsatlanta.org.

LifeLine — Volunteer at the shelter or from home, where you can make flyers to advertise animals and make enrichment toys for dogs. Donate supplies or money, which helps pay for surgeries for injured animals and helps support a shelter program that provides free pet care services for people in need. Senior discounts for adoption are available. For more information, visit lifelineanimal.org or call 404-292-8800.

County animal shelters

Donna Williams Lewis

Donna Williams Lewis a freelance writer based in Atlanta. She previously worked as an editor and journalist for the Atlanta Journal Constitution.