As an animal rescue organization president, I have a soft spot in my heart for senior pets who come into our program. I imagine the fear, anxiety and sadness these animals must feel after being loyal family members and companions for many years, only to find themselves sitting in a cold steel cage in a shelter wondering when their family is coming back for them.
There are many reasons senior pets end up in shelters and rescues. As pets age and health problems start to appear, many owners find themselves facing veterinary care for their pets that they cannot afford or aren’t willing to pay for. In my experience working in shelters and rescues, many senior pets find themselves being surrendered after a pet parent is hospitalized, has to move to assisted living or a nursing home, or their pet parent passes away. Family members are left to make decisions for pets. Many times, they can’t or won’t take the pets in, so they relinquish them to a local shelter. Unfortunately, once senior pets make it into shelters, their chances of adoption are significantly less than other pets. In fact, according to the ASPCA, senior dogs have only a 25 percent adoption rate as compared to the 60 percent adoption rate of younger dogs and puppies.
Lisa Lunghofer, Ph.D., is the executive director of The Grey Muzzle Organization, a nonprofit organization that improves the lives of at-risk senior dogs by providing funding and resources to animal shelters, rescue organizations, sanctuaries and other non-profit groups nationwide. Being able to alleviate the concerns potential adopters may have about taking in a senior pet and supporting them in senior pet adoption can go a long way toward helping senior pets get a second chance at a forever home.
Lunghofer said one of the concerns they hear a lot regarding senior pet adoption is that people fear losing a senior pet too soon. “The loss of a beloved animal companion at any age is heartbreaking. But many people who have adopted older dogs have gone on to enjoy several happy years together,” she said. “No one is more grateful than a senior dog who gets a second chance to love and be loved again. People who have adopted an older dog tell us they would do it again in a heartbeat.”
Although there’s nothing you can do to guarantee how many years your customers will have together if they adopt a senior pet, you can be part of the lifesaving solution for senior pets by encouraging customers to see the positives in adopting a senior pet and then supporting them as much as you can once they do adopt.
One way you can help is to be a source of access to senior pets for your customers. Make it easy for them to meet senior pets available for adoption in your community by reaching out to shelters and rescue organizations, especially those who focus on or struggle placing senior pets. Partner with these organizations to host meet-and-greet opportunities or adoption events at your business. You can make it a point to have special senior adoption days or events, or at minimum, ask the groups to specifically to bring seniors along with other age pets when they come to an event. Giving your customers the opportunity to meet senior pets in person is the best way to help these pets get adopted. It’s easy to scroll by a photo of an older cat or dog on an adoption website. However, by being able to see and interact with these pets “in person,” at your store, your customers will realize the special charms and benefits of senior pets. Just seeing a calm senior cat who enjoys a good cuddle compared to a scratchy, leg-climbing kitten is often enough for people to realize that a senior is the right pet for them. Although puppies are cute, “Meeting senior dogs in person is the best way to realize that age is not the most important factor in finding unconditional love and companionship,” said Lunghofer.
Lunghofer also said promoting senior pet adoption in ad circulars, in-store posters and flyers and on social media can also help spread the word. If you’re running specials for Valentine’s Day for example, plan a “love is ageless” adoption event focusing on senior pets. You could even offer specials leading up to the event and make a week of it. “Many retailers already promote pet adoption through local and national ad campaigns,” she said. “We’d love to see more of them focusing on senior pet adoption.”
Beyond promoting adoptions, there are many things you can do to help support your customers after they’ve made a senior pet a part of their family. Providing special discounts on health and dental-related products, grooming or veterinary care is a great way to help customers overcome those common concerns and barriers to adoption and get them off to a great start with their new pet. It’s also a great way to reward people who are willing to give a senior pet a second chance at a loving home. “Many veterinarians offer free first visits for any pet adopted from a shelter. It would be wonderful if they would offer newly adopted older pets a free senior wellness checkup,” said Lunghofer.
Lunghofer also noted that in addition to providing a valued service to your customers and deserving senior pets, catering to senior pet adopters can benefit your business as well. “People who open their hearts and homes to senior pets make very loyal customers. And senior-pet rescue groups, as well as shelters and rescue groups that have special programs to help senior pets, usually have strong social media followings. When retailers partner with them, they are happy to provide recognition among their supporters,” said Lunghofer.
However, keep in mind that not all groups are expert in the realm of social media and may not know the best ways they can “return the favor,” so it’s okay to be proactive and ask them to promote your involvement in special events and to tag your business in their social media posts. Most rescue groups are run by volunteers who have full-time jobs outside of rescue, so the easier you can make it on them to promote your business, the better. If you can, send them some pictures that reflect your business and write up content for them to share with their followers. Speaking for my rescue group specifically, I can say that we’ll happily cross-post anything our retail partners want us to share with our community- and when they provide that content to us, it just makes the whole process easier.
“Retailers can also help and receive recognition by donating products, sponsoring special events and providing matching gifts. By publicizing their support among their employees, retailers can encourage more people to donate, volunteer to foster, or adopt a senior pet,” said Lunghofer.
Finally, retailers can always take the opportunity to reach out to national groups like The Grey Muzzle Organization to investigate possible partnerships. For example, The Grey Muzzle Organization recently partnered with Mutt Lynch Winery who created special Grey Muzzle labels and hosted a popular virtual wine tasting event for Grey Muzzle supporters.