Just because Milt Lessner is 104 years old doesn’t mean that he can’t care of a dog. He has lived with dogs for his whole life, he told BBC News. And after his wife and their dogs passed away a few years ago, he needed a dog in his life more than ever.
Most shelters turned him away. That’s understandable. They didn’t want to relinquish one of their rescues to a man who was over a century old.
But Laura Oliver, founder of Lionel’s Legacy, a senior dog rescue based in San Diego, Calif. didn’t agree. They’re part of a movement that adopts senior dogs to senior citizens for reduced adoption fees, usually with additional support.
“Our senior dogs are looking for companionship, and so are many senior humans. It’s kind of a no brainer combination,” says Oliver. “They have a similar pace of life and each gives one another a reason to get up and enjoy life each day. It sounds simple, but push aside material things in life, and most people would say the most important thing in life is being loved. When you have that, then life is complete.”
Lionel’s Legacy matched Lessner with Layla, a sweet, loving senior muttigree who adapted to life with her new human immediately. “Layla has been with Milt for two years now, and they both adore one another,” Oliver reports. “Layla loves walks, and she gets Milt up and out at least two times a day. They have conversations and hang out together. It’s beautiful.”
Lessner and Layla’s story is just one from the Seniors for Seniors program across the nation.
Seniors for Seniors Programs
Seniors for Seniors programs are a perfect solution to finding forever homes for older dogs and providing a senior with a new best friend to shower with love. For the dog, the new home is most likely their last home. These programs can assure that both seniors’ golden years are golden.
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“Most of our senior adopters have had dogs before,” says Caren Reiman, co-founder of Oklahoma Orphaned Poodle Services rescue. “We pay close attention to what their vet, groomer and references have to say. We try to check in on them now and then to make sure everything is good.” They also reduce the adoption fee for seniors.
“We started our Seniors for Seniors program shortly after we started OOPS in 2010,” says Reiman. They realized they had senior dogs coming in who weren’t appropriate for a family with young kids, and puppies that would not be good for a senior person.
Most of their senior dogs are brought to OOPS by family members when an owner has gone into a nursing home or passed away, Reiman explains. Some come from shelters that picked them up as strays.
Seniors for Seniors rescue can be a lifesaver — literally. Older dogs with medical issues do not live long in open-admission shelters (aka, kill shelters).
“We do our best to provide a healthy dog,” Reiman says, “But because they are seniors, some do need some medication. We make sure adopters can afford it. We have had a couple of dogs that we have paid for the monthly medication.”
While there are considerations when adopting a senior dog (not only the cost, but also the potential for heartbreak for both dog and human), the benefits outweigh the risks.
How a Seniors for Seniors’ Program Work
Lionel’s Legacy opened in 2011, partially inspired by Oliver’s experience delivering meals to seniors through Meals on Wheels. “I started to recognize some patterns in our clients. The food was ok, but what they were really looking for was companionship,” she says. Her seniors would share stories about their loved ones and the dogs they had. “We thought, why not mix our rescue work with a need in the community? So, we developed our Seniors for Seniors program.”
As a senior rescue, they are able to devote all their resources to helping both senior dogs and senior citizens. They have developed procedures – including check-ins — to ascertain that there are enough supports in place from the rescue and from the family to make sure that both the dog’s and the human’s needs are being met.
Humans have to apply and come in for an interview and then go through a two-week trial period to ensure the match is a good fit. “We never discriminate based on an adopter’s age. Anyone at any time can face hardships in their lives; the goal is having a plan for your pets no matter what your age is,” says Oliver.
At Lionel’s Legacy, senior adopters get a discounted adoption fee and can apply for their Keeping Pets HOME fund to help care for their pets. “If someone needs a bit more support but would benefit from having a pet in their lives,” Oliver says, “we work with them to become a forever foster instead through our Seniors for Seniors program.”
Additionally, all senior pets from Lionel’s Legacy, whether adoptable or forever fosters, receive necessary food, supplies and vetting provided by Lionel’s Legacy. These programs also help seniors plan in the event that their senior dog outlives them. “The dogs are always welcome to come back to Lionel’s Legacy,” says Oliver. “Our door is always open.”
The Benefits of Seniors Adopting Seniors
Research has proven all the ways that dogs of any age can improve humans’ lives. Living with a dog encourages exercise (the dog has to be walked several times a day). It reduces stress (petting a dog can trigger the release of the bonding hormone oxytocin). Harvard Health Publishing asserts that living with a dog decreases the risk of heart disease, lowers blood pressure, and has even been known to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. For seniors, the benefits can be even more profound.
As a senior herself and the co-founder of the Tri-County Animal Rescue, a no-kill animal shelter based in Florida, Suzie Goldsmith can see the broad picture. She has a few senior dogs of her own, and she often recommends that potential adopters consider a senior dog.
“A senior dog will be better trained. They are past the chew stage, they’re not rambunctious, their much quieter,” she says. And they’re great companions. They will give you compassion. They will watch TV with you. You can baby them, and they will just love you.”
For seniors, a dog can relieve loneliness and isolation. “A senior dog is good with a senior person because it gives the senior a purpose,” Goldsmith says. “The senior has to get up, they have to get dressed, they have to go take the dog out. They have responsibilities and chores and obligations.”
Senior dogs (and dogs at any age) help seniors make new friends, encourage new activities, provide community (and the dog community is awesome everywhere!) and even provide added protection (even a small dog can sound big when they bark).
The rewards of a Seniors for Seniors program are immense for both the senior dog and the senior human.
“It’s all in the expressions on their faces,” Oliver says. “Their eyes sparkle, they smile ear to ear, and they laugh. You can almost see the energy change in the room as both seniors come alive.”