In conversation with a friend who works for a breed rescue we were discussing the hidden requirements of some rescues when they consider new adopters. The age of the potential adopter seems to be a bit of a sticking point with some organisations, so how old is too old to have a dog?
In the US they are not so coy about making their policies clear, many shelters will not place a young dog in the care of a ‘senior’ person but that still doesn’t really answer the question does it? In the UK we call a woman over 60 and a man over 65 old age pensioners, but many of the people I know who are ‘chronologically challenged’ (I say that with my tongue firmly in my cheek) feel that particular label is outdated!
So is age discrimination at work in dog rescue today? I believe the answer is a resounding yes. The first contact with a rescue is often by telephone, if the question of age is broached by the enquirer I know that some organisations will decide at that point whether the person is a suitable adopter regardless of true physical or mental ability. This implicit ageism, in some cases, means that a dog may miss out on the perfect home.
As a nation we generally have a rather stereotypical view of older people. An Age Concern survey revealed that 48 per cent of those interviewed saw the over 70s as friendly compared to 27 per cent who said the same about under 30s. Only 26 per cent believe that over 70s are viewed as capable (with 40 per cent saying the same about the under 30s), so older people are subject to benevolent prejudice, they are seen as incompetent but friendly! Well that’s reassuring, rather like the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy’s entry for Earth: mostly harmless.
Let’s look at the evidence of our elderly population and their ability to look after a companion dog. I would challenge the statement that older people are less healthy than the young for a start, our health service certainly views a younger person with a strategy of prevention and cure and the older generation as ‘management’ in most cases. Old bodies wear out but I believe those who had their eating and fitness regimes set out during or just after the war have a healthier lifestyle than those of the fast food and computer dependant later generation.
We presume if we see a youngster limping across the street that the condition is temporary while an older person hobbling across the road is seen as suffering a chronic condition. Isn’t it time we judged by what we know rather than by what we have been taught to believe?
Disability can strike anyone at anytime and the grim reaper doesn’t just go for those beyond their shelf life, so perhaps we should look at what an older person can offer a dog. I’m not for one minute suggesting that an octogenarian should be given first choice on a seven-month-old Border Collie, it should be about the most appropriate dog for the new owner, and that should always be the criteria for a successful rehoming.
Rescues may worry that an older person won’t be fit enough to walk a dog every day, so perhaps now is a good time to remind you of the marathon runner Fauja Singh who took up marathon running at the age of 86 to keep fit. He has completed six London Marathons, two in Toronto, where he set eight track records, and the New York Marathon. This year he carried the Olympic torch through part of London. He is now 101 and considering retiring!
This gentleman may be unusual but it does appear that because people are living longer than ever they are looking for a canine companion to offer unconditional friendship, a way to stay within a social circle and a means to stay as fit as possible – and why shouldn’t they? Older people often have more time to offer a dog, they have an empathy that has grown with their years and financially they are often in a better position to ensure that the dog will be secure for its lifetime.
We should all make provision for our companion animals in the event of our death, no matter what age we are. Two of my favourite charities, the Oldies Club and the Cinnamon Trust, do their very best to care for older dogs or dogs who have come into rescue when their owners have died or are not able to care for their pets anymore. They understand the tremendous bond that exists between our dogs and us.
As part of its membership the Dogs Trust offer a promise to take care of and rehome, where possible, any members’ dogs, if they so choose. It is one rescue that really doesn’t judge you by numbers, like any sensible welfare organisation it knows that it’s down to them to make the right match of dog and owner and have witnessed the fantastic effect that is a two-way street when an older person is paired up with the right dog.
If your dogs are of a particular breed your rescue will certainly do their best to help I’m sure, but not all breed rescues are able to cope with a large number of dogs so it really is down to the individual to make their wishes known without the aid of a Ouija board or a clairvoyant!.
There is news that online donations to charities has risen and the reason for this is the ‘silver surfer ‘, older folk who are becoming web savvy. Well there’s more evidence of not just functioning mental faculties but the ability to learn and more importantly the willingness to learn, not always so obvious in a busy family with so many other commitments.
Age Concern and Help the Aged have combined to form Age UK. I spoke to Caroline Abrahams, Director of Age UK External Affairs, who said: "The right to own a dog should not be decided on age alone but rather on a person’s ability to look after their pet and give it a good home. Dogs are invaluable companions for many older people. They can help to stave off loneliness for those who live alone and can also play an important role in ensuring their owners take some exercise.
"It would be a grave mistake to deprive older people who are fully capable of looking after their pets of these important benefits because of an outdated stereotype of older age.”
If you are part of a rescue that has a hidden agenda and a smattering of gerontophobia, please reconsider, take time to interview any new adopter thoroughly, we all have strengths and weaknesses but a few miles on the clock doesn’t make everyone ready for the scrap yard.
A mention now for a companion dog show and a doggy fun day in aid of Friends of South Glos Strays: this is the first time this enthusiastic team have staged this event and if effort were a gauge of success it looks like being a great day out, all they need is the good weather! It’s on Saturday August 25 at Gumhurn Lane, Pilning, Gloucestershire BS35 4JL.
Judging begins at noon. Details on its website www.fosgs.comule.com or call Julia on 07768 285009.