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Shelters Unleash Effective Tactics to Land Loving Homes for Older Pets

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From waiving adoption fees to offering discounts for veterinary wellness visits to staging fun events, shelters are stepping it up for senior pets inside their facilities.

There are many advantages to adopting an older pet over a young kitten or puppy. Topping the list: most older pets are housetrained, mellow, and less apt to chew your shoes or claw your sofa.

“We like to showcase our seniors because they tend to be overlooked,” says Danielle Clem, DVM, hospital director at San Diego Humane Society. “Their personalities are predictable and we usually have more information on them in terms of their medical records and previous home situations than we do with the strays or litters we get. To me, there is less of a question mark when it comes to adopting an older animal. They are usually more socialized and tend to make real good couch cuddlers.”

Wave Goodbye to Fees

Senior pets at this shelter cost less to adopt than kittens, puppies, or young pets. And throughout the year, the shelter stages promotional events that include waiving fees for senior pets.

The ASPCA, based in New York, sponsors Adopt A Senior Pet Month each November. Because it can be harder for senior pets to compete for attention with the cute antics of kittens and puppies, the ASPCA waives adoption fees for pets older than six years for people who are 60 or older.

The SPCA of Texas, with centers in McKinney and Dallas, operates a similar senior-to-senior adoption program by waiving adoption fees on pets seven years and older to people 65 years and older. Adopters also receive a free bag of food, 30 days of pet health insurance, a leash or cat carrier, and one post-adoption free health checkup.

Fear Be Gone

The Animal Humane Society in Minneapolis ranks as the third largest animal shelter in the country. Most of its adoptable pets come from other states and more than 100 rescue groups.

“Shelters can be scary places for some animals and we work with rescues and other groups to enable these animals to be in foster home settings,” says Mary Tan, public relations manager.

She shares the success story of Bandit, a 12-year-old Siamese surrendered to the shelter.

“When he came to our shelter, he was hiding in the corner of his cage and didn’t want to eat or move,” she recalls. “When we tried to touch him, he would yowl and hiss. So, through our program called Office Cat, we moved him into my office that mimics a home environment with a cat tree, couch, litter box and so on. He began to relax and we knew he would flourish in a home setting. He got adopted and is doing great in his new home.”

Matching Grays

The Hawaiian Humane Society added new incentives last fall to increase the adoption rate for older cats and dogs. Its senior-to-senior program expanded its discounted adoption costs to people 55 years and older – 10 years younger than its 65-year-old requirement. And you can be any age to bring home a cat six years or older for free.

Anyone 55 or older qualifies for a 50-percent reduced fee to adopt a senior dog or cat at the Berkeley-East Bay Humane Society in California. Under its Golden Paws Program, the adoption package covers the cost for veterinary and behavioral evaluations, spay or neuter surgery, vaccinations, microchipping, flea and tick preventive, a take-home adoption packet and a certificate for a free examination at a local veterinary clinic.

Anyone who adopts a senior pet at Berkeley-East Bay Humane Society also qualifies for 20-percent discounts on vaccinations for the life of the pet at its humane society hospital and a free starter food packet.

Grey Muzzle Organization, a nonprofit group, awards grants to rescue groups that support senior pet adoptions of animals in shelters.

“These grants provide senior dogs with critically-needed care and services that support the Grey Muzzle Organization’s vision of a world where no old dog dies alone and afraid,” says its president, Denise Fleck. “In a recent survey of grant recipients, two-thirds of respondents said that older adults are the most open to adopting senior dogs.”

A Soft Landing

Fleck’s group also raises money to provide orthopedic beds to senior dogs in shelters.

“Cold concrete floors are particularly unforgiving for old joints, so our bed fund gives senior dogs in shelters a soft place to rest while they await their forever homes,” she adds.

To shine a spotlight on senior felines at Humane Society of Missouri in St. Louis, shelter officials partner with a local car dealership each year.

“We call our senior cats, ‘certified pre-owned cats with four-paw drive,” says Linda Campbell, RVT, CPDT-KA, shelter animal behavior manager and one of only 18 veterinary technician specialists in behavior. “This fun play on words helps draw attention to these senior cats and increases their chance of being adopted.”

Bottom line: the love of an adopted pet is ageless, says Fleck.

“There is a unique wisdom and peace when a dog feels loved in his golden years that comes right through his eyes,” she says. “No matter whether the previous decade has been great, or not so much, older dogs who get adopted into a family project a gratitude, thankfulness and contentment that melts your heart.”

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Arden Moore is The Pet Health and Safety Coach. She is a best-selling author, radio show host, in-demand speaker and master certified pet first aid/CPR instructor who travels the country teaching with Pet Safety Dog Kona and Pet Safety Cat Casey. Learn more at and

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