Though unlikely to be noted on any calendar, August 26 has been designated, since 2004, as International Dog Day. Throughout the world, an effort is made to convince and encourage potential dog owners to adopt a dog from a pound or dog adoption agency rather than purchase one from a pet shop or breeder. Israel, too, has such agencies and schedules regular viewing times where available dogs and potential owners can get to know each other. Nonetheless, there is some bias when handing over ownership. Golden agers, it seems, are not particularly welcome with open arms.
Anyone old enough to remember when television channels had to be changed manually has, at one time or another, experienced some sort of age-related suspicion and discrimination. In many occupations, for example, employment opportunities all but disappear for applicants who have reached the half century mark, and once you’re eligible to receive Bituach Leumi payments, the motor vehicle bureau demands that you prove medical and visual well-being before a driver’s license can be renewed. And, of course, age is most certainly – and understandably – a parameter when applying for insurance or mortgages. But who would have thought that your date of birth would be a factor for adopting a dog?
The mixed breed that my wife loved and regally took care of for some sixteen years recently became seriously ill and had to be put to sleep. I’m not, to be frank, much of a dog lover and was not overly grieved by this loss. Nonetheless, in the interest of shalom bayit (domestic tranquility) I expressed no objection when she started to look for a replacement. I understood that there was a void to be filled and though I would have preferred that she embrace a goldfish or explore the wonders of an ant colony, I was resigned to the fact that once again I’ll be asked to share the burden of responsibility and ownership and brave the elements with leash in hand.
And so began my wife’s search to find a suitable canine companion. Contact was made with several dog adoption organizations and amutot (non-profit organizations), but, unexpectedly, her interest was met with reluctance and refusal. There was concern, apparently, that anyone old enough to retire may not be spry enough to properly care for a dog. Insofar as Tzippy is in no way infirm or physically challenged, such an unjustified assumption is both offensive and insulting.
There are hundreds if not thousands of dogs in need of loving homes, and baby boomers make excellent owners and caregivers. Instead of being grateful that there are eager and willing alternatives to putting down stray animals, these organizations are basically expressing a concern that the dog will receive improper attention and might wind up outliving its owner; as a result, ideal candidates are being foolishly turned away and the obvious advantages of pairing a dog with a mature owner are being overlooked.
In the first place, many applicants, such as my wife, have years of experience caring for dogs. They are able to adapt and adjust to specific canine personalities, are sensitive to changes in behavior, and intuitively understand the specific needs of the dog they’re caring for. For both the canine and owner, in other words, a much shorter learning curve is required in order to reach the ultimate comfort zone.
The pet, moreover, will have no competition for attention or care. Seniors make splendid companions to their pets, and can shower a dog with the warmth and affection that is often lacking in larger, more hectic family environments. The day-to-day activities of empty nesters, moreover, are, for the most part, flexible and can very easily accommodate a specific regiment of walks, play time, vet visits, etc. Dogs in such households are not adversely impacted by career responsibilities, school projects or carpooling, which can most certainly interfere with their needs and requirements.
Granted, not all dogs are suitable for the 60+ population, and some care must be exercised to match a prospective owner with the right dog. Age and size are certainly factors to be considered, as is the type of habitat to which the dog will be welcomed into. These, though, are details that the prospective owner and the adoption agency can easily work out. This is not to say that making the right match is an effortless activity; it may in fact take a bit of time to make the right shidduch, one that will ensure long term benefits to both the dog and owner. But in the end, you wind up with a mutually beneficial arrangement. To deny a prospective owner who happens to be a senior citizen the opportunity to adopt a dog is not only discriminatory, it is downright senseless.
Dog ownership is not regulated and rarely a day goes by that social media, in one place or another, does not advertise dogs that are available for sale or adoption by private individuals. The closed-minded selective practices of adoption agencies are, therefore, not in and of themselves a brick wall. They are, though, somewhat troubling and deserve, I believe, to be looked into.
Restrictive adoption policies, to be sure, are by no means unique to Israel, nor are they anything new. In the United States and Great Britain, for example, there have been ongoing struggles between animal rights organizations and the respective adoption agencies with the goal of making it easier to save animals from being needlessly put down. And while concerns regarding the age of prospective adoptees is not the only underlying reason behind these struggles, it most definitely is one of the major ones.
From time to time there are reports in the Israeli media of serious cases of animal abuse (most recently, the August 27 edition of the Times of Israel, and dogs are all too often simply abandoned when a family no longer has the resources – or patience – to provide adequate care. There have been recent reports in the press that many dogs that were adopted during the various stages of the COVID crisis have been returned or brought to shelters once the lockdowns were lifted. A careful analysis, I’d wager, would show that very few of those no longer willing or able to care for a dog have more than a bit of grey in their hair but are blessed with an abundance of love in their hearts.