Heartwarming work | 

DSPCA records spike in number of older dogs dumped at shelters

But the charity is finding ageing animals can become the perfect companion for elderly dog lovers

Nelson, an older labrador who has just been rehomed through the DSPCA

Lynne Kelleher

They arrive at the shelters partially blind, shuffling with arthritis and with the lumps and bumps of advancing years.

In the Dublin Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (DSPCA) headquarters in Rathfarnham over the past six months there has been a noticeable spike in older dogs surrendered by their owners or dropped in by the public.

With around 100 older canines going through their doors this year so far they are outnumbering unwanted puppies. But the charity is finding ageing animals can become the perfect companion for elderly dog lovers who have lost their own pet but would be unable to cope with the demands of a young puppy.

The heartwarming work of the charity on their 32-acre site in Dublin in nursing animals back to health is set to be shown in the return of the RTÉ series, The Shelter: Animal SOS.

The six-part series on Ireland’s oldest and largest animal welfare charity shows veterinary teams carrying out life-saving operations and nursing neglected and injured pets and wildlife.

In the case of the growing number of senior dogs arriving on their doorstep, they are often spotted by members of the public who mistakenly believe the pet hobbling along a road or footpath has been in a car accident.

However, DSPCA spokesperson Gillian Bird said it is often the rigours of old age.

“We’re seeing older dogs that are coming in to us and they are not being claimed by owners. They have gone off and strayed and they have not come looking for them. They are dogs that are 12, 14 years old, that are partially blind or arthritic and doddering around,” she said.

“The animals are found wandering around and because they are old and a bit crippled, people would think they are maybe injured or hit by a car when actually they are just arthritic or have an old dodgy hip.”

Along with the strays, the charity is seeing a spike in owner surrenders, with people giving up their sick or old animals because they cannot afford to pay the veterinary bills.

“People can’t really be bothered with them sometimes and they don’t want to make the decision themselves to bring them down to the vet to have them put down, or maybe they can’t afford the veterinary treatment.

So a lot of the time they think the easiest way to do it is to give it to a charity to worry about,” Bird said.

“A lot of these older pets tend to belong to older people, they may feel they can’t cope or their families feel they can’t cope with an older animal.

“There can be lots of different reasons, they don’t always tell you the truth. In some cases it will be the grandchildren coming in to stay, and the dog has got a bit crotchety and doesn’t like the grandkids around him because of the noise.

“There is a noticeable increase in the numbers in the last six months. You walk around the kennels and you are noticing a larger number of older dogs that would normally be here.

“It kind of comes in waves, you could end up getting in five or six in one week and then maybe one or two in the following week. We are definitely seeing more older dogs, over the age of five, than we would be seeing puppies coming in to us.”

It can be challenging to rehome an ageing pet but they are finding homes for these dogs to live out their days with older owners.

“Apart from the fact that you are expecting the new owner to take on whatever troubles may be coming health-wise down the line with the animal, you are also asking somebody to take on an animal that may only have a year or two years left.

“Also these animals are often very, very set in their ways. These older animals are often more difficult to place because you need a particular type of home where they are not expecting the dogs to obey the house rules anymore.

“We often have older pet owners, whose pets have passed away recently, who are looking to take on animals but don’t want the long-term commitment of puppies.

“A lot of these older animals would go to older people who don’t want to be worrying about what could happen to their pet if something happens to them.

“One of the worst things that we run into is where a family will run out and get a puppy for an elderly person whose pet just passed away.

“That person probably doesn’t want a young puppy who’s going to be chewing everything and pooing and needing huge amounts of training, and getting underfoot. It is really nice for older people to know there is the option out there for adopting an older animal.”

Foster carers who take on the dogs will often end up keeping them permanently as they fall for the mature canines.

It is the biggest spike in older dogs arriving at the charity’s shelters for many years.

“We saw it a long time ago when the SSAI (Special Savings Incentive Accounts) were maturing and people were doing up their kitchens and getting rid of their old animals. But it’s definitely something we haven’t seen in the last couple of years,” Bird said.

The lockdown has also played a role as some owners are only noticing ailments since the restrictions lifted, as pets wouldn’t have been going to the vets for routine check-ups.

“During the pandemic these pets would have been beloved, beloved animals. A lot of people wouldn’t necessarily have noticed the little lumps and bumps or the animal getting slower.

“Now they are bringing them to the vet and in some cases, the vet is saying they need to take blood and do tests and put them on medication.

“Some of the time, even the thought of bringing the animals to the vet and the associated costs can be enough for people to think, ‘I can’t afford this’.”

In the RTÉ series, vets are filmed nursing the ailing pets and getting them healthy enough to leave for a forever home.

“You are looking at lumps and bumps so it can be growths, hair loss, or pressure sores and things like that. There are some cancerous growths or the dog just slowing down and general arthritis,” Bird said.

“Our vets will treat them and give them pain medication and relief for any discomfort they feel. Obviously trying to find a nice, forever home for them, for their remaining years, would be our priority.

“We actually just had a Labrador called Nelson adopted. There are particular people out there who will go and adopt an older pet.

“They are prepared to give that animal just a few years of love and attention and they know that can be heartache at the end of it. It’s absolutely wonderful that people do that.”

‘The Shelter: Animal SOS’ is on Fridays at 7:30pm on RTÉ One.

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