Too old to adopt?

In Englewood, Florida 81 year old Ward Twining was feeling the loss of his companion chihuahua to cancer. As many of us do, he felt it was time to take another pet into his heart, so he applied to adopt two 11 month old chihuahuas from a local rescue. The dogs were ready to go, and so was Twining- until the rescue learned of his age. He was informed that the rescue did not adopt young animals to older people, and that was that.

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I’m admittedly torn on this issue. On the one hand, rescues invest considerable resources into their work and have the right to refuse to adopt an animal to a person for any reason. Sure, there’s a chance he might fall ill or need to give up the pets in the future. On the other hand, age as the single determining factor in whether one should be allowed to adopt a certain pet seems arbitrary.

Is the man in good health? Is he mobile and able to care for the dogs? Does he have the finances to take care of them? I would say the risk of adopting to an older person is no greater than adopting to a young, childless couple who may very well decide to start a family in 2 years and dump the dog. It’s life, unfortunately. It would be great if every prospective adoptive family was a work-from-home wealthy homeowning couple who loved to hike, cook for their dog, and promise upon pain of death that circumstances will never ever change. But that’s not the way it works.

I would venture from my own experience that there is no better place to be as a dog than owned by a retiree. You are pretty much their whole world. You are often the main source of companionship for these people. Some of my very favorite clients were older retired folks who would show up TO THE DAY every 6 months for a wellness exam, never miss a single vaccine, and sooner go hungry themselves than let their pet want for food. There is a level of commitment there that I do not see as much with those young uns in their 20s and 30s.

I couldn’t help but think of my grandfather when I read this story and feel a twinge of sadness. His best friend, his constant companion, my grandmother, passed away this year. Since that time, he has become a recluse, allowing only one or two people to see him. I picture him sitting by himself in the velour chair where I used to recline with him as a child, looking out the window, waiting for his turn to join his wife. He’s in very good health for a man nearing 100, but I don’t think he finds that much of a blessing.

I think of him, unwilling or unable to deal with us annoying human family members who just want to blather meaningless platitudes, trying to fill the empty air with something. I wish he had a pet in his life, to quietly sit on his lap and let him be whatever it is he wishes to be that day. It’s well accepted at this point that owning a pet is good for the elderly. I think of him, and I see him when I listen to Ward, and I wonder- how old is “too old”?

What do you think? Should there be a cutoff age for adoption?

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  • Cathey

    On a purely “rules & regs” level I understand why they denied that man the two chihuahuas, but I think they were wrong and there should have been other “standards” in place to make exceptions to the rule.
    My mother-in-law is 90 in May, still drives during daylight, walks everyday for exercise and reads like a maniac. The cat my son could not take with him to Montana 5 years ago has been a Godsend, especially when she needed to move to a smaller home/apt. in a different town.
    She has made and re-made friends at her apartment complex, but Karl is her touchstone. He is also something to worry about besides the odd neighbors and the “way people are parking in the parking lot.” Karl helps keep her sane and active and I can’t imagine going to her home without seeing how she and Karl interact.
    It’s been proven over & over again that pets improve the quality and length of life for senior citizens – and as you say, the animal has a loving, devoted owner, focused on the animal and taking good care of it.
    As for me, when I can no longer take care of a dog, you’d better start diggin’ a big hole cus I’m not long for this world!

  • “Too old” is when someone can no longer care for their pets, when they cannot take them to the vet and are not able to take them for walks and do things with them. “Too old” can happen to someone at 30 or 60 or 105 and anywhere in between. In other words, I think rescues should judge people based on their own attributes. If someone who is 81 can take proper care of a dog, I see nothing wrong with adopting out dogs to that person.

    That being said, I might try to steer someone to a somewhat older dog than a puppy. And I’d want to make sure that the person had some sort of contingency plan for what was going to happen to the dog(s) if he/she does fall ill or dies. In fact, I’d likely want to KNOW that contingency plan and maybe even vet anyone (relative, friend, what have you) who planned to take on this person’s dog(s) if something happens. I might even include that in the contract.

    Maybe this guy will outlive his dogs. It would be awesome if he did. But at 81, the chances of him outliving a small breed puppy is very small and so I’d have to know what was going to happen to those dogs if he doesn’t. I don’t want any puppies coming out of a rescue I worked with being dumped at the pound or euthanized by some uncaring family member.

  • Great Post. Although I do understand the concern of that particular humane society, I think that is a form of discrimination. Here is a gentleman willing to give a care and love to dogs in need. Granted they may out-live their owner but for the time they are together they are a family. Is it better for the dogs to be in a rescue? Isn’t that the purpose of rescues to find homes for these furbabies or are they becoming elitists?

  • Lisa W

    I’m with Michelle on this one. I’m so sad for him that this has happened. If he is able to care for the dogs then they should find some common ground. An older dog (or two) would be great for him and for the dogs, but I’d definitely want to make sure he could care for any pet he adopted and had some good contingency plans in place. Heck, I’m much younger than he is but I know exactly what will happen to my dogs if something should happen to me. Someone let this poor man adopt a companion! That just makes me so sad…

  • pauses4paws

    No way should there be an age limit on adopting a pet. The elder needs the pet as much as the pet needs the new home! I think it would be okay for the shelter to ask a little more than they might usually ask about resources, emergency plans, and energy level (especially with brand new pups or kittens or other baby animals), but all of us can benefit from a little fur around the collar, at any age. Shelters can steer an elder (just as they can steer a young family) to older adoptees or different species or temperament if they sense that it would be harder for an elder to care for a particular age or type of animal, given that elder’s circumstances. To me, there’s no “universal” answer, it’s person and situation dependent. Bottom line: Grandpa gets to have fur in his life if he wants fur in his life…it’s just a matter of the type, age, and number of furballs that would work most easily for his situation. He should not be denied, outright.

  • Peg

    He should not have been denied. I know of many “Seniors for Seniors” adoptions programs which pair Senior Humans with Seniors Dogs. It seems really unfair to deny this lovely man a companion. We all know that a dog helps to keep us all active – it could be a massive tonic for both the gentleman and a furry friend.

  • Katie

    I think that maybe a better policy than not adopting to elderly people, would be to require the animals return to the shelter they were adopted from were the adopter no longer able to care for the pet. I know from experience that pets often lengthen the life of their owners, and to deny anyone the right to companionship based only on their age seems harsh and short-sighted. Every case should be evaluated individually, and maybe an elderly adopter should have a “co-signer” that agrees to either a) care for the pet in the case that the elder can no longer, or b) return the animal to the shelter of origin. This would provide some safeguards for all involved.

  • Heather

    There are SO MANY homeless animals in this country that short of extraordinary circumstances (history of animal abuse, *severe* physical or mental handicap), rescues and shelters should give almost ANY home a chance. I personally feel that shelter/rescue resources are better spent by checking up on things post-adoption than holding on to these animals for months at a time waiting for the “perfect” home (and who gets to set those parameters, really? Got any research to back them up?). I really hope that this gentleman finds a shelter or rescue willing to give him a chance!

  • I don’t think there should be an age limit on adopting a pet, I think homes should be considered individually for their merits for a particular dog(s). Saying that, I do think, especially when there are so many older dogs in rescue looking for great homes, that looking to adopt an older dog would be of benefit to both dog and potential owner. We rehomed an older dog to a wonderful 86 year old lady here in the UK, it is a perfect partnership and they still enjoy an hour plus of walking each day, they are both active “oldies”.

    My concern in this case would be what would happen to the younger dogs if they were to outlive the man. Quite often when an older person is no longer able to keep their pet, the person’s family hand the dog over to rescue or take them to be pts. Our own oldie is here because the elderly owner had become very ill and the family took one of the dogs to the vet to be put down. Thankfully the vet didn’t feel he was ready to be pts and contacted rescue.


  • Rachel

    My parents (81 yrs and 78) have 3 dogs, all young, one of whom is a puppy. I worry what will happen if the pets outlive my parents, but all three dogs are rescues and live for the present. They have a good home and are well taken care of, so what’s the problem? I do think that all prospective adopters should be asked about contingency plans for the animal – I mean anyone can get ill or even die at any time, no?


  • This story got me so riled up. I’m glad you brought some discussion around it. OF COURSE he should be allowed to adopt these dogs. Dr. V. you make a great point – it’s just as feasible that a young couple could dump the dogs in 2 years when they have a baby, than it is that this man might not be able to care for the dogs.

    How about some sort of guarantor who agrees to make sure the dogs are taken care of or brought back to rescue, if something were to happen?

    I wonder how many retirees are turned down because of their age?

  • Megan

    I think that an adoption agency should discuss with elderly potential adoptees such things like basic health issues and if they have a plan in place should they fall ill or pass on; heck, there are some bird rescues that *require* you have such a plan in place to care for your pet bird should the worst happen, since most will inevitably outlive their owners. I think it’s wrong to deny a person a pet based solely on their age, but I can see it from both sides. I do, however, agree with Dr. V that pets make us all happier people and sure as heck could curb some of that depression that runs so rampant in the forgotten elderly community.

  • macula_densa

    I can definitely understand being concerned about adopting an animal that has 12+ years of life ahead of it to an 81 year old man. Too often they end up at the pound when their owners pass away, and rescues want them to go to someone that will take care of them permanently.

    While I do understand their perspective, perhaps they could try a different tactic. Rather than base their decision on age alone, they could ask 1) is he mobile? 2) is he mentally competent and 3) Does he have a younger relative or other guarantor that will take the animal in the event that something happens to him? Rescues don’t want the animals they adopt going to the shelter or coming back to them; they are looking for ‘forever’ homes. So, if they don’t see ‘forever’ being a possibility with an owner, they’re going to be hesitant to adopt. However, I don’t think it’s fair to exclude the elderly population entirely; animal companions are really important for the elderly, and I think rescues ought to find some way to make it work for both parties.

  • Cami

    My grandmother is 78 years old and her beloved dog died last year. She had had him since he was a puppy and he lived to 17 years old (!). When he was gone, being alone was too much to bear and she adopted a 4-year-old new pup. He has brought her more joy than anyone could imagine and has filled her life with so much happiness. If she is to pass and her sweet pup is still around, I know there are so many of us in this family that would take him in. Each circumstance is different and basing the decision on age alone is incredibly sad to me. These elderly people are saving a dog’s life and these dogs are bringing so much joy to these people’s lives. It’s a win-win in my book!

  • LB

    With all the homeless animals being put down every day, I don’t know why some shelters want the “perfect” home for pets. I hope he tries to adopt a dog another way.

  • No day is promised to anyone, no matter their age. My cousin Mercy lives with my grandmother who is 90 years old. Mercy was adopted when she was 87! Mercy is the highlight of her life. She cares for him and he for her.
    My parents take Mercy to and from the Vet for check-ups for her, but she cares for his every need on a daily basis.
    Abilities vary at every age not just in the elderly.

  • Abby’s mom

    While I am much younger than the man in question, when I adopted my cat I had to include who would take care of my cat if something were to happen to me as part of my adoption application. Requiring someone to make a plan for their pet after they’re gone should make it easier for rescues to adopt to older, otherwise fit, people. It was an awkward conversation to have at the time, but now both I and the rescue know that Abby will have someone to take care of her if anything horrible should happen to me.

  • I can see the concern from the shelter side. My neighbor has taken in five dogs over the past several years as her friends’ health has declined and they’ve moved into care facilities or died – while she didn’t plan to take in the animals, she has ended up keeping 3 of them (2 she found homes for) – she wanted to make sure the animals were cared for although her friends did not have back-up plans for the care of their animals. I worry about who will take care of the dogs when her health declines (her husband just died recently).
    I could see an easy solution to that concern though – on the application for adoption, ask what plans the person has to care for the animals in case they become unable to care for them. This isn’t even an ageist question – I’ve come across shelters who include this on their generic application (part of the “in case of divorce, death, or addition of a child to the house, what are your plans with the animal(s)”).

  • Great post and thanks for including the video, too!

    I am a vet tech and also breed Cornish Rex cats and 2 years ago had a couple in their early 80’s contact me, who had recently lost 2 sibling Cornish Rex to age related issues and they pined for their companionship. They live in a retirement community for military retirees, have their own apartment but also the option of dining out etc.

    I was a little reluctant at first, to let them have kittens, knowing they would be close to 100 years old when the cats were 15. Or that they might trip over them and either break their hip or the cats leg…

    But I visited their home, talked with their daughter who agreed she would care for the cats if her parent were unable to, AND also gave her copies of my contract and contact info, so she would have the information handy rather than having to go through her parents files. I told her I was ‘always there’ for my cats and if for any reason they were unable to care for them, I would take them back with open arms. (I do this for all my cats).

    I am so glad I didn’t deny them the pleasure of having cats in their life again, and keep in touch with them so they know I care and want to be involved. The only 2 cats I ever ‘lost track of’ were with young families that divorced and didn’t keep me in the loop with new contact info (I even contacted ex mother-in-law of one to try and get back in touch to no avail). Life is unpredictable and such policies as not adopting out to seniors, or only adopting 2 kittens out to a home cheat both the animal and the human out of a chance to find love and companionship.

    They have had

  • georgie

    Mom is a senior, her dog is 12 1/2 and is well loved and cared for and gives immense joy to Mom’s life. We have an understanding where if something happens to Mom, I will adopt her dog, and if something happens to me first, she will take care of my two dogs and the cat. The gentleman in the story should have been allowed to adopt the pups; if there was an understanding of who would take care of the dogs should he pass away before them.

  • Rebecca

    My mother will be 80 in 3 weeks and is still fairly active. She still drives and goes out 2-3 times a week to play cards and such, but she loves her 2 cats Dusty and Callie she loves that they snuggle with her at night and when she’s watching tv one or both are on her lap. She dotes on them like they were real children even though she has 2 grandchildren and 7 great grandchildren. I feel shelters should keep in mind if a person is in good health and can still get around they should be able to adopt an animal.

  • I had trouble with rescues and the alternative humane society when I was looking for a pup (before I got Murphy) because I was too young. And didn’t own my own home. I understand they have a huge amount invested in each animal and want the “perfect” home, but the cynical side of me wonders how they possible place any animals since I’m sure you can find something “wrong” with anyone. I wish this gentleman the best in finding a new companion ๐Ÿ™‚

  • lin

    To come at it somewhat from the other side, in the shelter where I volunteer, we have seen several cats come through because their owners died or had to move to a nursing home. Most of these cats were 8 to 10 years old and they stayed in the shelter for MONTHS and MONTHS. I would think 10 year-old chihuahuas would be even harder to place. I don’t think the man should have been denied pets, but he definitely should have been steered toward considering older dogs, or as others have said, asked what his contingency plans were.

  • Kate

    The issue isn’t that the shelter refused to adopt out a dogs to an older man, but that it refused to adopt out young, adolescent dogs to an older man. Besides the issue of the dogs outliving an older adopter, there are other concerns. Young dogs are a lot of work. They require lots of exercise, training, and attention, and far more energy to deal with than older dogs. I work at a dog training place with close ties to the local shelter community and we have lately had a number of older people having trouble dealing with puppies and young dogs they recently adopted, a few of whom have had to return the dogs to the shelter. Now, is 11 months old enough for this to be less of a concern? I think it depends on the individual dogs and the individual adopter. I certainly think that the age of the adopter versus the age of the dog should be a consideration when adopter, though not a deciding factor.

  • Hi Y’all,
    I think Kate has a point that we all need to address in our personal lives. No one lives forever and we do not stay young forever. Even during our best adult years circumstances can suddenly change. We don’t have to remember that far to know someone whose housing circumstances were suddenly changed by the recent down turn in the economy. Family pets suddenly found themselves hoping for a new forever home.

    When our 16 yr old retriever passed away we started looking for another retriever. In the prime of our lives, I wanted a young active dog. We adopted a female Chessie 9 months old. Once I was introduced to the joy of “no housebreaking required”, I was sold on adult dogs. I no longer want a puppy. Hawk was 14 months when we got him.

    As we get older we need to be aware of what “older” dogs need in the way of care. Having physical limitations means the simple act of helping the elderly dog up or down steps or stairs, in and out of the car, etc. may not be possible. Right now I depend on Hawk to help me get up from kneeling. When he’s older, I have 100 lbs of retriever that will need my help getting up and down.

    Fortunately today they have slings with handles and ramps and who knows what else to assist us. It’s in the back of my mind though, the day will come when assisting an old large dog may not be an option and I’ll have to look for a lap dog as my next companion.

    We have always had a provision in our will for our dog or dogs. We give a great deal of thought to who would be best to care for the dog and, should they be unable for some reason, an alternative.

    Brown Dog’s Momma

  • Truth

    Honestly people, you really believe this guy???????? The shelter’s rules were that the pair of dogs were to NOT be separated, and whoever adopted them had to take both–into the SAME HOME. This man came along with another individual, and it became clear to the rescue that he intended to give the other dog to this person, therefore the adoption was halted. SO HE THEN CRIED DISCRIMINATION.

  • Cathy

    I think most of you guys are missing the point. Elderly people die. Sometimes they die with no warning and their animal(s) are left to suffer in the house for several days before anyone finds out. Sometimes they go into rest homes and their guardian has to dispose of the pets. I used to work in a shelter, and believe me, we got a lot of those. This issue isn’t just about the happiness of an 80-year-old man. Its’s also about the health and well-being of the animals he proposes to adopt. The shelter must find them the best, most stable home it can.

    • Chile

      Young people die too. Unexpected as well and also sometimes not found for days. And some elderly people (and younger people) make plans for their pet in case something happens to him. It’s not fair to discriminate based on age.

  • L.J.C.

    Hello, I would like to say that is so unfair to older people over the age of 80 to let them adopt a dog, my parents healthy, still drive have friends they go out with in there 60’s. etc. If these humane societies & such have issues they need to let them go or(ask for paperwork proving that they are healthy, my family lost a beautiful yorkie terrie who was 12 yrs old St patrick’s Day 2010. The humane society of boca raton fla.(tri City) is being very unfair & dicriminating YES that is Very Dicriminating against people over a certain age… Very Upset Plam Beach Resident.. Thank-You to everyone who is listening………..

  • Chile

    One is only too old to care for a dog, when they can no longer care for themselves. I hope this guy was able to find companionship from a shelter or another rescue who doesn’t discriminate against age. I think of my grandfather and his chow chow that kept him company b/c my grandmother was in a nursing home. There were also things in place to take care of the dog in case something unexpected happened to him. Just like there things in place to take care of my dog in case something unexpected happens to me and I’m over half this guy’s age.