Look at Eno, the cute, fuzzy, mini-poodle pup, reclining in his new owner's arms and eating up the love like it's Milk-Bone ambrosia. And check out spunky Baxter, the small Australian terrier mix, nipping at heels and kicking up his own, ready for a new home and adventure.
What? Eno's 13? No way! And Baxter is about 10? Sweet little guys like this may have a few years under their collars -- senior citizens in canine culture -- but there's no expiration date on love. And while it certainly takes a special breed of human to open heart and home for older pooches, more and more people are looking past gray muzzles, adopting senior dogs and giving them a new "leash" on life.
"It's getting popular to adopt senior dogs," says Laurie Routhier, director of operations at Muttville Senior Dog Rescue in San Francisco -- an internationally known nonprofit dedicated to finding homes specifically for dogs ages 7 and up. Muttville placed 519 dogs in 2013, and they're on track this year to reach 600 -- animals who have lingered at other shelters on the verge of euthanasia or whose older owners have died and relatives don't know what to do with the little guys and gals.
"We're trying to flip the idea that it's hard to adopt out seniors," Routhier says, crouching down to give Baxter a pat at Muttville headquarters. "It's true that at most shelters, people want cute puppies. Baxter here just came over from a shelter where he'd been waiting for a while because he was competing with younger dogs. But here, he'll get snapped up in moments -- look at him, he's 10 but you'd think he's going on six months."
Many people actually seek out older dogs because they're mellow with children, Routhier says -- their temperaments have developed and they're generally calmer. They're also perfect for seniors or for working folks who don't have time to train a puppy or run five miles a day with a highly active adolescent.
Big hearts, big love
Though senior dogs are the sole focus of Muttville -- founded in 2007 by devoted animal volunteer Sherri Franklin -- many Bay Area shelters also have programs targeting the mature pet. The East Bay SPCA has a Silver Whiskers and Muzzle Club. The Berkeley-East Bay Humane Society has a Golden Paws program, promoting awareness and adoption of senior animals. And the Humane Society of Silicon Valley in Milpitas offers a Seniors for Seniors program, where people 65 and older can adopt an older dog for a reduced fee.
"People in this area are really progressive about animals and have really big hearts," says Finnegan Dowling of the Humane Society of Silicon Valley, where they just found homes for Mickey, 8, and Minnie, 11, two inseparable labs Dowling describes as "made of happy."
"That said, (older dogs) definitely take longer to get adopted," she adds. "We've had some that have been with us for months."
Dowling actually prefers older dogs as her own personal pets. "I've had seven dogs over the years, and always an adult, never a puppy," she says. "Those are the best years, 11 to 17 -- the energy levels are great, they're house broken. Older dogs are more confident and a lot easier to please.
"A young dog comes into the house and doesn't know what to do and runs around and eats everything and chews up your shoes," she says. "A mature dog comes in and says, 'OK, I know the routine, show me where the food and water is, love me, and we're good.' "
Indeed, many senior dog adopters speak of a palpable gratitude from their new-old friends.
"They feel so grateful to be getting a second chance. You can sense it," says Nelson Bloncourt of San Francisco, cuddling Reggie -- aka Lord Reginald, a 7-year-old golden Chihuahua, who was found as a stray. They've been together two months now, and Reggie goes everywhere with Bloncourt, sitting at restaurants, walking on the beach. They even marched in the Pride Parade with little Reggie dressed as a sailor.
"Love is unexplainable," Bloncourt says. "You know it when it shows up. Reggie has some issues, but so do I, and we've been working them out together. I'm a senior also, so we do well there. Dogs don't care how old you are. They just want love."
While benefits abound, adopting a senior dog shouldn't be taken lightly. Some potential adopters express concerns with heightened medical bills for aging pets. But as pet insurance becomes more common, shelter volunteers say such costs can be less of a factor.
Some people wonder if it's a good idea to adopt a dog that may not have many years left. But Dowling notes that dogs -- just like humans -- are living longer. "Keep in mind, a 12-year-old dog today still has a lot of good years in him," she says. "Life spans for dogs are expanding rapidly because of improved vet care and nutrition, and the way people care for their pets."
Also, in an oddly practical way, a mere few years with a pet may be advantageous in today's fast-changing employment world. "You want a companion animal, but people in Silicon Valley work a lot," Dowling says. "Your life may be very different in 10 years. So -- as horrible as it sounds -- (a dog's shorter life span) is a little bit less of a commitment."
Mr. Rufus finds love
Anthony and Lori Marsella of Oakland considered all the ramifications before adopting a silver-muzzled mutt named Mr. Rufus four years ago. He's now 13 and has become quite media savvy with his own Facebook page.
"My wife and I were searching for places who rescued older dogs, and we found Muttville online and fell in love with Rufus right off the bat," says Anthony Marsella, who runs the software development team for Whole Foods in Northern California.
Rufus had been transferred from a shelter in Los Angeles, where he had been waiting for some time, possibly because of several food allergies indicated in his paperwork. The Marsellas suspect someone couldn't afford his care during the economic slump and had to turn him in.
"We talked about the life-span issue," Anthony Marsella says. "I've had dogs all my life, and I've gone through losing dogs in my lifetime, but he was my wife's first dog ever. So we talked about it. It's definitely something you need to be aware of. You might only get a couple years or even less in some cases. But even if it's only six months that you have them, you're giving them what a dog wants -- a stable home, someone to love them, someone to cuddle up with.
"Dogs are always loyal and always love you," Marsella says. "But these guys that have a second chance -- there's nothing like the look in their eyes when you come home from work. They're so grateful to be loved."
Contact Angela Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @GiveEmHill.
These organizations all have programs that promote adoptions of senior dogs, and Muttville specializes in senior dogs only.