Snack is a 10-year-old long-haired chihuahua. She enjoys sleeping on a comfy pillow, sneaking into the kitchen for stray bits of food and long walks – but only if she’s in the right mood.
Snack is what adoption centres call a “senior rescue”. Her owner moved away, leaving her with an older relative who wasn’t in a position to give her the care she needed, so Snack was surrendered to a rescue centre. She moved into her new home with a family in Sydney earlier this year.
For people working from home, lockdown brings long stretches of time without anyone but our coffee machines to talk to. As a result, many of us are looking for new ways to bring companionship into our lives.
Older pets and senior rescues
Breeders, adoption centres and pounds have been inundated with requests since the pandemic began. Demand has now flared again as we face more months of possible lockdowns. Waitlists for puppies and kittens are months long and many breeders and centres have stopped taking inquiries.
Sharon Markich of Cavoodle World in New South Wales says prices for in-demand puppies have exploded over the past 18 months.
“Prices of puppies have increased by almost double and some breeders last year were charging up to $10,000 for their little Cavoodles,” Markich says. “At one stage I had to stop taking deposits and I’m only just getting to customers who have been on the waitlist since Christmas.
“During this lockdown, it has started again and people are demanding to be able to leave deposits on puppies that aren’t even born yet.”
But, as Snack’s new family found when they were repeatedly knocked back for younger adoptions and began considering an older pet, there are plenty of alternatives.
“There’s much less demand for older pets,” says Alison Cairns of rescue organisation Mini Kitty Commune (MKC).
“People’s default is often to adopt a kitten, but one of the things I love about older cats is you know exactly what you’re getting. You know what their personality is, whether they’re going to fit into your household and with existing pets. You have the ability to pick an animal you know is going to work with your lifestyle.”
Unlike the long waitlist for kittens, Cairns says the organisation only rehomes about two senior cats per month, with older cats receiving fewer inquiries.
“Really, it’s no different to adopting a kitten. People have a misconception that a senior cat is going to be a lot of work, or be with their family for a short time, but with proper care there’s no reason you can’t adopt a senior cat who will spend years with you. There might be one or two extra vet visits a year, but a lot of these cats are just so happy to have a roof over their head, they don’t ask for a lot more.”
There are some centres that specialise in senior rescues, but the majority of shelters have older pets you can meet with. When talking to your local shelter let them know you’re interested in adopting an older pet or look at sites such as PetRescue which have filters you can use to find senior pets near you.
If there are any problems in those first few weeks of bringing a pet home, the rescue organisation is always there to help.
For people who currently have more time at home than usual, but are anticipating a return to travel or long work hours when lockdown is over, there’s fostering.
Isabella Polizzi, foster care coordinator at Sydney Dogs and Cats Home, says all sorts of people take on foster pets. Like adoptions, the need and demand for foster care can vary a lot. Small and medium dogs are a popular option, but people with flexibility can find a match quicker.
While there are usually more applications than animals available, Polizzi says many shelters find it hard to rehome larger or more active dog breeds such as Staffys and Mastiffs.
Sydney Dogs and Cats Home, RSPCA and other rescue organisations have application forms available on their websites or you can reach out to your local shelter and enquire about their foster program.
Once your application is received, the shelter will be in contact to take you through the next steps. They will work with you to help you find an animal that is the right fit for your situation, as well as conducting home visits and interviews where possible.
There’s also plenty of support available. Polizzi regularly checks in with foster carers and there’s open communication about how the new family member is impacting the household dynamic, including the mental health of everyone involved.
Another short-term option is becoming a carer. In August 2020, Olivia Purnell and her fiancé, Andrew Maraun, welcomed assistance dog Seren into their home. Olivia had grown up around dogs, but didn’t feel they could have one while both she and Andrew were living in an apartment and working fulltime. During the pandemic, after reading a story about assistance dogs who work with returned servicemen, Purnell started doing some research into becoming a carer.
Dogs that will be going into training require carers between eight weeks and 12 to 18 months. Assistance Dogs Australia and Guide Dogs Australia have offices across the country and all the information about becoming a puppy carer can be found on their websites. After completing an application form, the organisation will conduct several interviews and home visits to ensure you’re a suitable applicant before you are matched with a puppy. The organisations cover all food, medication, training and equipment costs.
“I was unfortunately made redundant in September last year and having Seren around to keep me busy and occupied was wonderful,” Purnell says.
“I feel so lucky we had the opportunity to raise her and we miss her loads but know she is making a difference to someone else’s life and that is the greatest gift.”
Snack’s new mum, Kay Campbell, feels the same, and has loved welcoming an older pet into the family.
“I had never adopted an older pet before and wasn’t sure how she would fit in with our other pets, but she’s so full of life and energy,” she says. “She’s quickly become part of the clan.
“She certainly keeps up with the younger dogs and she’s very good at bossing us all around! It didn’t take her long before she had the whole family wrapped around her paw.”