Senior dogs are better than puppies. Their graying faces and warm eyes are often overlooked in shelters because of the misconceptions of what it means to adopt an older dog. College students search for wiggly puppies to bring home to their roommates and trot around campus, but they often fail to measure their time commitment to a pet.
A puppy impulsively adopted in college can live well over a decade, and pets can get lost in the whirlwind of post-graduate life. I took all of this into account when I started searching for a dog my freshman year at JMU.
My experience with animal rescue and a brief stint in dog training prepared me for the daunting task of finding a small dog, but I never had the intention of adopting a gray-faced, overweight chihuahua. Searching for an adoptable dog online — something that's even more common now, thanks to COVID-19 — can be overwhelming with all the options and organizations, but when I saw this small dog grinning at me through the monitor screen, I knew I had to meet him.
The next day, I took home #1346 and quickly renamed him PB, or Paul Blart, for his squat posture and friendly nature. It was surprising to find out that he was already potty trained and understood some basic commands, such as “sit” and “shake.” Many older dogs are usually adopted with some form of training, and it allows for a quicker adjustment period in their new home.
Senior dogs are ready to wind down and relax, and this offers the perfect amount of commitment for a college student. Having a puppy to play with during finals might ease the stress of studying, but the constant need for supervision and exercise can have a negative impact on everyday life throughout the rest of the year. PB spends most of his time napping quietly at my feet while I complete assignments but never turns down an opportunity to take a walk or grab a snack.
PB was 10 years old when I adopted him in 2017. Since then, we’ve traveled to four different states, swam at the beach, explored every corner of the Valley, taken endless car rides and made many new friends. His sociable personality was well-established before I brought him home, which is usually the case when looking at mature dogs. A student will know exactly what kind of pet they’re bringing into their life when adopting a senior dog, whereas a puppy can act differently from the dog they grow up to be. Adopting a senior hasn’t inhibited my ability to create worthwhile memories. He’s a regular visitor on the Quad, local hiking trails and hasn’t slowed down yet. Bringing home an older companion isn’t just hospice care.
Although puppies can be exceptionally adorable, they come with baggage that most students aren’t prepared to handle. The solid dependability of a senior dog is exactly what many college-aged people are looking for, as many of them come trained, vaccinated and neutered.
PB represents how much life a senior dog has left to give. Making the decision to add a dog to a daily routine requires diligent planning and a lifelong promise of care and love, regardless of age. Adopting a pet means considering how their temperament, energy and size will affect a household for years to come. Senior dogs aren’t what most college students want, but choosing to love a graying muzzle offers everything they need.
Summer Conley is a junior public policy and administration major. Contact Summer at firstname.lastname@example.org.