This abandoned senior citizen, adopted in time for Christmas, “is appreciative for any little gesture that's made towards her.”

This abandoned senior citizen, adopted in time for Christmas, “is appreciative for any little gesture that’s made towards her.”

by Dana Cairone

Like many of you, hearing the chorus of Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” (on the often-played TV commercial for a rescued dog refuge) has conditioned me to involuntarily shout out something about changing the channel. The images of 32 kittens shoved into a happy meal box and a dog with protruding ribs flash across the screen, with McLachlan narrating on the abuse these innocent creatures have endured.

I have donated to animal shelters over the years, but I was ready to make a real difference by adopting a dog. But not just any dog — particularly an adult or senior, who are often overlooked by people in favor of puppies. I come from a long line of animal lovers. While my parents time and time again have made their own contributions to aiding the displaced of the domesticated animal kingdom, I’ve yet to make my own.

I found myself trolling, shadily looking over my shoulder like a married mother of three planning a secret rendezvous with a beefy co-ed I met on Craigslist. Sure, there are plenty of nice looking faces — with biased bonuses given to the well-mannered and housetrained. When I show up, though, and that “housetrained” pooch pees on my leg out of spite, or the “sweetheart” with the smooshy face takes a piece of my arm back to its cage, then what do I do? It was time to go into the trenches and take a visit to the SPCA.

As I made my way through the narrow aisle, there was a smallish white dog sleeping in the corner, seeming to rise on cue and lick my hand upon approach. This was the one. I requested to take her on a walk, and her perma-smile had me sold. She was playful but relaxed, affectionate but not in your face; we were going to make a great team. Upon her release into my care, I was informed that she was classified as a senior dog between the age of eight and 10. All of a sudden it occurred to me: I was adopting a dog that had ribs sticking out on both sides, was rescued from a high-kill shelter in West Virginia, and most likely wouldn’t make it to see my 40th birthday. Reading my mind, she looked up and smiled. It was a wrap; she was coming home with me.

Scrambling to jump in the backseat of my car, Birdie rested her head on a sweatshirt and fell fast asleep, unaware of the prospects of her future, but tired from a life of neglect. During the first few days, I handled Bird with kid gloves — four walks a day, basically spoon-feeding her meals and limiting her interactions with neighborhood dogs (for fear that she would break from friendly butt sniffing). Still smiling, she carries on at my heels, curious to check out the new world at her little arthritic paws. She has been playing well with other dogs and eats when she’s ready.

With a smile like this, how could anyone not fall in love with Birdie?

With a smile like this, how could anyone not fall in love with Birdie?

Though most of the day she sleeps, I’ve grown accustomed to her tip-toeing around my apartment during the night, exploring under furniture and observing the passing traffic on the street below. My decision to adopt a senior dog is one that I do not regret. I have a companion who doesn’t eat my shoes, came to me knowing commands (and has learned more since) and is appreciative for any little gesture that’s made towards her.

Whether it’s for eight weeks or eight years, welcoming a senior animal into your home will be an experience just as enriching to you as it is for your little adoptee. Make a difference in one of these little underdogs’ (or cats’) lives by visiting one of Philly’s great shelters:,,,, or

* Article and photos are reprinted, with permission, from Philly Current Magazine ( — Nov/Dec 2013 Home Issue