Kathy and Andrew Smith with Oscar, the dog they adopted from a Douglas County shelter (Special).

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, approximately 6.5 million companion animals enter U.S. shelters every year. Approximately 1.5 million are euthanized. Younger animals are more adoptable than seniors, who have higher medical expenses and fewer years to live. Therefore, an old dog or cat in a shelter is an emergency for people involved with animal rescue. 

That’s why recently a post on Nextdoor Dunwoody was a plea for help for an abandoned older black lab at the Douglas County Animal Shelter. When picked up, he was covered with fleas that caused hair loss and scabs all over his body, with an open wound on one elbow. He was collarless and slightly arthritic, leading the shelter people to surmise he was an abandoned hunting dog. Because of his wobbly gait, they called him Weeble.

Almost immediately, Sandy Springs residents Kathy and Andrew Smith posted that they were interested.

“He spoke to me through his picture,” said Andrew. “I said, ‘I’ve got to go get that dog.’”

He phoned the shelter while Kathy filled out the online application.

A photo of Oscar, then known as Weeble, at the Douglas County Animal Shelter before his adoption (Special).

“We wanted to make sure he was still available,” said Andrew, who added that the Douglas County Animal Shelter is “probably the finest shelter I’ve ever been in.”

Three days later, Andrew, who is retired, drove to Douglasville to meet Weeble. He brought along their two other rescue dogs — a Jack Russell terrier mix, age 12, and a three-legged pit bull mix, age 6 — to make sure everyone would get along.

Upon arrival, he was sent alone to a room to wait for Weeble.  

“They said he might not warm up to me,” said Andrew. “But he came right up and leaned on my feet. It was an almost instantaneous bond.” 

The shelter would accept no payment. So Andrew made a donation and drove home with his three dogs.

“It’s been great ever since,” he said.

A trip to the vet the next day led to a regimen of skin treatments, which began to heal Weeble’s skin problems and wounded elbow.

“They called him Weeble because he couldn’t walk right,” said Kathy. “They thought maybe he had hip dysplasia, but if you see him jumping now, he doesn’t have any of that anymore!”

Rather than just take her word, I visited Weeble, renamed Oscar, three weeks after he joined their household.

Oscar bore no resemblance to the pitiful creature that had entered the animal shelter just a few weeks earlier. His black coat glistened. He was immediately affectionate to me, and his manners were impeccable. 

In fact, he came to the Smiths totally housebroken and responsive to all the basic commands. I spent an hour with them on their outdoor patio. Though unleashed, Oscar made no attempt to do anything but socialize. Based on his good behavior and trusting nature, the Smiths wonder if he might have been not an abandoned hunting dog but rather a family pet who’d wandered away from a loving home. We’ll never know.

What a happy ending! But the plight of unwanted senior pets remains. How many of us can imagine abandoning our elderly family pet at a shelter? 

Yet, according to Sandy Springs resident Lisa Zambacca, board member of Angels Among Us Pet Rescue, “Someone emails us every day wanting to surrender their old dog.” 

Unfortunately, Angels rejects many of these requests for lack of space because it houses rescued pets in private homes rather than a shelter.

“We would take more if we had more volunteers,” said Angels Development and Events Director Jackie Spett.

Shelter life is hard, especially for trusting old family pets abandoned by the families they love, and rare are the people willing to adopt them.

Luckily, there are people like the Smiths, who prefer to adopt older pets and have adopted nine of them. They also trained seven puppies for Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) and adopted one of them, Marsh, when he aged out of service. So far, the oldest dog they have adopted was a 14-year-old yellow lab from the Gwinnett County Animal Shelter.

“We ‘saw’ her a few weeks after Marsh passed,” said Kathy. “We just couldn’t let her die there. She kept us laughing for two more years until her old legs just gave out.”

“We know nobody else wants them,” said Andrew. “but they turn out to be the best dogs you could ever want. They’re so grateful they return your love five times over.”

Interested in fostering a senior pet? Contact Angels Among Us at  angelsrescue.org.

Regular contributor Carol Niemi is a marketing consultant and writes about people making a difference in our little corner of the world. If you know someone "worth knowing," email her at worthknowingnow@gmail.com