- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The kitten playing in the front window at the Prince George’s County Animal Management Group's (AMG) facility hisses at Norman, a 10-year-old light orange tabby, who has just been moved into the room. Norman looks at the kitten for a moment and then calmly ignores the aggressive behavior while he goes for the food sitting next to the door.

Norman is one of the many animals available for adoption in the county, and during November, many of the fees associated with adopting him will be waived as part of Adopt-a-Senior-Pet Month.

The program is part of a national initiative by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). According to its Web site, ASPCA also sponsors other programs similar to this one, including Adopt-a-Shelter-Cat, Adopt-a-Shelter-Dog, and Adopt-a-Shelter-Pet months.

“Approximately five to seven million companion animals enter animal shelters each year,” says ASPCA’s prepared statement about cat adoption month. That number could be higher than usual now with animal owners surrendering pets they can no longer afford following job losses and problems meeting mortgage payments.

“In today’s economy, local shelters need their communities’ support,” ASPCA President and Chief Executive Ed Sayres stated. “One of the kindest contributions the public can make is to adopt a new pet and give it the love and care it desperately needs.”

Typically, adopting a dog costs $155 and a cat costs $95. However, several of the fees will be waived for those adopting an animal 7 or older in Prince George’s County this month,. If the animal is already spayed or neutered, adopters need only pay the $25 license fee. If the animal needs to be spayed or neutered, there will be a charge of $100 for a dog and $45 for a cat.

At 10, Norman is calmer than many of his younger counterparts and shows no reaction to threats of a kitten half his size. Calmer behavior is one of the many positives of adopting a senior pet, said Rodney Taylor, chief of the Animal Management Group.

Mr. Taylor said many people come in wanting to adopt puppies but many do not have “the time or the energy for a puppy.” In cases like these, Mr. Taylor says, people looking to adopt “should look at adult dogs.”

“You don’t have to go through the puppy training, the teething,” Mr. Taylor said. “Senior pets are already housebroken, a lot calmer. You look at the animal, and you know what you’re getting. You don’t have to wait to find out how big it’s going to get. I encourage it. I think people with busy schedules don’t always have the time to train dogs. And if you don’t train them from a puppy, you have a lot of problems.”

Those who adopt a senior pet should also remember that although they may lose a little time with the animal, they still will have plenty of time left to enjoy their new pet, especially if they choose a cat, which can live into the 20s.

AMG has plenty of grown dogs and cats for people to choose if they’re looking for a senior pet, though Mr. Taylor said the program has not been as successful as he would like.

People “always want to adopt puppies,” Mr. Taylor said. “They don’t usually want to adopt senior pets. It has not been very successful, but we’re just trying to promote it to make it more successful.”

Success shouldn’t be too hard once people come into the shelter and meet some of the senior animals available for adoption.

Faith, an 8-year-old German shepherd mix, was so excited to go out for a walk that she nearly pulled the leash out of a reporter’s hands.

Samson, a 7-year-old Labrador and golden retriever mix, was roughly the size of a house but stood calmly, wagging his tail while being showered with affection.

An as-yet-unnamed 8-year-old Akita in the cage next to Samson quietly waited for a turn in front of the camera and rapidly wagged its tail.

Norman has senior cat friends that would love to be adopted, including Ahi, who got his name because he smelled like tuna when he was brought into the shelter. Ahi, who is 8 years old, was a stray and still has a few marks of a hard life on the streets, but he has adapted well to the warmth of his high-rise cage. When the kittens around him were crying for attention, he remained quiet and aloof but purred loudly when brought out of his cage by Mr. Taylor.

Those who adopt a senior pet frequently say in feedback e-mails how happy they are with the decision, Mr. Taylor said. “We’ve had a couple of dogs leave that went to rescue groups and have been placed in permanent homes now, and the new adopters are excited, the rescue groups are excited, and we’re excited,” Mr. Taylor said.

“We just encourage citizens to come to the shelter to adopt an animal,” he said. “We really want to promote adoptions, and we really do believe that here in P.G. County, you will find your best friend. And we really do believe that you adopt an animal for life into your loving home.”

• Meredith Hulley is a writer, photographer and University of Maryland student.

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