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Animal Advocate Jill Rappaport Talks Adopting Senior Dogs

Jill Rappaport Dogs FTR

November is National Adopt a Senior Pet Month. What exactly is a senior pet? Well, it depends on the animal and the breed. For example, in smaller breed dogs, age 10 is considered to be an older age. It's the same for most cats, too. But in a large breed dog? Age 7 might earn them their AARP card. With some bird species living 30 to 50 years, they approach senior status in their teenage years.

As far as actually adopting senior pets, award-winning animal advocate and TV journalist Jill Rappaport practices what she preaches—and she preaches the benefits of not only adopting and rescuing animals but also choosing older animals when you do adopt. Her current pack of six rescued dogs includes a number of seniors, such as CJ, her Havanese. She estimates CJ is about 16. Her other dogs are Rubie, Oscar Mayer, Petey, Stanley and Scout.

Rappaport is so devoted to older animals that she has partnered with Animal Planet and its annual Puppy Bowl, which she's been involved with since 2016, to create the Dog Bowl. Like Puppy Bowl, it will broadcast on Super Bowl weekend: Dog Bowl will be on Saturday, February 3, 2018. Unlike Puppy Bowl, the Dog Bowl will feature all adult dogs (at least four years old), many of them seniors and totally adoptable.

I recently spoke with Rappaport about her thoughts on adopting senior dogs, her own rescue stories and where the idea for Dog Bowl originated.

When did you first start rescuing dogs?

I've been rescuing my whole life at a time when people thought it was crazy. My first rescue was in the 1980s, a dog I found in the Hamptons that I named Hampton. He was covered in ticks and maybe four years old when I rescued him. I had him 17 years. After he died I wanted to adopt again. We do all love our animals and pretty soon after one dies, I go out and rescue another as a way to honor the one who died.

People seem to be hesitant to adopt a senior pet because they're afraid they will die soon.

That's the question I get all the time. No one knows how much time you have. I have found when you rescue an older pet, they thrive so much that they exceed the time you think you are going to have with them. I feel like rescuing extends their life. You can't worry about how many years you have. Just worry about making the best life for that animal. That's the whole point of Dog Bowl—for people to be able to see vibrant, amazing animals that just happen to have frosted mugs and snouts or salt-and-pepper fur.

Tell me more about Dog Bowl.

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First of all, I'm so honored. I have the best role in Puppy Bowl. I tell the backstories of all the puppies in "Pup Close and Personal" segments. I've had this idea for so long that, wow, everyone loves Puppy Bowl—I could watch it all day long—and I thought, Wouldn't it be great to do this for the older pets and show how wonderful they are? Animal Planet embraced it and here we are. I hope it gets people to realize that when they go into a shelter that older pets deserve a home and make the best pets.

Animal Planet

Jill Rappaport cuddles a puppy from last year's Puppy Bowl broadcast.

Why do you believe that older pets make the best pets?

I joke that with older pets, they want to sleep on the couch, not eat the couch. When you think about it, they're just calming forces when they're older. They're mellow. My doxie gets in bed with me at night and is glued to me at my side. I adopted him when he was eight or nine. Having an older dog is relaxing and you have your downtime with them. When you adopt really young animals, it's exhausting. You find yourself thinking, Do you ever get tired? Older pets, ages four and up, when you go into the shelter, that's what you see. People don't want them. I'm hoping that Dog Bowl will make a difference.

Don't older animals come with baggage?

I think people need to understand that when you bring home a senior pet, it's an adjustment period in the sense. They are probably over-the-top with emotion and excitement with the warmth and love you're giving them, but there are probably things that will trigger things in them. Like when I try to put my dog Oscar in a car, he freaks out because he may think I am trying to give him back. It's a process to imagine what they've been through. In the end you will end up with the most committed, loving animal.

What's something surprising about adopting a senior pet or a pet in general that people may not realize?

That you can adopt purebreds. Out of my six pack, five are purebreds. So many people won't go to shelters because they believe they can't find what they want. Like if you want a golden retriever or golden doodle or a yellow lab, there is a rescue group for every breed out there. There is no excuse not to rescue. You can find whatever breed you want. Even so, you might be very surprised to see what's waiting at your local shelter if you would consider adopting an older animal.


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