We Believe in Change

When a German Shepherd rescue organization posted Elmo’s photo online last fall, it made no effort to mask the dog’s problems. He wore a cone around his neck to prevent him from licking the large open sore on his hip. His fungus-ridden feet were swollen. His graying, 11-year-old face held a pathetic, ears-to-the-ground gaze.

Steve Frost, a retired fire captain in Northern California, said he saw the photo and thought Elmo “looked like hell.” He immediately decided he wanted the dog.

Four months later, Frost sits by his fireplace every morning and evening and gives Elmo four pills for his various ailments, “like an old man.” On Wednesday morning, he took Elmo in for prostate surgery. Frost, who had not owned a dog in several years, is now ushering one through its final years of life, which he says he figures will be “a lot better than living in a kennel.”

Frost, 59, met Elmo through the Thulani Program, one of a growing number of animal organizations focusing on adopting out older dogs, or “senior dogs” that are typically 7 years or older. Their age makes them some of the hardest-to-place animals in a society that still adores romping puppies, although that is changing as books on elderly dogs and social media campaigns convince pet-seekers that the mature pooches often come with benefits, such as being house-trained, more sedate and less demanding of people with busy lifestyles.

But some of those adopters go further, selecting pets from programs for dogs in need of hospice care, or what amounts to assisted living for very ill or very old dogs. These programs usually commit to covering the cost of a dog’s medical and dental care, which might otherwise be a major obstacle to finding them homes, said Lisa Lunghofer, executive director of the Maryland-based Grey Muzzle Organization. The donor-funded group gave $225,000 in grants last year to 38 senior dog programs nationwide, several of which now promote hospice adoptions.

Frost, who lives in Redding, Calif., and is a part-time professional pilot, said he knew he wasn’t up to the task of raising a puppy. He also knew he wanted a German Shepherd. An Internet search led him to Thulani, and that led him to Elmo, one of the organization’s hospice dogs.