February 20, 2020

Audience: Executive Leadership, Foster Caregivers, Public, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers, Veterinary Team

Organization: The Grey Muzzle Organization
Investigator(s): Lisa Lunghofer
Grant Amount: $48,475.00
Project Type: Basic Research
Project Status: Research Complete

Project Summary

This qualitative study involved interviews and focus groups with more than 150 program directors, volunteers and senior dog adopters representing Grey Muzzle grantees from across the United States. Using a comparative case study approach, the study provides an in-depth examination not only of the grantees' senior dog programs, but also the context in which those programs were implemented, and lessons learned. This is the first study to examine the state of efforts nationally to promote the well-being of senior dogs. Grantees served nearly 2,100 senior dogs during the 2018 - 2019 grant period, and 20% said the grant challenged long-held assumptions about senior dogs.


The objective of the project was: to better understand, describe and thoroughly analyze senior dog programs, including the context in which they operate, lessons learned from their implementation, and their emerging best and promising practices.


The first and primary phase of the study drew participants from 66 organizations that received a Grey Muzzle grant in 2018 - 2019; of the 66 grantees, 59 participated in individual interviews. A total of 71 interviews were conducted with program directors and staff, 93% of whom were female. In addition, telephone interviews were conducted with 41 volunteers and 13 senior dog adopters from these grantees. A series of virtual focus groups was also conducted with 29 program directors from organizations that received a Grey Muzzle grant in 2019 - 2020.

Qualitative data collected from program directors focused on program models and lessons learned because of the grant. Data gathered from interviews with senior dog fosters focused on motivation for fostering or volunteering to work with senior dogs, fostering/volunteering experience and ideas for program improvement. Interviews with senior dog adopters provided information to understand how the senior dog programs are perceived and experienced by adopters.


  • Grantees served nearly 2,100 senior dogs during the 2018 - 2019 grant period, and more than one in three grantees served more senior dogs than their grant application projected
  • The grants affected grantees' decision-making about which dogs they could transfer, allowing them to take in senior dogs they would not have otherwise and provide medical/dental care, as well as improved staff morale
  • Key resources noted as most important by grantees were veterinarians and volunteer fosters
  • Slightly more than half of grantees cited costs associated with senior dogs as a primary challenge, whether known or unknown
  • Approximately 42% of the grantees talked about the importance of collaborating with community-based organizations, including other animal welfare groups, social service agencies and other national organizations
  • 7 grantees talked about adopting or adapting best practices, some from animal welfare and others from human services
  • Approximately 20% of grantees said they challenged long-held assumptions about senior dogs, most importantly assumptions about euthanasia and the public's willingness to open their hearts and homes to older dogs
  • 100% of the 17 adopters said they would adopt a senior dog again without hesitation
  • Approximately 60% of the volunteers and adopters said there needed to be more focused promotion of senior dogs, including the benefits of adopting them and messaging to help overcome stereotypes and preconceived ideas


As shelters and rescues grapple with cost-related disincentives to accept senior dogs, these findings could help inform development and dissemination of programs and practices to increase timely adoption of and live outcomes for senior dogs.

Helping to overcome some of the challenges may require collaboration among community-based organizations, including other animal welfare groups, social service agencies, other national organizations and veterinary practices. More resources devoted to the recruitment of foster volunteers and successful marketing strategies of senior dogs could also increase lifesaving of this group.