A Seattle-based dog rescue is changing the lives of hundreds of dogs –and people- by saving senior pets from shelters and giving them a second chance at life.
One of the biggest obstacles pet owners face is veterinary bills. This becomes an increasingly worrisome issue as our pets age. For this reason alone, many people hesitate or refuse to adopt senior pets from shelters, and the result is a devastatingly lonely and sad death for that animal.
Old Dog Haven, a Seattle-based dog rescue, is helping reverse that trend. They are making it possible for elderly pups to get loving homes by putting them in foster homes and then paying their veterinary expenses for the rest of the dogs’ lives. The burden of medical expenses is removed from the pet parents, and the dogs get the peaceful and happy last days they deserve.
Old Dog Haven goes to shelters in the region, pulling the senior dogs who stand no chance at getting adopted. From there, the dogs are placed in permanent homes with foster parents, where they get the love, attention, and medical care they so badly need to thrive.
The rescue was founded by Judith and Lee Piper. They work with about 200 volunteers (foster homes) and with most of the shelters in Washington State in order to track down and save dogs over 8 years old. At any given time, over 300 dogs are in Old Dog Haven’s care.
Foster homes are allowed to love and care for their pets without ever having to worry about medical expenses. This ensures each dog can live as long as their bodies intend instead of how long their owner’s finances can manage.
The story of Old Dog Haven is detailed in Laura T. Coffey’s bestselling book My Old Dog: Rescued Pets with Remarkable Second Acts.
Judith Piper, who is the executive director of Old Dog Haven, says she is amazed that so many people wish to take in senior dogs with medical issues. But, this is proof that people’s hearts are in the right place. It also shows that money limitations prevent many people from doing what they truly want to do.
Old Dog Haven not only helps pets, but it helps people too. People get to experience opening up their homes and hearts, and doing a good service. Also, both the pets and the families get to experience deep, meaningful love and companionship with one another. It’s a win-win for everyone.
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The rescue’s veterinary bills average about $8,000 per month. Thanks to the generosity of their donors, they are able to afford it. Judith stated that most dogs are in their foster homes for about one year, but some last 4-7 years.
She makes the point that dogs at that age are easy, fun, happy, and that they don’t ask for much.
Old Dog Haven’s volunteers are the type that fight for the underdog, and who passionately love what they do. Some have even started their own nonprofits after being so inspired by the work they’ve done with this rescue.
Julie Dudley, for example, was once a Microsoft employee in Seattle who provided a final home to 15 pets for Old Dog Haven. She used her entrepreneurial skills, finance experience and passion for senior rescue to start her own organizations.
Dudley now resides in North Carolina funding numerous efforts such as adoption programs which pair senior pets with senior citizens, senior therapy dog programs, pet hospices, and other similar projects. In 2008, she also founded the Grey Muzzle Organization, which assists homeless senior dogs all over the U.S. by providing grants to rescues and shelters in order to help their older dogs.
The efforts taken to help elderly animals make it out of shelters has been on the rise in recent years. Many shelters take special care to showcase their senior animals with a more unique approach, and many even cover the veterinary costs required for pets in need of assisted living.
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This absolutely fills my heart with joy and hope. As a shelter worker, I saw first-hand how dire the situation quickly becomes for senior animals after they wind up in one of these facilities. Some die right away from heartbreak and the unbearable stress of sadness.
Others sit in a cage waiting for a home for a year or more. And many meet an untimely death when they are euthanized to make room for the “more adoptable” animals. It is heartbreaking, unnecessary, and an unfair end to pets who didn’t ask to be given up.
It is not always the people’s fault. Some elderly owners must give up their pets when they are forced to go into a nursing home. Other people face terminal illness or other devastating life changes. And still others lose their jobs, lose their homes, and lose the ability to care for their beloved animals through their last days.
Old Dog Haven, and the organizations like it, are making sure many more pets have a happy ending instead of a tragic one. And they are proving that people do want senior pets – they just need to be sure they can care for them.
I adopted a cat, Hermin, who had been surrendered at age 11. For 14 months, he sat in a cage and never left it. He came to the shelter sick, and his long fur became matted to his skin. He was so skinny I could feel his bones.
When the day came for him to get euthanized, I erased his name from the white board, put him in a carrier, and took him home. I knew I wouldn’t have much time with him, but he had shown such love from his little cage that I didn’t mind.
I only had a year with Hermin, but that year I was shown more love from one creature than I’d ever been shown in my entire life. He bonded with my other cat, and together we groomed him until his mats were gone.
Hermin even got chubby from all the food he ate. Toward the end, we faced a lot of medical procedures and hospitalizations. He fought for his life in the hospital so that he could come home. Once home, Hermin passed away in his sleep, curled up in his favorite bed.
Had I known I would only have a year with him, there is only one thing I would have done differently – I would have adopted him sooner.
Judith Piper states that all creatures die, and asks whether they are going to die happy with a person, or die alone and scared in a shelter. Senior pets provide a depth of gratitude and love that makes their short stay with us worth every single minute. If you can help a life-saving organization like Old Dog Haven by either opening your home to a senior pet or by contributing donations, please consider doing so.
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