Petie, Oscar, and Nemo rushed to greet me as I walked into the Muttville rescue house for senior dogs.
“Hi there guys. How ya doing today?”
Petie and Oscar, both some type of terrier mix, rubbed against my legs as I reached down to pet them. The sound of my voice brought more dogs from the living room where they had been resting. I noticed three new dogs that weren’t here last week when I came to volunteer. One of the dogs, a grey poodle mix, was walking wobbly, probably because of arthritis or broken bones due to injury. I could see that the brown chihuahua was missing an eye and the black poodle mix had several patches of missing fur and a cataract in one eye. These wonderful dogs are typical of some of the senior dogs that Muttville rescues.
Senior dog rescue organizations like Muttville specialize in older dogs, from five years and older. Sherri Franklin, the founder and executive director of Muttville, saw the need to help save these dogs, who are not as adoptable because of their age and often special needs.
“I have spent many years rescuing dogs, especially older dogs, but the need was larger than I could handle as an individual, so in 2007 I started Muttville, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of older dogs through foster, adoption, education and end-of-life care,” Sherri said. “We moved into our new building in November 2012. Before that the dogs lived in my home and in foster homes of Muttville volunteers. Now our dogs are in foster homes and the new facility, with just a couple I’ve adopted at my house.”
“How do the dogs come to you?” I asked her.
“The dogs come to Muttville from community shelters as well as from private homes. We have arrangements with several local shelters as well as through a rescue dog online network. There are so many stories about how they come to us, but here are two examples:
Knight was confined in a filthy, chicken-wire cage for four years at a commercial dog breeding operation, known as a puppy mill, until his owners decided to auction him for lab research. Fortunately, staff from an animal rights organization called People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals purchased nine dogs, at the auction, including Knight. They brought them all to the San Francisco SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) for socialization and adoption. All were adopted except Knight, who had been so mistreated and traumatized that he could hardly walk and was afraid of everything. At the time I was working at the SPCA, so I took Knight home to foster him. It took a lot of patience, but gradually I got him accustomed to human contact, treated his medical problems and socialized him with other dogs. He started to respond to affection. He learned to walk and then run on the beach. After eight months I found the perfect guardian to adopt him.“
“That story shows how resilient dogs are when treated kindly. Do most of the dogs come from such terrible situations?” I asked.
“A lot do, but not all. We get dogs from good homes also. I remember getting a phone call several years ago about two dogs whose guardian could no longer care for them. So I took them in my home. Sparky was very old and fragile, but Artie was much younger and spunkier. I kept them together until Sparky died and then found a wonderful, loving home for Artie.”
Some senior dogs have health issues related to their age or past neglect. Sherri explained that typical health problems she sees are heartworm, fleas, diarrhea caused by intestinal parasites, skin problems and mal-nourishment. At Muttvlle I’ve seen older dogs who are healthy and energetic and those with some of these ailments. For example, one Friday when I arrived at Muttville, there were four new dogs from an animal shelter 150 miles away. They had been at the shelter for several weeks and would have been euthanized (killed) that very day. After bathing them, I noticed that one of the dogs had a skin disease and another one was so skinny and stooped that he walked quite slowly. The other two seemed okay. Sherri, told me that they would all soon be taken to the veterinarian for a check-up and treatment, if needed.
Rescue Organizations Offer a Last Chance
Senior dog rescue organizations like Muttville literally save lives because older dogs are not adopted as readily as younger ones. Shelters do an amazing job of caring for animals and are essential as temporary homes for the estimated five to seven million dogs and cats that enter shelters nationwide every year. However, shelters don’t have the space and other resources to keep animals indefinitely, so if they don’t get adopted by a certain time, they are euthanized. According to the American SPCA website (http://www.aspca.org/about-us/faq/pet-statistics.aspx), approximately three to four million animals are euthanized (60 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats) every year.
Fortunately, in many states there are private rescue organizations that will take these unwanted dogs and find homes or provide end-of-life care for them. “The Senior Dogs Project” website (http://www.srdogs.com/Pages/agencies.sr.html), lists 16 rescue organizations in eleven states that are dedicated to older dogs of all types and another 11 that specialize in rescuing older dogs of a particular breed, like cocker spaniels or beagles. Moreover, there are many other rescue organizations across the U.S. that accept dogs of all ages and some of these have programs that discount the adoption fee for senior companions who adopt a senior dog.
Why Adopt an Older Dog?
Whether you decide to adopt a dog from a shelter or a rescue group, older dogs offer many benefits. They are already house-broken and past the chew-everything stage, so they require much less training than puppies. There are fewer initial vet costs because most rescue dogs have had physical examinations, have been spayed or neutered, have been tested for heartworm, and are up to date on shots. There is a certain satisfaction that comes from adopting or fostering a dog that no one else seems to want. Moreover, you may discover that you develop more patience, as you help the dog learn to trust and regain its confidence.
Even if your family decides it cannot take on the permanent responsibility of adopting a dog from a shelter or rescue group, you might suggest to your parents to consider fostering a rescue dog. Rescue organizations depend on volunteers to provide temporary foster homes for dogs. Learn more about adopting and fostering dogs at the websites listed in the sidebar. You won’t be sorry, as older rescue dogs tend to be more affectionate and loyal, perhaps because they know you saved their lives.