Each year, hundreds of dogs and cats are abandoned or relinquished to pet shelters or rescue groups. Pets who are 7 or older are sometimes difficult to re-home even though they are usually house-trained and easier to care for than younger animals. Two rescue groups, Senior Hearts Rescue and Renewal and Senior Pet and Animal Rescue, were created to focus on finding homes for older pets. This is the second of a two-part series on these groups:
Laura Brocklebank and her friend, Jennifer Pease, each volunteered for over a decade at Animal Rescue League (now Humane Animal Rescue). They also have been active in several other local groups such as Hello Bully.
During those years, they saw many older dogs that were healthy and well-behaved come into the shelter, but few were made available for adoption. The shelter mindset, Ms. Brocklebank says, was that only the healthiest and easiest to adopt dogs went on the floor, simply because of the overpopulation of unwanted pets.
They didn’t agree. They felt that lots of these older animals would make great pets because they were generally housebroken, trained and often more settled than younger ones. All they needed was basic care and affection.
The women decided it was time to do something to help. They formed Senior Pet and Animal Rescue. Before they began accepting dogs and cats, they got their 501c3 paperwork in order and secured nonprofit status.
They get animals through shelters or owners who surrender them for a multitude of reasons.
“We have a rule that we don’t bash people who surrender animals. ... We are in a business to help animals, but we help people too,” Ms. Brocklebank says.
They also do not consider animals unless they are within a two-hour driving radius. “There is a big need for us here, so we stay local.
“We take dogs as young as 6 years and up to 16 years old. We’ve adopted out two different 16-year-old dogs,” she says.
Some animals have medical needs; one has a skin condition, another is blind. The rescue also has a bonded pair that will need to be re-homed together. The group takes dogs of any size — they found a home for a great Dane — but most are smaller, probably because small dogs have longer lifespans.
“The number of pets (we have) varies upon how many foster homes we have, and how many medical needs we have. ... We can have anywhere from one animal at a time to about seven. If everything goes well with the intakes we are doing, we will have nine animals, four cats and the rest dogs.”
The pets they take must meet certain criteria. “We arrange a meet and greet, we do a temperament test and evaluation, we make sure they are friendly with people. We need to feel comfortable around them,” Ms. Brocklebank says.
Because all the pets they handle are fostered by a group of volunteers, there is no physical shelter. “We move slowly because if something does not work out, the animal has to come to my or Jen’s house,” she said.
Ebony, a 10- to- 13-year-old pug, was surrendered because her former owners could no longer care for her. The shelter asked SPAAR to take the dog, who had a few minor medical issues. She has been fostered by Stefani Markis of Glassport for just over a month. She says Ebony gets along great with her dog (a pit bull mix) and loves kids and human interaction.
“She really is the full package,” Ms. Markis says, who has been fostering for SPAAR since it was founded. “I met Laura and Jen when we all volunteered together at a local shelter.”
So far, she has fostered seven dogs for them and says that senior dogs are much easier to foster than younger animals.
“The dogs come with all the supplies, and I never have to spend a penny. I just give them a place to stay and all the love they can handle. SPAAR takes care of the rest.”
Some dogs spend a month or less in foster homes before they are adopted. For cats, it’s a little longer. Ms. Brocklebank thinks that’s because there is a glut of cats available in shelters, and adopters tend to choose younger cats.
Their adopters come from all walks of life, from older people to single parents. They are required to fill out an application and provide character references and veterinary references.
“There are a lot of rescues with arbitrary rules,” she says. “If it’s a senior dog, a lot of them don’t need a fence. That’s why we require meet and greets and two-week trials, so we can ensure that the stop will be the last stop they make.”
SPAAR recruits foster families via social media and by manning tables at local events. “We have about five or 10 [fosters] at any given time, including Jen and I,” she says. “We keep it pretty small and tight.
“We really focus on the quality of the dog’s life and how they are living, rather than the quantity.”
The group also administers Ferdinand’s Fund, which helps those in financial need with veterinary bills or other pet expenses. Ms. Brocklebank notes the high cost of emergency treatment and says that owners sometimes must sign a beloved pet over to a shelter in an emergency.
“We try to be a stop-gap there. ... [Donors] have been generous.”
They often get calls from veterinarians whose clients are in a bind. The women see the fund as another way to further their work. After all, allowing a cherished pet to remain with an owner for life is a win for everybody, human and animal.
They also raise funds for hospice care. Money directed to Crusha’s Hospice Program provides care for elderly animals that may have terminal illnesses or need unique or costly end-of-life care. In some instances, these animals are surrendered because their owners can’t afford ongoing care. Once again, volunteers take these animals into their homes and care for them; their medical bills are covered. To get in touch with the group or to donate, go to www.seniorpetandanimalrescue.org.
Ms. Brocklebank is pleased that shelters are adopting out more senior pets.
“A lot more seniors are going on the [adoption] floor, and they are getting adopted. ... It’s been great to see.”