We are in the middle of one of my favorite months: Adopt A Senior Pet Month (also known as November). It’s no coincidence that the month of thankfulness is also Senior Pet Month; my senior pets have given me so much for which to be grateful.
Over the past 10 years, I have adopted or provided hospice care to about a dozen senior dogs, and fostered several more that went on to get adopted. My adoptive and hospice dogs called my home their final home and took their last breaths in my arms. When this comes up in conversation, most people look at me and tell me some version of how crazy I am or how they could never bear it. And it’s true that these dogs have broken my heart. But the heart seems to be pretty resilient, because once the pain fades, the pull to help another is still just as strong.
If I cared for only young dogs, I wouldn’t have been able to have half the experiences I have had. I have cared for everything from Chihuahuas to Boxers to pit bulls to Dobermans and more. How amazing it is to be able to call so many dogs “mine.” And aside from the different experiences with the different breeds, each one had their own individual personality that was special.
Finn – my huge-headed pit bull, how could I forget how you lay in the doorway of my bedroom every night, making me feel so safe, yet also cried when the cats would smack you?
Buddy, my yellow Labrador – I can still hear your breath in my ear as you were attached like Velcro to my side every minute of every day.
Cooper, my oh-so-old beagle – I can still see the look in your eyes when you would get stuck behind things like dandelions, tall blades of grass, and small boxes … and the grateful wag of your tail when such roadblocks were removed.
Bella, my first pit bull, so worn out when you arrived here – I can still feel the contrast of the velvet of your ears against the rough scars.
And my beautiful Boxer Rosie – I can still feel joy in my heart when thinking of your huge, awkward body running toward me with such happiness, slobber and jaw flaps flying everywhere, while that nubby tail went a mile a minute.
In addition to all these amazing memories I have, there are so many other benefits to senior adoption. All of these animals meshed into my house relatively easily. Some needed housebreaking refreshers, but most were good to go. They were all laid-back, easygoing and content to relax with us. When my daughter was born, my old dogs took it in stride. Truly, they were a pleasure to love.
We have several senior pets at the South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter who would love to be your choice for Adopt A Senior Pet Month:
- Rigby is a happy 9-year-old Jack Russell mix who is hanging in foster care while waiting for the perfect home.
- Teddy is a 7-year-old Yorkshire Terrier who is waiting out his stray time to see if an owner comes looking for him – if not, he’ll be in need of a home, too!
And if you are looking for even lower-maintenance with just as much love, consider our senior cats:
- Lionell and Lucinda were part of a group of six seniors who arrived after being found with their deceased owner Four have been adopted, and Lionell (a 12-year-old orange tabby) and Lucinda (a 12-year-old calico tabby) are waiting their turn. They are in foster care and have proven to be amazing – getting along great with cats, kids and well-mannered dogs!
- Margaret can be found in our adoption room. She a really sweet and loving 7-year-old orange tabby.
Since life in the shelter can be especially difficult for seniors, we are also always looking for foster homes to care for our seniors while they await their adoptive homes. I don’t think I have to reinforce how rewarding I find fostering seniors. If you are interested in helping our seniors, please visit our website to send in our Foster or Adoption Application.
Last night when I went in my daughter’s bedroom to kiss her goodnight before I went to sleep myself, I saw something moving under the covers. It was the Chihuahua who was cuddled up with her and very, very comfortable. This is remarkable, because since she was very young, I tried to find a pet for her to bond with. Since we had four pets at the time of her birth and cared for a few dozen other during her four years of growing, it shouldn’t have been difficult. But nothing clicked until the Chihuahua came home.
What makes the nighttime cuddling remarkable is the Chihuahua himself, a 4-pound white terror with the face of an angel and the temperament of Tasmanian devil. I adore senior dogs, and about this time last year our adopted Boxer Rosie passed away – breaking my heart and leaving me with only one dog, something that makes me twitchy. However, we wound up fostering a cat who had given birth outside in the cold and made a commitment to her and the babies until adoption. Once they had all found their forever homes (except mom, who is still here), the house seemed quiet – as quiet as can be with a dog, a 3-year-old and three cats.
So, on my birthday, I gave myself the gift of a senior foster dog. Stuart was tiny and old, emaciated and shivering. Huddled in the back of his kennel, he certainly needed some TLC. I knew it would be easy to find him a home once he felt better. We are a big dog family; we loved our Boxer and our pit bulls, and that’s obviously what our next dog to “keep” would be, so being able to find a good home for Stuart was important. Also, since her experience was with big and friendly dogs, I had to explain to my daughter, who was eagerly awaiting our new arrival, the potentially sensitive nature of Chihuahuas. She would need to give him space so he wasn’t scared, he may not like children and, even when she could touch him, she would need to be very gentle.
When he bit me as I was trying to get him into my car, I should have known … but he was given a free pass and brought home, set up comfortably and introduced to the family. After that bite, I warned my daughter to be extra careful. She sat on the floor a distance away and called him to see if he would come. He launched himself across the room and flew into her lap, frantically wiggling and wagging his tail, and kissing her all over. And that’s it … that’s pretty much how the past several months have gone.
My husband, myself and any other adults are fair game for a snap and a bite if we request something with which he doesn’t agree. Growling is frequent, and I swear this dog knows how to give dirty looks when he is forced to go potty outside and the weather isn’t acceptable. But my child can carry him around; he cuddles with her, plays outside with her and generally just adores her. And it is a mutual sentiment. When describing her pets, you will always hear about “my little buddy Stuart – but he’s a Chihuahua so you gotta watch out!”
While she understands that fostering is a way for us to help animals to their forever homes, it’s hard to ignore the bond that has developed between the two. And for that reason, Stuart has remained here. How could I send
away the dog who wakes out of a dead sleep in his bed to follow me into her room to check on her late at night? While he’s certainly not the big dog we wanted, he’s currently filling a big spot in our family by being my girl’s little buddy.
The South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter in Vineland is proud to have been selected as a Grey Muzzle Organization grant recipient this year.
The Grey Muzzle Organization is a wonderful organization that funds programs run by shelters and rescues that benefit senior dogs. We have had this honor in the past, and our Grey Muzzle grants have helped to form and sustain our shelter’s Senior Society. This year’s grant is extra special because it allows us to expand our Senior Society to include community outreach and owner surrender prevention.
In addition to providing medical care for senior dogs who have been released to the shelter, were found as strays or are cruelty cases, we are now also able to offer assistance to members of our community who own senior dogs they want to keep but just need some help to be able to do so. We recognize that the best place for senior dogs is with the family who loves them, and now we have the ability to provide assistance to some families to keep them there!
We also have had situations where it’s not possible to support the dog staying home. We always strive to respect owners and their particular situation. The welfare of the animal is most important, but as a community-based program, working with and respecting owners is a part of our program as well. When these situations arise, we try to determine if it’s in the dog’s best welfare to be immediately brought to the shelter for care or if we have time to try to find a home or rescue for the dog so he can skip the often stressful shelter stay.
We are currently working with both situations:
- Scooter’s family reached out for help and he was released to the shelter this weekend because he had developed a medical condition that needed medical care. He’s now receiving medication and soon will be looking for a new home.
- We are also helping Mikey, a 15-year-old Corgi mix whose family is unable to care for him. They are keeping him at home until we find a family that can better meet his needs.
We also provide hospice care for senior dogs who have medical conditions that we cannot fix. We can give them lots of love and comfort and dignity as they finish out their time with us. We are currently providing a beautiful Labrador named Buddy with hospice care; he’s very loved in a foster home and receiving medication and special food to keep him feeling his best. We are seeking sponsors for Buddy’s prescription food, as we hope to be able to need it for months to come! This is a wonderful way to help us help our seniors.
And, of course, we continue to provide care for the many senior dogs that arrive as strays. We try to get our seniors into foster homes, where they are more comfortable. That’s the case with Amigo, who has been waiting for over 100 days to find a home! He’s a staff and volunteer favorite, and awesome just pours out of him like rays of sunshine! He’s perfect with other dogs and cats, and housebroken. He’s an outdoor enthusiast – loving trees and water and leaves and sunshine and dirt. If you need a devoted companion in your life, he’s the perfect AMIGO for you.
We also are caring for Jack, another favorite of staff and volunteers, who hasn’t found a forever or a foster home yet. Jack is a boxer/bulldog mix who is 8 years old and just about as lovely as they come. He’s very well-trained, housebroken, neutered and just waiting to offer you his big paw as a sign of goodwill. He loves when volunteers snuggle in his kennel with him. He’s been a bit stiff, living in a kennel during the winter, but fortunately our Grey Muzzle Organization grant has allowed us to keep him comfortable with medication. Jack is a big boy; the only thing bigger than his paws are his heart. Jack would love to find a warm home to curl up in sooner rather than later. Come visit him at the shelter.
For more information about adoptable Senior Society dogs, sponsorship opportunities, fostering or hospice opportunities, or to seek help with a senior dog, please contact me at Rescuepartners@cumberlandcountyspca.org.
Animal sheltering is, and always will be, a mixed bag of emotions. But heading into this Thanksgiving, I was struggling to find things to be grateful for. We have had several situations lately that have been heartbreaking, and they took a toll on me and other staff members at the South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter. A few weeks ago, a white Staffordshire mix with cropped ears, an emaciated figure and sores all over arrived at the shelter. We named him Christian and started him on the road to what we hoped was recovery. Provided with a comfortable bed and blankets, warmth and love, Christian was comfortable for the first time in a long time. He didn’t want to eat, so staff went through an array of delicious foods to hand feed him. He didn’t want to get up, so we sat in his kennel with him, where he lay his head in our laps and was content. Sadly, the news from our veterinarian was not good: Christian struggled to walk and grew weaker, despite our best attempts to get him back on his feet. There wasn’t anything we could do to keep him comfortable. We had to put him to sleep to prevent him from suffering. But how I suffered with the regret that I wasn’t able to do more for him …
On the tail of that heartache came another awful loss. After their owner was admitted to a hospital on a long-term basis, orange tabby cat Rolie Polie Olie and collie mix Zowie found themselves admitted to the shelter. Both were seniors, and both were confused and sad. There are no accommodations at the shelter where we could have them together, so they were separated, and I made it my goal to get these two back together in a foster home or rescue who could help them. Olie did better and was moved to the Adoption Room, while sweet Zowie was so overwhelmed that she barely got off her bed and quickly became ill with kennel cough. With Zowie’s situation becoming urgent, I contacted senior rescues and, thankfully, found a rescue partner, Senior Dog Haven and Hospice in Delaware, that was able to help both Zowie and Olie. Zowie was rushed to the veterinarian as her health continued to decline; she was not eating and, in hopes of perking her up, Zowie and Olie were reunited at the vet’s office and immediately began cuddling together. It was the most heartwarming update I had received in a long time. I thought it was my reminder that, as sad as some situations had been, there is always an upswing.
But then I received a text that stopped my heart. Zowie was struggling to breathe – they were doing everything they could, but it wasn’t looking good. A short time later, Zowie had to be euthanized; she was suffering as she struggled and wasn’t responding to any of their interventions. Rolie Polie Olie was brought back to her to say goodbye. And Zowie was gone. Despite the regularity of heartache, anger and frustration, I don’t cry often. But I cried over the loss of Zowie, remembering cuddling her and promising her everything would be OK. Over a reunion that was too brief. Over the happy ending that I needed, that wasn’t going to happen. It felt like too much. All I wanted to do was retreat from the shelter and the animals. But the need doesn’t stop just because the staff is dealing with difficult feelings – work still needs to be done, and other animals still need help.Join now for as low as$9.99/YRSubscribe NowI had to mentally shift gears to be able to help the others. Instead of focusing on the loss, I thought about what would have happened to Zowie and Christian if it wasn’t for the shelter. Christian would have continued to suffer in the cold until his eventual death. But when he died, he wouldn’t have been surrounded by people who loved him and he probably wouldn’t have gone as peacefully as he did. There wasn’t anything that could have been done to prevent Zowie from passing; I am 100 percent confident that the rescue did everything it could for her and that the decision to let her go was in her best interest. I know they bonded to her as deeply as I did – she was just that type of dog. I have to choose to be grateful that they were able to reunite her with Olie. Maybe she had been slowly dying for some time, and maybe she needed to be able to see him to let go. And while Zowie is gone, Rolie Polie Olie will never be alone and homeless again. These people got up close and personal with a new friend: a hungry sea lion. AnimalkindWhen you choose to see light, it becomes easier to see. We had a litter of kittens that had been at the shelter for over a month. They were becoming healthy and social when, suddenly, they developed a serious virus that claimed three of their lives. This was heartbreaking, but inst
Sometimes we get lucky enough in life to have a “heart dog” enter our lives. Heart dogs are the dogs that fill a place inside you – a hole that you may not have even known needed to be filled. It’s the dog who is your constant through life’s hills and valleys, and the dog who brought something special to life that no other animal, or person, could. This is very difficult to explain, but if you have had a heart dog, you will know exactly what I am attempting to describe. Recently, one of our staff members lost his heart dog, a dog that he rescued in every sense of the word. I have worked in animal shelters for 15 years, and the story of George and Golden Boy is one of the most beautiful, touching partnerships I have encountered. I can only hope that I do justice in telling their story.
Golden Boy, a 9-year-old pit bull, was rescued by Cumberland County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals cruelty agents from an abusive and terribly neglectful situation. Although he was skeletally thin, he was found secured to by a heavy chain, huddled on the hard dirt ground. When he arrived at the shelter, he was emaciated, weak and sick.One particular staff member, George, felt a strong draw to Golden Boy from the day he arrived. As Golden Boy became stronger, he became reactive to almost everyone and would bark aggressively in his kennel. He was impossible to handle. He had so few good experiences with humans to draw from that he found it too difficult to trust most people. The exception to this mistrust was George.
George continued to spend lots of time with Golden Boy, and their bond grew. Golden Boy, unfortunately, had to stay in the shelter for months while his case progressed through the justice system. When the case concluded successfully, George knew that Golden Boy needed a place to go. His behavior made him unadoptable and he couldn’t stay at the shelter. The bond was already so strong that George committed to doing whatever needed to be done so that he and Golden Boy could stay together. He built a gorgeous, heated and cooled kennel for Golden Boy and took him home. Remarkably, Golden Boy quickly adjusted to his kennel and was doing so well that he was brought into the house and became part of the family. He made a flawless transition to being a beloved house dog, even enjoying his Chihuahua brothers.
About a year ago, Golden Boy was diagnosed with prostate cancer. We utilized funds from a Grey Muzzle Organization grant for senior dogs to extend his time and keep him comfortable. The extra months that Golden Boy and George had together were a blessing. Knowing that Golden Boy’s time on earth was coming to a close, George filled their everyday together with love and fun.In March, Golden Boy passed away, with George at his side. I know how incredibly difficult his loss was and how he has been missed every day since. George is a man of few words, but sometimes a few words are all that’s needed to convey a big message.
I asked him how he and Golden Boy connected.“Why did Golden Boy and I click? We both needed one another at the time we met. He saved my life and I saved his!”
A couple of weeks ago, the animal control officer from Salem County brought in two old dogs the likes of which I had never seen. They appear to be some sort of Samoyed/Malamute mixes; they would make good candidates for DNA testing. Both are seniors, probably at least 8 to 10 years – old for the size dog that they are. They were in horrible shape when they arrived: extremely matted, flea-infested, filthy, very skinny and stinking to high heaven. Our staff members were so upset by their condition that they immediately began shaving and bathing them. Clipping their fur was more like sheering a sheep; it came off in dense, heavy sections and the skin beneath it was wet and infected. Inoki, the younger dog, was suffering from a urinary tract infection. Koa, the older of the two, is blind and Inoki may also be a bit vision-impaired.It is obvious from both their physical condition and their level of socialization that they have spent their lives in a disgustingly filthy pen of some sort with little or no protection from the weather or the sun. They were both completely calm and compliant when being groomed; neither however, seeks affection or attention, as I am sure they never received any. They look very different now; their fur is short and pure white. Their skin is pink and healthy-looking. They have both started to pick up a little weight.
Their mandatory stray hold is over now, and we are seeking rescue for both of them. They will most probably not be the kind of dog that is going to adapt to a cozy life spent lounging on the sofa while their new owners pamper them with hugs and cuddles. They will need a long period of adjustment as they learn new social skills and new behavior patterns that they were never exposed to in the past. With his blindness, Koa will need help managing in a new environment, and would probably be best either staying with Inoki or having another dog to serve as his guide.Just as in humans, there are different causes of blindness in dogs. Cataracts in dogs are quite common with aging, especially for dogs that have spent their lives outdoors with constant exposure to the sun. Retinal disease can affect dogs at any age, causing a progressive loss of vision from the time they reach one year of age. I have had two dogs that have suffered from retinal disease; both were about 9 years old or so before it really became an issue. The first time I experienced it, I literally had no idea that there was anything wrong with my little guy until I took him out of his home environment to go on vacation. He was walking off leash right next to me when we ventured out onto a small dock – which he promptly fell off of and into the water. Within a few days of being away, I knew he had a problem, which was confirmed by a veterinary ophthalmologist when we got home.
Many of you may be dealing with animals who are suffering a loss of vision as well; don’t despair. Get them to the vet for a good diagnosis if you can. In many cases, there are surgical repairs that can be done. Not everyone is in a position to afford such procedures, but again, don’t despair. Animals use their other senses to adapt to their circumstances, and with your help as their “guide human,” they still can live a very normal, fulfilling life.On that note, keep your fingers crossed that Koa and Inoki can “look” forward to a better life.
We know that good pet owners strive to care for their pets for the entire lives of their pet. But what happens when a pet outlives an owner? This topic is not a pleasant one to consider, but it’s important. We currently have several animals in the South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter who wound up in our care because their owners passed away. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for the pets of deceased people to be found only when the authorities are called in; sometimes these animals have been fending for themselves for an unknown period of time. Countless others are released by their owner’s family members, who cannot care for them. We can’t imagine how traumatizing this must be for the animals.Angel was brought in this weekend; her owner passed away and she was alone in the home with no food or water for a week. Needless to say, she was dehydrated and starving by the time the authorities arrived, and animal control brought her to the shelter. She’s an incredibly sweet tabby cat who seems so relieved to have humans caring for her again. Her owner must have loved her very much; cat toys were right next to him when he was found. We’re working on getting Angel healthy and then she will be available for adoption.
We also are caring for Burton, a handsome black-and-white mixed breed who was adopted from us several months ago; his owner was thrilled to have him and it was a happy day. No one expected that, only weeks later, his owner would pass away unexpectedly. Burton is back at the shelter and in need of a forever home more than ever. He is a super sweet dog who is confused by so many changes in his young life and growing more stressed by life in a kennel. He would love for a family to meet with him and give him a chance to be part of a family again.
Jett, a handsome black Labrador who’s about 5 years old, also was brought in by animal control officers when his owner passed away recently. Jett also was confused and hungry – he was upset in his kennel but quickly wolfed down a big bowl of food and settled in quickly. He’s in our adoption room; we are trying to see if his owner had any family that will claim him and, if not, he will be available for adoption.Blue is a gorgeous Russian Blue cat that was found with another female cat when their owner was found deceased by the authorities. Blue had it even worse; his female companion would attack him and he was forced to hide, which led to him becoming very withdrawn. At the shelter, the cats were miserable. Fortunately, the female, Elsa, was adopted and Blue was moved to foster care. He’s doing very well in his foster home, but is still looking for a forever home to give him all the love he needs.Saved by SPCA, Henry the cat now brings ‘miracles’Cats are especially vulnerable in these situations. Dogs often bark or break out, and the deceased person is found due to a nuisance call. Cats don’t have this ability – they have no way to cry for help.These situations also serve as reminders of the role that neighbors serve. Be aware and be thoughtful; if you have neighbors who are elderly or who are struggling, check on them. Make sure they have your phone number in case of emergencies. If you see the lawn growing, the car not being moved, and no one coming to visit, a knock on the door or a phone call for help can be the difference between life and death – not just for the animals, but for your neighbor as well. Even if all is well, your actions aren’t without reward; perhaps you can provide some companionship for someone who may be lonely or struggling.
No one knows what the future holds, so it’s important for all pet owners to consider what would happen to their pets in the case of an emergency. Owners can make arrangements for their pets in their wills or through trusts. However, this doesn’t address an emergency situation in which the animal is alone when an owner passed or is incapacitated. For these situations, it’s advised that you carry a wallet “alert card” that lists the pets that depend on you for care. You should also place “In Case of Emergency” removable decals on your windows so emergency responders know to look for your pets. This decal can be ordered on the ASPCA website, which also has sample wallet alert card templates. Keep vet records, licenses, and other important paperwork for the pets in an easy-to-find and accessible location. Make sure family or friends know what your plan is for your pets if you are in need of help.For more information about how to provide for your pets in case of emergency, you can contact the Humane Society of the United States Office of General Counsel at (202) 452-110
Saved by SPCA, Henry the cat now brings ‘miracles’
Oh Henry … this poor, sweet, handsome cat. We estimate his age to be about 8 years old, and he’s a gorgeous white cat with gray patches and a tabby tail. Henry seems to have had little comfort in his recent years – his teeth are broken (he only has 1½, 2 incisors and a few molars). He also has a terrible wound or abscess on his cheeks and a crumpled ear. But we are providing him with comfort care and falling in love with him! He has a very tolerant and friendly personality, even if he’s a bit nervous about his new situation. We would love to see Henry have a chance for a comfortable and loved life.
Reading that biography, would you believe that this is a cat that has gone on to change lives? Miracles often happen where we least expect them – and looking at Henry for the first time, the only miracle I was hoping for was that he would make it out of the South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter. Senior pets, like Henry, often have a more difficult time finding a home. However, they often are the most in need of a home and a chance to be loved and pampered.
Henry’s story shows that the rewards of adopting a senior pet go far beyond giving an old pet a good home.Our shelter partner the Providence Animal Center saw his pictures, and his potential, and offered to take him in and provide him with the medical care he needs. Henry tested positive for FIV, but we all knew this shouldn’t affect his life once he recovered and was cared for properly. His wounds were tended to and he was given dental treatment. After that, Henry was left with only two teeth! There was nothing that could be done for his crushed ear, but that remains part of what makes him so cute.His shining personality continued to amaze the Providence staff. We have no idea what his previous eight years of life held, but we know that the past few months had been rough and that his condition had deteriorated. Henry certainly didn’t hold a grudge against the world, though; he just carried on reveling in the joys that each new day brought him.
So when Rich, a staff member with Xenia Hospice and Palliative Care in Pennsylvania, reached out to Providence looking for a therapy cat, Henry was a clear choice thanks to his friendly and outgoing personality and tolerant nature. But would his history affect his ability to make a difference as a therapy cat?Henry was evaluated by a veterinarian, a behaviorist, hospice team members, hospice families and their insurance carrier, and ultimately was adopted by Rich. He provided additional medical care at the recommendation of a holistic vet, and Henry became more and more healthy each day. Henry was ready to get to work.
Henry quickly became the most popular member of the hospice team. He did so well that this month he is featured in the Journal of Holistic Nursing Practice, in an article titled “The Miracle of Henry the Hospice Cat” by Richard J. Fache. Fache writes: “Henry was first assigned to a patient with end-stage dementia. Upon release from his pet porter, Henry dazzled all of us! He was friendly, inquisitive, social and vocal. He jumped up and made first contact with the hospice patient in a very affectionate way. He also won the hearts of the family members who were present. Other visits were scheduled and before we knew it, Henry was the most popular member of our hospice team!
Patients and family members reported feeling optimistic, positive and elated after spending quality time with Henry. One family member remarked that Henry provided comfort to his mother and that he actually felt some hope from it. Henry seemed to decrease a lot of their stress and take their mind off of their troubles — a furry, friendly diversion from despair. Henry has been a little miracle to the families that he visits.”
Henry has become quite a celebrity. He’s also Mr. November in Providence Animal Center’s calendar. It warms my heart to know that the injured, homely old cat who arrived at our shelter now has made a full recovery and not only has a loving home of his own, but pays it forward every day by providing comfort and companionship to senior people and their families.November is National Hospice Month and National Adopt A Senior Pet Month. The timing couldn’t be better to stop in at the South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter in Vineland and visit the many pets available for adoption. Adding a pet, or a senior pet, to your household may hold benefits you never imagined.