Shelters and rescues for senior dogs and cats – an inside look

Shelters and rescues for senior dogs and cats – an inside look

A growing number of shelters and rescues focus on senior dogs and cats. Take a look at what these organizations do, some of the challenges they face, and why they choose to focus on older animals.

There’s no end to the work that takes place in animal shelters and rescues – from intake paperwork to nursing sick dogs and cats back to health. For those organizations that focus on senior animals, there’s even more work to be done, since caring for older dogs and cats is challenging as well as rewarding. Let’s explore what goes inside the walls of these special organizations, and shine a deserving light on the heroes who work there.

A day in the life

For those who work in senior shelters and rescues, the work is never “typical”. Though certain routines are in place to give the animals, staff and volunteers a sense of consistency, many days present unpredictable situations, such as veterinary emergencies, that require quick thinking and adaptation.

According to Sheila Kullar, President of the Board at Senior Animals In Need Today Society (SAINTS), an average day at the sanctuary involves the following:

  • Cleaning up accidents that happened overnight
  • Feeding breakfast, lunch and dinner to the animals
  • Medicating the animals that need it
  • Cleaning the facility (i.e. sweeping, doing dishes, restocking, scooping poop, and doing many loads of laundry)
  • Letting the animals outside throughout the day, walking certain dogs, and providing off-leash exercise
  • Grooming and wound care
  • Keeping records of the animals’ health
  • Handling administrative tasks such as admissions, adoptions and donations

“Some days there are new arrivals, some days animals pass away, and some days there are medical emergencies,” adds Sheila.

Common challenges

Along with unpredictability comes varying degrees of challenge. Some duties, such as cleaning up after the animals, are easier. But saying goodbye to their four-legged residents when they pass is always difficult. One of the biggest challenges is taking in older animals that have faced years of neglect.

“If we take in a 14-year-old dog with a mouth full of rotten teeth, for example, it costs us a lot and puts the dog at risk,” says Megan Snyder, director of Good Old Tails Senior Animal Rescue. “Only infrequently do we find animals that have been completely vetted and well cared for. And the longer an animal has lived without proper care, the more time there has been for serious problems to accumulate.”

Alice Mayn, Executive Director and Founder of Lily’s Legacy Senior Dog Sanctuary, agrees. “Seeing dogs come in traumatized and in varying degrees of ill health is the most difficult part of what we do,” she says (see sidebar at right for one of Alice’s rescue stories).

The pros outweigh the cons

Despite the challenges and unpredictability of working with senior animals in a shelter or rescue setting, the benefits are numerous. For Alice, seeing ill dogs recover both physically and emotionally, and find new forever homes, makes it all well worth the effort.

“The best part of the job is knowing that no matter how long we have these animals, whether they get adopted or not, they won’t die alone,” says Megan. “They have a family who loves them, soft beds to lie in, and access to healthy food and fresh water. Whether they live a few more years, months, or even days, these are often the best times they’ve ever experienced.”

Sheila seconds this sentiment. While it’s general knowledge that many of the animals senior shelters and rescues take in won’t live long enough to find their forever homes, there’s a sense of peace and fulfilment that comes from knowing they’ll pass in a safe place where they’re well cared for. “It’s satisfying to know that we have provided love, proper medical care, and enrichment to these animals before they pass,” she says. “The philosophy of SAINTS is to provide care before end of life, and when it’s done lovingly we know we have done our job.”

The adoption process

Of course, not all senior animals live their final days at the shelter or rescue. Some, as is the goal, find homes for them in their final years or months. Because senior dogs and cats require more specialized care than younger animals, the organizations have to take extra steps to ensure the families they place them with are a good fit.

At Lily’s Legacy, Alice and her team look for the following criteria when searching for adopters for their senior canines. Potential adopters must:

  1. Be able to manage the care of a senior dog, medically and emotionally, on a daily basis.
  2. Be committed to the lifetime care of the dog they are adopting
  3. Have a fenced yard and the ability to exercise the dog on a daily basis
  4. Have a clear understanding of the needs of the dog they are adopting
  5. Complete an in-depth application and agree to a home visit. Personal and veterinary reference checks are also part of the process.

The requirements are similar at Good Old Tails. Megan says their expectations for adopters are reasonable, considering the main goal is always to find forever homes for their animals. “Seniors typically need more frequent potty breaks and a home without small children, but they usually require less exercise and are fine being left unsupervised,” she says. “We’re very honest about the physical and emotional needs of our animals, so we do our best to set adopters up for success.”

There’s nothing quite as rewarding as helping a senior dog or cat in need!

Senior rescue profiles

Lily’s Legacy Senior Dog Sanctuary

Location: Petaluma, CA

Year established: 2009

Number of animals in their care: 12 to15 at their five-acre sanctuary, plus dogs in foster and/or hospice care (this number varies)

Types of animal they care for: Large breed senior dogs, seven years and older, and 50 pounds and heavier


Good Old Tails Senior Animal Rescue

Location: Hanover, PA

Year established: 2015

Number of animals in their care: Eight to ten adoptable cats and six to eight adoptable dogs

Types of animal they care for: Dogs and cats, and any other animals in dire need


Senior Animals In Need Today Society (SAINTS)

Location: Mission, BC

Year established: 2004

Number of animals in their care: 120 onsite and 40 in foster homes

Types of animal they care for: Dogs and cats, as well as rabbits, domestic farm animals, domestic birds, and one turtle


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