When Noel died of cancer in August at age 79, Owens was stunned to learn that the facility was full and could not accommodate Ernesto and Roger.
“I couldn’t leave town immediately to look for them, and my mom’s neighbors were complaining about the dogs barking,” said Owens, who lives in Missouri. “Someone came to feed them, but they were alone all day.”
“My mother’s wish was for this shelter to take her dogs and have them adopted,” she said. “I had this feeling of helplessness. I didn’t know what to do.
Then someone at the shelter mentioned that she should contact Peace of Mind Dog Rescue in Pacific Grove on the central coast of California. Owens called and immediately arranged for the dogs to be picked up from her mother’s apartment and placed in foster care until they could be adopted, she said.
“It was such a relief during a heartbreaking time,” she said, noting that the dogs are still in foster care.
Peace of Mind Dog Rescue has been helping seniors and senior dogs since the nonprofit group was founded by Carie Broecker and Monica Rua in 2009.
Broecker, 56, said she had the idea to help vulnerable dogs and their elderly owners while caring for a friend’s dog 13 years ago.
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“The woman’s name was Alice, and she had emphysema that took her in and out of the hospital,” Broecker recalled.
“When the doctors told Alice she only had a few weeks to live, she was placed in hospice care and I took her dog, Savannah, to visit her,” she said. “She was anxious about what would happen with Savvy, as she had no friends or family to care for her.”
Alice did not want her dog placed in a shelter and was devastated that her dog could be put down, Broecker said.
“I told her, ‘No, don’t worry, I’ll make sure she’s okay,'” Broecker, who adopted the dog, said.
She said the concept of a pet rescue group for seniors and their pets came to her after visiting Alice that day.
“I thought to myself, ‘What if we were to take in dogs from people who are dying, already deceased, or going to nursing homes,'” Broecker said, noting that studies show that dogs improve the quality of life of older people.
She called her friend Rua to ask her if she could help her.
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Rua said she was on board, but also wanted to take in senior dogs from shelters, as they were among the first to be euthanized.
“Carie and I had volunteered together at another dog shelter, and I was always heartbroken to see older dogs come through or struggle more in that environment,” Rua said.
“Senior dogs still have a lot to offer,” she added.
Peace of Mind Dog Rescue now finds homes for senior dogs in shelters, as well as dogs whose elderly owners can no longer care for them. The group has around 1,300 volunteers who walk dogs for the elderly who cannot, provide veterinary care and help set up pet trusts to provide care for a dog after a sitter dies. .
“We want to give dogs — and their owners — dignity in their old age,” Broecker said. “Once a dog comes to us, we monitor it for the rest of its life.”
The rescue group has found homes for more than 3,000 dogs and helped more than 2,000 animals stay home with their owners through their Helping Paw program, she said.
Alison Day and her husband, Steve Gross, have fostered senior dogs for the rescue agency for four years, and they recently welcomed a new dog, a Chihuahua named Fonzi.
“You get attached to them and it’s hard to let them go when they’re adopted,” said Day, 34, who lives in Pacific Grove.
“Senior dogs are so loving and it’s rewarding to know you’re helping them because they’re often so neglected,” she added, noting that older dogs make good pets because they’re generally gentle and have already been drawn up.
Day said she once had the heartbreaking experience of having an elderly foster dog die in her arms after living with him for the past two happy years.
“Caring for a senior dog teaches you to be present and live in the moment,” Day added. “They helped me feel grounded and enjoy every day.”
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Tami Sojka, a Peace of Mind dog walker for about two years, was one of many volunteers who helped walk Jean Haskell’s dog twice a day after she underwent back surgery last year. and that she needed six months to recover.
Sojka, 58, said she enjoyed her Thursday outings in Pacific Grove with Sammy, a 14-year-old Shih Tzu whom she and other volunteers nicknamed Samwise because of his seemingly wise nature.
“He’s such a sweet little dog and it felt good to walk him around the neighborhood and help Jean,” she said.
Haskell, 68, said it was a relief to know Sammy could maintain her usual routine when she was unable to go out.
“He loves to walk around and strut around,” she said.
The rescue group also places dogs in temporary foster homes if an owner is hospitalized and cannot be home.
“For so many of us living alone, it’s just a fabulous idea,” said Sheila Williams, 76, of Monterey, California. She was in hospital for two weeks in April after gallbladder surgery.
“Decay [Broecker] took my dogs Chex, Tater Tot and Acey Ducey to live with her while I recovered,” Williams said. “I can’t live my life without my dogs. They are everything to me.
“When I was in the hospital, I missed them very much, but I was reassured to know that they were in good hands,” she added.
Broeker said it has become his life’s mission to comfort senior dogs and their senior companions in their later years.
“They deserve dignity, compassion and love,” she said. “They deserve all the kindness.”
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