In 2012 I became concerned with the plight of senior dogs surrendered to shelters in their golden years. I could not imagine my own 16 year old, who had died in my arms, leaving this world on a cold slab floor in a noisy shelter feeling unloved. This was the catalyst for establishing Elder Paws Senior Dog Rescue. During the first 3 years we rescued and re-homed a little over 200 senior shelter dogs in the Central Valley. But in late 2014 we began to struggle. Senior dogs, like senior humans, suffer from age related health conditions that make them less desirable to adopters than younger, healthier dogs. This caused our seniors to remain in foster care for extended periods of time, tying up valuable foster homes for other seniors in need. Additionally, due to the length of time in foster care, many foster families became attached to their foster dogs and adopted them. These same foster families were, therefore, reluctant to foster again, not wanting to adopt additional pets. Quality adoptive homes became harder to find as well. With dwindling foster families and adopters, we were considering shutting down.
Being passionate about assisting senior dogs in our community, we began exploring other options and found programs, called Pet Retention Programs, being offered in larger cities. These programs come alongside struggling pet owners to provide the assistance needed to keep pet and owner together, reducing shelter overcrowding and the need for already over-burdened rescues to take in. The best option is always to keep senior dogs in their homes whenever possible. Providing financial assistance allows for the best possible outcome – keeping owner and companion animal together.
The Central Valley (CA) has been ranked 2nd most impoverished region in the nation, with 60% of families reporting they struggle to afford basic living expenses. Almost 25% of households in the Central Valley live at or below the poverty level. Financial reasons typically play a huge role in an owner’s decision to give up their older companion animals. While rescues and no kill shelters are critical to addressing the problem once an animal enters the shelter, pet retention programs are one of the most effective ways to save lives by preventing pets from entering the already overcrowded shelter system in the first place. We found a critical need not being met and felt that this was a way to make a significant impact on senior dogs in the Central Valley.
In late 2016 Elder Paws Senior Dog Rescue become Elder Paws Senior Dog Foundation and began administering our pet retention program, called “The Pandora Fund”. This program covers up to $1,000 in essential vet care for dogs 6 and older based on income qualifications as set by the County. It did not take long before the phone starting ringing with referrals from vets, vet techs, controlled rent housing managers and social workers who had a pet owner with a senior dog in need of assistance. Within the first 3 months we had provided the means for 20 financially challenged families to stay together, including, but not limited to, senior citizens, the disabled and veterans, all living on a fixed income and struggling to cover the cost of their own medical care.
Before we began our Pandora Fund fixed income owners of senior companion animals had 2 very difficult options: keep their sick seniors at home and watch them suffer, or surrender them to a shelter in the hopes they would get the care they needed. (Senior dogs typically get 24-48 hours at most kill shelters). Our Pandora Fund added a 3rd option: keeping senior dogs in their home with owners who loved them. By assisting with essential vet care needs as well as educating on senior animal care, we are able to not only keep older pets and owner’s together, providing continued love and companionship for one another, but also help our clients to become better care takers for their older pets. It’s a win-win situation all the way around.
Elder Paws Senior Dog Foundation is a CA 501c3 non-profit organization that depends entirely on donations from the public and monies raised from our annual Sept. “Hearts of Gold” fundraiser to continue in our mission of keeping senior dogs and the people who love them together. We have no paid staff, 100% of all money coming in goes towards helping our program applicants.
Applicants like Bella, a 10 year old feisty Pomeranian mix. Bella’s owner, an 88 year old senior citizen, struggled financially to cover her own living expenses. Bella was a constant source of love and companionship for her owner. She had been diagnosed with a heart condition almost a year prior to coming to Elder Paws. However her owner was unable to afford the heart medication essential to treating Bella. By the time Bella came to us and was seen by our vet her heart condition had progressed to Congestive Heart Failure. She was started immediately on heart medication, which allowed Bella and her owner an additional year of being together before Bella succumbed to her heart condition. While Bella is sorely missed her owner is grateful for the extra time she had to share with her fur baby.
Cathie Garnier is Executive Director of Elder Paws Senior Dog Foundation. For more information please visit www.elderpawsfoundation.org.
**The images in this post are of people and senior dogs helped by the Elder Paws Senior Dog Foundation**