When seniors can’t care for their dogs, these volunteers step in

October 5, 2022

Marcia Noel was devoted to her two dogs, Ernesto and Roger, and the feeling was mutual. The miniature pinschers slept with her, played fetch, and cuddled with her on the sofa for more than eight years, Noel’s daughter, Debra Owens, 60, recently told The Washington Post.

Owens said her mom requested that after she died, her dogs would go to the rescue shelter where she adopted them, which is near her home in Sacramento. However, when Noel died of cancer in August at age 79, Owens was stunned to learn the facility was full and couldn’t take in Ernesto and Roger.

What was she to do? “I couldn’t leave town immediately to get them, and my mom’s neighbors were complaining that the dogs were barking,” said Owens, who lives in Missouri. “Somebody was coming in to feed them, but they were alone all day.”

“My mom’s wish was for this shelter to take her dogs and get them adopted,” she said. “I had this helpless feeling. I didn’t know what to do.”

Then, somebody at the shelter mentioned she should reach out to Peace of Mind Dog Rescue in Pacific Grove on California’s Central Coast. Owens called and immediately arranged for the dogs to be picked up from her mom’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 helped seniors and senior dogs since the nonprofit group was started by Carie Broecker and Monica Rua in 2009.

Broecker, 56, told the Post that she came up with the idea of helping vulnerable dogs and their elderly owners while she was caring for a friend’s dog 13 years ago. “The woman’s name was Alice, and she had emphysema that put her in and out of the hospital,” Broecker recalled.

“When doctors told Alice she had only a few weeks to live, she was moved into hospice care and I took her dog, Savannah, to visit,” she said. “She was anguished about what would happen with Savvy, because she had no friends or family to care for her.”

Alice didn’t want her dog to be placed in a shelter, and was devastated at the thought of her dog possibly being put down, Broecker said.

“I told her, ‘No, don’t worry — I’ll make sure she’s okay,’ ” said Broecker, who adopted the dog. She saysthe concept of a pet rescue group for seniors and their pets came to her after visiting Alice that day.

“I thought, ‘What if we were to take in dogs from people who were dying, had already passed away or were going into nursing homes,” said Broecker, noting that studies show dogs improve the quality of life for seniors.

She called her friend Rua to ask if she would help. Rua said she was on board, but she also wanted to take in senior dogs from shelters because they were among the first to be euthanized.

“Carie and I had volunteered together at another dog rescue, and I was always heartbroken to see older dogs passed over or having a harder time in that environment,” Rua explains.

Peace of Mind Dog Rescue now finds homes for senior dogs in shelters, and also for dogs whose senior owners can no longer care for them. The group has around 1,300 volunteers who walk dogs for seniors who can’t, as well as provide veterinary care and assist in setting up pet trusts to ensure a dog’s care after a guardian dies.

“We want to give dogs—and their owners—dignity in their older years,” Broecker says. “Once a dog comes to us, we oversee them for the rest of their lives.”

The rescue group has found homes for more than 3,000 dogs and has helped more than 2,000 pets stay at home with their owners through their Helping Paw program, she said.

Tami Sojka, a Peace of Mind dog walker for about two years, was one of several volunteers who pitched in to walk Jean Haskell’s dog twice a day after she had back surgery last year and needed six months to recover.

Sojka, 58, said she enjoyed her Thursday outings in Pacific Grove with Sammy, a 14-year-old Shih Tzu that she and other volunteers nicknamed Samwise because of his seemingly wise nature. “He is such a sweet little dog and it made me feel good to walk him around the neighborhood and help Jean out,” she said.

Haskell, 68, says it was a relief to know that Sammy could keep up his regular routine while she was unable to get out. “He loves to go for his walks and strut his stuff,” she remarks.

The rescue group also puts dogs into temporary foster care if an owner is hospitalized and can’t be at home.

“For so many of us living alone, it’s just a fabulous idea,” said Sheila Williams, 76, of Monterey, California. She was in the hospital for two weeks in April after gall bladder surgery.

“Carie [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’re my everything.” She added, “When I was in the hospital, I missed them tremendously, but I took comfort in knowing they were in good hands.”

Broeker says it has become her life mission to provide comfort to senior dogs and their elderly companions in their final years. “They deserve dignity, compassion and love,” she says. “They deserve every kindness.”

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