Sanctuaries Provide Safety Net for Senior Dogs

Tiny Chihuahua Tink has a forever home at in North Carolina. Forever Dream Senior Dog Sanctuary

Check the residents at any animal shelter or rescue and you'll see that puppies and young, healthy dogs typically move in and out relatively quickly. But senior dogs tend to linger, often overlooked by people looking to give a pet a forever home.

Hoping to give elder canines a happy, soft spot for their twilight years, senior sanctuaries offer a retirement home of sorts for elder pups. They take older dogs from shelters or owners who can no longer care for them, giving them a place to stay for the rest of their lives.

Some keep dogs in on-site facilities, while others also have people who care for them in their homes as "forever fosters," knowing they'll probably never leave. Some refuges allow their healthy residents to be adopted if the perfect family comes along, but most know their senior dogs will stay there for the rest of their days.

Because that time is often way too short, they make those days as happy as they can.

"We know when a dog comes in that we’re not going to have it forever," Kim Skarritt, founder and president of Silver Muzzle Cottage in Rapid City, Michigan, tells MNN. "We know that this dog has a limited amount of time left and our sole goal is to make sure it has the best life possible."

Although animal rescues will take in senior dogs, there are dozens of sanctuaries in the U.S. and Canada that specifically deal with senior dogs. Here's a list of many of them.

"The shelters are not only packed with younger animals but also with seniors. Shelters are so very hard on them and it’s so common that they are euthanized because of their age," Verna Wilkins, founder and president of Forever Dream Senior Dog Sanctuary in Tryon, North Carolina, tells MNN.

"It’s a huge need not only in our country but also in the world. What warms my heart is that there are more and more senior dog sanctuaries and rescues developing every day."

Here's a look at just a few of the senior sanctuaries throughout the U.S.

Silver Muzzle Cottage

pups sleeping at Silver Muzzle Cottage
Two dogs snuggle at in Michigan. Silver Muzzle Cottage

This home-based sanctuary takes in dogs that have three years or less to live, based on their breed standard. (So Great Danes can come in at around age 6, while Chihuahuas come in closer to 14.) They also welcome hospice dogs that are terminally ill and don't have long to live. Silver Muzzle Cottage is in Rapid City, Michigan, with easy access to woods and beaches so dogs can go on boat rides and nature walks. Healthy dogs are sometimes adopted, says founder Skarritt. "People see an old dog with a frosted face and they see that old guy just needs a home. There can be an emotional pull.”

Forever Dream Senior Dog Sanctuary

There are usually about 20 dogs at this North Carolina rescue and most are permanent residents. They live in a home setting with founder Wilkins, who says she rescued her first senior dog when she was 12. Most of the dogs at Forever Dream come from shelters or have been relinquished when an owner dies and the remaining family members don't want or can't keep them. A few are available for adoption, but most of the aging dogs spend their days sleeping, cuddling and hanging out with their friends.

Old Dog Haven

Senior dog Portia gets ready for a nap.
Senior dog Portia gets ready for a nap. Jennifer Streit/Old Dog Haven

With about 315 dogs living in private homes throughout western Washington state, Old Dog Haven says it's the largest senior dog rescue in the U.S. Most dogs come from shelters, are 8 years or older, and are considered unadoptable for physical, mental or emotional issues. "Their days are spent living the good life with people who love them," Executive Director Ardeth De Vries tells MNN. "They are considered to be members of the family and their lives are enriched by excellent veterinary care, good food, medication as needed, and endless devotion by their foster families. They play, sleep, lounge on the couch, go for walks, and in short, they do what they’re capable of doing within the limitations of what's going on with them. Quality of life is a priority. Being spoiled rotten is a necessity."

Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary

Located in Mount Juliet, Tennessee, Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary cares for about 100 aging dogs on site and another 200 or so in forever foster homes. The sanctuary looks for foster homes nearby, hoping to find places for these dogs to settle in. As the website states, "Most of these wonderful senior dogs will be able to live happily with a good quality of life if given a chance. They make wonderful companions because they are mature, calm and loving."

The Sanctuary for Senior Dogs

Rei, a 10 year old toy fox terrier, enjoys the sun.
Rei, a 10-year-old toy fox terrier, enjoys the sun. The Sanctuary for Senior Dogs

Dedicated to the rescue, adoption and lifelong care of older dogs, The Sanctuary for Senior Dogs in Cleveland, Ohio, is a network of fosters that take aging dogs into their homes, providing comfort and care for them until they are adopted or they stay there permanently if they are too ill or too emotionally fragile to find a new home. There are usually between 25 and 35 dogs in the sanctuary. The rescue also sponsors programs working to unite senior dogs with senior people to offer companionship for both, and sponsors therapy dog programs in the community.

House with a Heart

There are senior cats and dogs at this home-based sanctuary in Gaithersburg, Maryland. House with a Heart has two acres of fenced-in yards for the pups to stroll in. There are ramps and doggie doors for easy access everywhere, as some of the hospice dogs have wheelchairs and others are just a little slow moving. The sanctuary recently released a book, "Senior Dogs: Tongues & Tales, Featuring the Residents Of House With A Heart" to help raise funds for its aging inhabitants.

Why Pets Matter to Treehugger

At Treehugger, we are advocates of animal welfare, including our pets and other domestic animals. We hope stories like this one will highlight to our readers the importance of adopting rescue pets instead of shopping from breeders or pet stores.  Learn more about how to support local animal shelters.