We get a lot of questions about our program and why we do things the way we do them. We are not like most other rescues and there is a reason for that. It is because we deal almost exclusively with super seniors (those over 10 years old) and with dogs who are not perfect in many cases (see our blog post Love us as We Are). We try to make the rest of our Old Friend’s lives as stress free and comfortable as possible. Most of these dogs have endured a lot of stress already, either from living less than ideal lives or from losing the homes and families that they have known and loved for all their lives.
We envisioned and began the development of a Forever Foster based sanctuary/rescue after working with a golden retriever specific rescue that took in dogs of all ages. Even with dogs as popular as golden retrievers, it was very difficult to place senior dogs in homes. Many of the seniors would be bounced from temporary foster to boarding and to another temporary home and would never have a chance to settle in and enjoy their retirement life. When we first started OFSDS, we had several senior golden retrievers in our group. One was Lucy-Lu, the face of OFSDS, who was a huge inspiration to us in showing that the seniors were able to leave their past beyond them and to enjoy the rest of their lives if given the chance. If golden retrievers were difficult to place in homes as seniors, it was obvious to us that mixed breed and other breeds of dogs would be even harder to place in lifetime homes. Many senior dogs die in shelters every day simply because people prefer to adopt younger dogs who have, presumably, fewer issues and a longer additional lifespan.
The average Old Friend lives about two years in our program, some more, some less. That’s not a lot of time in human years to get a dog settled, happy and comfortable so that they can enjoy the benefits of a true loving retirement home. In “dog” years, using the loosely accepted 7 dog years to one people year, the dog has 14 years to settle into their retirement life, which, from their point of view, is certainly significant and, in our minds, makes our whole program worthwhile. Our goal is to get our Old Friends settled into the right new home as quickly as possible to not lose one minute of opportunity to give these guys as wonderful a “rest of their life” as we can. If a foster home is not working out, for whatever reason, it doesn’t matter, we want to quickly move that dog into a home that has a better possibility of being the best home for them. This requires follow up with the foster families as well as the ability to quickly move a dog out of the wrong home, before they get too settled and before either dog or foster family get too frustrated. As many as 1/2 of our Old Friends do not find their perfect home on the first try. This is due to the quirks that senior dogs may have due to lifelong conditioning, ailments, handicaps or simply from old age. It is also because, although potential foster families can fall in love with a photo and description of a dog, we never know how that dog is going to do in a specific situation with varying stimulators. There are other dogs, cats, people in the home, new routines and new environments that an Old Friend has to adapt to. Many times the Old Friend is different than the dog that the new foster family envisioned. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out. This is one of the many reasons that we keep our Old Friends within 100 miles of us.
Although not all of our Old Friends require expensive vetting, the vetting for a senior dog in our program, on average, is as much as double that of an under 10 year old dog. This is one of the many reasons that people are unwilling to adopt a senior dog directly from the local shelters. We can take this worry away from potential families by offering the Forever Foster Program. Vetting, preventatives and medication for the dogs in our program are provided for the rest of their lives here at the Sanctuary. This allow families who are willing to care for a senior dog, but are unable to afford the potential additional expenses, to care for an Old Friend. All they are asked to provide is love and a comfortable home. This, combined with knowing that if things don’t work out, the dog will be cared for and will never return to a shelter, is often the incentive that allows folks to be comfortable with adding an Old Friend (or two) to their family.
With our Forever Foster program, we know that we have been able to place many more seniors than would be possible with a straight adoption program. It also gives us the ability to follow up on our seniors to be sure that they are getting the love and care that they need and that both dog and family are happy. We provide the safety net for our Old Friends in that, if something doesn’t work out, that dog will go to another loving family and will NEVER end up in a shelter again. As a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, we are able to raise funds in order to pay for the needs of these deserving dogs.
The Forever Foster Homes are an extension of our sanctuary at GrandPaw’s Gardens. We currently have about 130 dogs that we are caring for here, but that would be our limit without significant expansion in both facility and personnel and the dogs would potentially lose the home environment to a more institutional setting. We currently have 200 dogs in Forever Foster Homes in the Middle TN area. These dogs are all able to enjoy a loving family atmosphere. With the Forever Foster network, we are only limited by funding and the ability to find suitable Forever Foster homes in a manageable area. (Within about 100 miles of Mount Juliet TN).
One can think of the Sanctuary as a large Forever Foster Home. Our goals at the sanctuary are the same as the goals for our Forever Foster Families. We provide a family environment for the dogs living with us. They sleep together, follow our staff around and have access to huge yards. ALL of our dogs sleep inside by choice. (We do not approve of keeping dogs as outdoor dogs. Dogs want to be part of the family and want to live with the family). The sanctuary is practically wall to wall dog beds and our Old Friends can sleep on them and/or on any other piece of furniture (or on the floor if that is what they prefer).
We have chosen some dogs to stay at the sanctuary for many reasons. Some have been returned from Forever Foster Homes one or more times due to annoying quirks that would make them difficult to place again, some have medical issues which we feel make it necessary to keep them here (requiring shots or special care that most Forever Foster homes are not comfortable dealing with) and some have bad habits that are difficult to live with, the most prevalent of them being potty problems. We have kept a few bonded pairs at the sanctuary because we could not find them a place to live out their lives together. Bonded pairs are extremely difficult to place. These are dogs who have been living together for their whole lives and would suffer great loss being separated at such a late stage in life.
We are often asked, “Why can’t we adopt?” We do adopt and we do appreciate adoption since that would transfer the costs of keeping the dog over to the adopter, however ALL adoptions must start as foster homes so that we are comfortable that the dog fits well with the family. With an adoption we provide the same safety net that we provide for our Forever Foster Homes. If the dog is unable to stay in the home for any reason, we will bring him or her back into our program immediately. The adoptive family must agree to do this and cannot give the dog away or turn him or her into a shelter. All our seniors are micro-chipped to reinforce this safety net. Our promise to our Old Friends is to do everything possible to keep them from ever being homeless again for the rest of their lives.
So there you have it. What we do we do for our Old Friends, not for people. We make all our decisions based on what we feel is best for the dogs and we stick by them. We are often questioned and sometimes criticized for what we do but we do it based on experience and what we firmly believe is the best for the dogs. We change our policies only for the benefit of the dogs in our program. We have limited resources and what we do allows us to function within those limitations. We will not make any decisions based on what someone wants or to place more dogs unless it is in the best interest of the dogs in our program. We hope that others will follow our lead, because we cannot save all the seniors, we can barely make a dent. We focus on our area and hope that others will focus on theirs. It is only by working together, each doing what they are able, that we can have a chance to Save Them All.