Seniors seeking companionship, looking for love

It’s not just puppy love for several area residents; S.A.F.E. to celebrate older dogs at adoption event

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Senior dogs are often overlooked when it comes to adopting a dog, but S.A.F.E. (Saving Animals from Euthanasia) Pet Rescue is aiming to make some very special love connections for some of its more mature residents.  

The nonprofit organization is holding an adoption event to celebrate senior dogs on Saturday, March 23, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the parking lot of the Pet Supermarket on A1A in Ponte Vedra. The S.A.F.E. mobile van will be onsite to offer up some possible “furever” friends to area residents. While younger dogs will be available, the event is also honoring and offering dogs whose wisdom and vast life experiences aren’t always appreciated by potential adopters. 

Several Ponte Vedra residents have already found lasting relationships by keeping an open mind — and an open heart — when it comes to pet adoption.

Here are some of their love stories. 

SCOOBY

A chance encounter at the tennis courts turned out to be a perfect match for Barbara Heamon and 12-year-old Scooby.

Heamon lives in Sawgrass Country Club and had gone to the tennis courts to watch a tournament when she saw an older sheltie with an “Adopt Me” scarf around his neck. She asked the handler if the dog could spend a night or two at her home to see how things went. That was more than eight months ago, and Scooby has been there ever since.

“He’s just a good old guy,” Heamon said. 

Scooby was turned in to the shelter when his owner was no longer able to care for him, and Heamon said, despite his age, he really hasn’t had any health issues. And, because of his age, he’s also a great fit for her lifestyle.

“He’s just happy eating and sleeping and hanging out,” she said. “There are some things as an older person I can’t do anymore, and it’s the same with Scooby. He’s at the same place in his life.”

Heamon said she understands the concerns people have of knowing a senior pet won’t be around as long, and it’s never really possible to prepare for the heartbreak of losing one, but the love she’s received from Scooby in return makes it all worth it. 

“He has adapted to our lifestyle without making it hard for us,” Heamon said. “He’s just easy. And he’s very, very loving. He sticks to me like glue.”

BELLE

Belle can’t see or hear. She’s blinded by cataracts and missing quite a few teeth, and although she may not win any beauty contests, Cynthia Brink was able to see her inner beauty shine through, which is why she named her Belle, which means beautiful in French. 

Belle was 11 or 12 years old when the Brinks adopted her around two years ago. She wasn’t getting adopted at her original shelter and was going to be euthanized before S.A.F.E. came to get her and bring her to its no-kill shelter. Brink saw past the dog’s physical issues and decided to give Belle the chance at life so many others had passed on.  

“The fact that you know you saved the life of a living thing is really a comforting thought,” Brink said. “Usually, they’re not much trouble at all. They just want to be loved. They’re grateful, especially dogs that have been in the pound for a while. They’re just grateful to have someone to pet them.”

Now, with the Brinks, the 7-pound toy poodle gets to be Belle of the ball. 

“She has a good life,” Brink said. “She gets dressed up for Halloween and goes to the Halloween dog parties. … She likes to walk and prance around, but she also has a stroller for when she gets tired, so she’s known as ‘stroller dog.’” 

Brink said Belle has also been beneficial to them, and that senior dogs are a great fit for retired seniors.

“Puppies are a lot of work, and we have so many people in the Ponte Vedra area that are older and retired, like my husband and I, who can get around better with a senior dog and who don’t want to take 5-mile walks every day,” she said. “We’d rather just do our 30- or 40-minute walk, and some of the younger dogs need more exercise. They’re very good about behaving themselves.”

ELLIOTT

Sometimes you don’t really know you wanted something until you can’t imagine your life without it. That was the case for Jean Gleason and Elliott.

Elliott was among a group of chihuahuas that arrived at S.A.F.E. from a backyard breeder who no longer wanted them. Elliott attended an adoption event at Pet Supermarket and Gleason, who is a S.A.F.E. volunteer in the Ponte Vedra area, agreed to foster the then-10-year-old dog. Gleason said the breed wasn’t really one she’d considered before, but Elliott changed all that.

“He just found his way in my heart,” she said. “I never gave any thought to chihuahuas, but I’m a total chihuahua nut now.”

Elliott had lived most of his life in a crate and didn’t know what to think the first time he stepped on grass. He also had an eye condition that required two types of medicine in each eye for the rest of his life, and Gleason wondered who would be willing to administer his treatment every day. She knew it was true love when she decided she would be willing to do that for him. That was more than two years ago. 

“As time wore on, I just grew really attached to the little guy,” she said. 

Gleason said there are a lot of advantages to adopting an older dog that people sometimes don’t consider.

“You know what you’re getting. What you see is what you get,” she said. “They’re also much more settled than a puppy or younger dog.”

She also thinks a senior-senior partnership is a match made in heaven. 

“Don’t shy away from seniors,” Gleason said. “I think seniors are good for seniors because they enjoy their naps, and they’ve gone through the stage of being hyper. Now they’re calm.”

MURPHY

Snuggling and affection go a long way to winning Monica Kohn’s heart. And Murphy turned out to be a snuggle pro.

About four years ago, Kohn and her sister, along with Kohn’s large black lab-mix, went to S.A.F.E. to check out the adoptable pups. Kohn initially asked to visit with a younger dog, while her sister visited with Murphy, who was between 8 to 10 years old at the time. When Murphy leaned his head against her sister’s chest, Kohn knew she’d found the one.  

“Murphy was very sweet, but he had a lot of hair missing, had cataracts, and he was older, so I knew it would be harder for him, and that also broke my heart,” Kohn said. 

Finding a loving home did wonders for Murphy’s health, however. 

“The longer I had him, the healthier he got,” Kohn said. “He almost got younger.”

Murphy has trouble seeing but gets around with no problems. Kohn said she can’t imagine not having him in her life and appreciates that S.A.F.E. takes chances on dogs that are often forgotten or go unnoticed.

“He was pulled from a kill shelter and saved by S.A.F.E., which pulls dogs that are great dogs, but may have been overlooked because they may be older or have a skin issue, or something like that,” Kohn said. “If they hadn’t done that, I would have never been able to meet him, so it’s really awesome and I’m very grateful.”

Kohn said people may think an older dog is too set in its ways, and will have trouble bonding, but that hasn’t been her experience at all. 

“You almost feel like you bond more with them,” Kohn said. “You almost feel like they really do appreciate just being in a good place. They just have this wisdom about them, and they really do adapt.”

And Murphy isn’t shy about showing his affection and appreciation for the No. 1 woman in his life.

“I love dogs that love to snuggle, and he’s just glued to me,” Kohn said. “He’s just a sweetheart. He’s a little snuggle-bug.”

HENRY

Henry is pretty much a ladies’ man. 

The little chihuahua/Boston terrier mix was approximately 7 or 8 years old when he began wooing his way into Shelia Harper’s heart. 

Harper said Henry is kind of a one-person fellow, preferring to spend his time with her rather than her husband, Graeme, and with women in general. Henry will make an exception, however, when it comes to sporting events. 

“During the Super Bowl, my husband was watching and yelling at the TV and Henry comes out and gets on his lap and just starts watching TV,” Harper laughed. “He likes sports.”

Harper said Henry also put his feelings aside to watch some of THE PLAYERS last week, again joining Graeme in front of the TV to find out what all the excitement was about.

Henry was originally expected to be a store dog, hanging out with Harper at her boutique Ellie Bing, and greeting customers, but he was a little skittish and preferred to be a homebody. The separation, however, makes the daily reunions when Harper returns home from the shop even more special. 

“When I get home, every day it’s like Christmas for him,” Harper said. 

Harper saw Henry at an adoption event, trembling in the arms of a volunteer. His name was Goblin at the time because of his huge ears, and Harper couldn’t resist his undeniable charms.

“He seemed to love me right away,” she said.

And the feeling is mutual, as the two have grown closer over their two years together. 

 “If you don’t move, he doesn’t move. If you move, he moves,” Harper said. “He’s just a really good companion. And he’s not annoying or pawing at you all the time, he’s just happy to be with you.”

■■■

According to a recent petfinder.com survey, older pets have the hardest time finding homes, and “typically spend nearly four times as long in shelters as younger animals.”

According to Gleason, some of the main reasons people often resist adopting an older dog are concerns over possible veterinary costs and the difficulty of knowing the dog won’t have as long to live, but Gleason points out the quality of life a senior dog receives during its golden years outweighs the quantity.

“We owe it to these dogs to give them the best life while we have them,” she said.

While losing a pet can be a traumatic event, people who have taken a chance on senior dogs say knowing you gave them the opportunity to experience love in their later years goes a long way toward healing from the loss.

“The hardest thing about owning a dog is losing them,” Kohn said. “As much as it hurts, I just know what makes me feel better is giving another dog a chance to have a better life. And whether it’s a year, two years, six years, just knowing they had a great life and knew what love was makes it even better. 

“They don’t ask for a lot,” Kohn added. “Just to be loved.”

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