2009-07-29 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

by Joanne Anderson

"Old dogs, like old shoes, are comfortable. They might be a little out of shape and a little worn around the edges, but they fitwell." …Bonnie Wilcox DVM

If you've ever had the privilege of living with a senior dog, you know how true these words are. Yet, unfortunately many old dogs do not get to spend their golden years with doting families. Instead they are discarded like the same old shoes mentioned above. Due to various circumstances, even the illness or death of a caretaker, plenty wind up wandering the streets or bewildered in shelters, abandoned at a time when they need us the most. A new national group, The Grey Muzzle Organization (www.greymuzzle.org) is dedicated to improving the lives of at-risk senior dogs. Grey Muzzle, a non-profit with no paid staff, is not a shelter or a rescue group. It is so much more.

Founded in 2008, Grey Muzzle is the brainstorm of Julie Nowicki on "sabbatical" from Microsoft where she created a learning framework for Windows Vista. Nowicki spent several years fostering elderly dogs for a Washington State network called Old Dog Haven. She saw how love and proper care worked minor miracles, how "Nelly" a 10 year old Whippet mix, a final refuge foster, weakened by kidney disease leapt with joy for the few months she had left; how resilient "Sassy", an ancient Cattle Dog, whose x-rays revealed imbedded BBs next to her arthritis, transformed during her remaining two years after her food allergies were managed. All Julie's vintage fosters reciprocated her devotion, becoming her inspiration for The Grey Muzzle Organization where assistance would reach far beyond local senior dogs. "The old timers really tugged at me," says Julie who has transferred her vast entrepreneurial experience in software design, program management, and customer research to the benefit of senior dogs throughout the United States. She uses her business skills to market older dogs, even promoting some as therapy dogs, and to fulfillGrey Muzzle's vision of a world where no old dog dies alone and afraid. Besides giving grants to agencies that care for geriatric dogs, Grey Muzzle is both a think tank and an advocacy group. Older dogs find it particularly hard to survive in shelters, and are usually overlooked because they compete for limited homes and kennel space with puppies and younger dogs. Grey Muzzle helps by purchasing cushioned beds that raise sore limbs off cement floors and by paying for medical procedures, like dentals and blood work, often too expensive for shelters and prospective owners. The oldsters get necessary veterinary care along with "cage" appeal which makes them more adoptable. After only a year of operation, Grey Muzzle, has given grants to 19 organizations in 12 states. In fact Last Hope Animal Rescue on LI will be receiving a generous "Dogs At Home" grant from Grey Muzzle, helping us to take mature dogs out of town shelters, address medical concerns and then place them in foster, ultimately permanent homes. Few rescues specialize in helping re-homing senior pets, although the problems of homeless older pets are pervasive in shelters and humane societies. Grey Muzzle advises groups and individuals about old dog issues, end of life canine care, and pet grief counseling, in addition to funding other carefully screened and monitored 501(c) 3 welfare groups that provide hospice services for senior dogs. Presently Grey Muzzle is considering a German Shepherd Rescue in California that wants to open a hospice. Grey Muzzle, proactive on the community level, is trying to prevent senior dogs from being abandoned or brought to shelters. The economic downturn has made affording veterinary care and pet food particularly difficult for many. Nowicki stresses, "One of the most important goals this year is to help low-income owners, especially senior citizens, keep their old dogs. Research shows that pets enrich our quality of life, physically and emotionally." Recently Grey Muzzle pet-partnered with three Meals On Wheels programs in the Virginia/North Carolina area. The group supports Senior for Senior adoption initiatives too. Of course, donations are appreciated to help continue the good work, but besides monetary gifts, Grey Muzzle has teamed with Harold Creel. Proceeds from the sale of his moving book of poetry- Do Old Dogs Dream? - about the affection of senior pups benefits Grey Muzzle. With a small band of volunteers, Grey Muzzle has accomplished so much the first year but strives to expand awareness about the organization and the mutual rewards of adopting an older dog. Grey Muzzle ambassadors are educating both the public and shelters about treasuring our senior dogs. So far there are about 21 ambassadors. More are needed, especially in the NYC area. Dog lovers can also help spread the word by telling friends and by joining the email list at the Grey Muzzle website.

Poster Pets of the Week "Linus"~ Beagle Poster Pets of the Week "Linus"~ Beagle Joanne Lombardi, ambassador for Long Island, felt drawn to Grey Muzzle because she adopted 9 and 10 year old Sharpei mixes turned into Hempstead Shelter, victims of a divorce. Four years later, Monkey and Frieda are still her beloved pets. Lombardi, a business analyst, reaches out to shelters and rescues, and promotes Grey Muzzle's mission at various doggy events. It is difficultto recruit volunteers for this crucial cause because Grey Muzzle is more cerebral than hands on. There are no foster dogs to pet or walk. Therefore, to volunteer, please contact lombajo@hotmail.com. All dogs deserve to end their lives with devotion and dignity. Those forgotten welcome our intervention. I didn't know about Grey Muzzle a month ago when we picked up a surrendered 10 year old female in Staten Island for Afghan Hound Rescue. This grande dame, left alone up to 15 hours a day, had been an only dog her whole life but embraced the pups in her foster family. If all goes as planned, she will become the new sister of an elderly male Afghan in New Hampshire who mourns for his late brother. Grey Muzzle repays neglected old dogs for a lifetime of loyalty. No one knows how long each will be able to stay before being called to the Rainbow Bridge. As Julie Nowicki says, a senior placement is a "moment in time". Yes, a moment to be cherished.

"Schroeder"~ longhaired tuxedo "Schroeder"~ longhaired tuxedo For Adoption at Oyster Bay Shelter (677-5784): Happiness is choosing a pet from the gang at the Miller Place Syosset shelter. "Linus" # 484 is an outgoing stray Beagle about 5 years old while "Schroeder" #423 is a handsome longhaired tuxedo cat. More Dogs: "Ripley" #473- 4 yr. Puggle; "Rosie" #454- Boxer mix; "Gypsy" #367-Cattle Dog mix; "Rusty"- #322- lively yellow Lab. More Cats: "Doc"-# 452- tabby, owner died; "Josie" #462- declaw- needs to be an only feline; "Pepper" in showcase- 11 yr. old declawed Bengal mix.

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