Two organizations achieve success finding homes for senior dogs and cats. | 831 (Tales from the Area Code)

Bert bounces around at the bottom of the stairs. His mouth is wide open and he can’t stifle little squeals of delight. As he hops and twirls, his tail slaps back and forth wildly. It’s the usual morning greeting as his new owner comes down to start the morning, and Carie Broecker smiles as she watches the cell phone video.

“It’s good to see Bert so happy,” she says.

A few months ago, when Broecker first saw the little dog, Bert was in sorry shape – a dislocated hip required surgery, his internal organs were failing and she wasn’t certain how well the dog could see with an obvious cataract in one eye. Now Bert is in fine spirits.

Broecker is the executive director of Peace of Mind Dog Rescue, an organization that fosters and finds homes for older dogs. And since founding the nonprofit with Monica Rua in 2009, she has seen many stories end happily. The group is so effective that Broecker is among the 10 finalists for CNN’s annual Hero of the Year Award.

“Peace of Mind is the gold standard,” observes Margaret Slaby. “Carie is always there with guidance. She’s a big part of why we’re here.”

Slaby heads Golden Oldies Cat Rescue, with a similar mission for mature felines. She launched the organization in 2016 following Broecker’s playbook and found equal success on a smaller scale. Peace of Mind has found forever homes for almost 3,000 older dogs over the course of 13 years. Of the 134 cats fostered by Golden Oldies, 129 have been adopted.

Both organizations were formed from the understanding that age may bring wisdom in maxims, but in reality, advancing years bring uncertainties for both pet owners and their animals. When it comes to adoptions, puppies, kittens and younger animals get most of the attention.

“I get it – kittens and puppies are cute,” Slaby says. “The older ones are often forgotten. They shouldn’t be.”

Broecker has witnessed senior dogs in shelters showing signs of depression. Sometimes they slump in their cell, facing the wall. In addition, age often means health issues that will have to be dealt with by new owners. “It can be very expensive,” Broecker notes. “Most people don’t want to take that on.”

Both organizations were also born from personal experience. Broecker would pet sit a spaniel named Savannah whose owner, Alice, was in failing health. Knowing that she would not be around for much longer, Alice worried about the fate of her dog.

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Most animals in that situation end up in a shelter. Hearing Alice express concern for the future of her companion spurred Broecker to action. “In that moment the idea came to me,” she says. “Our mission is to be an advocate for senior dogs and senior people.”

To that end, Peace of Mind offers a number of services for elderly pet owners, including volunteers who can walk and feed dogs on a daily basis.

It was Slaby’s time working at an SPCA shelter that led to Golden Oldies. About half of the animals taken in were euthanized, the larger share of these being mature adults.

“That was unacceptable,” she says. “It was breaking me. I dreamt about a rescue operation.” Slaby reached out to Broecker, who sent a checklist for starting a nonprofit. “We had no funding, just a dream,” she adds.

Peace of Mind added a veterinary clinic in 2019. They hope eventually to create a center where they could provide for dogs when no foster is available. Golden Oldies is trying to complete a small house that would also allow them to take in cats.

“The hardest thing is when we have a surrender, but we don’t have foster space,” Slaby says. “You know the cat will be at risk.”

Boecker will learn on Dec. 11 during a CNN broadcast if Peace of Mind earns the big prize. Being selected in the top 10 garnered $10,000. The Hero of the Year receives $100,000.

“It never stops, so you just keep going,” she says. “There’s always another dog.”

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