2017-12-22 / Front Page

Old Dogs New Digs

Giving the gift of life for Christmas, and all year ‘round
By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer


Eryn Ellis, left, vice president of the non-profit group Old Dogs New Digs, poses Monday, December 18, in South Portland with Roger, a 10-yearold lab/hound mix, and Roger’s foster mom, Cheryl Reilly, of Freeport. (Duke Harrington photo) Eryn Ellis, left, vice president of the non-profit group Old Dogs New Digs, poses Monday, December 18, in South Portland with Roger, a 10-yearold lab/hound mix, and Roger’s foster mom, Cheryl Reilly, of Freeport. (Duke Harrington photo) All dogs may go to heaven, as the saying goes, but not all dogs necessarily live a heaven on earth while waiting to get there. Some are abandoned, beaten or abused for no good reason other than this – that time happened, and they’re no longer the boundless, adorable puppy who first sprang into their owners’ lives.

In other cases, an older dog is loved unconditionally, but is preceded in death by a beloved owner, leaving man’s best friend along and bereft, without a friend on earth.

That’s where Old Dogs, New Digs comes in. Founded a little less than two years ago in Brunswick, the nonprofit works with animal shelters across Maine to find homes for senior dogs, because, when it comes to securing quality of life in one’s later years, there is no AARP for dogs.

At least until now.

And the first, most important thing Old Dogs does, is work to assure that every older dog finds the loving home it deserves – an opportunity they may not always get when dropped or delivered to a shelter.

“When a older dog comes into a shelter, because it’s been abandoned, or surrendered, or its owner has died, or moved, or gone into nursing care, when it’s over 10 years old, it is very unlikely that dog will get adopted,” says the group’s vice president, Eryn Ellis of Falmouth. “But also, older dogs like that often don’t do well in shelters, through no fault of the people there who are doing the very best they can.

“Some dogs have lived with the same family their entire life, so, when they are put into a shelter, it’s su- per-stressful on them,” Ellis said. “We have some cases where an older dog needs to get out of a shelter immediately or else they are going to rapidly decline. But at any rate, they often have anxiety or other issues going on, that make it so they just don’t do well in a shelter environment, and, so, just do not seem appealing to even those who visit a shelter and might otherwise be willing to take home an an older dog.

“Because, sadly, it’s just when a dog begins showing signs that it’s going to take a little more time and money to deal with than it did during the first 10 years of their life, that’s when people tend to bring them in,” Ellis said.

That’s why one of the prime missions for Old Dogs, New Digs is to work through its seven-member board and network of more than 70 volunteers to find foster homes for older dogs – folks who will take in a dog and provide it with a loving home until a permanent owner can be found who will see the senior canine through its final years.

“We don’t have a base of operations,” Ellis said. “We simply network across Maine to help shelters and rescue organizations to get older dogs adopted out. But we’re still trying to get our name out there, because we’re still pretty new.”

Old Dogs has helped find homes for more than 100 dogs. It currently features 25 on its website, OldDogs-NewDigs.com, and on its Facebook page. Although it does work with southern Maine shelters, it has, to date, focused its attention on smaller shelters with limited resources in northern and eastern parts of the state. The all-volunteer group members do everything from sharing photos of adoptable dogs on social media, to checking references and visiting potential homes, to helping arrange for needed medical care.

That work does not come cheap, however. According to the group’s treasurer, Jennifer Kimball, Old Dogs has spent $11,000 so far this year – $8,500 of which was dedicated to helping with veterinary costs to provide older dogs with the care they need to be comfortable in their later years.

“There was one we helped that had every single tooth in its mouth rotted out,” Ellis said. “I can’t even begin to imagine the kind of pain it must have been in.

“We do whatever we can with whatever we have,” Ellis said. “So, while we can definitely always use more volunteers, even those who want to help by just making a tax-deductible donation, that would be awesome, too.”

Ellis has a story typical of Old Dogs volunteers. A dog lover, she got involved after seeing photos of older dogs float by in her social media stream and, contacting the photographer, learned about the nascent group. Although now vice president, she has been the de facto head of the group since its president and co-founder, Mandy Fisher, moved to Colorado a few months ago, where she is busy trying to establish a second chapter for the group.

“Like a lot of us, she can’t not help dogs,” Ellis said. “So, while were are by no means nationwide just yet, we are growing.”

“I love animals, especially dogs,” said Cheryl Reilly of Freeport, who has two chocolate labs of her own and recently took in Roger, a 10-year-old Lab/hound mix, as a foster dog. “I guess I relate better to dogs then to people. So, I have always wanted to do something like this. I happened to learn about this organization online and thought, well, no time is better than the present.”

Naturally inquisitive, Roger is proof that while some older dogs can be perfect for the owner who prefers to just lay around and cuddle, others can still maintain an active lifestyle even into their golden years.

“My husband wasn’t 10 percent sold on doing this at first. He didn’t really get the concept,” Reilly said, with a laugh. “But now he gets it and he loves Roger as much as I do. Although Roger is a real bed hog. But he keeps up with my two pretty good.”

Ellis says that some dogs her group works to place have been in foster homes for less than 24 hours before getting adopted. Others can take much longer, in part because of special needs – because they are blind, or deaf, or need a home without any stairs. Roger, for example, who was surrendered after growling at a small child – because older dogs, like older people, can sometimes run short on patience – needs a home without any kids.

“Of course, we assume anyone who is willing to take in an older pup is a good person,” Ellis said, “but we always do home visits and check into every situation to make sure its a good fit, because every dog, like every person, is different, and we just want to help each one find the best home possible for its particular needs for its final years.”

“Some older dogs just want to be left along, but others are more social and need to be with humans,” Reilly said. “Roger is one of those. He didn’t do well in the shelter at all. He broke out two or three times. They were afraid he was going to hurt himself. One morning they came in and he was in with all the kitties. He just wanted to be with somebody.”

“That’s why, when an older dog is in that situation – in a shelter for the first time late in life – they don’t alway show well,” Ellis said. “They look like they’re insane. So, that’s why it’s important to get them into a home environment where potential new owners can see what they are truly like. Because a dog like Roger, who is a very good and loving dog, who are totally anxious in a shelter environment at 10 years old, they’re never going to get adopted out of there.”

“The one thing we can use is more volunteers, even ones who only want to donate, or help spread the word about what we do,” Ellis said. “With so many older dogs in needs of homes, more volunteers is one thing we can never get enough of.”

To volunteer, adopt a dog, or donate visit OldDogs- NewDigs.com online.

Staff Writer Wm. Duke Harrington can be reached at news@inthesentry.com.

Return to top