When I entered graduate school in 2000, I needed to choose which communication disorders and sciences track I would pursue: developmental or medical.
In reality, the choice was made many years before when I was caring for my elderly grandmother who had a transient ischemic attack (not quite a stroke, but almost). The shock and terror on her face as her speech slurred and right lip drooped struck me to the core. Riding in the ambulance with her to the hospital, I vowed that she would get the best care possible and never feel alone.
Too often, our elder gems are left alone - by chance or by design. This is just as true, if not more so, for our animal companions.
The plight of once-loved senior dogs suddenly alone due to their owner’s death orchoice to surrender is not lost on Sherri Franklin, founder of Muttville in San Francisco. And her achievements on behalf of elder and infirm dogs have not been lost on CNN, which has nominated her as one of its Top 10 Heroes of 2016.
Among the many positions she’s held working on behalf of companion animals, Franklin was once a dog-walker for the Humane Society of San Francisco. She observed how older dogs were being passed over in favor of puppies by people choosing to adopt. In fact, many prefer to adopt younger animals because of the “cute” factor associated with them and the notion that a puppy (even an adopted one) represents a relatively “blank slate” that won’t present future “problems”. Almost inevitably, the elder and/or sick dogs were euthanized, their last days spent in a cold and unfamiliar place, apart from the family they once knew.
Spurred by the drive to ensure the comfort and dignity of this special population, Franklin began taking elder dogs into her own home. In 2007, her journey evolved into Muttville which today houses older dogs in free-range quarters complete with cushy couches and big, soft beds. Dogs receive on-site veterinary care including defleaing, deworming, vaccinations and microchipping in addition to blood panels and urinalysis - any and all medical care needed prior to adoption.
Currently, Muttville receives about 150 inquiries per week seeking homes for older or less-healthy dogs. Calls come from city shelters that have “red-listed” dogs (those due to be put down if no one adopts them) and private citizens who may be dying themselves and want to ensure care for their loyal companions. Muttville works with a network of more than 100 foster families who provide temporary haven until a forever home can be found.
Ironically, many forever companions are also elderly. The adult children of aging parents who have become isolated and unmotivated reach out to Muttville seeking a match made in heaven. Scores of two- and four-legged seniors have found renewed life exercising, socializing or just lounging together in front of the TV with their new families.
Dogs that are older and sick and face the loss of their vitality and their family will always have a place at Muttville. “Fospice” (foster + hospice) provides forever medical care at their downtown San Francisco campus. Paid lifetime palliative care is provided for dogs adopted out into special homes.
In any case, Franklin believes that every dog deserves a “happy last chapter.”
CNN Heroes 2016 airs tonight at 8 P.M. Eastern time, 5 P.M. Pacific.