Happy holidays to all! I’m happy to share a project that has come full circle. And just in time for the holidays! You may recall my Quilting For Rescue Pets blog about my small kennel quilts to fit pet carriers for cats and small dogs.
This year, I sent quilts to several animal rescue groups that save the lives of pets in disaster areas. To celebrate the holidays, I decided to conduct interviews with some of the rescue groups.
This week is my final Holiday Heroes Interview about these wonderful animal rescue groups. Staff and volunteers give so much to help homeless animals.
I interviewed Valerie Reid, from the Whispering Willows Senior Dog Sanctuary (WWSDS). Valerie is the organization’s President and Founder.
WWSDS is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization in Hermitage, Missouri. Many pet parents are afraid to plan for their pet’s future. And death is a frightening reality. When many animal shelters do not care for senior animals, WWSDS helps to fill the gap.
Whispering Willows specializes in end-of-life hospice care for senior dogs who have a short time to live, allowing some to experience love for the very first time.
Whispering Willows is a place for senior dogs to call home. Their motto: Where love is whispered to the last breath.
I love the idea of a retirement home for senior dogs! How did you make a pet retirement home a reality?
We originally lived in Overland Park, Kansas. It had been a dream of mine for about 10 years. My father passed from cancer and there was no where for his senior Doberman to go.
It opened my eyes to a need that was seriously lacking in the rescue community. My daughter was still in school. So we waited until after she graduated to make it happen. Her senior year I started looking for homes further out with land. Once we found the house and land we began the sanctuary.
Do your senior dog residents have to be a certain age?
We accept senior dogs ages 12 and over. Unless there is a professional medical diagnosis stating they need hospice care. It does differs with giant breeds since they age faster. We accept them starting at age seven.
How do you work with other animal rescues and shelters?
We work with other shelters, animal controls, and rural towns without facilities that need help. The senior dog is transferred into our care.
What about visitors? Can pet parents who surrendered their dogs stop by for a visit?
No. Once they surrender they relinquish all rights to the dog. Allowing a pet parent to come back is truly emotional abuse on a pet who is trying to move forward.
They [older dogs] do not understand if a pet parent was to come and then leave without them.
Are your senior residents mostly local or nationwide?
Nationwide, all over the US. We transfer from shelters, communities, and personal surrenders. Sometimes we charge a fee to surrender a dog, but it depends on the situation.
We don’t have programs. These senior dogs are all lifetime residents here at WWSDS.
Do you have a waiting list for senior dogs? Is there someplace dogs can go until they come to WWSDS?
We have over 160 dogs on our current waiting list. We have no other place for them to go until they come here. We try to assist the owner and shelters in finding temporary placements if possible.
Do you have a limit on the number of residents you care for? What is your capacity?
Our limit is 75-80 senior dogs. Varies on the size of dogs currently residing at the sanctuary.
How do you train your staff to care for senior dogs?
Very similar to caring for an aging parent. Gentleness, helping them get around, soft pets, slower paces. They [senior dogs] work one-on-one with us until we are comfortable with them. We train by example.
How do you train your volunteers to care for senior dogs?
We do not have volunteers work with our dogs. We do allow visitors on a morning appointment basis only.
But that is just to give them love or to meet our senior dogs. We do not allow children under age 12.
It’s sad for any pet parent to think about the Rainbow Bridge. How do you celebrate the lives of senior dogs who crossed the Rainbow Bridge?
Each senior that passes is with the human they bonded to most. They are never alone and we always hold them as they pass.
Each senior has a watercolor portrait done of them as their rainbow picture.
Tell us about the challenges and rewards of working with senior dogs.
Physically, it is demanding. Hospice care is rough not only on your body but your heart and mind. It’s important to have good self care and take a break when you need to.
The rewards by far outweigh all of the heartache. Knowing that you saved these senior dogs from uncertainty and some having love for the first time in their life.
Senior dogs want a place to belong and call home. They love instantly.
How did you find the veterinarians who help you in caring for senior dogs?
Our vets are a wonderful asset to our team! Our vets are in the next town over. We met through a mutual acquaintances.
The seniors come to the sanctuary for care. It is full circle for the seniors. They are euthanized at the sanctuary and never have to leave. The pack gathers around the sick one and usher them into peace.
What else would you like to tell our readers about Whispering Willows Senior Dog Sanctuary?
Whispering Willows is a very unique sanctuary. We operate as a family even though we are a licensed shelter.
The senior dogs do not know they are at a shelter. This is where love lives and is given freely. Death is not scary or something to turn away from. It’s about offering peace and love, what we all truly want in the end.
It may hurt to lose a pet, but either way it happens without our consent. You might as well accept it as a part of life and show them the way to their next life. We help end suffering and give comfort.
Is there a network of retirement homes or is WWSDS a rare place for senior dogs?
Whispering Willows is an extremely unique retirement/hospice sanctuary. There is not another rescue doing exactly what we do.
This past year we have helped 72 seniors into peace.
What is one thing you want people to know about senior dogs?
All they want is love. One day we will all age and need help. Whether that is with eating, going to the restroom, or help when lost.
It is easy to show compassion and the best part is that its free. One act of kindness can make a difference.
There is clearly a need for more retirement homes for senior dogs. Do you have plans to expand your services to help more dogs?
Yes, we do have plans and are currently in an expansion process right now. In the future we will also open more sanctuaries.
Thank you, Valerie and your Whispering Willows staff for loving our older dogs!
Dr. Pet Mom
“Old dogs. Their affection is timeless. Their devotion is ageless. Their love is forever.”