'I Care For Dogs When Elderly People No Longer Can'

I have been doing animal rescue work for decades now, particularly working with rescue dogs. volunteered on the board of directors for a nonprofit animal rescue organization in Pacific Grove, California. A friend, Monica Rua, and myself, were on the board of directors for an organization that aimed to rescue dogs and cats from shelters who were at risk of being euthanized.

In 2004, I fostered a dog called Savannah through that organization, The Animal Friends Rescue Project. I met Savannah when she was a year old and fostered her for a month, until Alice, an elderly friend that I knew, adopted her. Alice and I stayed in touch I began pet-sitting Savannah for her. But a few years later, Alice's health deteriorated, which meant that Alice was sometimes in the hospital for a while. She would call me and ask me to take care of Savannah, as she didn't have anybody else to help her.

Carie Broecker and Monica Rua
Carie Broecker (left) and Monica Rua (right). The founders of the charity, Peace Of Mind Dog Rescue. Carie Broecker

I was one of the first people who was nice to Savannah; we truly bonded. I would go and pick her up from Alice and she was always really excited to see me. She would often come to live with me at my house like she was my dog. She also loved Alice greatly, it was as if she had two moms.

Unfortunately, Alice was later moved to a hospice, but I still took care of Savannah and took Savannah to visit her daily. Alice was concerned about what would happen to Savannah after she passed away. At the time, Savannah was seven. She was generally shy and scared as she came from an abusive background, and didn't take well to strangers.

Alice was afraid that Savannah was going to go into a shelter and ultimately be put down as unadoptable. So, out of fear, Alice asked me if it would be a good idea to have Savannah put down. Immediately, I told her to not worry about Savannah, and that I would take care of her. That gave her a peace of mind.

Savannah stayed with Alice for the last week of her life; she slept on her bed and offered her comfort and joy, right until the moment she passed away. Following Alice's death, I brought Savannah into my care again.

That day, as I was walking to my car, the whole concept of Peace Of Mind Dog Rescue (POMDR) came about. I knew that many people who were becoming ill and passing away didn't have anyone to care for their dogs and that it would give them peace of mind to know that their dogs will be loved and looked after.

I immediately called Monica, my friend who had volunteered with me for twelve years. I explained the concept behind POMDR, and that we would focus on looking after the dogs owned by elderly people. She then suggested that we also care for elderly dogs in shelters that many deem to be unadoptable. We know that senior dogs can become depressed in shelters, and often get less attention from people looking to adopt, due to visible illnesses, or because they are generally calmer due to old age. So, our dual mission became to help senior dogs in shelters and also to help senior people by taking care of their dogs. We had no money to begin with, but the generosity of a friend changed everything for us.

Shortly after the idea for the charity came about, we had lunch with this friend and explained the charity. Our intention wasn't to ask for money but to express our excitement. She asked us how much money we needed to kickstart the charity, and Monica said it would likely be around $50,000. Our friend then said that she would love to help us, and gave us the money. That was a surreal feeling; knowing that we were able to start the charity.

The concept of having a need in the community, and an answer to it, was very exciting and energizing for both of us. It lit a spark. We talked with a few friends who were in animal rescue and asked them if they would like to be on the board of directors. We then knew another friend who loved fostering, and she became our first volunteer and began fostering some of the first senior dogs that we took from the shelter. In 2009, we put together a mailing list of 30 friends and family and told them what we were doing, and the charity grew from there. We aim to offer medical and emotional care to the dogs free of charge, but we do ask for an optional donation if anyone can afford it.

We originally thought that this was going to be a very small organization. But the demand was high and the financial support, and support from the volunteers, that we continued to receive along the way kept us going.

We put together the Helping Paw program which involves looking after and grooming elderly dogs. We also put together a financial assistance program to help senior citizens with veterinary bills, and a temporary foster care program, which involves taking care of dogs when an elderly person is sick, or in hospital. Volunteers walk dogs on behalf of senior people who can no longer walk their dogs due to health concerns or old age.

Savannah died in 2018 when she was 16. It was devastating. She had cancer a few years before she passed away, but I was grateful that we had her for those 16 years and she was healthy up until the last few months of her life. Savannah truly inspired our organization, she was very special. Her picture is hung on the wall of our office. I tell her story over and over again. To me, Savannah is the one who started Peace Of Mind Dog Rescue. We miss her, but we honor her and remember her in everything we do.

Savannah
Savannah was adopted by Carie when she was a puppy, before being given to an elderly woman. Carie Broecker

The generosity of others has helped us tremendously along the way. In 2012, we helped a woman named Patricia Bauer, who our office is now named after. She was 80-years-old at the time and had two dogs. Patricia came to us to surrender her dogs as she had breast cancer, so we informed her of our Helping Paw program and explained that we had volunteers who could walk her dogs, take them to the vet, feed them and also groom them. She loved the idea. Our commitment to her was that she could keep her dogs in her home with her for as long as she needed.

After three months of helping Patricia, she sadly died and left a bequest in her will for us. She specifically wanted us to buy a building because she wanted us to be here long into the future. She also left us $1 million to provide our dogs with medical care, which is what we needed at the time. That changed the whole trajectory of what we were doing. For the first three years of starting the charity, we were all working from our homes and we never had more than $10,000 in the bank for the charity, until Patricia's donation.

It's been 10 years, and we still can't believe the generosity that Patricia offered us. We look at our building and tell her story, just like we tell Savannah's story. We are very lucky and grateful.

In November 2019, we were able to build our veterinary clinic after three years of raising money for it. Our clinic is truly a gift from our community. Everybody rallied together to raise the $2 million needed to open it. Several months later, COVID hit, but we were very fortunate as although many places had to shut down, we had our building. Other vet clinics in the area were overfilled and didn't have many spaces available, so we were able to offer our assistance. It was amazing that we were able to do that for the community.

Generally, people are devastated to have to give up their dog. In the instances when an elderly person passes away, it is always very emotional. But people tell us over and over again that they feel at peace knowing that their dog is going to be taken care of.

We've been doing this for 13 years now. We have over 1,300 volunteers and we typically have 80 dogs in our care at any given time, and they're all in foster homes. It's good to know that as a charity, we are here to stay.

Carie Broecker co-founded Peace Of Mind Dog Rescue charity with Monica Rua. Carie, alongside her husband, Scott, is also the publisher of Coastal Canine Magazine. You can find out more about Peace Of Mind Dog Rescue here.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

As told to Carine harb.