Is there anything more heartbreaking than to see a senior animal in an open admission shelter? “Senior Alerts” (animals who have been abandoned by their families) are showing up more and more on our Facebook rescue feed, and for us personally, we have seen an increase in phone calls.

adopt seniors snoopyThe top reason is that the caretaker has become ill or has died and the family will not/cannot take the animal into their home. Please, please make a contingency plan for your animal companion now, not after the fact. People have no problem “getting their financial affairs in order” so what about securing your animal’s future? So many callers give us 24 – 48 hours to find placement for their family’s animal. If we are lucky, we get a week’s notice. Here is the sad reality; we are a foster-based rescue. This means that when we have a person willing to be a foster parent, we rescue an animal. We don’t keep foster animals in a glass bottle to “break glass in case of emergency.” We cannot plan for your poor planning. First step here, if you have a loved one who is elderly or ill, please talk to them out their companion animal’s future. You can’t take the animal into your home? Then start talking to friends and family to see if they are willing.  Talk to a local rescue group to ask advice for the future possibility of rehoming (contact us if you have questions about bequests). If you personally need help, start coming up with a plan. Ask for help. Most organizations are willing to work WITH you. They keyword there is WITH. So many times, callers feel that it is our responsibility to come up with a solution. After all we are a rescue, and that is what we do right? The bottom line is we can’t do what we do without your help.

The next group of people that need help is the family struggling financially and can’t afford treatment for their senior animal. Hard economic times have hit everyone and there is no shame in needing help. Again, ask for that help. More foundations are developing in the rescue world. Their specific mission is to help support families through food donations and veterinary services. Please do an Internet search in your area. If you are having trouble, reach out to rescue groups. They normally know local food pantries and may already have relationships with certain foundations. The one thing that I have learned in my rescue life is that animal people are by far the most generous and compassionate.

The last group is the group that makes rescuers lose faith in humankind. The people that drop their senior animal at open admission shelters, let them loose, or tie them up to a random fence post, because they just had a baby; they don’t have time; their new place doesn’t allow pets; their significant other doesn’t want the animal around; the furniture is being abused. And, my all time favorite…after having the animal for 10 years, I am now allergic because really, there couldn’t be anything else in our food or in the environment that can cause histamine production. I have struggled with this question, “Should I feel anger or pity for this specific group of people?” I know my rescue friends are screaming, “ANGER? right now?”, but think about really not having the ability to feel compassion or empathy. How else could you drop off a being that completely depends on you and loves you unconditionally without looking back? By definition, empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another is experiencing from within the other’s frame of reference. The capacity to place oneself in another’s position. An antonym for empathy is unfeeling. Without feelings, you may save yourself some heartache, but you will never know the splendor that the world has to offer. The bottom line that I came up with is that you can’t make someone feel badly for something they don’t understand. I just try to be grateful that I as well as many others do understand and not waste my energy on those that don’t.

Senior animals do create a lot of empathy and social media support, and yet, we have a hard time placing them in foster care and permanent homes. We get tagged over and over again for these “senior alerts” on Facebook, but we can only take in the amount that we adopt out or put into long-term foster care. The most common objections to adopting or becoming a foster parent for seniors are: we will lose them in a short amount of time; senior animals are expensive; we don’t want to upset the kids; it would be a big lifestyle change. All of those can be very true. Senior animals may have months to years left, but I think anyone who has adopted a kitten with FIP (feline infectious peritonitis) can tell you that there are no guarantees at any age. Senior animals can be expensive. Luckily, puppies are so inexpensive…hmm, puppies…shots, numerous chewed up beds, toys, training, sweaters in sizes XS through L. And yes, the animal may pass and that can be very upsetting for children, but should they stop visiting grandma too? Life is full of learning opportunities, and showing respect for an older animal may result in respect for aging adults such as one particular aging animal who may not want to be stuck in a nursing home {wink, wink}.



Okay, enough about objections. Since we live in a society of ‘what’s in it for me?’, here are a couple of examples of what I have benefited from doing end of life care for animals. My husband and I have been end of life/hospice fosters for a total of 5 dogs and 9 cats. Our first hospice foster dog was Milton, a 15 year-old Border collie mix from Chicago Animal Care and Control. We had to put a towel under his pelvis area to help him walk out. When we brought him home, he didn’t want anything to do with us. He walked the perimeter of our fenced yard while we sat in chairs in the middle of the yard. This went on for over a week, but each day his circle became smaller. He finally came up to us on his own. We were his nucleus, and Milton rewarded us with his trust. That was a gift that we were humbled to receive. As he grew stronger, he started taking walks with our own dogs. He was so amazing in the fact that he would not settle to be the last dog in the pack. He would hustle right up to the front and walk side by side with our other two dogs. He had such dignity about him. A pride swelled up in him that he was again part of a pack. It was at that moment, that I realized that every living being should be afforded the right to live and die with dignity. Maybe I knew it, but now I felt it. We had Milton for about 3 months. We cried our eyes out. We still talk about him, and smile.



The first hospice cat we had was Mochi, a black, geriatric cat from Chicago Animal Care and Control. He was so frail, but had the most soulful eyes. He had his own room with a baby gate so he could still see out, but had his own space. Every time he heard one of our voices, he would stand at the baby gate and look up at us. He didn’t like to be held. We would sit on the floor and let him climb into our laps. He would stay for about 15 minutes and then crawl back into his bed. He was the very first animal that we hospiced. What we learned from him was that we gave so little, just food, bed, and some attention, and that was the world to him. We had him for around 8 weeks. Mochi gave us the gift of adding seniors to Lulu’s Locker Rescue’s mission statement.


Princess Shamrock

My last story will negate all thoughts that we are “special” people, or we “stronger” than most, or even “chosen.” We are none of the above. In March of 2014 I was at Chicago Animal Control when a rescue friend came running up that there was a small dog with a big tumor in the euthanasia room. We had minutes to react. Within that time, she was able to convince me that this girl was special and even found another group to help with medical. We named the dog Shamrock because she was rescued around St. Patrick’s Day. Long story short, the tumor was growing at a rate that would have killed her in a couple of weeks.  She had an advanced heart murmur so surgery was risky. We decided to try to give her the best chance we could at life. We prepared for the worst and spoiled her for a few days. The day of surgery came and a two-pound fatty tumor was taken out of a 12-pound dog. She was by now means cured because she did have the heart murmur and an enlarged heart, but the tumor was completely removed with some other smaller mammary tumors. We ended up calling her Princess, Princess Shamrock. Only befitting because she was our little princess. She loved car rides and short walks. When the weather was too hot or cold, she used her puppy pads perfectly. She LOVED treats. She would jump around in a circle, barking for me to give one to her. She attended events and dog birthday parties. Through all of this, we forgot she had any issues. Her heart continued to enlarge, but it never stopped her. She was sleeping more, but that’s to be expected. This year in October her heart gave out, and she died in my arms. We had her for almost 17 months. It seemed like 17 minutes. As I begged and pleaded for this not to be happening, I thought I just don’t have the strength to keep doing this anymore. In the days to come, I kept looking at her picture. I would stare at the spot her bed was located. “Let someone else carry this burden for awhile”, I thought. I was mad, and I was angry. We had also lost our hospice cat, Georgia, weeks before.

Last week, we took in a geriatric cat named Zeus. He has cancer and his kidneys are failing. As far as “somebody else carrying the burden”, we are somebody, and we are nobody. We are no different than anyone else. We aren’t special or blessed. We just want to give back what has been given to us. Opening your home to a senior animal is not a one-way road. They give back more than you can ever imagine. Love is ageless. Please consider fostering or adopting a senior animal.

– Dawn Isenhart-Copp, Co-Founder & President