A life dedicated to saving older dogs

Gary, 71, has been a volunteer for the Dogs’ Home of Tasmania for nearly 30 years and has adopted 12 dogs from the shelter, focusing on providing older dogs a safe and secure home for their final years. His story is a lesson in compassion and giving.
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Gary & Dogs
I've had dogs in my life since very early childhood. To have dogs in my life is as natural as breathing. I began as a volunteer dog walker at the Dogs' Home at Risdon in 1994. I soon realised that puppies and dogs up to the age of 18 months were readily adopted - many by young families, which quite understandably wanted to 'grow up' with them. Dogs up to about 3 or 4 years of age also found homes. From age 6 years onwards, however, adoptions were much slower.

Through no faults of their own, these older dogs had ended up at the Dogs’ Home because of (1) the death of an owner, (2) an owner going into an aged care home that did not allow dogs, (3) an owner no longer being able to pay for their dog's upkeep and medical bills and (4) their owner being involved in a new relationship where the new partner did not want the dog. These were some of the reasons why I saw sad, bewildered, heads-down old dogs in Dogs' Home pens.

During the mid-to-late 1990s, there were sometimes so many dogs at the Home that two would be in one pen. I kept a close watch on any senior dogs which I thought were finding it hard to live in their new situations. I asked the wonderful staff at the Dogs’ Home to let me know if any of the seniors was due to be euthanised and, twice, at work, I received a call, which resulted in visiting the Home that day and opening my Retirement Village. Since that first day, 12 Dogs' Home 'pensioners' have found their second homes with me.

Introducing the four doggy residents at home

Compared to some of the past 'residents', the four I have at the moment are just whippersnappers. Rodney (better known as Rocket Rod) is an 8-year-old Jack Russell Terrier. He's very friendly and wakes me up each morning with paws clawing at me; "What are we going to do now? Come on! Let's go!" is his attitude. He fancies himself as being tough, which he is when he barks at dogs through the window of a car which is moving away at speed.

Maggie and Missy are recent arrivals. The Maltese sisters are 9 years old. The very first Sunday night of their arrival saw them escape, which I only realised when I arrived home later that night. It was the middle of winter and there was nothing to be done until Monday when the Dogs' Home and the Council Offices would reopen.

However, at about 1:30 on Monday morning, a phone call from a nearby vet informed me that the Police had brought in two Maltese Terriers, who had been displaying very poor road awareness. I offered to collect them, but the vet said that the Police would bring them home! And so, home they arrived in the back of the paddy wagon!

Fortunately, it was a slow night for crime. So, I now have two canines who have police records. Home detention was the punishment - with possible conscription into the Police Dog Squad (although I don't think that Tasmania's hardened criminals will be too frightened by two admittedly enthusiastic but basically superfluous Maltese Terriers.)

My fourth and oldest current resident is a very mouthy Chihuahua (are there any other kinds?). She arrived with the name of Tinkerbelle. However, there was no way known that a big, tough, Tasmanian bloke was ever going to walk a Chihuahua on a lead whilst calling out, "Come on, Tinkerbelle. "So, her name was truncated to Tink and she has graciously deigned to allow me to call her so.

It's always uplifting after I've parked in the drive to hear a cacophony of howls and barks coming from upstairs, which can be somewhat embarrassing if it's close to midnight and the neighbours are asleep!

Rocket Rod sits at his place on the arm of the couch, looking out the front window whenever I leave home. He'll be there hours later, still watching when I return.

There is a tremendous feeling of satisfaction when looking at a dog that has been saved from euthanasia, watching them sniffing about in the backyard, or maybe working on their tan. It reinforces to me that they have no real control over their lives. Instead of chewing on a bone or digging in the garden (again!), some of them could have been just a pile of bones now beneath the ground, forgotten. Instead, they are enjoying their lives. What a privilege to be able to play such a part!

In retirement homes with a no-pets policy, nobody wins

It's great that nowadays more Retirement Homes/Villages and tenants are accepting of people taking their dogs with them. How good that is for both humans and dogs! 'Mental health' is regularly mentioned but it's so beneficial for humans when their dearly loved canine companions can stay with them!

Another bonus for senior citizens who are owned by a dog is that your master wants to get out of the house each day for a walk. Absolute bonus, even if you only travel at half rat power!

It can't be stressed enough that if a senior and his/her pet are separated because of a no-pets policy, then nobody wins and all lose. I feel very sorry that some very elderly people experience the fear and stress that accompanies the prospect of losing a dear, loyal friend because of an imminent change of accommodation. It was an important reason to watch out for any very old dogs that come to the Dogs' Home and I continue to do so.

Gary , TAS

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