When families consider getting a dog, that often means getting a puppy. And why not? Puppies are adorable. But in another corner of the internet, animal lovers are often reminded that there’s something special and adorable about old dogs, too.
You’ll already know this if you’ve visited the Facebook page for Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary, which has over 1.7 million likes. It has been called “the best Facebook page ever” but in fact, the sanctuary itself may be one of the very best places ever.
The Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary is a home for dogs in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee. Here, there are many mixed breed dogs with names like Mildred, Mack, Hobo, Kirby, Sugar, Jeff, Jake and Gertrude. None of the dogs live in cages and are free to roam the property as they please.
The sanctuary is run by Zina and Michael Goodin, who have day jobs owning franchised consignment stores. What began as a nonprofit in 2012, however, has turned into something of a mission and social media phenomenon. “This wasn’t planned,” Zina says. “It’s something that just kind of evolved.”
The Goodins were volunteering for a local Golden Retriever rescue when they noticed a problem with the senior dogs.
“They were going in and out of foster homes and being bounced around, and we realized if Golden Retrievers were having this problem, so were a lot of older dogs who were never making it out of shelters,” Zina says.
One of these dogs the Goodins found particularly inspiring. Zina refers to Lucy Lu as a “co-founder” of Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary. Lucy Lu was rescued from the basement of a woman who hoarded about 25 dogs, all stacked in cages. When she was rescued, she weighed 35 pounds. After she was nursed back to health, the Goodins adopted Lucy Lu.
“After we took her in, she ran and smiled and never looked back at her old life,” Zina says, who adds that that’s part of magic of adopting an older dog. “It doesn’t matter what they may have had a bad life. They’re not going to look back at their rotten life. They just let it go and enjoy the present, and seeing her do that made us see the need to give these dogs a great retirement.”
And Lucy Lu had a great one. She passed away in 2014, four years after the Goodins took her in.
Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary has grown so much that the facility has been moved to a 7,200-square-foot building on two acres of land, also in Mt. Juliet.
In addition to being better for the dogs, the new location makes it easier welcome visitors, and there have been many, many requests from Facebook followers to visit the Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary.
The sanctuary has approximately 50 dogs at a time, with approximately 150 dogs in foster families. As for those foster families, the hope is that these dogs will spend the rest of their lives with them, but many return (about one out of three dogs end up returning to the sanctuary). Regardless of what happens with the foster families, the sanctuary, which operates solely on donations, grants and fundraisers, covers all medical expenses for the dogs, which can be costly due to their age. “Our vet bills are about $15,000 a month, on average,” Zina says.
But the sanctuary is hardly a sad place, and when Zina set up a Facebook page and started posting photos of the residents, they quickly amassed fans. As one fan says, “I love this Facebook page so much. When the rest of the internet gets too dramatic, scary, or depressing, I always come here and scroll through the pictures and comments. The dogs are so cute, the comments are so cute, everything here is cute. It’s like detox.”
In order to adopt a dog from the sanctuary, you have to live within a 100-mile radius of the sanctuary.
“It’s a safety net. By keeping it within 100 miles, we make it easy for every dog to come back to us, if a family can’t keep them,” says Laurie Rathburn, the sanctuary’s manager.
“Sometimes people think more with their hearts than their heads, and then people get in over their heads,” Rathburn says.
As challenging as it may be to care for an elderly dog (or 50), Rathburn and the Goodins aren’t complaining. These pets are a lot of fun to be around, Zina says.
“They are not just old dogs waiting to die. They enjoy every day, and if they’ve got a family who loves them, they’re going to add a lot of joy to that family,” she adds.
One of the best parts of running the sanctuary has been the influence that the Facebook page has had across the country.
“We can only help the senior dogs in this area, but if we can spread the message of how wonderful these dogs are, then what we’re doing is really important,” Zina says. “And what we like seeing the most, and what see quite often, is when somebody says ‘Because of your Facebook page, we adopted a senior dog, and we never would have thought to otherwise.’ That’s what really makes us the happiest.”
Photos courtesy of Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary Facebook.
Geoff Williams is a freelance journalist in Loveland, Ohio. He and his two daughters live with one dog, three cats, two guinea pigs, one rat and a lot of fish.