Nougat and Clarence became best friends almost as soon as Nougat moved into the retirement home.
The pair love to snuggle together. Nougat, a chihuahua, likes to rest his head on the back of Clarence, a pug, as often as he gets the chance.
The dogs live at Vintage Pet Rescue, a nonprofit that takes in elderly animals from local shelters that are unlikely to find a new home. The facility aims to give dogs a comfortable, loving environment at the end of their lives.
“The best thing about the job is seeing the little relationships that form,” Kristen Peralta, the founder of Vintage Pet Rescue, told HuffPost.
Out of her home, an old church in Foster, Rhode Island, Peralta oversees the care of 27 mostly senior dogs. While she and her husband have unofficially been rescuing older canines for some time, Peralta turned her passion into a full-time gig in 2017.
“It breaks our heart to see senior dogs in shelters,” she said. “They’re just frail, they’re probably scared, a lot of them have vision or hearing issues. Just seeing them, you just want to help.”
In some ways, older dogs may be less stressful to care for — and more inclined to sit still and snuggle — than their puppy counterparts. But their futures aren’t always so bright.
There are many organizations that, like Peralta’s, specialize in rescuing elderly pets and giving them sanctuary outside of animal shelters, in part because senior dogs in shelters have an adoption rate of just 25 percent, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, while younger dogs have a 60 percent rate.
In certain cases, older dogs get re-homed or abandoned because their owners lose the ability to care for them. This was the heartbreaking scenario for a woman named Linda, who was living with her four older chihuahuas in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, when she had Stage 4 lung cancer, People first reported. Linda needed to move into her sister’s home in Rhode Island to receive care and sustain chemotherapy treatment, but the dogs couldn’t come.
Linda and her sister searched for a rescue that wouldn’t euthanize or separate the four pups, and they came across Vintage Pet Rescue.
Peralta welcomed the chihuahua pack, and Linda is able to visit them often, as her sister lives just a few miles away.
“I started out visiting the dogs every other day which was wonderful,” Linda told People. “[Peralta] accommodated me with my schedule and the dogs there are all happy, loved and taken care of better than I can do myself.”
When she first started Vintage Pet Rescue, Peralta didn’t anticipate caring for animals whose owners needed care themselves, but she said she receives many requests for situations like this.
“We really wanted to be able to provide the dogs with an environment where they’ll be comfortable, living in a home cage-free,” she said. “It then kind of expanded into helping people who could no longer care for their senior dogs — whether they were going into a retirement home or someone’s relative passed away. It’s not what we set out to do but it’s really nice. The owners can still be a part of their dogs’ lives.”
Vintage Pet Rescue also takes in older shelter dogs, but none of the animals in the rescue are up for adoption. Eventually, Peralta hopes to be able to incorporate both foster and adoptions into her organization.
A life spent waiting on two dozen older dogs can be hectic. Peralta schedules vet appointments at least once a week, doles out individual medications and does a lot of bathing and petting. “Throw some social media and fundraising in there, and it’s busy,” Peralta said.
But the work is rewarding, and she thinks it’s helping to show more and more people are beginning to recognize just how special senior dogs are.
“They all have such distinct personalities — every one of them is such a character,” she said.
Because most senior dogs have already been trained, they don’t need to be taken out every few hours and are less inclined to get into trouble.
“You can just tell how much they appreciate you,” Peralta continued. “They’re thankful that they’re with you and you love them. It’s so special to know that you saved a dog’s life and that it’s going to have a happy rest of life because of you.”