Long before there was the wildly popular Susie’s Seniors Facebook page, in Baton Rouge Louisiana there was elderly dog advocate, Allie Kummerfeldt.
Five years ago, I met Allie on Facebook when she was a music student at Louisiana State University and we had both begun pulling dogs from the euthanasia list at Companion Animal Alliance. Despite our quarter century age difference, Allie and I became fast friends and dog rescue buddies. It touched me when Allie pulled Sugar, an ancient, white-faced chocolate Lab with a nasty skin condition. How on earth was Allie going to find a home for this dog? In short order, she did it and then quickly became obsessed with fostering labs, huge dogs and old dogs. Her favorite of all: huge old dogs.
Today, Allie is an elementary school music teacher, a teaching artist and a professional oboist. She is married to Ken, a computer programmer, teaching artist and professional trumpet player who shares her obsession with fostering huge old dogs. Together, they have fostered more than 100 dogs, many of them geriatric.
Recently, I spoke with Allie about the old dog thing:
Why old dogs, Allie?
There is something extra special about an old dog. Maybe it is in the cloudy eyes or the grey muzzle. I see these dogs as I see senior citizen humans. They have so much to teach us but just a short amount of time left to do it. The senior humans I know are often smart, opinionated, caring, loving, stubborn, and respectful. Interestingly, the senior dogs we have fostered also shared these qualities. The other good thing about seniors is that almost every senior dog we bring home is already housebroken, crate trained, and used to being in a home environment. I choose to foster old dogs because I can’t stand the thought that a dog that has learned so much about the world and has lived a long previous life may end up spending its last days at a shelter.
Tell me about Sugar, the old lab you pulled from the e-list at CAA.
When I saw Sugar’s intake picture it was just heart breaking. You could tell she had been a gorgeous dog but it had obviously been a while since she’d had some TLC. Sweet Sugar had no hair on her chocolate booty due to an untreated flea her coat was dingy and greasy and her grey muzzle gave away her age. My family always had labs, so seeing her so sad just broke my heart. It was also my second foster dog ever, and I was super surprised that there was a purebred chocolate lab at the shelter. I would later learn that this is very common. I decided to pick her up the same day, just hoping that the age issue wouldn’t be a big deal. I reached out to a local lab rescue (Labs4Rescue) and they offered to let me foster her through them so that they could spread her through their network and give her the best chance of finding a home.
Turns out it was not a big deal at all that she was already 7ish. I was convinced it would take a long time to find this aged pup a home, but after about 3 weeks of being in Labs4Rescue’s system, a wonderful lady in New York saw her picture and description and decided she had to have her.
The rescue transported her up north and she has been living happily in NY ever since. The most recent update I got was about two years ago, when the woman she told me Sugar had helped her through the death of her husband, and that she sleeps with her every single night.
Why would anyone want to adopt a dog they might only get to have for a few months or years?
I ask myself this often. The best answer I can think of is that I believe everything has a purpose in life. Every person has a job to do, or something to achieve while they are on this earth. I believe dogs are the same way. A few of the old dogs we fostered passed away while they were with us and I think each of them taught us something in that time. It might have been a lesson on compassion, humility, love, or even just an understanding of our world through the eyes of another. A person may need a dog for even just a short time in order to teach them something.
Tell me about the people who are willing to adopt an old dog.
These people are amazing. They are all kind. It’s like they have some secret kindness oath that must be taken prior to adopting a senior dog. These folks know full well that the dog they are adopting has already lived the majority of its life with someone else, yet they have a heart so big that they welcome this animal and give them the best forever ending possible. It is magical.
What’s your secret to getting an old dog adopted? Is it different from getting any foster dog adopted or the same? Do you say a special prayer or something?
Wait, you don’t know about the old dog rain dance? It starts with two twirls, then “Oy, my back!” and finishes with a glass of wine. Just kidding. There is no magic wand for get the seniors adopted. The best secret we have found has been getting killer pictures. Old dogs tell you their lives in their eyes and face, and capturing that on camera goes a long way to helping them get a home.
Do you ever worry you’re going to “get stuck” with the dog because no one will want it?
If we take a senior dog, no one will ever be “stuck” with it, including us. Having a senior dog is an honor. For a couple of our dogs, we have been the last stop on their journey. I am not a crier, but I will always lose it when one of our seniors doesn’t make it. We assume when taking a senior, that they are with us until they find a new home, or until the end.
Tell me about your Pack.
Our pack includes Basset mix Mazal, 6, Great Dane Maggie Doo, 7, and Moo (aka: Cat), 8. Cat is
the world’s sweetest, dumbest cat, and he loves our new foster dogs. He greets them when they come home with us and likes to rub himself all over them. Mazal is the resident greeter, and the best dog for helping them adjust to our home. She shows everyone around and helps them gain confidence. Maggie Doo shows our fosters the best places to sleep and the best toys. As a whole, our pack really likes the old dog fosters because our pack is older. They all do a lot of sleeping and the roughhousing is kept at a low level. Overall our house stays pretty quiet and content with senior fosters in it.
How many dogs over the age of 8 have you pulled and placed?
I totally lost count. I would say though that I consider a senior dog any dog over age 6, as lots of breeds, like Great Danes have an average lifespan of 8. We have definitely had over 30 elderly dogs in the last five years and they have been all kinds of breeds though my husband and I have a soft spot for large breeds like labs and danes. In addition to placing many of them locally in Louisiana, we have also found them homes in other states including Mississippi, Alabama Georgia, Maine, New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Washington D.C.
Tell my readers about Sierra, the elderly Great Dane you kept for a family who became homeless after the Louisiana floods last summer.
We took Sierra after seeing her picture on your Facebook Page. She was being held at Lamar Dixon after the flood, and was in a ridiculously hot horse stall with three other danes. She was 11 and struggling in the heat. After you sent me the little paper with the contact info, I called the owners and asked if we could help. Turns out Sierra belonged to a woman with four danes and her house flooded, and her mom’s house flooded, and they were all staying with her brother at his house. Between all of the family dogs, they had nowhere for Sierra to go. We had another senior great dane foster at the time, but after seeing how this dog was struggling in 100 degree heat, we had to help. The owners agreed to let us take Sierra until they could get settled. They were such nice people, and they just needed a hand. We kept Sierra for about 6 weeks, and then were able to reunite her with her family. Through the community and help from my mom in Georgia and her clients, we were also able to send the family home with several big bags of dog food, and gift cards to pet stores and home improvement stores.
Who was your most challenging old dog?
We haven’t had a lot of issues with any of our senior dogs. They are so easygoing! Our most recent foster, Cindy Loo Who, 15, was probably the most challenging because she had bladder control problems, which we thought was going to make her unadoptable. Let’s face it, nobody wants a Pee Pee McGhee in their house. Fortunately, we found out this can be fixed most of the time with medicine the dog will take for the rest of its life and it worked right away on Cindy. She now lives in New Orleans, right next to Audubon Park with her new owners. The absolutely adore her. Bentley, one of our senior great danes was also a bit of a challenge with his intense fear of walking on hard flooring. We had to put rugs all over our house because he was terrified to take a step inside. A very lovely family with a home filled with large area rugs in Lafayette, La adopted him.
If you were allowed to say you had a favorite old dog, which one would it be?
Cindy Loo Who, the former Pee Pee McGhee. Cindy had been found wandering her neighborhood multiple times. At the shelter, they tracked down her owner and the owner said he didn’t want her back. I couldn’t believe how anyone could do that to an old dog! Still don’t get it. We took her home and she owned the place right away; found her bed, and snuggled hardcore with everyone and everything. She has so much spirit left in her for being her age, and we were so happy to have her.
Why do you do this?
Because dogs do not have opposable thumbs – haha — and we want to help those who cannot help themselves. There’s a Jewish concept called Tikkun Olam; acts of loving kindness to help repair the world. Everyone should perform Tikkun Olam in their own way. We do it by helping homeless dogs and bringing them together with the people who need them.
Any advice for people out there thinking of adopting an old dog?
Do it, do it do it! The love from an old dog is so special. They need the love just as much as you do. Don’t pity an old dog, just adopt one.
Any advice for people out there thinking of fostering an old dog?
In my opinion, fostering old dogs is way more fun than fostering young dogs. It basically takes the stress out of fostering. Almost always, these dogs are housebroken, crate trained, and well mannered. That is fostering gold. You never have to worry about things getting torn up, or your dogs getting too excited. Plus the level of love these dogs give is so much deeper than that of a young dog. I highly recommend it!
Anything else you would like me to know?
Yes, I cannot do this without my husband, Ken. I used to do it by myself, and that was dandy. But having Ken’s help and support makes this doable today. He is just as involved in the whole foster process as I am, and is so supportive. I have been known to text him a picture of a dog, say, “I am on my way home!” and he always just rolls with it. He feeds and cares for our fosters as if they were our own dogs, and he shows so much care and compassion for the animals I bring home.
Companion Animal Alliance is building a new, state-of-the-art animal shelter in Baton Rouge on the campus of Louisiana State University near the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine. If you would like to make a contribution to help homeless animals in Baton Rouge enjoy a better life while waiting for their forever homes, please visit my fundraising page : Help CAA Build a State of the Art Animal Shelter. Even the smallest donation helps. Many thanks.