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A Sanctuary for Older Dogs Is One Woman’s Dream Fulfilled

Chris Shaughness rescues, rehabilitates and helps find homes for the older pups no one wants

Video: Dog Lover Puts In Work to Save Senior Dogs

Dog advocate Chris Shaughness remembers the exact moment she decided to open a sanctuary for senior dogs. She was working as a marketing director at an animal shelter in Pennsylvania when she witnessed something she says horrified her. ​​

“I saw a man walking in with an old dog. He walked up to the lobby desk and he told the receptionist that he was there to trade in his old dog for a puppy. … I think that day solidified my desire to open an old dog sanctuary.” ​​

It’s awful to see people leaving old dogs at shelters, she says, when they can no longer afford to care for them or just don’t want to bother. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), only 25 percent of senior dogs (usually defined at about 8 years and up depending on the type of dog) who need homes get adopted. That’s compared to 60 percent of younger dogs. ​​

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“The old dogs, they become incontinent. They can’t leave them alone for very long. Sometimes their back legs give out. … They’re like an older person: They sometimes just need more help, and some people just can’t deal with that.” ​​

Realizing there was a “niche to fill,” she founded Four-Legged Forgotten Oldies in 2020 — a 1.5-acre senior animal home in northern Baltimore County, Maryland. Hosting nine dogs since its start, it’s a small operation that she hopes to eventually expand to a variety of domesticated pets and maybe even farm animals. ​

“We are not a high volume rescue, but we want to make sure we do it right. You know, there are a lot of rescues who take in a lot of dogs, they have foster homes, and we just don’t have that capacity. We want to be small, and we want to just make the impact in our niche.”​

​As for who runs the place, there’s a board of directors that Shaughness must consult with regularly, but she does all the day-to-day work herself. She goes to the shelters, gets the animals, brings them back, cares for all their needs (which often include medical issues) and then tries to get them adopted. Her skills as a dog massage therapist also come in handy when dealing with the particularly stressed pets. ​​

One of the key things she says she wished people knew about adopting an older dog: You don’t need a ton of space to bring one into your home. A fenced-in yard is helpful since many are not trained to stay. But they really just like to go on slow walks, sleep and get lots of love.

​​As for regrets about taking the often-difficult task of caring for and adopting out senior dogs, Shaughness has absolutely none. ​​

“I can’t express how rewarding it is to take a dog who has not been loved the way they deserve to be and show them that love, give them the health care that they require, lots of treats, lots of walks, lots of time outside. It’s fulfilled my dreams.” ​​

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