Back in 2013, a timid pit bull named Apollo spent eight weeks waiting for someone to adopt him from a Philadelphia animal shelter.
When Maria Termini-Romano and her family adopted him from ACCT Philly, it not only saved Apollo’s life but ultimately, the lives of countless other shelter dogs.
“We just went and looked for a dog that needed a home and that was the right fit for us,” Termini-Romano told The Dog People.
An Ambassador for Shelter Pets
Apollo blossomed out of the shelter and became buddies with the family’s Coonhound, Miles. The sweet dog understood he needed to be gentle with the children—Louis, Sofia, and John, who were 2, 6, and 8 years old at the time—often rolling over to offer his belly for petting.
In the meantime, Termini-Romano couldn’t stop thinking about the hundreds of other dogs needing to be adopted before the clock ran out, dogs referred to as “time-stamped” for euthanasia.
“These sentient beings who have feelings and love to give and feel stress, loss, and grief while sitting there alone in these kennels for days on end…the empath in me feels their experience,” Termini-Romano said. “I call Apollo my ‘gateway dog’ because it was through him that I got my awareness of the need at ACCT Philly and in the community.”
So, she started volunteering at the shelter, walking dogs, transporting kittens with ringworm to a volunteer caregiver, running programs, and fostering.
“In nine years, Apollo has welcomed so many foster dogs here [in our home] and helped them socialize and be friends,” she said.
Apollo also inspired her to co-found her own nonprofit, Lifesaving Initiative Funding Efforts (LIFE), which raises money to help support shelter dogs with medical and behavioral needs. The group, founded at the end of 2019, donated around $50,000 for medical and behavioral support for dogs in need—primarily at ACCT Philly—last year alone.
LIFE also helps keep pets in their homes with a monthly pantry that offers donated pet food, collars, leashes, harnesses, cat litter, dog bowls, beds, sweaters, and other supplies, as well as free quarterly vaccination clinics and wellness events.
In fact, Termini-Romano started the organization with the woman who found Apollo as a stray nearly a decade ago, sleeping on her porch on Valentine’s Day.
“The ripple effect of Apollo is mind-blowing,” said Termini-Romano. “That’s his legacy.”
A Legacy in Life—and Photos
Apollo’s legacy will be featured by professional photographer Kristen Kidd in her forthcoming coffee table book “Old Friends: How Senior Dogs Are Teaching Us To Live Our Best Lives.” Apollo was the first dog she photographed for the book.
“The inspiration that Apollo has been for his family just really envelops and informs every aspect of what this project is about,” Kidd told The Dog People, who got to know his story after his family applied to participate.
Kidd, co-owner of LUX Summit Studio in North Wales, Pennsylvania, will photograph 50 dogs and their people for the project, and is still accepting applications from potential participants. LUX Summit Studio, which Kidd owns with her husband and fellow photographer, David Weir, will donate 100 percent of the profits to the nonprofit Monkey’s House: A Dog Hospice & Sanctuary in Burlington County, New Jersey.
Kidd’s previous book project, “Woman’s Best Friend,” celebrated the bond between women and their dogs. Three volumes have raised over $25,000 for animal rescue organizations. Now she’s excited that LUX Summit Studio will shine a light on senior dogs while raising money for them.
“Seniors have so much to offer, so [our studio] wanted to give them the attention that they deserve,” Kidd said. “Part of the reason that we wanted to have the ‘Old Friends’ project celebrating senior dogs was it was a way for us to cut through the stigma of aging, not only for our four-legged friends, but for us and how we think about aging…What we see is that our senior dogs really know how to live their best life every day.”
Kidd said she’s been inspired by her own senior dog, Hudson, as well as other dogs who will be featured in “Old Friends,” like Pacino, a former bait dog in dogfighting ring who survived horrible injuries. Now he’s beloved by his family and social media fans who follow @GoodBoyPacino.
“I hear so many stories (from people with senior dogs) about being reminded to be present, to just enjoy, to slow down. All of those are such important lessons in life in general, but especially as we’re growing older,” Kidd said. “I do think that there’s a stigma attached to aging, and we can have a mindset to shift around that and begin to think of every stage of our lives as having opportunity and potential and joy and its own gifts.”
Saving Seniors, by the Book
Kidd is delighted that her senior dog book will support Monkey’s House and the nonprofit’s work to save senior dogs and give them the care they deserve in their golden years.
“A lot of times senior dogs get overlooked for adoption because we know they don’t have as long with us, but they have so much to give while they are here,” Kidd said. “Michele, the founder of Monkey’s House, says something that I love and live by, which is, ‘Live until you die.’”
Fittingly, it was a dog named Monkey that inspired Michele Allen, co-founder and director of Monkey’s House, to start the nonprofit dog hospice and sanctuary on the farm she shares with her husband—and now over 20 senior dogs at any given time.
She’d been thinking of doing something to help senior dogs after caring for a senior Golden Retriever named Goldie when the chance to foster Monkey came along.
“In 2013, Monkey came to the shelter—a cute little brown dog who was in congestive heart failure,” she told The Dog People. “I remember donating money toward a chest X-ray. They called me and asked if I could take him, and I said yes…and he changed the whole course of our lives.”
The Allens managed Monkey’s condition with medication every four hours and made sure he had fun by taking car rides, one of his favorite activities. After he died, their grief fueled the creation of Monkey’s House.
As a hospice, the nonprofit doesn’t typically adopt dogs out, but sometimes they’ll pull a shelter dog that’s medically “a hot mess” but turns out to be “fixable,” she said.
“To me, if a dog is smart enough to fake that they’re dying to come here, they’re pretty special,” she said. “We call them ‘imposters’ because they have some medical issues, but they’re not going to die. We want to be very forthcoming with everything that’s wrong but find them a forever home, so they are placed for adoption through one of our rescue partners.”
Shelters reach out to Monkey’s House about needy dogs. The bulk come from ACCT Philly, the open-intake shelter where Apollo wound up. The dog food company AllProvide donates a whopping 60 pounds of food each week to help feed the golden oldies, and volunteers help care for the dogs, whether feeding or bathing them, or simply sitting with them outside.
With Age, Wisdom
Allen said donations and volunteers are always welcome, and that Monkey’s House is an incredibly happy place.
“I was a human nurse and worked with people who were in dying phases all the time. There’s a lot of wrapping up life, regrets, hugging, missing things,” she said. “With dogs, even in the active phase of dying, it’s good. You keep them comfortable, and they’re happy. They find happiness in the simplest of things…It’s incredibly rewarding.”
She hopes people will consider adopting or fostering senior dogs, which she likened to finding the right seasoning to make bland food delicious because they can enhance our lives so much.
“They teach me and inspire me every single day,” she said. “They’re just open to everything being awesome.”
That’s certainly the case with Apollo, who recently celebrated his ninth “Gotcha Day” with his adoring family and continues to inspire them daily with his legacy of love.
To submit an application to participate in the book “Old Friends: How Senior Dogs Are Teaching Us To Live Our Best Lives,” visit: https://luxsummitstudio.wixsite.com/seniordogportraits