A Golden Retriever who endured years of neglect before being adopted at age 12 is living the good life in a loving forever home—and as an “Ambassadog” for Saving Senior Dogs Week, an awareness campaign that celebrates senior pet adoption which runs this year from October 24th to the 31st.
California residents Helen and Kurt Gettman adopted Harley this summer from the nonprofit Lily’s Legacy Senior Dog Sanctuary, which organizes the annual event. The sweet senior’s signature move is rolling onto his back and wiggling in delight. He also loves meeting new canine and human friends on walks at the park and “helping” in the kitchen.
“He is such a bundle of love,” Helen Gettman told The Dog People.
Amassadors for Senior Dogs
Harley is just one of the “Ambassadogs” of Saving Senior Dogs Week, which seeks to shine a light on the joys of senior pet adoption, and the plight of senior dogs—ages 7 and up—who are often the last to be adopted from shelters.
Alice Mayn, founder and executive director of Lily’s Legacy Senior Dog Sanctuary in Petaluma, California, created Saving Senior Dogs Week in 2019 to raise awareness and funds for senior dog rescue. Ten organizations dedicated to senior dog rescue participated the first year.
“I’m passionate about it because I think they’re wonderful dogs. They’re easy to blend into a family, and they shouldn’t have to end their lives dumped on the street or in a shelter,” Mayn told The Dog People. “And I think because there are so few senior dog rescues in the country—there are probably only 50 or 60 of us—it seems like there should be a network of senior dog rescues so that we can collaborate with each other.”
A Coalition of Rescues Amplify the Message
Four years on, there are now over 30 rescue organizations participating in Saving Senior Dogs Week. In fact, it’s proven so successful that this year, Mayn launched the website Saving Senior Dogs USA so that people have access to resources year-round.
“We get calls all week long from all over the country—it amazes me,” she said. “It’s mostly people who have to surrender their dog, or that want to adopt.”
She noted the need is particularly urgent right now because shelters across America are “absolutely jam-packed.” Participating shelters promote the week with social media posts and other awareness campaigns, such as Lily’s Legacy posts about “Ambassadogs.”
Last year, Saving Senior Dogs Week raised over $50,000 for participating rescue groups. This year, the goal is $75,000. Mayn said individual donors as well as business sponsors like DogTrekker, which is hosting a fundraising challenge to support the cause, offer valuable support.
She feels her late Golden Retriever, Lily—who inspired her to start the sanctuary that bears her name—is “driving the show.”
“I think Lily would love this,” she said with a laugh.
“He Just Melts Our Hearts”
It’s remarkable that Harley the Golden is so upbeat and friendly considering his past. He spent many years living outside and neglected before a neighbor stepped in and took the dog—and then lost her home.
Harley bounced around between friends and relatives before landing at Lily’s Legacy—overweight and needing 13 teeth removed. The nonprofit got him the veterinary care he needed before putting out the word that the gregarious Golden was ready for a forever family. The timing proved perfect.
“Dogs deserve a second chance,” Gettman said. “Seniors are just as loving as puppies, and they deserve all the love and care in the world. Regardless of what they have gone through, you give them love and they just love you right back.”
Caution: Adopting Senior Dogs Is Addictive
The Gettmans are no strangers to the rewards of adopting older dogs. Harley is the third dog the couple has adopted from Lily’s Legacy. Harley’s predecessor, a Golden Retriever named Kenai, helped Helen through cancer treatments.
“Kenai literally saved my husband and I, especially going through the cancer because there were so many complications,” she said. “My niece nicknamed him ‘Mr. Majestic.’ Everybody who saw him fell in love with him.”
Tragically, a few months after Helen Gettman completed chemotherapy, Kenai got his own diagnosis of cancer, which claimed his life at the end of 2021.
When the Gettmans were ready to adopt again after their heartbreaking loss, they returned to Lily’s Legacy—and Harley came right over to greet the visitors like long-lost friends.
They brought Harley home, offering him lots of love and two dog beds. Harley settled into the one with a soft blanket as they fed him treats.
“He put his head on his bed and just plopped his paws over,” she recalled. “And his eyes—it was like he was looking at us and thinking, ‘Thank you. I think I found my forever home.’ He just melts our hearts.”
Adopt Your Best Friend
The nonprofit Albert’s Dog Lounge Rescue in Whitewater, Wisconsin—which has the slogan “Old dogs make great new friends”—has participated in Saving Senior Dogs Week every year since its inception. Like Lily’s Legacy, a senior dog inspired the name and nonprofit itself, according to Mandy Lewis, founder and president.
She and her husband fostered and adopted Albert, a senior Dachshund with congestive heart failure in 2017, and he opened their eyes and hearts to the importance of senior dog adoptions.
“I’m still inspired every day by Albert, and I miss him terribly,” Lewis told The Dog People.
Albert’s Dog Lounge—which started in the couple’s garage—took in the first senior dog on January 1, 2018, and adopted out 130 dogs that year. The group has grown exponentially—there’s now a 2,000-square-foot facility and a transport van—and has saved around 2,000 senior and special-needs dogs since its creation.
Lewis thought most adopters would be seniors themselves, but she’s been “completely shocked” by how many young people want to adopt older dogs.
“They don’t want to go through puppy stages—chewing and training—and they want to know what they’re getting,” she explained. “They want to be able to know that when they go to work, their dog is safe. It’s absolutely incredible to me.”
“They Are Not Alone”
Lewis is concerned by how many dogs wind up in shelters or rescues because their human dies without a plan in place for their pets. So Albert’s has an estate planning website page so that people can create a will and add Albert’s Dog Lounge as the caretaker for their pets.
She’s grateful Mayn created Saving Senior Dogs USA so that there’s a national resource for anyone looking for information about senior dogs, and a network of rescues that can support one another.
“We share the same love and heart and passion for these dogs,” she said. “I think every dog should have the chance to have a good end of life and be loved. And when they do cross over the Rainbow Bridge, they have loving arms around them. They’re not alone.”
For more information, visit: SavingSeniorDogsUSA.org