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When seniors can’t care for their dogs, these volunteers step in

Peace of Mind Dog Rescue helps older canines and their elderly owners with free walks and fostering

Peace of Mind Dog Rescue founders Carie Broecker, left, and Monica Rua with some of the senior dogs their nonprofit group has taken in. (Peace of Mind Dog Rescue )

Marcia Noel was devoted to her two dogs, Ernesto and Roger, and the feeling was mutual.

The miniature pinschers slept with her, played fetch and cuddled with her on the sofa for more than eight years, said Noel’s daughter, Debra Owens, 60.

Owens said her mom requested that after she died, her dogs would go to the rescue shelter where she adopted them, which is near her home in Sacramento.

When Noel died of cancer in August at age 79, Owens was stunned to learn the facility was full and couldn’t take in Ernesto and Roger.

“I couldn’t leave town immediately to get them, and my mom’s neighbors were complaining that the dogs were barking,” said Owens, who lives in Missouri. “Somebody was coming in to feed them, but they were alone all day.”

“My mom’s wish was for this shelter to take her dogs and get them adopted,” she said. “I had this helpless feeling. I didn’t know what to do.”

Then somebody at the shelter mentioned she should reach out to Peace of Mind Dog Rescue in Pacific Grove on California’s Central Coast. Owens called and immediately arranged for the dogs to be picked up from her mom’s apartment and placed in foster care until they could be adopted, she said.

“It was such a relief during a heartbreaking time,” she said, noting that the dogs are still in foster care.

Peace of Mind Dog Rescue has helped seniors and senior dogs since the nonprofit group was started by Carie Broecker and Monica Rua in 2009.

Broecker, 56, said she came up with the idea of helping vulnerable dogs and their elderly owners while she was caring for a friend’s dog 13 years ago.

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“The woman’s name was Alice, and she had emphysema that put her in and out of the hospital,” Broecker recalled.

“When doctors told Alice she had only a few weeks to live, she was moved into hospice care and I took her dog, Savannah, to visit,” she said. “She was anguished about what would happen with Savvy, because she had no friends or family to care for her.”

Alice didn’t want her dog to be placed in a shelter, and was devastated at the thought of her dog possibly being put down, Broecker said.

“I told her, ‘No, don’t worry — I’ll make sure she’s okay,’ ” said Broecker, who adopted the dog.

She said the concept of a pet rescue group for seniors and their pets came to her after visiting Alice that day.

“I thought, ‘What if we were to take in dogs from people who were dying, had already passed away or were going into nursing homes,” said Broecker, noting that studies show dogs improve the quality of life for seniors.

She called her friend Rua to ask if she would help.

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Rua said she was on board, but she also wanted to take in senior dogs from shelters because they were among the first to be euthanized.

“Carie and I had volunteered together at another dog rescue, and I was always heartbroken to see older dogs passed over or having a harder time in that environment,” Rua said.

“Senior dogs still have a lot to offer,” she added.

Peace of Mind Dog Rescue now finds homes for senior dogs in shelters, and also for dogs whose senior owners can no longer care for them. The group has around 1,300 volunteers who walk dogs for seniors who can’t, as well as provide veterinary care and assist in setting up pet trusts to ensure a dog’s care after a guardian dies.

“We want to give dogs — and their owners — dignity in their older years,” Broecker said. “Once a dog comes to us, we oversee them for the rest of their lives.”

The rescue group has found homes for more than 3,000 dogs and has helped more than 2,000 pets stay at home with their owners through their Helping Paw program, she said.

Alison Day and her husband, Steve Gross, have fostered senior dogs for the rescue agency for four years, and they recently took in a new dog, a Chihuahua named Fonzi.

“You grow attached to them and it’s hard to let them go when they’re adopted,” said Day, 34, who lives in Pacific Grove.

“Senior dogs are so loving, and it’s rewarding to know you’re helping them because they’re often so overlooked,” she added, noting that older dogs make good pets because they’re usually mellow and have already been trained.

Day said she once had the heartbreaking experience of having an elderly foster dog die in her arms after living with him for two happy final years.

“Caring for a senior dog teaches you to be present and live in the moment,” Day added. “They’ve helped me to feel grounded and appreciative of each day.”

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Tami Sojka, a Peace of Mind dog walker for about two years, was one of several volunteers who pitched in to walk Jean Haskell’s dog twice a day after she had back surgery last year and needed six months to recover.

Sojka, 58, said she enjoyed her Thursday outings in Pacific Grove with Sammy, a 14-year-old Shih Tzu that she and other volunteers nicknamed Samwise because of his seemingly wise nature.

“He is such a sweet little dog and it made me feel good to walk him around the neighborhood and help Jean out,” she said.

Haskell, 68, said it was a relief to know that Sammy could keep up his regular routine while she was unable to get out.

“He loves to go for his walks and strut his stuff,” she said.

The rescue group also puts dogs into temporary foster care if an owner is hospitalized and can’t be at home.

“For so many of us living alone, it’s just a fabulous idea,” said Sheila Williams, 76, of Monterey, Calif. She was in the hospital for two weeks in April after gall bladder surgery.

“Carie [Broecker] took my dogs Chex, Tater Tot and Acey Ducey to live with her while I recovered,” Williams said. “I can’t live my life without my dogs. They’re my everything.”

“When I was in the hospital, I missed them tremendously, but I took comfort in knowing they were in good hands,” she added.

Broeker said it has become her life mission to provide comfort to senior dogs and their elderly companions in their final years.

“They deserve dignity, compassion and love,” she said. “They deserve every kindness.”

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