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Elderly Dogs Dig Gilbert's Rest Home

Under the appreciative eye of Alabama state director Mindy Gilbert, members of a "geriatric ward" of animals with special needs somehow seem to bounce back

Part of an online series profiling staff and friends who volunteer "Off Duty"

  • Gilbert's geriatric ward is a mix of funny and endearing characters... (scroll for more images)

  • ... who huddle under her desk, lie on her feet, and jockey for attention.

  • Not everyone in the mix barks.

  • Fourteen-year-old Elvis, also known as Hoss, was surrendered during a hoarding investigation.

  • Alabama state director Mindy Gilbert offers a safe haven for elderly animals and dogs with special needs. Images provided by Mindy Gilbert.

Read more Off Duty stories»

by Mindy Gilbert and Pepper Ballard

It all started with a Doberman named Amanda. As the director of a small animal shelter in rural Alabama, I had seen my share of neglected dogs but resisted the urge to take all of them home.

When I walked onto that playground and saw Amanda—forlorn, cold and covered in mange—her Doberman wiles got the better of me, and she became the first of many special needs dogs and elderly animals I would invite to share my home.

When I found Amanda that January morning, she had advanced demodectic mange and was heartworm positive. Successfully treated and pampered, she lived 15 years. During that time, Amanda would learn to share the house with my own dogs, and a revolving number of other animals who were old, disabled, kicked to the curb or otherwise down on their luck.

Hard times behind

Many of the animals I adopted weren’t expected to live long because of their rough upbringing, or the horrors inflicted upon them. Often they thrived once I gave them the attention they deserved, and the security I provided.

The elderly dogs pull at my heart strings the most because often they’ve been with a family for years before they are given up at a shelter, or abandoned. It’s a very hard adjustment for them—a very sad outcome. I enjoy helping them forget their worries. When they’re cared for, they’re happy and content, and that’s how I prefer to see them.

Let me introduce you to a few members in my cast of former cast-offs:

  • Baby Ruth, 18, and Louise, 14, are a mother-daughter pair of Chihuahua mixes I picked up after investigating a Tallapoosa County hoarding case. They were considered too old to be entered into an adoption program at a local shelter.

  • Timba is a 60-year-old orange-wing Amazon who was being sold at a yard sale. His former owners had gotten him on their honeymoon in Mexico City.

  • Elvis, also known as Hoss, is about 14 years old, and is a Bassett hound-mix I rescued after it was discovered he was heartworm positive. He was surrendered during a hoarding investigation.

When the end is just the beginning

Many of the older animals are with me for only a short time. A few memorable characters include Slurpy, an Italian greyhound who was 19 when her owner surrendered her at a shelter. She lived to be 25 years old. And then there was Evelyn, a Chihuahua who had been thrown from a car. I believed I would just get her fixed up and give her a good quality of life for about six months or so, but she lived for another seven years.

I’m trying to plan it so that when I’m in a nursing home, there won’t be anyone in my animal family left who needs to go into a nursing home themselves.

It’s never been an issue to bring someone new to the crowd because they always sort it out, and become more socialized because of it.

Happiness is a trip to the grocery store

There is still a tremendous need for more spay/neuter programs to reduce the number of animals relinquished at shelters every day. I think that a lot of people don’t consider taking older pets because they feel that they’ve been used or damaged, but if you give a dog love, affection, attention and care, they forget their troubles, and help you forget yours.

Seeing their old, furry faces motivates me to do the work that I do. When I return from travelling or even just a trip to the grocery store, I know I can walk in the door to an ecstatic crowd.

Thanks largely to a terrific veterinarian, and a wonderful pet sitter, I have the ability to control the happiness and well-being of animals in one small corner of the world.

A better future for all animals

My geriatric ward is a mix of funny characters, who are especially appreciative for the life they’ve been given in my home. A few of them could stand to get a part-time job, but I’m not holding my breath. Instead, they huddle under my desk, lie on my feet, and jockey for attention. 

They serve as a reminder: I wouldn’t be working for animals if there wasn’t a need to give critters like the members of my motley crew a second chance, and a better life.

Mindy Gilbert is Alabama state director for the The Humane Society of the United States. Pepper Ballard is a PR/Media specialist and writer.

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