The day Denise Madonia adopted Truman.

Animal rescuers are continuously amazed when mistreated or homeless animals, express  unconditional willingness to embrace and deeply bond with adopters, despite past traumatic experiences.  When a senior homeless pet catches the attention of a potential adopter, physically and emotionally they radiate joy if given another chance to spend their golden years safe and loved with a forever family.

Julie with her Sammy, an oversized senior shepherd dumped in woods next to Sam’s on Beach Blvd., so traumatized it took weeks and many rescuers to finally safetrap her.
Julie with her Sammy, an oversized senior shepherd dumped in woods next to Sam’s on Beach Blvd., so traumatized it took weeks and many rescuers to finally safetrap her.

Like all homeless pets, many situations cause senior pets to be abandoned or surrendered to shelters. Owners become unable to care for pets due to finances, illness, disability, hospitalization, a move to pet-restricted care facilities or death. Too often pets left behind are unwanted by family or friends. Senior pet rescuers urge pet owners to never  assume that a family member or friend will adopt their beloved pet if that becomes necessary. Specific arrangements for pets must be included in wills or final instructions.

Other senior pets become homeless if owners want a puppy or kitten, develop allergies, have a new baby or new job, prefer to relocate pet-free, move to pet-restricted housing or develop incompatibility with family members or other pets. The worst case scenario is if the now unwanted senior pet is abandoned in woods or parks, “it will be fine outside, it can hunt”, or abandonment near pedestrian areas like schools or shopping centers where, “somebody will take it”. Those terrified senior animals, used to love and care, are at the mercy of weather, unprepared to survive the desperate hunt for shelter, food and water or outdoor dangers.

Senior pets may not be able to jog or play as energetically, but have boundless love left to give according to senior pet rescuers. Their goal is the successful adoption of every homeless senior pet, to provide another chance for that animal to live out its lifetime comfortably in a loving home.  

Old age is not a disease, it truly is just a number as active senior citizens know.  Senior adults and pets typically have many golden years to enjoy due to improved medical care, nutrition and knowledge of the importance of healthy lifestyle, weight and regular exercise.  Both experience similar health and mobility issues that can be managed to preserve quality of life.  Just as human seniors adapt to physical changes of aging, senior pets move more carefully and adjust to diminished vision, hearing or other conditions.

 Large dogs or indoor cats can live from ten to fifteen years and small dogs can live longer. Outdoor cats, vulnerable to many dangers, only survive an average of two to five years. It is a myth that pets age seven human years for each year of their lives, according to the American Veterinarian Medical Association (AVMA).

The lower activity level of senior pets are often compatible with many adopters, including professionals who work long hours or remotely from home, or for senior citizens. All adopters greatly benefit from loyal companionship, the enjoyment of play with a cat or the exercise of walking a dog. Calm, less energetic senior pets are also perfect for those who live in small spaces, have a disability or limited mobility.

Those who open their heart and home to adopt a senior pet enrich their lives with an affectionate, constant companion who cuddles and wants nothing more than to enjoy a walk, car ride or any activity shared with their owner. Their long life experience and calm temperament helps them adapt to the lifestyle and activity level of a new home.

Senior pets are carefree compared to puppies, which must be house-broken, walked constantly and chew everything. Likewise, kittens need to be litter-trained and learn where they can safely scratch. All young animals require long-term training to avoid household damage.

Senior pet adopters get to skip all of that work because these pets are already trained, have household manners and only want to please their new owner. Unlike young animals, senior pet personalities are already developed.  Adopters know their adult size, grooming and exercise requirements.  Also, shelter and rescue staff thoroughly assess animals to match adopters with a compatible pet that will successfully meet their specific requirements.

Debi Blizzard of Geezer Senior Dog Rescue with Lana.
Debi Blizzard of Geezer Senior Dog Rescue with Lana.

Debi Blizzard of Avondale, a fulltime paralegal and longtime volunteer at Duval County Animal Care & Control (ACPS), felt drawn to the senior dogs. During  visits to ACPS she noticed that dogs with at least some basic training and positive, relaxed behavior were the lucky ones most often adopted. Blizzard became a dog trainer, to teach shelter animals basic commands and reinforce positive behavior to improve their chances of adoption.

Blizzard vividly recalls the emotional, gut reaction she felt at ACPS when she first saw a twelve-year-old, large senior dog named Mika, utterly terrified and trembling in his kennel.  She described it as an unbearable image of suffering, and she told Mika that she would be back to take him home with her, which she did.

“I started rescuing seniors like Mika. At first, I adopted those who most needed to get out of the shelter, but their care expenses hit me hard. JEA and vet bills piled up. I could not afford to continue,” she said. “A friend suggested I form a nonprofit that can accept donations and build a network of fosters willing to house dogs awaiting adoption, who just needed more time and promotion. In 2018, I founded Geezer Senior Dog Rescue.” 

Blizzard said that every homeless pet has a unique story and that it is difficult to fully comprehend how traumatic the shelter life of noise, concrete and wire kennels, is on a family pet used to the comfort of a home.  If a senior pet is separated from or loses their longtime owner, they mourn the loss of that loving, secure relationship. Displaced senior pets in shock from fear and sadness, may withdraw, stop eating, become depressed or develop negative behaviors that can ruin any remote chance of adoption.

Unfortunately, those odds of adoption for senior pets are low. Senior dogs and cats are the most overlooked pets, with the lowest adoption rates and are most in danger of euthanasia. Of that group, large senior dogs are the least likely to be adopted and most likely to be euthanized.

Denise Madonia of San Marco is a former vet technician, now an elementary school art teacher, who adopted her third rescue dog in 2018.   Madonia searched online for a senior dog to adopt and found Roland Senior Dog Rescue’s website, with photos of adoptable dogs.

Denise Madonia adopted Truman from Roland Senior Dog Rescue.
Denise Madonia adopted Truman from Roland Senior Dog Rescue.

“I wanted a senior lap dog with silky hair. I scheduled a visit to meet the Roland’s adoptable dogs with absolutely no idea what to expect when I arrived at their home. There were big dogs outside and small dogs everywhere inside, on their laps, shoulders, furniture, in dog beds, all excited to meet me. They swarmed me like bees, but were so well-behaved and all got along with each other. The Rolands obviously care so much for these dogs and are absolutely dog whisperers! ” Madonia said. “The very last dog to approach me, hesitantly, was a fifteen-pound Jack Russell/bull terrier mix, no silky coat and definitely no lap dog. That’s my Truman.”

Madonia said that because she previously worked for a veterinarian, has had rescue dogs before and no children, she knew her home was perfect for an adopted senior pet.  Truman is partially deaf, but hears loud noises. He easily follows hand signals, because he rarely takes his eyes off of Madonia, whom he adores. Truman stoically tolerates Blueberry and Violet, Madonia’s cats who constantly invade his dog bed.

Truman loves going everywhere - camping! - with Madonia.
Truman loves going everywhere – camping! – with Madonia.

“I know there are so many senior pets in shelters and they each deserve a home, to be loved and to live their lives out with dignity,” she said. “…and that’s what I want to provide.”

The nonprofit Roland Senior Dog Rescue was founded by Navy veterans Ralph & Gail Roland, after he left his position as adoption coordinator for a rural county animal shelter in 2012. He saw firsthand the tragedy of too many senior pets dumped at the shelter, where they were rarely adopted and the first to be euthanized. Roland said the traumatized, frightened and confused seniors could not adapt well to shelter life and often would just give up and shake uncontrollably.

Anyone interested in helping homeless senior pets, but who cannot foster or adopt, can volunteer at a shelter to spend time with, walk or comfort senior animals until they are adopted or accepted by a rescue group. Every pet shelter and rescue has senior pets awaiting adoption and needs volunteers or donations.

Debi Blizzard of Geezer Senior Dog Rescue appreciates monetary donations  for senior dog care, sent to: 4530 St. Johns Avenue, Suite #15-Unit 230, Jacksonville, FL 32210, or visit her Contact Blizzard at [email protected] or (904)328-0255. She has adoptable senior dogs available.

The Roland Senior Dog Rescue welcomes check or online donations for animal care expenses. Their mail address is: 5435 Painted Pony Avenue, Melrose, FL 32666. Call (352) 256-0286 or email them at [email protected].  Visit their website,,  to donate, volunteer, purchase tee shirts or other fundraising items and view their wish list of needed supplies. Adoptable dogs are shown on their website.

By Julie Kerns Garmendia
Resident Community News

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