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Man’s best friend in a disposable society

How a Scottsdale sanctuary is ensuring senior pets feel forever loved


The home he had once known was gone forever, but at least he was not behind bars.

Instead, Spanky breathed in the cool, November night air contentedly as he made his way around the courtyard of the Arizona Heritage Center at Papago Park. Politely greeting each of the guests attending the cocktail hour, he did not blink twice when a blonde woman lunged so close that mere inches separated their faces.

“Is that who I think it is?” she cooed.

Spanky wagged his tail.

The Forever Loved Pet Sanctuary located in Scottsdale, Ariz., rescues senior pets just like Spanky—only dogs over the age of seven and cats over the age of 10.

Taking in overlooked and discarded animals that are harder to adopt out due to their age is a passion for founder, Luisa Chocron, who started the non-profit organization on her private property back in October 2013.

Having volunteered for years with the Arizona Humane Society, Chocron said her experiences with both dogs and cats there are what drove her to start the sanctuary.

“I noticed that the pit-bulls, if they required resources, weren’t made adoptable,” she said. “And same thing with senior dogs-- they just weren’t put on the adoption floor.”

Life-changes such as getting married, having children, and purchasing her current property—which had the extra 1,000- square- feet—meant making the move to focus on older animals was possible.

Especially during times when places like the Maricopa County Animal Care and Control centers are at capacity, the Forever Loved Pet Sanctuary prevents an early demise for elderly animals.

“For Spanky, because he was an owner surrender, Maricopa County is not required to keep him at all,” Chocron explained.

She and Craig Golbach, the Director of Animal Status and Welfare, just happened to be picking up another dog at the same time Spanky’s owner was leaving him with the Maricopa County Animal center.

In front of the desk, the basset mix stood between his owner and Chocron, blissfully unaware of the potential direction his fate could take. He was well-behaved and calm, prompting Golbach and Chocron to exchange knowing glances.

For the first time, they made an on-the-spot decision to take a dog back to their sanctuary without a behavior evaluation.

“If they’re overcrowded, you know--not to be sad and morbid--but they could take him back and euthanize him that same day because of space,” Chocron said. “I looked at Craig and we were like, ‘Okay. Sure!’”

“And then there was Spanky!” Golbach exclaimed with a laugh.

“The reasons people surrender animals can vary from A to Z,” he added. “And it’s tough...owners with financial difficulties, dying or going into hospice. And then what happens to these animals? We’re the only place in the Valley to take in just seniors.”

Currently, two cats and 12 dogs are living in foster homes, but within the shelter facility, another 10 dogs live in fenced “suites” that line the perimeter of the annex.

Nestled on the back of the property, doggie-doors open to a run-space from each of the kennels. All are made to be as homelike as possible, containing sofas, cushions, blankets, and bowls for food and water.

But the kennels are forgotten by their occupants at the prospect of a walk.

On an early Monday morning in late November, a female volunteer stepped through the shelter’s front door to be immediately greeted by the deep baying of Coco, a 7-year-old hound-Labrador mix. Standing tall on her hind legs, the black dog’s deafening call rattled the walls, inspiring her smaller neighbors to chime in with fast, shrill yapping.

“Oh my goodness, I’m coming, guys,” the volunteer called over the cacophony, swiftly checking in on an iPad mounted on the island in the middle of the room. Washing her hands in the adjoining sink as mandated by protocol, she gathered up harnesses and moved toward the cages.

“Right, let’s see who the teams will be today.”

While the sanctuary functions in many ways like any other animal shelter, working solely with older animals calls for slight variations in a volunteer’s day-to-day tasks.

Socializing and walking the dogs may mean going at a slower pace or shorter distances. Some days require providing transportation to veterinary appointments.

The 50 to 60 volunteers need only look at whiteboards fixed to the cage doors for notes and instructions about individual dogs. And Golbach pointed out that working as a volunteer can also mean being on a fundraising committee, the sanctuary’s board or becoming a “foster parent”.

“There are many different ways to help,” Golbach said. “Before any animal is released to a foster or adopting home, we send teams of volunteers to evaluate the home.”

Chocron said they see it as the sanctuary’s responsibility to evaluate and ensure the environment is safe and meets the individual needs of the elderly pet. Applications for both adoption and fosters go are received through the website and undergo a thorough approval screening.

“From when I was first contacted about it, it was a very quick process,” said Terra Sullivan, who recently became a foster mom to 11-year-old Australian shepherd, Babe. “Maybe no more than a week.”

Sullivan and her husband have five cats and one other dog at home, so while they wanted to foster a senior dog for a while, the family had to wait for the right personality.

“She’s pretty smart,” Sullivan said. “Whenever she is ready to come inside, she takes her paw, taps on the glass, then waits! And that’s a lot better than barking at the door. She’s just a very easygoing foster and has fit in pretty seamlessly.”

While rescuing and relocating pets is personal, running the sanctuary as a business is crucial not only to the success of the organization, but the need to properly serve the animals they aim to rescue, Chocron said.

“We only take in a maximum of five dogs per month based on a budget reflecting the previous month’s expenses,” she explained. “And we’re still looking for ways to cut our costs.”

Increasing the size of the adoption space is a dream, Chocron mused, adding her desire to divide a larger space into both a senior shelter space and pet-boarding area. Hosting pets for travelling families and offering grooming services could be a way to fund the needs of seniors rescues and take on more animals’ needs, she said.

Currently, fundraising events like “Canines and Cocktails”—a cocktail hour and raffle-night held at the Arizona Heritage Center in early November—act as the largest sources of income for the nonprofit organization.

“Hey there, let’s give you your ticket and bidding number,” said Drew Eastmead, a new addition to the sanctuary’s board, as guests entered the courtyard. “Your door and prize ticket is here. For drinks tonight, would you like wine, beer--”

“Beer,” one of the men in front of him laughed. “Dogs and beer. Two of my favorite things.”

Grinning, Eastmead added the money to the till before turning to his mother-in-law and fellow volunteer, Barbara, who was standing offside. By her feet, Spanky bounced excitedly.

“How’s it going, sir?” Eastmead said, patting Spanky’s head to rapturous response. “This is what it’s about. We want to raise awareness that there are a lot of dogs that get abandoned, given up on, turned in—and they are pretty desperate for a second chance.”

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