Keeping seniors and their canine companions together for a long as possible is the mandate of a non-profit group looking for volunteers across Metro Vancouver.
Dr. Ardra Cole, founder and chair of ElderDog Canada, says the extra assistance provided by volunteers allows seniors to keep their dogs at home for as long as possible. To that end, volunteers can help seniors with walks, picking up dog food or transporting their pet to the vet or groomer.
“We help seniors keep their dogs at home, but it’s labour intensive and we need help,” says Cole. “ElderDog is 100 per cent volunteer driven and there are no fees.”
Volunteer groups are divided by location and are referred to as “pawds.” Other services provided by ElderDog include temporary foster care — should a senior end up in the hospital, adoption of older dogs if their owner moves to a care home or passes away, and bereavement support. Cole notes at this time the bereavement support is informal and supplied by volunteers who work in counselling, but she hopes ElderDog will eventually offer more formal services.
“There’s lots of grief and loss when a senior loses a dog,” says Cole, who notes since August she knows of 40 older dogs that have died. “But ElderDog offers a community of support.”
The inspiration for ElderDog Canada came as the result of the extensive work Cole and her research partner, Dr. Maura McIntyre, completed as they travelled across Canada talking to family members caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease. Their findings showed the significant role the family dog and other pets play in the caregiving experience.
Another pivotal event that contributed to the creation of ElderDog was the sudden death of Cole’s older brother, after which she adopted his dog, Mister Brown, an aging chocolate Labrador retriever and her brother’s constant companion. Mister Brown, traumatized by his owner’s death, was also living with an inoperable, crippling, cancerous growth on one of his legs and eventually died of the disease, but not before enjoying his new life in the country.
Cole notes other older dogs are typically not as lucky and are often abandoned. Considered unadoptable, ill and aging animals often have doubtful futures. Cole says her family’s care of Mister Brown was as rewarding for them as it was enlivening for the tired old dog. Today Mister Brown is the poster boy for the organization.
Jacqueline Henley is one of the few volunteers ElderDog has in Metro Vancouver. Henley says as soon as she heard about the program, she signed up and hopes others will too.
“How could you not?” says Henley, who owns a smooth coat collie named Kenzie. “I know how much joy dogs bring to my life.”
Henley says due to living with a disability, she’s home during the day and she also has a supportive partner who helps out with walking canine companions, so volunteering was a natural choice. Pairing elder dogs with seniors is also part of her volunteer duties with ElderDog.
“You get to know the seniors and you get to know their dogs,” says Henley. “Seniors — and senior dogs — can be set in their ways so I need to know they’re a good fit.”
So far Henley has helped re-home a 12-year-old cocker spaniel after the owner moved out of the country and the dog was deemed too old to travel. That dog was placed with another senior.
Cole notes that’s exactly why she launched ElderDog Canada in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, in 2012.
“Sometimes the relationship between a senior and their dog is the only relationship they have,” says Cole. “And we want to help make that last as long as possible.”
Volunteer opportunities in Metro Vancouver include:
- Dog care support for seniors
- Foster dog care
- Leadership opportunities
- Professional opportunities
- Education and outreach
- Wool and woodworking program
For more information visit elderdog.ca.