573 Reasons to read this.
This story, I promise, has a happy ending. It’s about Wendy Grubbs, an ordinary person, and at the core, it’s a story about love. Yet, her story is unquestionably connected to and can only be understood by first hearing about two dogs named, Dubya and Samson.
Dubya (aka Dubs), estimated to be around 13 years old, was a surrender to Prince George’s County Shelter by his owner. He had rotten teeth and a cancerous tumor on his front leg.
Samson at approximately 14 years of age, had an unknown history, but the embedded rope scars around his neck speak of a rough start. He was adopted by a loving rescuer who shortly afterward died from breast cancer. The friend she entrusted him to had a cat that didn’t appreciate the new family member. Samson had nowhere to go.
What these two had in common was PetConnect Rescue, where Grubbs is a board member, who saw potential and hope for these two misfits and others like them. The rescue group which arranges and pays for medical services ranging from routine vaccinations and blood tests to treating serious medical conditions (such as broken bones) had recently launched a Senior Dog Program recognizing that seniors are usually overlooked due to their age and are most at risk to be euthanized.
The organization stepped in and fixed what could be fixed, removed or cleaned what couldn’t. “We try to give [the adopter] a dog who is in the best health a senior can be,” Grubbs said. “You’re going to get a dog that big things have been dealt with. Basically, you get a pretty healthy animal.” Since PetConnect doesn’t have a facility, they can only pull a needy dog from a shelter when they have someone willing to foster or adopt.
Now, this is where the happy part is: Dubya was adopted a year ago and Samson four months later. They and three additional ‘flawed’ rescues named Jellybean, Stella, and Camilla live with and are loved by Grubbs.
Grubbs finds nothing unusual about her passion for saving animals in need. She’s had, since kindergarten, always had shelter dogs as family members. It surprises her, however, hearing people’s first instinct is not always to get a rescue animal. “What is the psychology of why people need to buy an animal?” Looking around her home, she said, “You can buy posters, or you can get original art. You can wear clothes that everyone else wears, or you can buy couture. I prefer original art, and I prefer my dogs to be couture—one of a kind.”
Despite the increase in her family size, Grubbs is not housebound, they are “totally manageable,” she says. Currently an equities markets specialist, she’s had a busy career in law and investment banking. She also spent a few years as a Special Assistant to President George W. Bush. There were always dogs running around the White House, she recalls, and their presence made the Executive Mansion feel like a conventional home. But her focus these days and uppermost in her mind is how to persuade people to give homeless animals a chance. “There are 573 senior dogs in shelters within 100 miles of Oxford looking for homes,” she says. “I want to convince people to think of adopting from a shelter as being the only option instead of an option. We’re still euthanizing 4 million adoptable animals per year, and it really breaks my heart.”
But an older dog? I asked.
These are some of the reasons they are so perfect, she said:
-You don’t have to worry about potty training. You have to show them where to go and also learn how they’re used to asking.
-They don’t chew your expensive things. Sampson sleeps in my closet. On my shoes. I don’t have to worry about picking them up.
-Oh yea, they sleep a lot.
-You don’t need to crate them.
-They don’t require tons of exercise. Dubya loves to go for a long walk, but the rest of them are super not interested.
That’s not to say there aren’t challenges in this type of adoption. “Most times, I know nothing about them,” she said. “I have to figure out their favorite scratch spot. I knew nothing about Dubya. He doesn’t seem to like toys. In fact, he sat on a squeaky one and scared himself to death. I just go slow and try and figure it out.”
There are other times when a dog’s history is known. “When I got Samson, I got a bag of his stuff, and I cried over that. It was such a mixed blessing because I had all of this information about him, I had his toys. I was also heartbroken because his owner was so thoughtful and she planned for him. She put his favorite stuff in a bag. She was 40 years old when she died. I feel like I owe it to this person. And as for Samson, I am at least his third and definitely his last, owner.”
This reminded the lawyer in Grubbs to give the following advice. “If you have an animal, put their care in your will. Samson is a very clear example of doing it right and things going wrong. The owner left Samson with a friend, and it didn’t work, and there was no backup plan. So, you can leave a dog with a friend or family, but provide a Plan B in case they won’t or can’t do it. Plan B should be naming a rescue group in the will, so the dog doesn’t end up in a shelter and is euthanized because of their age.”
The hardest thing to talk about and the most significant objection Grubbs hears are people’s feelings about the animal’s end of life. “I don’t have the perfect answer, but let me tell you this, I think when you see a ‘before’ picture, like the one of Dubya, and they have this forlorn expression that says, ‘I did my best for my human and here I am, and I’m lost.’ And then you see them blossom, and you see them run and play, like he does every morning, with such vigor. Look, I know it’s going to kill me when he goes, but I feel like I’ve done such a good thing for him and I’m so rewarded as a person. They’ve been loved, and that’s such a powerful thing. They win, and I win.”
There are several ways to help organizations, such as PetConnect, rescue more adoptable animals.
The most obvious is, of course, adopt an older dog. For every Dubya and Samson, there are others like Shana and Smitty, a bonded pair who were found in a motel with a dead, overdosed owner. After all the loss they have experienced they cannot be split up.
Foster a senior while they wait for a forever home.
Donate to a needy shelter, cash, in-kind goods, etc.
Volunteer to help socialize a dog. Seniors who have had lives with people and end up in a shelter shut down. If they are socialized, they are more adoptable.
Contribute to a spay and neuter program.
Recently, Grubbs has been working on a new rescue model, raising awareness on a solution she feels is ideal: matching senior dogs with senior humans. Unfortunately, many shelters refuse to allow senior citizens to adopt. “Older folks are perfect adopters. If a dog is willed back to the rescue, then why wouldn’t an older person, who will spend most of their time with the dog, be perfect?”
There is much that can be done, but there are changes on the horizon. Best Friends, the largest coalition of shelters in Utah have a goal for no euthanasia of adoptable pets by 2025. As of January 1, 2019, a new law in California requires pet stores to sell only rescue animals. “I think rescues are morphing and people understand that these animals are family members. I want these animals to live with dignity, not curled up in a corner in a shelter somewhere.”
As for her future, Grubbs says she’ll be out there educating people that older dogs are worth it, “I don’t know how many more dogs I’ll take. I’ll take as many as I can. I’m a go big or go home kind of person, so I’m going to do what I can do and take as many as I can take. Hopefully, in the future , this will be less needed.”
She again mentions the numbers she can’t stop thinking about: 573. The number of senior dogs in shelters within 100 miles of Oxford that are looking for homes. It’s the reason she does what she does. However, she will probably be the first to admit she’s just an ordinary person with a desire to do something. But to Dubya, Samson, Jellybean, Stella, and Camilla, she is so much more than that. She is extraordinary.
Val Cavalheri is a recent transplant to the Eastern Shore, having lived in Northern Virginia for the past 20 years. She’s been a writer, editor and professional photographer for various publications, including the Washington Post.