Every Old Dog Has a Story to Tell by Ardeth De Vries

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Contributor Ardeth De Vries is the author of Old Dog Haven: Every Old Dog Has a Story to Tell (Bennett & Hastings Publishing, 2014). Proceeds from the sale of the book go to Old Dog Haven, a large network of foster homes in western Washington whose mission is to provide loving, safe homes for abandoned senior dogs through adoption or permanent foster care. The Grey Muzzle Organization has granted funds to help Old Dog Haven care for dogs in Final Refuge foster homes.

Think about what it would be like to be homeless. Now, extend that thought and imagine how you would feel if you were an abandoned, homeless senior citizen. Life as you knew it before you became homeless is a memory that has become barely a whisper in your mind. You’re confused, sad, afraid, perhaps not healthy, and no one wants you. You’ve lived your life in the best way you know how, but now your value has so diminished in the eyes of others that you’ve become expendable.
 
These words describe the old dogs you’ll meet in our book before they were rescued by a unique nonprofit organization based in western Washington and aptly named Old Dog Haven. Founded in 2004, Old Dog Haven is a nonprofit organization that uses a large network of people to provide loving homes for homeless dogs eight years and older.
 
Old Dog Haven: Every Old Dog Has a Story to Tell is a book about transformation: transformation for the senior dogs saved by Old Dog Haven, transformation for the people who helped these dogs make the journey from existing as throw-away dogs to living as loved and valued members of a family, and hopefully transformation for you if you’re inspired to do something to help old dogs after you’ve read the book.

Frank (with Robyn) was a puppy mill rescue. Courtesy of Ardeth De Vries
This is also a book about lessons. Dogs, especially old dogs, have much to teach us on so many levels and in telling their stories, my hope is that you’ll learn from your elders, as all of us have done who are involved with Old Dog Haven. What I’ve learned from dogs—even those I’ve only met through the eyes of others—has had a profound effect on the way I view life. It’s all about joy and living in the moment. This book, as with everything I write that has to do with dogs, is my way of paying it forward.

Our goal at Old Dog Haven is that these dogs’ last months or years are comfortable and happy, and that they die at peace, knowing they are loved. Old Dog Haven is not a shelter. All the dogs in our care live in homes with our foster and Final Refuge families, where they are cherished as family members. As of January 2015, Old Dog Haven has helped over 4,000 dogs. Most were placed from shelters into our foster or Final Refuge homes. An increasing number of dogs find adoptive homes through our placement assistance program.

This book addresses the serious issues facing homeless old dogs by providing information about Old Dog Haven as well as featuring dogs that illustrate the various circumstances that contribute to the problem of old dogs ending up in shelters.

The heart of the book can be found in the chapters about thirty-six dogs that—because of Old Dog Haven—became valuable in the eyes of others and were no longer expendable. Just some of the dogs whose stories we tell are: 

Baloo was a smelly, old stray hound dog that was rescued from the shelter by Old Dog Haven and became what his adoptive mom describes as “ … the best autism therapy dog” for children; “He just knows when a child needs to have him near. My daughter’s expressive language has exploded since we’ve had him. I’m so amazed by him I’m starting to wonder if he was guided to me.”
 
Frank was rescued by Old Dog Haven from one of the largest puppy mill raids in Washington state history and became a spokes-dog for the puppy mill rescue. Frank “visited schools in his custom made jacket, and retirement centers where residents would share stories of dogs they knew”(Old Dog Haven: Every Old Dog Has a Story to Tell).

Aaron was among thirty-eight dogs confiscated from a hoarder by Animal Control. An estimated 250,000 animals are victims of animal hoarding each year. Aaron spent two weeks in a shelter as an “evidence hold” dog before he was taken in by Old Dog Haven. Aaron didn’t live long after he was rescued by Old Dog Haven, and yet his adoptive mom said ‘He will be missed for all of my life.’ In the book. we remark that, “If Aaron had that kind of impact on a woman who only knew him for seven days, think about how Aaron must have felt about her. Dogs live in the moment; it didn’t matter to Aaron that he was only with Linda for a short time. What mattered to him was that every moment he was with Linda he felt loved, safe, and valued. That’s why we do this work.”

Ozzie with Kathy. Courtesy of Ardeth De Vries
Ozzie was a neglected dog that became a loving companion for almost four years to a woman who needed him as much as he needed her. His story beautifully illustrates the concept of Old Dog Haven as a family of people who help old dogs. His adopter wrote, "The main thing about Ozzie was that he was so good! He always tried to do what was expected of him and he was so smart that he understood right away. He never woke or bothered me, except for one day when I slept much later than usual and he came over to check on me. He put his nose right up against my face. I didn’t even mind that he woke me because it just meant that someone cared about me.”

Finally, there are three articles dealing with end-of-life-decisions, planning ahead, and grieving that provide supplementary reading for humans who live with older dogs. One of the most difficult, yet very necessary aspects of our work is making the decision to allow dogs to move on to their next expression of spirit when their bodies fail them and their quality of life becomes seriously compromised. Every day I talk with people who are worried about the health of their senior dog and agonizing over the end-of-life decisions that might need to be made with regard to their animal friend. If you ever find yourself in that position, perhaps the thoughts in the article about end-of-life decisions might be of some help.  
 
Ultimately, this book is a celebration of hope, transformation, and life lessons, taught by old dogs and the people who love them. As Frank’s adopter puts it, “Frank’s legacy is not being a puppy mill survivor. It’s about new beginnings and purpose no matter what age or size. He was not a puppy mill dog when he left us; he was our dog, a loved dog, a bed-partner, a buddy”
 
All proceeds from the sale of this book are donated to Old Dog Haven.

For more information about Old Dog Haven and all of the wonderful organizations that Grey Muzzle supports, see Who We Help.

The Grey Muzzle Organization improves the lives of at-risk senior dogs by providing funding and resources to animal shelters, rescue organizations, sanctuaries, and other nonprofit groups nationwide.
 
About the Contributor: Ardeth De Vries has been involved with Old Dog Haven for ten years and currently serves as the President of the Board of Directors. She is the editor of Old Dog Haven’s newsletters and she also counsels people about end of-life decisions, grieving, and the care of senior dogs. In addition to her work with Old Dog Haven, Ardeth also operates her own nonprofit organization, Broken Arrow Memorial Fund, which provides financial assistance for veterinary care of companion animals that live on Whidbey Island in Washington state. Old Dog Haven: Every Old Dog Has a Story to Tell is Ardeth’s third book; First Light: Animal Voices in Concert is a collection of stories about what animals teach us, and A Space Between: A Journey of the Spirit is a metaphysical novel. Ardeth has lived with special needs senior dogs for over 50 years and currently shares her heart and home with five senior dogs.