Young at Heart's Unconditional Love for Senior Pets by Jane Sobel Klonsky

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Sadie, who was adopted from Young at Heart. © Jane Sobel Klonsky

November is Adopt a Senior Pet Month, an opportunity to celebrate the joy that adopting an older dog can bring. No one knows that joy more than the volunteers, fosters, and adopters of Young at Heart Senior Pet Adoptions, a Grey Muzzle grantee devoted to rescuing and rehoming older animals. Since 2005, they have been caring for homeless senior dogs and cats from the Chicago area, Northern Illinois, and beyond. They are currently raising funds to build a home-like safe haven for senior pets that have nowhere left to go.

Recently, Young at Heart was included in Project Unconditional, a series by photographer Jane Sobel Klonsky that celebrates the bonds between people and their senior dogs. We have previously published photos from Jane Sobel Klonsky's shoots with Grey Muzzle grantees Lionel's Legacy and Blind Dog Rescue Alliance, and also Muttville Senior Dog Rescue, Thulani Program, and Peace of Mind Dog Rescue. For Project Unconditional, Jane asks her subjects to submit stories about their dogs, and Jane has kindly shared with us some of the photos she took of Young at Heart adopters and stories she collected from them.

Project Unconditional documents the love of people for their senior dogs, whether that love many years in the making or brand new. Of the dogs Jane Sobel Klonsky has photographed who were adopted late in life, she says, "I hear over and over that people have adopted a particular senior dog to save that dog, but that the dog ends up saving them and giving them so much back. And somehow these rescued seniors know that they are being saved and that they are home now, and will be loved until the end of their lives."

Copper and Sandy. © Jane Sobel Klonsky / Project Unconditional
We think the people and dogs of Young at Heart provide beautiful examples of that unconditional love...

Copper and Sandy

"We knew volunteering for a pet rescue and fostering would be difficult when it came time to the animal getting adopted, but the fact that there are so many other senior animals waiting to be saved motivated us to continue with the process," writes Sandy who, together with her husband Mike, fostered Copper for Young at Heart. They worked to get Copper adopted, but when a potential adopter told Sandy, “Copper is your dog – the way he looks at you – he is already HOME," they knew he was right. Since adopting Copper, they have fostered 17 dogs and look forward to helping many more."

Maggie, Lizzie and Dawn

"When Young at Heart rescued Maggie, she was so sick and frail that we were affectionately calling her our old granny. But boy, did she take her new lease on life and run with it!" says Dawn Kemper of Maggie Mooshu, a 12-year-old Boston Terrier.

Maggie, Lizzie and Dawn. © Jane Sobel Klonsky / Project Unconditional
Dawn is Young at Heart's executive director and she and her family have several rescues of their own, including Maggie and 9-year-old Lizzie, both of whom were rescued from shelters where they had been at imminent risk. "As soon as the antibiotics and three square meals a day kicked in, Maggie became a younger version of the dog we rescued. She wrestled. She bounced. She ran. She has a vertical jump of 3 to 4 feet, and she will use it every chance she gets to try and sneak you a kiss when she's excited."

Lizzie also had been considered too old by the shelter from which she was pulled by Young at Heart, and she offers a lesson in the joy that rescued older dogs can offer. Dawn shared with Project Unconditional, "Sometimes she will just stand in the middle of the room and will stare at you until she has your attention. As soon as I make eye contact with her, her tail will wag in the silly circular motion that hers does, and she will just smile a big goofy doggy grin in my direction. And it makes me smile right back at her. I'm pretty certain that is her only goal when she does that – to make me smile."

Sadie and Jen

Sadie and Jen. © Jane Sobel Klonsky / Project Unconditional
When Sadie came to live with Jen and her husband as a foster, they knew right away that she would be staying. They have continued to care for many homeless older animals with Sadie's help; "She is beyond gentle and loving to our many kitties and she greets every foster who enters our home just the same. She knows when a new rescue is depressed or not feeling well and she makes sure to never leave their side. No matter how tired you are, or if you just want to stay in bed all day, she bounds up with such happiness and love that you can’t help but feel it with her. She bounces out of bed, rolls around on the floor and dances all over the room and it brings a smile to our faces every single morning. It feels like she has always been ours, or at least always meant to be."

Twister and Joyce

Together with her adopter Joyce, 12-year-old Twister – who is not a fan of the rain – braved a drizzly afternoon to have her photo taken for Project Unconditional.

Twister and Joyce © Jane Sobel Klonsky/Project Unconditional
Joyce and her husband have fostered more than 36 dogs for Young at Heart, many of them Beagles. She writes of Twister, whom she fostered and later adopted, "She’s a lively, loving, sweet, strong-willed Beagle who hates firecrackers and thunderstorms and adamantly refuses to go outside in the rain. But she loves her people and car rides and walks and treats and food and lounging lazily all day long. She barks at squirrels, howls at the mail carrier and cries with joy when we come home."

About Young at Heart Senior Pet Adoptions

Young at Heart is a 501c3 nonprofit that cares for homeless senior pets in Northern Illinois. Young at Heart, whose motto is "Love Has No Age Limit,™" is currently raising funds to build a home-like safe haven for senior pets that have nowhere left to go. You can find out more and how to help at: www.givinggrid.com/youngatheart/.

You can find more photographs and stories about people and their senior dogs on Jane Sobel Klonsky's Project Unconditional website and Facebook page. Photos and stories from Project Unconditional are to be included in a forthcoming book. Finally, you can read our interview with Jane about her project: "To Know the Love of a Dog: An Interview with Photographer Jane Sobel Klonsky."

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. For information about all of the wonderful organizations that Grey Muzzle supports, see Who We Help.

About Jane Sobel Klonsky:  Project Unconditional is a labor of love that continues Jane Sobel Klonsky's distinguished career as a professional photographer. Her career began in 1976 when she was the first photographer to scale the cables to the top of the Verrazano Bridge to get a shot of the start of the New York City Marathon; she was the official photographer of the New York City Marathon for the next 10 years. Known for her award-winning lifestyle photography, as well as for her work in fashion, travel, landscape and sports, her work has been published widely, and she continues to do extensive work for Getty Images and The Image Source. Mother to up-and-coming-filmmaker Kacey, she lives with her husband Arthur, their two therapy dogs, Charlie and Sam, and two cats, Lucky and Humphrey, in rural Vermont.