Cumberland County SPCA: Second Chances for Senior Dogs by Maria Stoerrle

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Jersey. Photo Courtesy of Cumberland County SPCA

Maria Stoerrle is the Junior Volunteer and Foster/Rescue Coordinator at the Cumberland County SPCA in New Jersey, and a recent Grey Muzzle Board member. Cumberland County SPCA is a multi-year recipient of Grey Muzzle grants.

The Cumberland County SPCA (CCSPCA) is an open-intake shelter that serves the animals and owners of South Jersey. We do not turn away any stray or released animals, and care for over 5,000 animals per year. We are also an SPCA and investigate and prosecute all cases of animal cruelty in the county, and animals that are victims of cruelty are sheltered at the CCSPCA. Cumberland County has the highest rate of poverty in the state. Poverty affects animals as well as people, and we see this reflected in the condition of animals that we care for. 

Scarlet's Senior Society

Scarlet found a loving home. Photo Courtesy of CCSPCA
The Cumberland County SPCA has been a proud recipient of grants from The Grey Muzzle Organization since 2010. In this time period, Grey Muzzle funds have allowed us to save the lives of over 400 senior dogs through our Scarlet’s Senior Society program. The Society was named after Scarlet, a senior Pit Bull who arrived at the SPCA in terrible condition. Scarlet was supposed to be a temporary foster until a rescue could take her, but within days, her foster dad called to say that she wasn't going anywhere! She spent the rest of her life with him, living the best life he could give her—lots of good food, medical care, comfort, and tons of love and care from her foster family. Her story illustrates what we hope to provide for all senior dogs that arrive at the shelter in need of our help. At CCSPCA, we have developed a strong network of foster homes, hospice homes, and rescue partners that have allowed us to give the senior dogs entering our shelter the best opportunity possible for a happy ending.

Before Cumberland County SPCA became a Grey Muzzle grantee, senior dogs at the shelter rarely had a second chance, and now it’s rare when a senior arrives that we cannot save. Just a couple of the dogs in the Senior Society that have been helped by Grey Muzzle grants are Dylan, a deaf and blind Cocker Spaniel who required medication for a parasite infection and ear infection, and Jersey, an 8-year-old American Bulldog treated for an eye infection, skin infection, and kennel cough. Through the Senior Society, they each not only received treatment and medication for their medical conditions, but were able to live out their lives in loving foster or adoptive homes.

Another example of a dog who found care and hope through CCSPCA's Senior Society is Grace, a 15-year-old Husky mix. Grace came to CCSPCA needing emergency medical care due to a cruelty situation. Police had been called to her owner’s home and found that the owner had attempted to remove a lump from her head with a kitchen knife, using nothing but narcotics to sedate her. Thanks to Grey Muzzle, CCSPCA knew immediately that Grace could receive the care she needed. As a result of medical complications, Grace spent the remaining year of her life as a hospice foster, provided with love and everything she could possibly need for her comfort.

Caring for Senior Dogs at CCSPCA

When a senior dog enters the CCSPCA shelter, they are given an intake exam and first set of vaccines. Any health concerns are noted and further evaluated by the shelter veterinarian. We do an initial temperament evaluation and continue to observe their health and behavior during their stay with us. Unless they display severe aggression or demonstrate suffering that we cannot alleviate, every senior dog becomes part of our Senior Society.

For many dogs, our kennels are actually an upgrade from their previous living conditions. However, we strive to get them out of the shelter through responsible adoption, foster care, or rescue placement as quickly as possible. In addition to quality of life, as an open-intake it is always a struggle to maintain open kennels for the constant flow of incoming dogs. Getting the senior dogs out quickly keeps them safe and prevents needless euthanasia for other dogs. If a senior is relatively comfortable and healthy, we will attempt to find him a permanent adoptive home. If the dog has any health concerns or does not thrive in the shelter environment, we will try to place him in foster care. If a foster home is unavailable or we do not have the resources to meet the dog’s needs, we will seek rescue placement for him.

Without Grey Muzzle funding, none of this would be possible. Almost every senior requires treatment of some sort, and grant funds allow us to provide care for them, whether they are with us for a short time before being placed with rescue or they stay with us through the entirety of their lives as a hospice. We have learned how to manage and maintain a balance of senior dogs in our foster program so as best to meet their needs and save as many lives as possible.

Stella Luna's Success Story

Stella has recovered in foster care. Photo Courtesy of CCSPCA
One of our most recent success stories is Stella Luna, a 13-year-old black Chihuahua mix who arrived at the shelter as a stray. She has huge ears and a quirky personality that amuses all who meet her! Stella became very ill with severe Upper Respiratory Infection almost as soon as she arrived at the shelter.
Fortunately, a foster family welcomed Stella and has worked to get her healthy. Stella was so ill that she spent her first days in foster care only moving if she was picked up. She had to be hand fed warm chicken and coaxed to take her medicine. A veterinarian visit and blood work revealed that while Stella did have some age-related concerns, she fortunately did not have pneumonia.
With the new medication, Stella was on the road to recovery and is now acting more like a puppy than a senior! She frequently gets the “rammies” and runs from one end of the house to the other and then jumps on her foster mom’s legs. She loves toys and even chews on the extra-large Nylabone belonging to her foster brother (a much bigger dog!). Stella is working on her housebreaking and her family is enjoying watching her thrive. Her next step will to be spayed and have dental work done, as her mouth is in very poor condition. The CCSPCA staff, Stella’s foster family, and Stella herself are very happy that she can receive the life-saving care she needed and continues to need to be healthy and thrive in her senior years.
We are so grateful to our supporters and The Grey Muzzle Organization for providing the funding that saves lives; and we are committed to continuing to save and improve the lives of the senior dogs of Cumberland County. The fact that the Cumberland County SPCA has saved over 400 senior dogs is impressive to report; it’s even more impressive for our staff and foster families who have the privilege of meeting and caring for these beautiful dogs, knowing and sharing their stories, and being part of their happy endings.
For information about 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: Maria Stoerrle is the Junior Volunteer and Foster/Rescue Coordinator at the Cumberland County SPCA in New Jersey and a volunteer and past Board member at The Grey Muzzle Organization. She began volunteering at animal shelters when she was 18 and has been involved ever since. The first dog she brought home to foster was a senior Shepherd mix, followed by a hospice Beagle. These two dogs inspired a passion for helping homeless senior dogs. Maria is currently a teacher in a local public school. She has a revolving door of foster dogs, puppies, kittens, and cats!