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The Unconditional Love of Senior Dog Rescue

Project Unconditional is photographer Jane Sobel Klonsky's tribute to the love we share with our older dogs, whether they are working dogs, service dogs, or just faithful companions. Some of the bonds she documents are more than a decade in the making, others newly formed. Included in her series are photographs of dozens of formerly homeless senior dogs and their adopters or foster caretakers. The poignant joy of these photos is an important reminder that the work Grey Muzzle grantees do on behalf of abandoned and homeless dogs creates stories of dogs that find care, a home, and someone who loves them unconditionally.

We have previously published photos from Jane Sobel Klonsky's shoots with Grey Muzzle grantees Lionel's Legacy and Blind Dog Rescue Alliance.  In late April, she traveled to Northern California and photographed dogs and people from three more Grey Muzzle grantees: Muttville Senior Dog Rescue, Thulani Program, and Peace of MInd Dog Rescue.

For Project Unconditional, Klonsky has asked each of her subjects to submit stories about their dogs, which will be published along with her photos in a forthcoming book. She told us in an interview, "They are all unique people, with unique dogs, and unique stories. Even when the story seems as though it is similar to another, there's a twist or a nuance that I'd never imagined." For this post, Jane Sobel Klonsky has shared with us photos from each of the Grey Muzzle grantees she recently visited.

Muttville Senior Dog Rescue

Jessica & Tommy. Photo © Jane Sobel Klonsky
Muttville Senior Dog Rescue in San Francisco rescues at-risk older dogs from shelters and provides them with loving adoptive or permanent foster homes. Since 2007, Muttville not only has reached a milestone of having rescued over three thousand senior dogs, it has been an innovator in changing the way people see older dogs. So far, Jane Sobel Klonsky has photographed over a dozen Muttville dogs and their adopters or fosters. Here are a couple of those photos and stories:

Tommy & Jessica - Muttville Senior Dog Rescue

Jessica met Tommy by chance. She had been looking for a Golden Retriever to adopt when saw him out walking with a Muttville volunteer. It was love at first sight. Jessica says, "Tommy is a total love bug- he always has a smile on his face and he is a love seeking missile when he is at the dog park--he goes up to his human target and sits there to get petted. He paws his target so he/she will keep on petting him, until Tommy decides to move on to his next target. Because of him I know everyone in my neighborhood....He has taught me so much about happiness- happiness is about who you are with right now, it is about sticking your head and tongue out of the car window and feeling the wind, it is about roughhousing and sitting on his BFF, it is about being present and the little things in life. He makes me laugh all the time and I cannot imagine my life without him."

Coco Pudding & Brian - Muttville Senior Dog Rescue

Brian & Coco Pudding. Photo © Jane Sobel Klonsky
After moving to San Francisco, Brian and Katy took their time deciding to get a dog. When they went to Muttville for an Ay Chihuahua adoption event, they hadn't planned to adopt, but there they met funny, feisty Coco Pudding. Since then, Coco has become one of the great joys of their lives. Coco loves being the "big dog" on campus at the University of San Francisco, where Katy is a residence head. Brian and Katy write, "It is difficult to articulate all that Coco Pudding brings to our lives on a daily basis. We weren't unhappy before, but Coco has brought so much additional joy to our lives, and has made us happy in a way we didn't know was possible. She has opened our eyes to love, patience, laughter, connectedness, and the importance of commitment and routine...Coco is a daily reminder to us that every day is a treasure, that it's never too late for a second chance, and that sometimes you just have to take a chance and leap to reap the rewards of the best that life has to offer - the unconditional love between a dog and their human. I'm just so glad Coco is ours, and can't imagine it unfolding any other way!."


Thulani Program

The Thulani Program was founded by Robert Jachens of German Shepherd Rescue of Northern California as a special program for dogs considered to be too old or sick to be good candidates for adoption. Named in honor of a rescued German Shepherd with a heart defect, it was the willingness of Thulani's fosters to care for a dog that did not have long to live that convinced Jachens that such a program was possible. He explains, "At that moment, I realized that there are special people who are not only selfless but emotionally strong enough to provide a home for a terminally ill dog, knowing full well that heartbreak would soon follow.

Vicky and Morrie. Photo © Jane Sobel Klonsky
Almost overnight, the Thulani Program was born." Through a network of foster homes and funding from supporters and organizations like Grey Muzzle, Thulani offers medical care and a home to sick and elderly German Shepherds. In late April, Jane Sobel Klonsky photographed six Thulani dogs with their adopters or fosters throughout Northern California. In addition to Joe and Valerie, she shared with us a couple more of the Thulani dogs and adopters she met.

Morrie & Vicky - Thulani Program

Morrie is a big, handsome German Shepherd who does a dance when he's happy, and wakes up his adopter, Vicky, by dragging the blankets off her bed. He's been transformed from the day he came to Vicky through the Thulani Program, sick, emaciated, and scared. Vicky writes, "People said that I was setting myself up by taking on a senior dog, that it would be heartbreaking in the end, but I see the good in it. He is living a real life with all the comfort, love and attention he could ever want. I saw the sadness and hopelessness in his eyes when he came to me. Now his eyes are clear and bright. Morrie is my friend. He is happy and I am too."


Misha & Paula - Thulani Program

Paula & Misha. Photo © Jane Sobel Klonsky
The first photo that Paula saw of Misha showed her dejected on the concrete floor of a Southern California shelter. Misha was suffering from cancer, but was rescued by the Thulani Program and found a home with Paula and her husband, Stephen. Paula recalls that a couple months after Misha arrived, her husband was playfully throwing a roll of duct tape and Misha chasing after it; "We took her off leash and wanted to see if she would play fetch in a big open grassy area. Surrounded by Pines, Tanbark Oak, Madrones and manzanita, our Thulani dog dismissed all from her mind, and for a few spectacular moments, surrendered fearlessly to her natural instincts...Misha looked like a puppy in her prime, a dancer in fur tights, a great champion chasing after that rolling mass of duct tape. It was more than a turning point for her as her spirit returned. It was an epiphany. Thulani dogs are remarkable."


Peace of Mind Dog Rescue

Peace of Mind Dog Rescue (POMDR) finds loving homes for dogs whose guardians can no longer care for them and for senior dogs in shelters. A grant from Grey Muzzle helps POMDR with veterinary care for homeless senior dogs and for a program to keep dogs with their guardians. During her most recent trip to Northern California, Jane Sobel Klonsky visited POMDR in Pacific Grove, CA, and photographed Carie Broecker, their executive director and co-founder, with her own adopted dogs Savannah (Savvy) and Lucy.

Savvy, Lucy, & Carie - Peace of Mind Dog Rescue

Carie & Lucy and Savvy. Photo © Jane Sobel Klonsky
When Savannah's owner was dying, her main concern was what would happen to her dog who found it difficult to be around strangers and who she knew would do poorly in a shelter. They were fortunate that Carie Broecker was there to help and able to adopt and care for Savvy. This experience helped inspire Carie to found Peace of Mind Dog Rescue, an organization that cares for dogs when their guardians no longer can, in addition to rescuing older dogs from shelters. Carie later adopted Lucy, a 14-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who was surrendered by her elderly owners: "It turns out, Lucy became Savvy's therapy dog. As long as Lucy is with Savvy, she is OK letting strangers pet her...." You can read more of Carie's story and about Peace of Mind Dog Rescue in her blog post.

You can find more of Jane Sobel Klonsky's photographs on her website and Facebook page. Unconditional Stories, videos by filmmaker Kacey Klonsky of some of the subjects of Project Unconditional photo shoots, can be viewed here.

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.