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Young at Heart Pet Rescue: Love Has No Age Limit™ by Dawn Kemper

Young at Heart is a 501c3 nonprofit that cares for homeless senior pets in Northern Illinois. A grant from The Grey Muzzle Organization has helped them with medical expenses for senior dogs. Contributor Dawn Kemper is Founder and Executive Director of Young at Heart.

In a perfect world, every senior pet would spend its twilight years surrounded by a loving family. But sadly, senior pets that end up in shelters often do not get that chance. At Young at Heart, we believe that Love Has No Age Limit™. We find loving homes for adoptable senior pets and offer a peaceful sanctuary life for those that are less adoptable.

It all began with a group of people who loved animals, but in particular, the older animals: dogs who had a little grey around the muzzle, but whose hearts were young and whose love knew no bounds; cats who lounged around, pretending to be hard of hearing, until the whir of the can-opener proved otherwise. These animals had once been loved, cherished, and part of a family–until one day they were no longer wanted or could no longer be cared for.

Often, an older dog or cat sits patiently in a shelter, awaiting a soft voice, a kind hand, or even a friendly glance. They sit and wait, often scared, often depressed, and almost always overlooked by potential adopters. Passed by for younger dogs and cats, these pets are often just what an adopter is looking for – quiet, calm, housebroken, good with kids, affectionate and easily acclimated to a new home. Yet, they sit and wait for someone to love them, until many times, it is too late.

In April of 2005, Young At Heart Pet Rescue was formed to aid in the rescue and rehoming of dogs and cats aged 7 years and older in Northern Illinois. 100% of the animals we rescue come from open-admission shelters with high euthanasia rates for older animals. Our mission is to save the lives of homeless senior dogs and cats from shelters where their age puts them first in line to be euthanized, to educate the public on the benefits of adopting senior pets, and to decrease the euthanasia rate for older dogs and cats in Illinois. With your support, Young at Heart gives older dogs and cats another chance to enjoy the twilight of their lives through rescue, foster, adoption and sanctuary.

Love Has No Age Limit™

Smokey Girl in the shelter.
The average age of a senior pet rescued by Young at Heart is just over 10 years old, but we don’t have an age limit here at Young at Heart. When Young at Heart met Smokey Girl, a 17-year-old Shepherd mix at a local animal control, there was not a chance we were leaving her behind! She was lying on cold concrete, unable to get up due to her arthritis, her nails overgrown, and she was covered in fleas.

After being surrendered at the shelter by her family when they moved, she was emotionally shut down, and we couldn’t blame her. We would be too if our last days were in a loud shelter, behind bars, without a friend in the world! So we carried her out of the shelter and loaded her up on soft blankets in the van, hoping to give her a few good last days or weeks, or maybe if we were lucky, months.

Smokey Girl’s first ride was directly to our vet where, like every senior dog we rescue, her every geriatric need was assessed: blood work was run to check the function of her kidneys, liver, thyroid, and various other organs. She was heartworm tested, vaccinated, microchipped, and x-rayed. After a full initial veterinary work up, providing her body with some relief from her arthritis became our number one priority, while tending to her broken heart at the same time.

Smokey Girl was placed on anti- inflammatory medications for immediate relief. Orthopedic beds that were easy for her to flop down on, but still be able to get up out of were placed throughout her permanent foster home. A massage therapist came in to work on her sore body. And her amazing foster mom worked on Smokey’s heart and soul. There is nothing more beautiful than watching the spark come back into a senior dog’s eyes, and we were blessed to watch Smokey’s confidence in life and in us just blossom!

Smokey Girl lived out her life in a loving family. Photo Courtesy of Young at Heart
Day by day, Smokey Girl’s tail came up from in between her legs and began to wag, she gained strength in her long-weakened muscles and began to actually trot after her foster mom, and for the first time in what was a very long time, she was physically comfortable. She began to steal the squeaky ball from her four-legged brother and tease him to take it from her. She began to toss her toys and smile when she was happy. She sat quietly in her yard and soaked up the sun on nice days with her mom watching over her. She finally realized that she was safe and home. And the few weeks we had hoped to offer her turned into months… and then a year after her rescue, we celebrated her 18th birthday.

Smokey Girl was able to enjoy love, family, friends, comfort, and happiness with us for a full 16 months before we could not fight time for her anymore. With her mom by her side and in the comfort of her own home, we said goodbye to Smokey Girl.

Now some might think this is a sad ending. We all want them to live forever and we always feel that their time with us is never ever long enough. The day we rescued Smokey Girl from the shelter, she had been given just hours to live. But her clock had so much more time left on it – 16 months, to be exact! And because of the support of our donors and The Grey Muzzle Organization, Smokey Girl was able to live out that time the way we want each and every senior pet to live out the rest of their life: as part of a loving family until their very last breath.

World’s Biggest Hearts: Adopters

We hear so very often that “I couldn’t adopt a senior pet, my time with them would be too short.” It’s the number one reason that people won’t adopt a senior pet. But when the desire to selflessly give an older pet a loving home outweighs the fear of the heartache that will eventually come, something magical happens.

Stephen and Olivia Colvill with their adopted senior dog, Maximo (age 10). Photo Courtesy of Young at Heart
Animal lovers that adopt a senior pet tend to have the world’s biggest hearts, and we love them! These wonderful people decide that the most important thing is to provide a loving home, no matter how long it may be for, for a senior pet. However, the running theme for the photos, emails, phone calls and letters we get from our adopters is “this was the best thing I ever did!” and “this senior pet has rescued ME!” Our adopters sharing the love and happiness that an older pet has brought to their lives is what gets us through the harder days of rescue work.

Adopting a senior pet is one of the most rewarding experiences for a pet lover. One of our recent adopters, Kristen Dean, perfectly captures why adopting a senior pet is so wonderful. “I wish more people understood how loving they are and how they are forever grateful to you for giving them a home. There is nothing better than providing a senior with love and stability for the remainder of their lives!”

If you’ve been considering adding a senior pet to your life, it is a wonderful thing. Yes, the quantity of the years you may have with them may be less than if you adopted a puppy or a kitten, but quality of the years is all that matters to the senior pet you bring home. Whether that senior pet is seven or seventeen years old, to know love, affection, warmth, family, and home in the twilight of their lives is the greatest gift you can give to them.

To learn more about Young at Heart Senior Pet Rescue, visit

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: Dawn Kemper is the Founder and Executive Director of Young at Heart Senior Pet Rescue. Dawn has always had a soft spot for animals, growing up with dogs, cats, and horses. She has over 25 years experience working with animals, focusing on animal care, volunteer management, fostering, fundraising, and grant writing. She has a B.S. from the University of Illinois in Marketing & Communications. In addition to working with Young at Heart, she shares her home with her husband and their two sons, three senior dogs and a senior cat, a rescued turtle, fish and hamsters.