If it wasn’t for a dog named Lily, 75-year-old Alice Mayn would likely be spending her retirement years much differently.
Instead of days of leisure, Mayn is now a “24/7 dog Mom,” a “night nurse” and “morning nurse,” running a Petaluma-based nonprofit devoted to rescuing and caring for abandoned and homeless senior dogs.
Dogs like Lily, who at age 12 was found wandering the streets of Santa Rosa, battling a host of serious ailments. If it wasn’t for the four formative months Mayn spent caring for Lily more than a decade ago, she never would have discovered what she calls her true life’s work.
“Lily was an amazing dog, everyone who met her was affected by her,” Mayn said. “When she came into my life, it became clear dog rescue was what I was supposed to do.”
About a year after Lily’s death in 2008, Mayn established Lily’s Legacy Senior Dog Sanctuary, one of a small handful of rescue organizations exclusively specializing in large-breed senior dogs over 7 years of age.
At her rural Petaluma compound spanning five acres, Mayn and a three-person staff rescue and rehabilitate about 150 dogs a year.
The property’s renovated barn is designed to look like a warm living room and hosts upwards of a dozen elderly dogs at any given time.
An army of about 40 volunteers also pitch in, ensuring that even the most fragile dogs have constant supervision and attention.
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), senior dogs are adopted at a significantly lower rate than younger dogs, with many potential owners wary of medical conditions or preferring the idea of a bouncy puppy. The organization reports that senior dogs have a shelter adoption rate of 25%, compared to 60% for younger dogs and puppies.
“I don’t think people realize the joys of adopting a senior dog, and how they can really enhance people’s lives,” Mayn said. “We have many repeat adopters, and they recognize the love and gratitude these dogs have, they’re just so happy to have a caring home, with tails always wagging.”
Animal rescue and advocacy groups like the ASPCA and Humane Society say that the behaviors of adult and senior dogs can often be a better fit for families and owners than a puppy.
Yet, they remain routinely overlooked in shelters, and Mayn is intent on busting misconceptions about senior dogs. Starting Oct. 26, Lily’s Legacy is hosting its second-annual Saving Senior Dogs Week to do just that, a week-long education and fundraising initiative geared toward raising awareness about homelessness in senior dogs and encouraging more people to consider adoption.
Lily’s Legacy is partnering with more than a dozen senior dog sanctuaries across the country for the online campaign, and fundraising proceeds will be divided equally among the group to help fund animal care and to assist in the establishment of more sanctuaries devoted to elderly dogs. Out of the roughly 3,500 brick-and-mortar animal shelters in the country, Mayn estimates there are less than 40 shelters dedicated exclusively to rescuing and rehabilitating senior dogs.
Proceeds from last year’s campaign helped fund the first Saving Senior Dogs Grant, awarded to a senior dog sanctuary in Camarillo to assist in medical care costs for their rescues. This year’s goal is to reach $40,000 in donations following an inaugural campaign that attracted more interest and generosity than Mayn expected.
Mayn says alerting people to dog rescues and sanctuaries is growing even more critical, as the economic downturn associated with the coronavirus pandemic impacts pet owners. Since March, Lily’s Legacy has welcomed five senior dogs after their owners ran into dire financial problems and could no longer afford to properly care for the animals.
In August, the ASPCA released data estimating that 4.2 million pets will enter poverty in the next six months as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, a 21% increase from pre-pandemic numbers. The total number of animals living in poverty could rise to more than 24.4 million dogs, cats, horses and other animals, the report says.
Mayn said a local man was forced to make the heartbreaking decision to surrender his three black Labradors to Lily’s Legacy, unable to provide the care they needed due to financial hardships.
“He just adored those dogs, he treated them so well, but he couldn’t afford to keep them any longer,” Mayn said. “We want more people to understand that you don’t have to just dump your dogs if things get hard, you can take them to the right place like he did, and find them a good home.”
The three black labs, Bella, Luka and Kona, are now Southern California residents, enjoying their new home near Venice Beach. It’s the kind of happy ending that Mayn hopes to encourage with the Saving Senior Dogs Week campaign.
“With all that’s going on in the world, stories like that remind you there are some really wonderful people out there, giving these dogs love, and that’s what this campaign is all about,” she said.
(Contact Kathryn Palmer at email@example.com, on Twitter @KathrynPlmr.)