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2009-07-29 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

by Joanne Anderson

“Old dogs, like old shoes, are comfortable. Theymight be a little out of shape and a little worn around the edges, but they fitwell.” …Bonnie Wilcox DVM

If you’ve ever had the privilege of living with a senior dog, you know how true these words are. Yet, unfortunately many old dogs do not get to spend their golden years with doting families. In­stead they are discarded like the same old shoes mentioned above. Due to various circumstances, even the illness or death of a caretaker, plenty wind up wandering the streets or be­wildered in shelters, abandoned at a time when they need us the most.

A new national group, The Grey Muzzle Organiza­tion ( is dedicated to improving the lives of at-risk senior dogs. Grey Muzzle, a non-profit with no paid staff, is not a shelter or a rescue group. It is so much more.

Founded in 2008, Grey Muzzle is the brainstorm of Julie Nowicki on “sabbatical” from Microsoft where she created a learning framework for Windows Vista. Nowicki spent several years fostering elderly dogs for a Washington State network called Old Dog Haven. She saw how love and proper care worked minor miracles, how “Nelly” a 10 year old Whippet mix, a final refuge foster, weakened by kidney disease leapt with joy for the few months she had left;how resilient “Sassy”, an ancient Cattle Dog, whose x-rays revealed imbedded BBs next to her arthritis, transformed dur­ing her remaining two years after ignored food aller­gies were managed. All Julie’s vintage fosters recipro­cated her devotion, becoming her inspiration for TheGrey Muzzle Organization where assistance would reach far beyond local senior dogs.

Poster Pets of the Week "O’Rourke" Golden/Chow
“The old timers really tugged at me,” says Julie who has transferred her vast entrepreneurial experience in softwaredesign, program management, and custom­er research to the benefit of senior dogs throughout the United States. She uses her business skills to mar­ket older dogs, even promoting some as therapy dogs, and to fulfill Grey Muzzle’s vision of a world where no old dog dies alone and afraid. Besides giving grants to agencies that care for geriatric dogs, Grey Muzzle is both a think tank and an advocacy group.

Older dogs find it particularly hard to survive in shelters, and are usually overlooked because they compete for limited homes and kennel space with puppies and younger dogs. Grey Muzzle helps by purchasing cushioned beds that raise sore limbs off cement floors and by paying for medical procedures, like dentals and blood work, often too expensive for shelters and prospective owners. The oldsters get nec­essary veterinary care along with “cage” appeal which makes them more adoptable. After only a year of op­eration, Grey Muzzle, has given grants to 19 organiza­tions in 12 states.

"Bernie" ~ Senior Shepherd mix

In fact Last Hope Animal Rescue on LI will be re­ceiving a generous “Dogs At Home” grant from Grey Muzzle, helping us to take mature dogs out of town shelters, address medical concerns and then place them in foster, ultimately permanent homes.

Few rescues specialize in helping re-homing senior pets, although the problems of homeless older pets are pervasive in shelters and humane societies. Grey Muzzle advises groups and individuals about old dog issues, end of life canine care, and pet grief counsel­ing, in addition to funding other carefully screened and monitored 501(c) 3 welfare groups that provide hospice services for senior dogs. Presently Grey Muz­zle is considering a German Shepherd Rescue in Cali­fornia that wants to open a hospice.

Grey Muzzle, proactive on the community level, is trying to prevent senior dogs from being abandoned or brought to shelters. The economic downturn has made affording veterinary care and pet food partic­ularly difficult for many. Nowicki stresses, “One of most important goals this year is to help low-income owners, especially senior citizens, keep their old dogs. Research shows that pets enrich our quality of life, physically and emotionally.” Recently Grey Muzzle pet-partnered with three Meals On Wheels programs in the Virginia/North Carolina area. Thegroup sup­ports Senior for Senior adoption initiatives too.

Of course, donations are appreciated to help con­tinue the good work, but besides monetary gifts, Grey Muzzle has teamed with Harold Creel. Proceeds from the sale of his moving book of poetry- Do Old Dogs Dream? - about the affection of senior pups benefits Grey Muzzle.

With a small band of volunteers, Grey Muzzle has accomplished so much the first year but strives to ex­pand awareness about the organization and the mu­tual rewards of adopting an older dog. Grey Muzzle ambassadors are educating both the public and shel­ters about treasuring our senior dogs. So far there are about 21 ambassadors. More are needed, especially in the NYC area. Dog lovers can also help spread the word by telling friends and by joining the email list at the Grey Muzzle website.

Joanne Lombardi, ambassador for Long Island, felt drawn to Grey Muzzle because she adopted 9 and 10 year old Sharpei mixes turned into Hempstead Shel­ter, victims of a divorce. Four years later, Monkey and Frieda are still her beloved pets. Lombardi, a business analyst, reaches out to shelters and rescues, and pro­motes Grey Muzzle’s mission at various doggy events. It is difficult to recruit volunteers for this crucial cause because Grey Muzzle is more cerebral than hands on. There are no foster dogs to pet or walk. Therefore, to volunteer, please contact

All dogs deserve to end their lives with devotion and dignity. Those forgotten welcome our intervention. I didn’t know about Grey Muzzle a month ago when we picked up a surrendered 10 year old female in Staten Island for Afghan Hound Rescue. This grande dame, left alone up to 15 hours a day, had been an only dog her whole life but embraced the pups in her foster family. If all goes as planned, she will become the new sister of an elderly male Afghan in New Hampshire who mourns for his late brother.

Grey Muzzle repays neglected old dogs for a lifetime of loyalty. No one knows how long each will be able to stay before being called to the Rainbow Bridge. As Julie Nowicki says, a senior placement is a “moment in time”. Yes, a moment to be cherished.

For Adoption at Babylon Town Shelter (643-9270): Smiling “Bernie” is our senior poster boy at the Lamar St. W. Babylon shelter. Thisolder Shepherd mix in Cage 8 arrived as a skinny stray in February. He has actually put on some weight at the shelter plus he tested heartworm negative. Meanwhile “O’Rourke”, an adult but younger Golden /Chow mix in Cage 2 also put on a few pounds with the shelter room ser­vice.

Male: chubby Beagle Cage 21 ; “Phelps” canal swimming Retriever mix Cage 5; Husky mix Cage 13; “Sugar Daddy”- grey mushy cat C-3.

Female: “Hallie” longest resident Pit Cage 38; “Lucy” lobby white cat and a lovely muted calico polydactyl C-7 from the same eviction.  

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