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Central California Life Magazine

Elder Paws: Giving senior dogs a second chance

Nov 19, 2014 03:28PM ● By Cen Cali Life Magazine

Elder Paws: Giving senior dogs a second chance

by Mike Scott

Photos by Dan Minkler

"I lost a dog in 2010. She was 15. What if I hadn't been there for her?"

Two years after the death of her beloved corgi-beagle mix, Pandora, Cathie Garnier made a decision: to start a rescue agency in the Fresno area for older dogs, ages 7 and up.

When she first told friends about her plans, they expressed their doubts. 

"They told me it couldn't be done," she said.

Through sheer will and determination, she proved them wrong. Elder Paws has been giving senior dogs a well-deserved second chance ever since.

The need for such an organization is critical. At many overcrowded animal shelters, senior dogs usually have 48 to 72 hours to find a new home before they're euthanized. There simply isn't enough room to keep all the elderly dogs that come in. Their fate is further by complicated by the fact that most people looking for pets at shelters tend to shy away from the older animals. They usually head straight for the cute little puppies.   

"We believe all dogs have value, not just the younger ones," Garnier said. "Senior dogs have a lot to give and deserve a second chance at life in their golden years."

There isn't an Elder Paws animal shelter. Instead, Garnier has set up a network of foster homes where elderly rescued dogs can stay until a new owner is found. The number of foster families constantly changes. Sometimes, there are as few as eight; other times, as many as 15. 

Paula Coulter, Erica Horn and Cheri Glanker have each opened their doors and hearts to dogs rescued by Elder Paws. They could tell you a thing or two about the rewards of fostering an older dog.

"I have a senior foster.  He has been with us a year already,” Coulter said. “I am crazy about this little fella, and I can't imagine life without him! He is amazing, funny, loving and loyal."

Horn said she used to be intimidated by senior dogs and assumed that, because of their advanced age, they would require more work than she was willing to give. She discovered something else entirely.

“After fostering a delightful little senior poodle, I realized my fears were ridiculous,” she said. “These dogs are well worth the time and effort to save."

For Glanker, there is a special joy in watching a senior dog that has been abandoned at a shelter go from being depressed to being happy and healthy.

“I love giving them the life they deserve," she said.

Occasionally, foster families decide to adopt the dogs themselves. It's happened more times than Garnier can remember.  

Rachel Nelken is one such “foster fail.”

"I fostered a senior dog, and I ended up adopting,” Nelken said. “There is something very special and endearing about senior pets.  I would definitely foster again."

Garnier works as a case manager for the mentally ill, a job that takes up most of her time. Every spare minute she can find goes into running­ what she calls her other passion in life. 

"Elder Paws is very satisfying,” she said. “I wish I could do it full time."

The job of finding a new home for abandoned or surrendered older dogs never ends.

"For every one you save, there are dozens behind it," Garnier said. "It's heartbreaking. It's never going to stop."

Does she ever regret taking on the challenge and responsibility of running a nonprofit for animals?

"Not for a minute!” Garnier said emphatically. “This speaks to my soul."

Garnier and a small group of 15 to 20 dedicated volunteers hold two adoption events every month. There's a big difference between Elder Paws adoption events and those held by other rescue organizations: People can't take dogs home right away. Elder Paws wants to be sure that you and your new four-legged friend are right for each other first.  

Elder Paws will make arrangements for a home inspection to guarantee that your house is safe and appropriate for the older dog you're thinking of adopting. Then, they set up a three-day sleepover, to see if you and the animal are comfortable with each other. If all goes well, the adoption is finalized.  

Even then, you're not on your own. The elderly dog you've just adopted comes with 30 days of free pet health insurance. And Elder Paws volunteers will make follow-up phone calls to you every three months for one year to make sure things are going well.

The non-profit Elder Paws group is always looking for new foster families. They also need money. Caring for some of the older dogs they rescue can be expensive. If you're able to help, you can leave at message at (559) 261-5746 or e-mail

Don't forget about those twice-monthly adoption events. Adoptable dogs are at the Petco at 4144 N. Blackstone Ave., just south of Ashlan, the second Saturday of each month. They are also at Pet Extreme in Fig Garden Village at Palm at Shaw avenues on the fourth Saturday of each month.  


For more information about Elder Paws, visit or