MELROSE – The telephone at Ralph Roland’s senior dog rescue rings 10 times a day with people trying to find a home for an elderly dog. As much as the retired Navy sailor wants them all, he has to limit the Roland Senior Dog Rescue Gang to about 37 a day.
“We’ve had as many as 50, but it was too many,” Roland said. “My wife (Gail) is retired, too. Thirty-seven dogs is just right.”
Roland’s sanctuary is participating in next week’s Saving Senior Dogs Week, a week-long education and fundraising campaign to bring awareness to the plight of homeless senior dogs in shelters. For most, a rescue farm like Roland’s is their last, and only, hope.
The dog week is presented by Lily’s Legacy Senior Dog Sanctuary in Northern California. There are eight organizations participating in the campaign, and Roland’s is the only one from Florida.
“We need more awareness,” Roland said. “There are a lot of great senior dogs out there. Seniors are laid back. They don’t tear things up. They just need a home.”
Roland worked as a volunteer at Clay County Animal Control. He said senior dogs were dropped off daily, and many were destined to live their final days in a kennel or awaiting a lethal injection.
A senior dog can be any animal from as young as 6 or as old as 20 years old, Roland said. Larger dogs age quicker, saying, “The smaller the dog, the longer they live.”
Most of his dogs come from Clay County Animal Services. A lot are older dogs that needed a new home when the owner is forced to move into assisted living or a nursing home, Roland said. Others are left at animal services because owners can’t afford the medical bills that often come with aging animals.
“I started taking some of the dogs into my office,” he said. “Then I took some of them home. It started in 2014 and it’s really grown into something big.”
It’s estimated 670,000 shelter dogs are euthanized each year in the United States. Senior dogs are least likely to be rescued or adopted from shelters and are most at-risk of being euthanized. Although there are an estimated 14,000 animal rescue organizations nationwide, less than 40 of them are dedicated exclusively to rescuing, rehabilitating and re-homing senior dogs.
Proceeds from the fundraising campaign will be divided equally among the participating senior dog rescue organizations, and a portion of the funds will go into a new grant fund to provide startup funding and support for individuals interested in founding a new senior dog rescue. All of the funds will go toward saving thousands of homeless senior dogs.
“The numbers of dogs being euthanized every year in shelters all across the United States is frightening, and the situation is worse for senior dogs, so we felt we had to do something to bring attention to this,” said Alice Mayn, Executive Director of Lily’s Legacy Senior Dog Sanctuary. “There’s a misconception that senior dogs are hard to adopt out and that’s really not the case. Most of them just need a loving home and a safe place to land to live out their lives, and that’s what we’re hoping to let people know.
Some of Roland’s dogs will never be adopted. They are destined to live a quiet, happy life on a 10-acre farm in the corner of Clay County near Melrose. It’s a perfect setting for an elderly dog, but it’s not easy to find volunteers.
“We’re real close to Keystone Heights,” he said, “but we’re far enough out, it’s not easy.”
But worth the drive, he said.