This friend, who was on the verge of being euthanized, was Blanche (now Lambchop), 7 in the photo. She was adopted by Pete and Ilene Sosalski

by Len Lear

Anyone who has ever loved a pet and seen that friend’s health deteriorate from age-related diseases and ailments knows how much suffering there is for both the two-legged creatures and their four-legged friends. Very often the “solution” is euthanasia.

While most of us can empathize and lament such suffering, there are a few animal lovers who are actually doing something to change the course of this dilemma and literally save lives.

For example, 10 years ago best friends Erin Lewin and Ashley Foresta were volunteering at Animal Care and Control Team in Philadelphia (ACCT Philly) with two other good friends, Samantha Holbrook and Christina Voigt, when Erin had a dream to open a senior pet rescue “since they were always our favorites and always the underdogs.”

“We would walk around and behaviorally evaluate dogs,” said Ashley, “clean cages, socialize cats and help with adoption events. We all share an extreme passion for helping animals, and it brought us together as very close friends. When Erin shared her dream of starting a senior pet rescue with all of us, we were immediately in!”

Erin’s dream became a reality in 2014 when she became the president and founder of the City of Elderly Love Rescue. Although their home base is Harleysville, they have foster families all over Philadelphia, the suburbs and even New Jersey. In the four years of its existence, this rescue organization has found homes for an astonishing 665 elderly dogs and cats! And what better time to save even more than in the Christmas season?

Most of the elderly dogs and cats they rescue come from ACCT Philly, the only public intake shelter in Philadelphia, which means they are responsible for taking in all strays and owner-surrendered animals and cannot turn them down.

As a result, ACCT winds up euthanizing animals, particularly the elderly ones, when their cages are full in order to free up space for new animals that come in. “We also pull from some other local shelters and animals surrendered by their owners,” said Ashley.

This dog, Jema, started it all and is the “logo dog” for City of Elderly Love. Erin saved her from a shelter in 2009.

Why do people give away their pets to overcrowded shelters? “Mainly due to the lack of access to affordable vet care and lack of animal-friendly housing.”

Evan Gandler, of Sterling Veterinary Associates in Stratford, was recently quoted in another publication as saying, “It’s not unusual for senior pets to be surrendered to the pound or even abandoned. Some owners … may feel that they don’t have the resources to care for animals with cognitive issues.”

The City of Elderly Love Rescue has about 40 volunteer rescue families in the Philadelphia area who care for animals at their own expense until permanent homes can be found. The animals usually stay in the foster home for three to six months before a permanent home is found.

What percentage actually get adopted? “Unless they are considered medically unstable for adoption (hospice), we adopt every animal out. About 25% of our animals are hospice cases due to medical conditions like cancer.”

The animals that City of Elderly Love Rescue saves are usually between 8 and 15 years old. In addition to their age, some of the special needs common in many of the animals are blindness or deafness, cognitive dysfunction, arthritis, kidney failure, heart failure, cancer, etc.

How do the four women get the word out about the need for adoptions? “We have a very active Facebook and Instagram community and also utilize Petfinder to cross-post our adoptable animals. We try to attend as many adoption events and fund raisers as possible. We also house some of our friendly, adoptable cats at Pet Supplies Plus in Phoenixville.”

How difficult is it to find homes for pets who are old and may also be disabled? “Everyone loves the cute little puppies,” said Ashley, “but we have been incredibly blessed to find many amazing adopters who just want to love an already trained, lower-key animal for the rest of its days.”

Ashley is seen here with her face-licking friend, Max, about 8 in the photo, whom she fostered until he was adopted by a local resident named Kristin Burns.

By the way, it’s not as if these four volunteers have nothing else to do all day except find homes for elderly pets. Ashley, 33, is a stay-at-home mother of a 5-month-old boy and 2-year-old girl. Erin, 33, works in auditing and is the mother of a 2-year-old girl. (“Our daughters are also best friends and animal lovers in the making.”) Christina, 38, is a chemist who has a 2-year-old daughter, and Samantha, 33, is a lawyer who is currently on maternity leave with a 3-month-old son. All live in the Philly suburbs, from North Wales to Phoenixville.

What is the most rewarding thing about what this quartet of warmhearted women do? “Being a voice for these senior pets who are in need and so very overlooked in the system. Regardless of temperament or medical condition, seniors are at the top of the euthanasia list when the most difficult decisions need to be made to free up kennel space in the shelters. We get to be the change for them by taking them to safety within our rescue and raising awareness about the amazingness of adopting senior pets.”

What is the most frustrating thing about what they do? “The fact that we are just a very small part of a very large puzzle that is missing a lot of necessary pieces. There is such a need for more access to affordable vet care and housing for people in the city.

“They can’t keep pets they can’t get care for or find a place to live with. There isn’t even a homeless shelter that allows people to take their pets with them, so at the worst time in someone’s life (becoming homeless), they’re also forced to surrender their pets. It’s an epidemic.”

Anyone who wants to donate to City of Elderly Love can do so at cityofelderlylove.org/donate or City of Elderly Love, P.O. Box 359, Skippack, PA 19474.

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