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How Adopting a Senior Dog Changed My Life

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Dorie Herman is well-known for her Instagram page "The Kardoggians" – a humorous dog pun on "The Kardashians." She's always found companionship and connection with dogs.

November is National Senior Pet Month and it always makes me think back to the time I started rescuing older shelter dogs in my mid-twenties. It was the early aughts and times were a little different in the dog rescue landscape, but I felt an older dog made so much sense for my lifestyle. I figured they didn’t need training wheels like younger dogs and seemed a better fit for me.

Growing up, we had a puppy, and I vividly remember all the shoes we lost to chewing and the potty training struggles. It felt like having a senior dog (already house-trained, lower energy level) would be less overwhelming for me.

I went to an adoption event, and among the adoptable dogs, I found an adorable cocker spaniel named Boston from the city shelter’s booth. He was estimated to be 6 years old, was skin and bones, and had just received a doggy makeover by the local news affiliate. They shaved a whole bag full of matted fur off his tiny body! He was my soulmate. 

Through the years, it was funny to me that people thought it was so unusual or even noble to adopt an older dog. I would always quip, “Not really… They are great for lazy people and first-time dog owners and I’m BOTH!” 

Many years later, Boston was staying with my parents for a few days because I was busy with work and his age was catching up with him. I got a call from my mom early one morning that Boston had taken a turn for the worse and it was clear he was nearing the end. I dropped everything to go to him. He was not conscious, so I laid on the ground, cradled him, and told him how much I loved him and everything he meant to me. 

I thought he had passed, but he suddenly took a big breath, sat up, and looked me straight in the eyes for about a minute as if to say “I just wanted to be sure you were here before I went. I couldn’t do this without your okay.” And so, as much as it broke my heart, I told him it was okay to go. My parents said if they hadn’t been there to see it, they wouldn’t have believed it because it was a scene straight out of a movie. 

That day, Boston passed away from natural causes in my arms exactly 9 years and 364 days after I adopted him – one day shy of our 10th anniversary together. He had changed my world for the better and I knew my next dog would also be a senior pup.

Image: Dorie Herman

After a few months, I realized my house was not a home without a dog in it. So I began looking online at local rescue organizations and put in an application to adopt a new dog, a tiny senior chihuahua. No sooner had I done that, a family friend reached out to say a mutual friend needed to rehome her grandmother’s senior chihuahua, Chloe, after she was no longer able to care for her and asked if I was planning to adopt another dog. The family loved her and didn’t want her in a shelter, but nobody could keep her long-term. On paper, the dog was the same as the one I’d just applied for. It seemed like kismet. 

Chloe was 9.5 years of age, 4 pounds and even though I was still grieving for Boston pretty badly, we set up time to meet over Thanksgiving weekend. She was the tiniest thing I’d ever seen and her pink tongue stuck out permanently from her graying snout. I’d learn later that she had a significant heart murmur, but that wouldn’t have changed my mind about making it official. The universe wanted me to have Chloe – I could just feel she was the right dog for me.  

Image: @the_kardoggians

This was December 2013 and it was the early-ish days of Instagram. I thought it would be easier for her old family to see her new life if I started Chloe her own Insta account. I was unaware that dogs were quickly becoming the hottest thing on social media. I just thought it would be a nice way for the family to see Chloe’s golden years. 

I messaged a friend to tell her my plan and asked “What should the insta handle be?” She instantly replied “Chloe Kardoggian!” to which I said “DONE!” and the rest was history. People are still surprised to find out I have never watched ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians’ – it was just a split-second decision that stuck with me to this day.

Chloe’s account developed a very fun voice (she would say “Blanche from The Golden Girls is my spirit human”). Just by living her life, Chloe showed how senior rescue dogs can have very robust lives and loving relationships no matter when they find their new home. Soon enough people outside my circle of friends found the Instagram account and our followers grew by the thousands with features on Buzzfeed, reposts from Lady Gaga, and more. 

Chloe came with me everywhere and was always a conversation starter. I called her my wing-woman because she broke the ice in any situation and loved to go out and socialize. At any party, I’d take a look at Instagram afterward to see photos of her because she’d make her way around to meet and snuggle with everyone she could. 

In the early days of the account, I got an email from a newly founded rescue group called Susie’s Senior Dogs asking if I’d like to meet in Central Park to talk about their mission. I thought I was off to meet an older lady named Susie who loved old dogs, but it was a woman younger than me and a DOG named Susie who had been rescued at the same time as Chloe. I still laugh at my own initial bias – I thought only older people would be so interested in senior dogs that they would start up a new rescue just for that demographic. But there were more people out there just like me.

For a few hours, we talked about how much we loved rescuing seniors and all the wonderful things that come with older dogs. I found my community and they were starting a nonprofit to help get more senior dogs adopted! 

It was also around that time that I heard about a program called Fospice – which is foster-hospice for super senior homeless dogs, often with health issues, that don’t have much time left. The program was being run by an NYC-based rescue and I started to get more involved. Something awakened in me – Chloe could have easily been considered one of these dogs but not for the people who looked out for her and loved her so much. Her growing fame (some 150,000 Instagram followers and 38,000 Facebook fans) could be used to educate potential adopters, find homes, and fund adoptable dogs that would otherwise not have the loving, compassionate place to land in their old age.

During Chloe’s life, we spread the word about senior rescue and fospice through fundraisers, merch, panels, and TV appearances on The Puppy Bowl, Maria Bartiromo’s Wall Street, The Today Show, and more. I was watching the public perception change right before my eyes. 

Sadly, Chloe succumbed to her heart disease in June 2018. We had nearly 5 incredible years together and I knew that I could not let her legacy languish. We held a Celebration of Life fundraiser a few months later that raised over $11,000 for the newly renamed “Chloe’s Fospice Friends.” And again a year later we raised $10,000 at a similar event.

Image: @the_kardoggians

The funds we raised helped close to 30 NYC-area dogs (and even a few cats) find their forever foster homes, and gave them the chance to be loved, comforted, and spoiled for the remaining time they had left. We often found that hospice animals outlived their original prognosis once they were in a warm, loving home surrounded by cuddles and creature comforts. It goes to show that this care can transform a dog’s life. 

I also believe that our work impacted far more than those 30 dogs, indirectly helping to rescue more homeless hospice animals due to the increased awareness we raised for this special kind of foster.  

Through the years, Fospice has continued to adapt to changes in the rescue world and beyond. In a recent effort to bring our mission national, we approached Susie’s Senior Dogs to see if they would be willing to take us under their wing and expand our reach using their grant-based model. This would allow us to reach even more dogs than we ever could alone, and we were so grateful when they said yes. 

We recently completed our first round of fundraising with over $10,000 raised. This new chapter for Chloe’s Fospice Friends will help us impact more senior hospice dogs nationwide, and help smaller rescue organizations across the country who are doing great work to give older dogs a second chance. 

Something I hear from people who don’t understand why you’d adopt an older dog or be a fospice family is “Why would you adopt/fospice them when they don’t have much time left?” To that, I have always said, “find me someone who wouldn’t want one more day with their dog – no matter if they had them 10 years, 10 months, or 10 weeks.” Knowing them since they were a puppy doesn’t change the bond or the desire for more time. That’s all we want with anyone we love. My time with Boston and Chloe was so meaningful and full of love. Would I have liked more time with each of them? Of course. Do I wish I hadn’t adopted them? Not for a second.

I know Chloe would be proud of the legacy we have created for her and how many dogs like her have been given a loving home no matter how much time they have. And for that, I am so thankful. She changed my life in every way possible in the years we had together and continues to leave her mark every day with the work we do in her honor. 

Image: @susiesseniordogs

To learn more about how to do fospice or adopt your own senior dog, the following resources are recommended:

For individuals interested in becoming a fospice parent: https://www.fosterdogsnyc.com/fospice

For individuals interested in adopting a senior dog: https://susiesseniordogs.com/

If you’re considering ways to help keep your pup happy and healthy, consider enrolling them in a Pumpkin insurance plan. A Pumpkin plan can help you give your pup the best veterinary care possible when they’re sick or hurt. And, you can enroll your pup from 8 weeks & up, so they can have coverage as they grow from puppy to adult to senior. 

To support Chloe’s Fospice Friends you can make a donation here: https://bit.ly/donateSSD

*Be sure to select “Use this donation for Chloe’s Fospice Friends” in the drop-down menu.

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