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'Senior Friends Dog Sanctuary': A true superhero story

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Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary used Mildred the pug in its social media campaign. (Photo by: Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary)

In what seems like a superhero origin story, Zina and Michael Goodin found their calling when they rescued a poor soul in need. That poor soul just so happened to be a dog.

The pair founded Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary (OFSDS) in 2012, a home for senior dogs (dogs over 6 or 7 years of age). The 501(c)(3) non-profit operates from Mount Juliet, Tenn., and takes in elderly dogs from five different shelters.

The sanctuary found great success on the internet when it launched its Facebook page in 2012 and later a Tumblr blog--the Facebook page boasts nearly 1.5 million fan who regularly interact with the daily posts, pictures and social media campaigns.

The Goodins first became involved with rescue when they adopted a golden retriever named Gracie through Middle Tennessee Golden Retriever Rescue (MTGRR) in 2010. Then followed many hours of volunteering at the rescue and even a stint on the board for Mrs. Goodin.

The tipping point came when the rescue asked the couple for help with an elderly dog who wasn't getting adopted. The golden, named Bandit, was 15 years old and had already been returned to the shelter by one foster family.

"He didn't have a whole lot of life left in him," explained Mrs. Goodin in an interview, "and we said we'd take him."

Bandit lived with the Goodins for less than a month before passing away.

"We realized at that time that there was a need to help senior dogs," said Mrs. Goodin.

Through their work with MTGRR, the Goodins had observed that senior dogs were the most neglected in sheltersoften passed over in favor of younger dogs and potentially never adopted or fostered.

"Even with goldens, people don't want to take on the burden of a dog who will only live for a few months. People don't want to take on the expenses," explained Mrs. Goodwin. "Adoption is near impossible with these dogs, they don't get adopted enough. So for the first few years we were involved with MTGRR, we were also adopting senior dogs."

Over the two years that they volunteered with MTGRR, the Goodwins took in eight senior dogs. In 2012, the couple started Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary, with the goal of giving senior dogs of all breeds the highest quality of life possible during the limited time they had left.

"We realized that senior dogs, no matter how bad their [previous] situation was, could throw off the past and live a happy life," said Mrs. Goodwin.

In order to encourage more people to foster senior dogs, OFSDS created a unique "Forever Foster Home" network. Dogs are placed with foster families within 100 miles of OFSDS in the hopes of finding a permanent home. OFSDS pays for the dogs' vet bills and any medications for the rest of their lives. If the foster family finds they can no longer care for the dog, they can return it to the sanctuary.

"We have a lot of people on fixed incomes and young people who would love to take in a dog with special needs but couldn't do it on their own" remarked Mrs. Goodwin. "This [network] has allowed us to tap into those people. We're able to place dogs in loving families where they can live and not be in an institution."

Most of the senior dogs the Goodins hope to place in foster homes are boarded at their vet for a short time before going to their new home. The sanctuary itself currently houses 50 dogs, living in two buildings and three separate social groups--the "calmer group," the "wilder group," and the "lookout group."

"They're kind of obsolete titles," said Mrs. Goodin. "The calm group isn't that calm anymore and the wild group isn't that wild."

The division is now based more on which dogs interact well with each other.

The lookout group consists of dogs still awaiting a "forever foster home."

Many of the permanent senior dogs in the sanctuary have health problems that make it difficult for a foster family to care for them, from incontinence to requiring insulin shots twice a day. Some are blind or deaf, or both. Others have been returned by foster families that found the dog didn't get along well with a current pet.

The Goodins also struggle to find foster families for "bonded pairs," senior dogs who have lived together for so long that their quality of life would suffer greatly if they were separated. Jeff and Jake, a bonded pair of pugs currently residing at OFSDS, are both blind.

Whether a senior dog finds a foster home or becomes part of the permanent group at OFSDS, the Goodwins are happy knowing they've improved the quality of a life.

"They're our dogs. They're part of our family," said Mrs. Goodwin of the dogs living at OFSDS. "We know their personalities, we know every quirk they have--They're not temporary in our minds, they're here for the duration of their lives--they're part of our family."

As a non-profit organization, the sanctuary relies entirely on donations and fundraisers, with the occasional grant. In 2015, OFSDS's costs, from vet bills to medicine to improvements and repairs, were over half a million dollars. Individual donations--attracted mainly through the OFSDS Facebook page--accounted for 80% of funding.

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