Alaqua Animal Refuge takes in approximately 500 dogs per year — small ones, large ones, short haired, shaggy, young, and sometimes rejected old ones.
There are so many homeless animals that the decision process is a difficult one, said Alaqua founder Laurie Hood.
Alaqua is a no-kill shelter, and volunteers at other shelters around the region send Hood pictures all the time of dogs that touch their hearts.
Hood received such a picture last week.
An older black Lab had been found wandering the streets of Panama City. Bay County animal control caught him and took him in. He had no chip, but his owners were found. Bay County called the owners, who told workers the dog's name, and how old he was. Jake was 15, they said, and they had had him since he was a pup. However, for unexplained reasons, Jake's owners no longer wanted him, and had set him loose on the streets.
When Bay County emailed Hood last Friday with the information they had found out on Jake's circumstances, and to tell her his time was up at their shelter, Hood felt compelled to act.
She went to Facebook and posted: "Is there anyone who can transport a lab from Bay County (Panama City) Animal Control to Alaqua tomorrow? This FIFTEEN year old lab was found as a stray, and when his owners were finally located, they said that they did not want him anymore.... after FIFTEEN years of owning him. I can’t stand it — he will be euthanized if no one takes him A.S.A.P. Let me know if you can help."
To her amazement, she quickly had 30 comments, most expressing disgust at the dog's owners, along with a dozen offers to transport Jake from Bay County to Freeport, and a couple of offers to give him a new permanent home.
Hood said she has taken in only a few other 15-year-old animals.
"There was just something about his face that just tugged at my heartstrings," she said. "I have a dog just like him. He has old soulful eyes. It just broke my heart. You hate to pass judgment, but I didn't want him to die alone in that shelter. So, when I got the message that it was his last day before being euthanized, I just decided to take him and let him know some happiness in whatever time he has left."
The next day, Hood posted pictures of Jake with his new owners, and at his new home in Destin at Kelly Plantation.
"We usually take a week to process animals, but, with his age and circumstances, I wanted him to spend the first night in his own bed instead of at the shelter," said Hood.
Laurie and Jodie Kelly saw Hood's original post and since they already have one Lab, they felt he might fit in nicely with the family.
Indeed, Hood said that the Kellys report that Jake fits in like he had lived with them all his life.
"I was amazed at how quickly we found a home for him," said a delighted Hood.
Currently, Alaqua has many senior dogs living at the shelter, but they aren’t the most popular among those looking to adopt.
"We try to balance it out by taking in so many small, medium, large, long-haired, short-haired, young, old, and special needs," said Hood. "But sometimes, God has different plans. So we end up helping with criminal or hoarding cases, which overloads us in one area or more."
To help find these "special" animals find a forever home, Alaqua has a "Partners Program" that pairs senior dogs with senior people and the adoption fee is waived. And, if ever the senior owner can no longer care for that animal, Alaqua guarantees the dog can come back to Alaqua.
But sometimes, they don't find their own home.
"Unfortunately, when we do take in older animals we know that this may very well be their last stop, so we try to make them as comfortable as possible. We do have to sit with them sometimes as they cross the rainbow bridge… " said Hood.
Hood recently wrote a blog about being with a senior horse when he passed. View it at http://www.alaquaanimalrefuge.org/about-us/lauries-weblog.
If anyone wants to help another senior Lab in need, Pensacola's Escambia County Animal Services has a senior Lab named Chief that was dumped at the shelter on Valentine's Day. Chief is a neutered male. His ID number is #A244848. Or, call Escambia County Animal Services at 850-595-3075.