By Janet McAfee

Count Basie, a handsome 8-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, officially launched Loving All Animals’ S.O.S. (Seniors Offering Shelter) program this month. The concept is simple…match shelter animals needing homes with Coachella Valley senior citizens who open their homes and hearts to foster them.

Count now lives happily with 94-year-old Verna Steinwachs at the Mirage Inn assisted living center in Rancho Mirage. Verna, who affectionately calls the dog “Charlie”, reports, “I grew up with dogs. I once owned a Collie, among others. It’s one of those things that sticks with you for the rest of your life. I wanted a dog in my life again.” What did she think when Count arrived at her apartment? Verna exclaimed, “I think he’s wonderful! He could not be better.”

Verna uses a walker for mobility, and she enthusiastically made the rounds to introduce Count to the other residents. He seems most content lounging with Verna watching television. Verna’s daughter, Nancy Mengelkamp, also checks up on Count when she visits. This calm, sweet dog settled right in immediately. He never stopped wagging his tail, his face lighting up with a “doggie” smile. Count Basie benefits from living with a retired person who has lots of time and lots of love to give.

Mobile Mutts, Loving All Animals’ adoption program, utilizes a network of foster homes to house animals rescued from local shelters. Many of the current foster parents are senior citizens. Many of them adopt their foster animals, leading to a constant need to recruit new homes. The S.O.S. program expands the foster program, targeting seniors and providing additional supports they may need to house an animal.

Fostering animals “expands the walls of our shelters”. Fostering animals reduces the euthanasia that still goes on in our community. Fostering helps socialize, train, and assess animals in a family environment so they can be successfully adopted.

Patty Newman, animal advocate and Chairperson of the Community Wellness Foundation, arranged for the Foundation to provide some initial funding to support S.O.S. The Foundation supports local organizations that promote wellness in our community. Scientific research proves having a pet can reduce blood pressure, reduce triglyceride and cholesterol levels which cause heart disease, and lessen depression and anxiety. Dogs, with their enthusiastic optimism, boost our vitality and give us a more “youthful” outlook. Animals help keep our seniors active and healthy!

Fostering is the perfect solution for seniors who want a pet, but hesitate to adopt due to the prohibitive cost of veterinary care. Other retired seniors want to spend much of their Golden years traveling, and fostering allows them to have an animal when they are in town.

With so many homeless animals in shelters, and so many seniors who could benefit from pet companionship, S.O.S. seems like a natural way to expand our foster program. Despite his pure breed status, Count Basie was languishing in the county shelter due to his age and his few extra pounds. Count is now on a diet! And Verna found renewed purpose and happiness in the loving presence of a grateful rescue dog.

The latest update from Verna shows things are going well with the Cavalier. “He’s doing beautifully! We love each other. He takes a nap with me when I take one. He “talks” to me for a little while (this dog does make human like sounds) and then he goes to lay down again.” Count Basie may officially become “Charlie” when adopted, and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if Verna and her mom make him a permanent member of the family.

Whether you are a young “senior” of 55 or older, we want you to be part of our program. Younger folks are also welcome, as are cats and dogs of all ages. We provide pet food, vet care, training assistance, and other support as needed. Loving All Animals has planned an exciting series of S.O.S. seminars for foster parents, featuring local experts on dog training, veterinary care, and providing for your pets in your will. Call us at (760) 834-7000 to join the fun and help the animals.