Pets

Forget new tricks. This Treasure Valley rescue is finding old dogs new homes.

Green Heart Rescue: Adopting a senior dog is rewarding — for dogs and humans.

"Whatever time there is, is the best that there is," says a volunteer, fostering a 14-year-old dog who loves to snuggle. "Can't get any better than that."
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"Whatever time there is, is the best that there is," says a volunteer, fostering a 14-year-old dog who loves to snuggle. "Can't get any better than that."

It’s long been said that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But what about finding an old dog a new home?

Green Heart Rescue, a nonprofit based out of Star, has spent the last year doing just that. The organization was started by Shannon Benecke, who fell in love with a senior dog she adopted more than a decade ago in Southern California.

“I realized dogs like (Dasher) would be the first to be put down in a shelter,” Benecke told the Statesman. “I wanted to take what I learned from Dasher to help other dogs.”

Green Heart’s first rescue was a German shepherd mix named Tara.

Like many of the dogs at Green Heart, Tara came from a high-kill shelter. Volunteer Heidi Hopwood drove to Utah to pick up the pup. Often, Green Heart pulls dogs from crowded shelters in California.

Since last May, the group has taken in more than 30 dogs, including shar-pei mix Wrinkles, who has been with Green Heart since October.

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Shannon Benecke is founder of Green Heart Rescue, which fosters and adopts out older dogs. “Senior dogs have life experience,” she says. “They give you love.” Wrinkles, a Shar Pei mix, is 8 years old. Katherine Jones kjones@idahostatesman.com

“The adoption process can be slow-moving,” Benecke said.

Nationwide, the adoption rate for older animals has long been lower than rates for younger pets. Kristine Schellhaas, spokeswoman for the Idaho Humane Society, said the organization doesn’t have much trouble placing older dogs, although they do stay at the shelter longer than young dogs.

According to the Grey Muzzle Organization, adoption rates for senior dogs are on the rise. But senior dogs can still be hard to place.

Benecke said some potential adopters worry about an older dog’s risk of health issues. Like many other rescues, Green Heart addresses any conditions the dogs may have before finding them a home.

In some cases, the pups Green Heart takes in have terminal diagnoses. That’s when Benecke or one of her fosters steps in to offer palliative care. Hopwood, who has adopted one of the dogs she fostered for Green Heart, is currently caring for a hospice dog named Granny.

“We have had Granny for about six months and, unfortunately, she is starting to show significant signs of heart disease,” Hopwood said in an email. “The hard thing about hospice fosters is that you know they are going to pass on with you. You are their family until the end!”

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Charlie, a 14-year-old pug / chihuahua mix, soaks up attention from Heidi Hopwood, center, and her daughter, Zelie Zeleon, 10. They are fostering a 13-year-old hospice dog with Green Heart Rescue. “It feels like such an honor to be the person who gets to give them their best life for as long as they have left,” says Hopwood. Katherine Jones kjones@idahostatesman.com

In most cases, Benecke said, the senior rescues are just like any other dog. Plus they’re more likely to be house-trained, have milder energy levels and be free of destructive habits like chewing, according to Benecke.

“What I’ve seen is a lot of misunderstandings about senior dogs and rescues in general,” Benecke said. “When you adopt a senior dog, you’re not adopting a dog with problems. You’re giving them a second chance.”

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