Ruth Beck has been rescuing and rehoming pets since the mid-1980s, and for the past few years caring for seniors of both the canine and human kind has been her focus since she started a PEI chapter of the ElderDog Canada program.
The national program is a nonprofit organization. Their purpose is to assist and support older adults in the community with the care and well-being of their dogs and to promote the care of older dogs whose lives have been affected by a sudden change in circumstances.
“We like to educate people about the human-animal bond and how important it is for seniors to be able to keep their pets as long as they can,” Ms Beck said. “Sometimes it is the only constant they have in their lives.”
The Alliston resident received a call back in 2014 from the Nova Scotia ElderDog organization asking if she would help pick up a dog in PEI. The dog was in the home alone after its senior owner had to leave.
“We organized a caravan,” Ms Beck said, explaining how someone picked up the dog in western PEI and drove it to Summerside. Another person took the dog to Charlottetown and then finally it was brought to Ms Beck for care.
Though that was her first experience with ElderDog it certainly wasn’t the last.
“It’s not that the dog isn’t loved and well cared for with the senior, it is just that they are finding it a bit more difficult to do all the day-to-day things. If we can step in and help make the senior’s life easier and enable them to keep their dog longer then I was all for it,” Ms Beck said.
She decided to join the organization when asked to be the Island rep.
“We started in Kings County and then have grown since with volunteers in all three counties now,” she said. Because of the population concentration, most of the in-home care they provide is in the Charlottetown area.
The help can be as simple as taking the dog for a walk, providing respite care if the senior has to spend time in hospital or assisting the owner with a trip to the vet.
“We support the seniors and their pets at home as long as we can. Then if they happen to go into long-term care, or something about their condition changes, we will take them into our foster care program permanently and find them a new home,” Ms Beck said.
Five years ago, Baby, a one-eyed, fluffy, black, 10-year-old Shih Tzu’s life was on the line. Her health issues were becoming too significant and her owner was no longer in a position to take care of her.
Through the ElderDog PEI program she was matched up with Mark Tiller and Margaret Brady.
The now 15-year-old Baby resides with the Murray Harbour couple.
“She takes me for walks. She leads the way and will try to drag me along,” Mr Tiller said. “It’s a really great program. (Baby) has a bit of a breathing issue but there is no doubt she still enjoys her life.”
The couple didn’t expect a long-term companion when they agreed to foster Baby.
They had fostered a dog in the past through the program without becoming too attached, but Baby quickly found a place in their family.
“She was just so cute and tiny and with her one eye, we had to keep her,” he added.
The organization raises some funds through the adoption program where they don’t have a set rate, and they accept donations.
Costs incurred by the program are mostly vet care and while each chapter is expected to contribute to the fundraising, it is through the national organization the bills get paid.
Prior to COVID, the PEI chapter raised most of their funds through holding dog walks and yard sales.
They plan to have a table set up at the Treasures in the Trunk Yard Sale at the Cavendish Farms Wellness Centre in Montague on June 10 if enough volunteers can be found. It will be their first fundraiser since the pandemic.
Anyone needing assistance from ElderDog PEI can call 902-969-2926 for more information.
Rachel Collier, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with files fromCharlotte MacAulay, The Eastern Graphic