To learn more about how to start and run a sanctuary, I am currently visiting the Senior Dog Sanctuary in Severn, Maryland. I read about the sanctuary online, and contacted the founder and Executive Director, Val Lynch, about the possibility of visiting. He was very supportive of what we are trying to do, and offered to host me for a few days to see their facility, talk to all the workers and volunteers, and ask my umpteen questions. He even offered to pick me up at the airport and let me stay in his home! Needless to say, Val is a special sort of person, and a true advocate for dogs.
I arrived yesterday around 5:00, and we went to tour the facility. Wow, what a great place!
Val and his family started their Sanctuary in 2015. They bought a house that had been owned by a dog trainer, and added on a 3-car garage that they turned into a kennel. It connects to a large, open, shaded play yard in back. There is a staff member who lives in the house, so there is always someone on site. They have room for about 22 dogs, which is as many as the county allows. They specialize in older dogs (7 years or more) who would have trouble being adopted in a normal shelter setting, due to medical or behavior problems. The goal is to treat the dogs, and find them homes. They have a 96% adoption (“live-release”) rate, which is amazing.
I was stunned to discover the demand for their services. Val said they receive about 200 requests for placement every week, of which they can accept maybe 3 or 4. He spends a large chunk of his time evaluating those requests, and figuring out which dogs to take.
Given their focus on older dogs with medical issues, the animals require a lot of veterinary care. The Sanctuary works with two veterinarians, and they make several trips a day to the vet office.
The Sanctuary has a very large and enthusiastic group of volunteers. In a given week, they’ll have around 60 different people come in to work with the dogs. The volunteers have a lot of say in how the Sanctuary is run, at least in terms of day-to-day procedures, outreach activities, and so on.
I’ve met some great people and some wonderful old dogs. One nice touch is that every dog that stays there has its pawprint taken, and they decorate the reception area with them.
I met a pair of small dogs, a mother and son who are 16 and 15 years old, and both spry and friendly. How sweet is that?!
That’s just a quick overview of what I picked up in 4 hours last night. It’s a “firehose” of information, as Val said. Today I’ll be talking with volunteers, seeing how their day runs, and helping out with a fundraising event in the evening. I’ve got 6 pages of questions typed up, and I’ll try to get as many answered as possible. I’m sure it will take a while to process afterwards, but I’ll let you know what I find out.
Love and pooches!