Bert bounces at the bottom of the stairs. His mouth is wide open and he can’t stifle little squeals of pleasure. As he jumps and spins, his tail swings wildly from side to side. It’s the usual morning greeting when his new owner comes downstairs to start the morning, and Carie Broecker smiles as she watches the cell phone video.
“It’s good to see Bert so happy,” he says.
A few months ago, when Broecker first saw the pup, Bert was in pretty bad shape: a dislocated hip required surgery, his internal organs were failing, and she wasn’t sure how well the dog could see with an obvious cataract in one eye. . Now Bert is in a good mood.
Broecker is the executive director of Peace of Mind Dog Rescue, an organization that fosters and finds homes for senior dogs. And since he founded the nonprofit with Monica Rua in 2009, he’s seen many stories end happily. The group is so effective that Broecker is among the 10 finalists for CNN’s annual Hero of the Year award.
“Peace of mind is the gold standard,” observes Margaret Slaby. “Carie is always there with guidance. She’s a big part of why we’re here.”
Slaby runs Golden Oldies Cat Rescue, with a similar mission for mature felines. He launched the organization in 2016 following Broecker’s playbook and found the same success on a smaller scale. Peace of Mind has found forever homes for nearly 3,000 senior dogs over the course of 13 years. Of the 134 cats fostered by Golden Oldies, 129 have been adopted.
Both organizations were formed from the understanding that age can bring wisdom in maxims, but in reality, advancing years bring uncertainties for both pet owners and their animals. When it comes to adoptions, puppies, kittens, and younger animals get the lion’s share of attention.
“I get it, kittens and puppies are cute,” says Slaby. “Elders are often forgotten. They shouldn’t be.
Broecker has witnessed older dogs in shelters showing signs of depression. Sometimes they collapse in his cell, facing the wall. Also, age often means health issues that new owners will need to address. “It can be very expensive,” Broecker says. “Most people don’t want to take that on.”
Both organizations also grew out of personal experience. Broecker was petting a spaniel named Savannah, whose owner, Alice, was in failing health. Knowing that she would not be around for much longer, Alice worried about the fate of her dog.
Most animals in that situation end up in a shelter. Hearing Alice express her concern for the future of her partner prompted Broecker to act. “That’s when the idea came to me,” he says. “Our mission is to be an advocate for senior dogs and seniors.”
To that end, Peace of Mind offers a number of services for elderly pet owners, including volunteers who can walk and feed the dogs daily.
It was Slaby’s time working at an SPCA shelter that led to Golden Oldies. Approximately half of the admitted animals were euthanized, most being mature adults.
“That was unacceptable,” she says. “I was breaking down. I dreamed of a rescue operation.” Slaby approached Broecker, who sent a checklist for starting a nonprofit organization. “We had no funding, just a dream,” she adds.
Peace of Mind added a veterinary clinic in 2019. They hope to eventually create a center where they can care for dogs when a foster home is not available. Golden Oldies is trying to complete a small house that will also allow them to have cats.
“The most difficult thing is when we give up, but we don’t have a foster space,” says Slaby. “You know the cat will be at risk.”
Boecker will find out on a December 11 broadcast on CNN if Peace of Mind wins the grand prize. Being selected in the top 10 netted $10,000. The Hero of the Year receives $100,000.
“It never stops, so keep going,” she says. “There is always another dog.”