January 24th has been designated “Change A Pet’s Life” Day; a day set aside to encourage shelter pet adoption, raise awareness of the challenges facing animal shelters, and applaud the volunteers who make a difference in the lives of abandoned or abused animals -just like Barbara Nullet-Yackel has done with Murielle’s Place Senior Dog Sanctuary in Dorrance. Since 2006, Murielle’s (pronounced Mur-RAY’s) place has rescued and cared for nearly 120 dogs –most of them in their final years of life. The shelter became a 501c3 non-profit in 2009.
Murielle’s Place got started when Barbara’s ex-husband began taking in strays he found along his routes as a truck driver. She said it was then that she became aware of how animals, especially older dogs, are treated and how difficult it is to find homes for them. Typically, a stray senior dog has three days in a shelter before he or she is euthanized and, if they come in as an owner surrender, that process is nearly immediate. In the early days, Barbara used to look for dogs that needed homes, but now with 25 dogs in her care, Murielle’s place is at capacity, and Barbara says the dogs find her.
“I haven’t had to go looking for dogs in a few years,” recalls Barbara. “There is just so much neglect, abandonment and cruelty.”
Barbara has lost 14 dogs in the last two years, and while it is sad, she says it’s the nature of what she does. The dogs that Barbara takes in have more difficulty being placed because of their age, and the illnesses common in older animals like diabetes, hip dysplasia or bladder incontinence. And while she encourages adoptions, Barbara knows her job is mostly end of life care. The dogs come from every kind of background one can imagine –from owner surrenders or strays to those rescued from kill shelters, and range in age from 13 to 18 years old. Currently, ten of Barbara’s charges are terminal.
“We cater here to older dogs that don’t have a chance,” explains Barbara. “It really depends on their medical needs on how full we get. Each disease comes with a different dollar amount.”
Since concrete kennel runs are very hard on senior dogs, Barbara tries to set up her space for the dogs as much like a regular home as possible, while also adhering to a dog’s “pack” mentality. When a new dog comes in, she assesses their comfort and energy levels with the other residents, along with any special needs or illnesses they have. Once a dog comes to Murrielle’s place, they have a home for life –with all the comforts of home, and a backyard in which to run.
“Bigger wouldn’t make us better,” explains Barbara. “This rescue is more of a home life. I could have 50 dogs in cages but that’s not the kind of life we want to give. Either we get smaller or the same, but we can’t get any bigger than this.”
Barbara’s day starts early with a 5am alarm. She houses the dogs in groups based on personality and temperament, to create the comfort of a natural pack. Everybody is let out, fed and given any necessary medication. Some dogs require their food ground or chopped to accommodate missing or painful teeth, some are on special diets, and some have food allergies. Then its playtime in the yard, naptime, and then the cycle begins again in the afternoon. Barbara says the routine works well.
“Seniors are low maintenance and they get along well,” says Barbara. “It’s my whole life from the minute I wake up to the time I go to bed. This is their home.”
Because of the limited space and the expense associated with so much veterinary care, Barbara says that she has to turn many dogs away. For that reason, Murielle’s Place tries to take only the oldest and most desperate cases. The challenge Barbara faces with running a dog rescue is the ever-present lack of funding, especially for vet bills. Murrielle’s Place is a 501c3 organization, so all donations are tax deductible. Since senior dogs often require special diets, monetary donations are always better than food donations.
Since senior dogs require more around the clock care, especially when it comes to meds and mobility issues throughout the day and night, Barbara is thankful for the volunteer and financial donations that have allowed her to take on this work full time and open her home to more dogs. Volunteers help with things like to cutting grass, vacuuming, washing food bowls, or simply spending time with an individual dog, and regularly scheduled volunteers adds to the predictability of what the shelter can handle.
“We can only support so many,” explains Barbara. “It is so tough. Even with the volunteers, I just really needed to be here caring for them without the 8-hour work day in between.”
It is difficult work on both body and heart, to be sure, but Barbara counters that the experience is still very rewarding.
“I am making that difference in their life,” continues Barbara. “For many of them it was either us or death. When we get them and they’ve come from bad situations and they’re in pretty rough shape. Its amazing what a little good care will do.”
To ease the desperate need, Barbara urges people to consider adopting a senior.
“Every dog adopted is another we can pull out of a shelter and make room for another one,” explains Barbara. “These guys are fun and they still have a lot of life left in them. They bring so much joy”.
“I wish people would give more seniors a chance,” continues Barbara. “Its so fulfilling and the time is short but the difference you can make is life saving and life changing.
In observance of “Change A Pet’s Life” Day, consider donating your time, money or materiel to Murielle’s Place. Better yet, consider adopting a senior dog in need of a better ending to a life long lived. Barbara assures everyone that it will be one of the most rewarding experiences someone may have.
“They give so much love and ask for so little.” said Barbara “To sacrifice your heart for the love of an old dog, it’s a special kind of gift.
Because of the home based nature of the shelter and the upset in routine that unannounced visitors can cause for 25 dogs, Barbara asks that visits and volunteers are arranged via appointment only in order for her to give each visitor and new volunteer the appropriate time and attention.
If you would like to help, contact Murrielle’s Place at 570-579-8172 or visit their website at www.mureillesplace.org