"Old dogs, like old shoes, are comfortable. They might be a little out of shape and a little worn around the edges, but they fit well," imparts Bennie Wilcox. A certain set of local people would agree, for on a daily basis they honor muzzles that are a bit whiter and aged angelic faces that can purr their way out of anything, all while offering hearts full of love and gratitude. Admirably, all of this group's nurturing and care is accomplished through volunteers.
Second Chance Ranch, the St. Louis region's first organized hospice sanctuary for dogs and cats in their senior stage of life, was founded by Tracy Rumpf on July 18, 2021. It's located in Valley Park at a renovated early 20th century farmhouse.
As a 501(c)(3) supported solely through public donations, Tracy says the ranch team is able to provide a loving home, food, veterinary care and medications to pets who have nowhere else to reside, all due to generous donors.
The majority of animals who arrive at the ranch are due to their owners relocating or dying, leaving pets with no homes. They're also comprised of animals picked over in shelters and were saved from euthanasia, or rescued from dangerous situations. "We're committed to helping and being a voice for the most needy, most vulnerable canines and felines among our communities. We're dedicated to creating a loving home for senior dogs and cats who also are homeless or sick, and we strive to make the rest of their life the best of their life," Tracy says.
In general, a dog is considered a senior, based on their breed and size. Small dogs are viewed as senior citizens of the canine world typically when they reach 11-12 years of age. Their medium-sized friends become seniors at 10 years of age. Their larger-sized colleagues are seniors at 8 years of age. And, finally, their giant-breed counterparts are seniors at 7 years old.
Likewise for cats, they're considered by veterinarians to be a senior, or deemed geriatric, by the time they reach 10 to 11 years old. If a cat lives beyond 15 years of age, they're often referenced as being a "super-senior."
Tracy emphasizes that older dogs and cats, throughout all adoption sources, get adopted at a much lower rate than younger dogs. When these animals should be enjoying their golden years, instead they spend their days in a shelter, up to four times as long as a younger dog.
"Dogs grieve. They love, feel, care, are happy and sad. There are people in this world who don't understand this; the ones who surrender their 17-year-old dog because he sleeps too much, or the family who wants to make room for the Christmas puppy, so they surrender their senior dog," states Tracy. "We need to be their voice. What we do at the ranch is validate their feelings, and value them as a living being with feelings. Every one of our dogs deserve to know they are worthy."
Note that senior dogs are capable and often eager to learn new things. Additionally, older dogs tend to bond quicker because they know how to get along with others. Furthermore, senior pets don't require the constant monitoring and training that puppies and kittens do. Many are already housetrained. Because senior pets are fully grown, adoptive pet parents are immediately aware of important information, such as personality type, grooming requirements and perhaps medical history, making it easier to choose the perfect pet for each family.
Since launching, the ranch has hosted or fostered 279 pets, and adopted out about 80%. Tracy says the other 20% typically are on hospice and will spend the rest of their lives at the ranch, being coddled and reassured that they are cherished.
"The ranch is a two-story, and we used to keep the little-sized dogs upstairs and the bigs on the main floor. But we just added 1,400 square feet so we can maintain all the dogs on the first floor, with the upstairs becoming a quarantine area or for animals being treated for more serious medical needs," Tracy says.
Additionally, an animal acupuncturist performs services for arthritic dogs each Sunday at the ranch.
This sanctuary actually was a natural outgrowth from a prior initiative. Previously, Tracy co-founded The Wet Nose Project about five years ago, which still serves as a foundation to raise money to help pay for life-saving veterinary medical or surgery bills for vulnerable, rescued dogs and cats who are pulled from animal control or abandoned when their owner must enter assisted-living accommodations.
"We also teamed up with Aging Ahead's Meals on Wheels to donate pet food for seniors' pets on fixed or lacking incomes. It's called Whiskers On Wheels, and we provide thousands of pounds of food," she says.
Ranch volunteers are needed, confirms Tracy, even if to just be on a standby list for the 80-ish mainstay volunteers. "Those who can only do mornings, evenings or certain days of the week also are welcome."
To adopt, see the ranch's Facebook page, then call to set a time to meet a potential match. The ranch requires appointments because it's a true home-away-from-home for the dog residents and the felines in the three cat condos. The dogs are not crated or paneled. They enjoy soft music playing and TV shows. "It's their home, and we're just here to serve them!" exclaims Tracy.
Second Chance Ranch is operated by volunteers who love senior dogs and cats, and are committed to care for the animals until they take their last breaths. It's also a self-funded, forever home for discarded animals.