When the elderly begin to grow frail and need extra care, assisted living facilities furnish a comfortable life. "Why should it be any different for our senior pets?" ask Melanie Newberry and Michelle Perry.
The business partners have plans to build the area's first assisted living facility for pets, an adjunct to their Red Woof Inn kennel west of Brooksville.
"The senior center would allow your pet to live out its life in a room of its own, with daily care and feeding, a bed, a couch and a TV to watch Animal Planet," the women have written in a plea for start-up donations.
They said they recognized the need through their jobs. Newberry, chief caretaker at the kennel, owns eight dogs, several of them geriatrics and all of them special needs canines that no one else would adopt. Perry, an attorney, has found in writing wills for elderly clients that they often have pets — dogs perhaps 10 to 14 years old — whose welfare is uncertain when their owners die.
Moreover, some aging owners cannot care for their pets' needs, such as exercising, feeding and administering medications.
All such pets — dogs in the beginning — would be so cared for at the yet-to-be-built nonprofit senior center on the current kennel's 5-acre site.
"It will be almost like a hospice for dogs," Perry said.
Dog owners whose physical abilities are challenged will be asked to fund merely their feed and medications. The owners will be welcome to visit.
For those who fear their pet's life will outlast their own, Perry will add the pet to the owner's will, naming Red Woof Inn as its caretaker. A donation will be requested to help feed and provide its medical needs.
"And you can be assured your pet will live out its life in peace," Perry said.
"If you're not certain, certain somebody will take care of it on your passing, you should make provisions," she added. "(Older dogs), nobody wants to adopt, so they get put down."
In fact, four of Newberry's adoptees were scheduled for euthanasia at Hernando County Animal Services before she rescued them. They, and others, all needed special care — one arthritic with a bad back, one with a permanently injured leg, another blind, another with terminal respiratory problems and two with incurable cancers.
Not only is such care already a part of the Red Woof Inn's regimen, the facility offers accommodations beyond the conventional. Each dog rates its own room, like a small bedroom with door and window, not a chain-link enclosure.
After breakfast at 6:30 a.m., they are led outdoors to one of eight separate play areas.
"We match dogs by temperament," Perry said, "not by size." For instance, "We had a little Yorkie that wanted to play with the big dogs."
"They're outside as much as they want, always under supervision," she said.
"We spoil them thoroughly," she added, noting that some get cookies before bedtime.
Such quarters and attention will be replicated in the senior facility, the women say. They envision a 26,000-square-foot assisted living center strictly for senior dogs. That's twice the size of the current kennel, which houses up to 22 dogs.
Application for status as a tax-exempt organization, which will allow donations to be tax deductible, is under way. The paperwork calls for construction to begin within a year and a half, Perry said.
That's the women's only timeline to date. The emphasis now is on raising the money, anywhere from $8,000 to $20,000 depending on the construction materials.
"We want it to be hurricane-proof," Perry said. "If there's a hurricane, that's where we'll be."
Also, the women want to make the center available to storm evacuees who cannot take their pets with them.
While the center aims first to provide homelike care for dogs, the welcome mat may be extended to cats, rabbits, ferrets and birds.
Beth Gray can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.