When I first found this story, I wondered if it might be too sad to share around the campfire. I was having quite a dialog with myself over it, which went pretty much like this: The more I read about it the story, the more I realized it’s really like a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie—sort of sad, yet uplifting. Then I remembered that I don’t care who dies in the movies, as long as the dog lives. Finally, I told myself that this isn’t a story about dying dogs, it’s a story about old dogs finding a place to live out their final years. So, I decided it is definitely a tale that is campfire-worthy. I trust you’ll agree.
Friends Until the End
“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”~ Anatole France
What does it take to open a senior pet sanctuary in your own home? In 2006, Sher Polvinale and her late husband, Joe, decided to find out. So many loving pets lose their families in their final years. Sometimes that is because their owners are also facing their golden years and are forced to move into nursing homes, retirement homes, or in with family members. Having to give up a pet can make a difficult time almost unbearable. That’s where House With a Heart Senior Pet Sanctuary comes in!
This is not primarily a rescue group. It is not primarily a foster home, although they do provide a safe-haven for a few dogs, while continuing to search for their forever homes. Normally, however, House With a Heart is the last home a pet will ever need. It’s a place offering unconditional love—and a whole lot of it! Sher Polvinale serves as the Director of House With a Heart and works tirelessly from her home in Gaithersburg, MD.
So many times I have researched an animal charity only to uncover some less than flattering information. That is not the case with House With a Heart. Rather than uncovering dirt, the more I dig into this non-profit, the cleaner it gets! That’s saying something when you consider we’re talking about a house filled with dogs and cats!
Old Dogs, New Schtick
“All animals, except man, know that the principal business of life is to enjoy it.” ~Samuel Butler
The first resident, B.J., came to the home via a local Humane Society. B.J., with his tongue that lolled out the side of his mouth and winning personality, inspired the Polvinales to bring home more senior pets. In the beginning, they kept the number of canine residents to no more than ten. Joe Polvinale’s dying wish was for his beloved wife to be able to stay in their house caring for the senior dogs she loved so much. With the void left by Joe’s passing, Sher began taking in more and more dogs. That required some changes to the daily running of the house.
Sher began a doggie daycare and boarding service in order to keep things running on a grand scale. One woman could not possibly do it all. Harriette Sackler, a volunteer and Vice President of House With a Heart, joined the effort. But two women, however diligent, could not possibly do it all, either. More volunteers arrived on the scene—55, as of 2014. Watching them work is reminiscent of watching a couple bring quintuplets home from the hospital. They run like a well-oiled machine, because they have to. With numerous resident dogs and a handful of resident cats, organization is a necessity.
“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” ~Roger Caras
Polvinale is on the job 24/7. She awakes at 6:00 each day, lets the animals out to do their business, and feeds them before the volunteers arrive at 11:00. Volunteers clean house, play with the animals, bathe them, scoop the abundance of poop, help administer meds, and take animals for necessary veterinary care.
Magnetic strips with the residents’ names are kept on the front of the refrigerator. When an animal is fed, its magnet is moved to the opposite side. That continues until each animal has been fed. Before bedtime, a head-check is performed to be sure each animal is present and accounted for.
According to Polvinale, she she may leave the house a grand total of four times a year. That, my friends, is dedication. Even so, she considers herself to be one of the most fortunate people of the planet because she loves what she does.
Every Dog Has Its Day
“I believe all animals were created by God to help keep man alive.” ~Iwao Fujita
Dogs are given the best possible medical care. Two current residents who have mobility problems are the proud owners of their own wheels, which they use to maneuver their world. Incontinent dogs don diapers. Special diets are provided, depending upon each dog’s health requirements. But there is no dog shaming allowed! Each dog is met where it is and given exactly what it needs.
Some dogs are more sociable than others. If an animal prefers to spend more time in solitude, that is A-OK. No animal is pushed beyond its limits. The dogs do develop special friendships with other residents. It’s not uncommon to see canine BFFs playing in the secured yards or roaming on the two-acre fields.
Stairway to Heaven
“You think dogs will not be in heaven? I tell you, they will be there long before any of us.” ~Robert Louis Stevenson
The stairway wall of House With a Heart tells the story of all the residents who have passed away. Picture frames, lovingly decorated with the animals’ names hold the pictures of the dearly departed. Known as the Stairway to Heaven, it is a constant reminder of why they do what they do. Every pet deserves to live out its life knowing it is loved.
“If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.” ~Will Rogers
House With a Heart relies on donations, grants, and wish list gifts. You can learn more about this worthwhile organization here, on their website, and you can meet Sher Polvinale and her volunteers in this beautiful video!