Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia-based charity that helps seniors and dogs growing 'foot by paw'

A charity founded in Nova Scotia that gives seniors peace of mind and aging dogs a second chance at enjoying their golden years is expanding to include 16 chapters across the country.

ElderDog now has chapters across Maritimes, Ontario, Quebec and Alberta

ElderDog founder Ardra Cole says dogs like 10-year-old Lucy often have difficulty getting adopted once their owner can't take care of them anymore. (Robert Guertin/CBC)

A charity founded in Nova Scotia that gives seniors peace of mind and aging dogs a second chance at enjoying their golden years continues to grow "foot by paw," says its founder.

ElderDog, which launched in Dartmouth in 2012, helps find new homes for dogs whose owners have moved into retirement homes, fallen ill or died.

Many of the canines ElderDog works with are seniors, too, and would otherwise be difficult to adopt out.

This year, ElderDog became a registered charity and opened six new chapters, bringing its total number to 16. There are now groups across the Maritimes, Ontario, Quebec and Alberta.

Its founder, Ardra Cole of Lunenburg, N.S., said the goal is to expand the charity across Canada one day.

"We're slowly getting there," she said.

Pairing seniors with seniors

The organization helps pair older dogs with other seniors looking for companionship.

That's what happened to Lucy, a 10-year-old Lab-Rottweiler cross, whose owner died earlier this year.

Elizabeth Leighton, 74, and her new companion, Lucy. After a month together, Leighton says Lucy has adjusted well to her new home. (Robert Guertin/CBC)

Thanks to ElderDog, Lucy found a new home last month in Antigonish, N.S., with 74-year-old Elizabeth Leighton.

"I saw her picture and I thought she just looked delightful, and she is," said Leighton.

A common concern

Leighton said many seniors worry about what will happen to their furry companions if they can't take care of them anymore.

"I think, 'Am I going to be able to do this for another year? And if I can't, who's going to be able to look after these animals?' And here's the answer," she said.

ElderDog also helps seniors who can still care for their dogs but need some extra help.

Volunteers — many of them seniors themselves — help with walking, grooming or giving medication, along with trips to the veterinarian.

To date, the charity has found 220 dogs a new home and helped 100 seniors care for their canine companions. 

A dog's purpose

Cole, a professor with a background in applied educational psychology, thought of ElderDog while researching Alzheimer's disease.

In her work, she discovered how dogs can help seniors and their families cope with aging and illness. 

"I really learned a lot about the role the family dog played in providing care — both for the ill seniors, but also family members who were doing the care," she said.

ElderDog has helped re-home more than 220 dogs across Canada. The newest chapter of the national charity has just opened in Nova Scotia's Pictou County. (Robert Guertin/CBC)

Cole said she decided to make it her life's work after her brother died unexpectedly, leaving behind his old chocolate Lab.

"I wondered what happens to those old dogs like him," she said. 

"Old dogs are not the first dogs that people like up to adopt when they go to shelters, and old dogs don't do well in shelters."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Marina von Stackelberg is a senior reporter currently working for CBC's Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa. She previously worked as a reporter and host in Winnipeg, with earlier stints in Halifax and Sudbury. Her stories regularly appear across the country on CBC Radio and CBC News Network. Connect with her by email at mvs@cbc.ca or on social media @CBCMarina.

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