WNY is a dog-lover’s paradise. From the dog parks to the dog-friendly patios, it’s good to be a dog in Buffalo.
That said, it can be tough being a homeless elderly dog. After spending a fulfilling life in a good home, with loving parents, some elderly dogs find their ‘end of days’ in troublesome scenarios. Whether an owner passes away, or vet bills become overly-burdensome, there are elderly dogs who are suddenly uprooted from their intended forever homes, only to be placed in shelters with cages and concrete floors.
Can you imagine going from a place of love to cold, unfamiliar surroundings, virtually overnight?
These were the thoughts of Polla Milligan, founder and president of White Whiskers Senior Dog Sanctuary of WNY, one sleepless night. The year was 2019, and Polla, who was recently retired, decided that she wanted to do her part to give senior dogs, who were down on their luck, some hope. After spending her career at the Niagara SPCA, and the Food Bank before that, she figured that she had the wherewithal to create an elderly dog sanctuary in WNY.
“I’ve been giving back my whole life,” said Polla. “I knew that there were a lot of old dogs at the shelter, who were deteriorating rapidly. These dogs had come from good loving homes, only to find themselves in an unpleasant way, dealing with their (unexpected and unfamiliar) end of life. Some of the dogs were deaf, or blind… with special needs. I knew that I could help these dogs, to give them comfort in their final days/years.”
Polla’s dream of creating a sanctuary for ageing dogs came true when she founded White Whiskers Senior Dog Sanctuary of WNY. Since getting started in 2019, the sanctuary has already raised $250,000, which has enabled Polla and her Board of Directors to purchase a 5+ acre property in Wheatfield. In fact, if all goes according to plan, they will be closing on the property this Thursday.
Once operational, the Sanctuary will be a place for elderly dogs to live out their remaining days. There is an old farmhouse on the property, which will not only provide comfort and warmth for the dogs, it will also be a place where dog-lovers will convene to take care of the ageing canine community.
Polla told me that, to start, the Sanctuary will be home to around ten dogs. She wants to make sure that everything runs smoothly before she takes on any more. The dogs that are rescued will have big comfy couches, no cages, no concrete floors, and plenty of outdoor surroundings to roam.
“There is such a need,” Polla told me. “We get emails and letters all day long, from people asking us to help their elderly dogs. It’s so sad and horrible. There are so many people that want to help – we get donations from as as far away as Canada and California. Everyone knows how important this is.”
Once the operation is running smoothly, Polla wants to embark upon some programming at the Sanctuary. “There’s so much that we want to do,” she said. “We want to have some emergency spaces for dogs – just think of what happens when there is a house fire… where do the elderly dogs go? It’s hard enough for people to find emergency lodgings. That would be a longer term goal. Shorter term, we want to have live music at the Sanctuary, and a memorial garden, grief sessions, and programs where the dogs can visit their former owners who might be in a nursing home. We will need a bus for that sort of thing – also to bring inner city children out to the sanctuary. It will be a place for everyone, including people with disabilities. Already we have 750 people who have signed up to volunteer.”
Polla told me that there is a great need for these sanctuary services – not only for local dogs, but for rescues down south. Apparently, the elderly dogs are not placed, and there is little hope. As the White Whiskers Senior Dog Sanctuary of WNY grows, it will be able to accommodate some of the elderly dogs from local rescues, who will then be able to rescue additional elderly dogs from further away.
As she patiently awaits news of approval for the Sanctuary’s ‘forever home,’ Polla (and her dedicated team) is busy operating a Senior Dog Adoptables page on Facebook, as well as a WNY Lost and Found Pets page. To date, these initiatives have helped to place 110 pets into loving homes… “and we don’t even have a permanent location yet,” said Polla.
Ultimately, there is one thing that just about everyone can agree upon – a common love for animals in need.
“For me, it’s wonderful to have a mission,” said Polla. “We’ve come so far without a place to call home. I can only imagine what we will be able to do when we are in possession of this new property.”
Hope is on the way for WNY’s uprooted elderly dogs that haven’t had much to look forward to in their final stage of life. Thankfully there are a number of dedicated dog lovers out there who are doing everything that they can to create this one-of-a kind Sanctuary, headed up by a singular dog lover who understands exactly what it takes to bring it all home.
Lead image: Polla’s elderly dog named Bear