It is impossible not to smile as soon as you enter the doors of House with Heart Senior Pet Sanctuary, located in Gaithersburg Maryland. This is because you are greeted by an array of dogs that melt the heart.
The inviting and immaculate house is the perfect setting for the almost 30 dogs that call it home, and the numerous boarders that occupy the many extra rooms, never mind the few cats that call the upstairs home. The layout is incredibly well thought out and more well organized than many a home with just one dog. The approximately 55 full time devoted volunteers are a vital part of making the home and other programs run efficiently, along with the guidance, ingenuity and pure dedication of the founder.
Sher Polvinale began this sanctuary in 2006 after thirty years in the rescue world, and since then many dogs have spent their last years enjoying the wonderful care they get. When asked what the biggest challenge has been, Sher states: “My first thought is how to say NO to so many dogs that need help. The biggest challenge for me is knowing that I need to control how many residents we have….and always being tempted to help just one more. Another challenge for a different sort of person would be that you lose all of your freedom to come and go. For me it is not a problem as I am totally happy here caring for the dogs, but I know that would not be the case for most folks.”
Senior animals have virtually no chance of being adopted if left at a shelter and specific rescues are far and few between. Sher knows this all too well and it is the main reason she began the sanctuary. She says: “With the proper care and a little adjustment seniors can be wonderful companions until it is time to let them go. Caring for them can be a lesson in patience, love and giving, and selflessness. A dog’s life is relatively short, so when someone wants to give a dog that is 14, 15, 16, I wonder why not just continue to love this pet until time to send it on. HWAH is FULL of dogs that other people said were too much trouble, or woke them up at night, or peed on the floor…each and every one of them is a gift and brings us joy.”
The joy Sher speaks of comes in the form of dogs such as Candyman who has been with her since the sanctuary opened and went from being very fearful to an affectionate friend. There are also dogs such as Happy who does not have the use of his back legs and loves to spend time in his wheelchair, Rudy who likes to sleep under the couch cushions and surprise guests as they sit down, Tinkerbelle who has no lower jaw but loves to eat, and Logan who has become a best friend for one of the newer and fearful dogs, Jenny.
There are eyes missing, tongues hanging out, legs that limp and those who walk in circles. But, each one is happy and will have a home until the end. This also makes Sher very happy: “Having such a sense of purpose and being able to live my life’s mission each and every minute of every day keeps me young and healthy even though the years keep ticking by.”
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