Giving Senior Dogs a Reason to Wag

photos by Julie Copenhaver, courtesy of Karen Marengi

When Rhonda Minardi’s mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, she was concerned not for herself but for her beloved dog. “Who’s going to take care of Lucy?” she wondered.

Luckily, a family member was able to give Lucy a home, but not every canine has that chance when their owner can no longer care for them, especially if they’re an older pet. Rhonda made it her mission to give senior dogs a forever home by creating Living Grace Canine Ranch, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit sanctuary for elderly canines that is set to open in Bertram by Christmas.

A Life-changing Gift

This holiday won’t be the first time Rhonda will make senior dogs’ dreams come true – last Christmas, she was pulling their wishes for toys and beds off a holiday tree she came across while dropping off her husky at a canine camp. The next week, she saw that eight or nine pictures were still on the tree and decided to take them home too. As she was looking through their pictures, she noticed they were all seniors. She also noticed that the Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter’s website featured mainly senior dogs as well.

Rhonda realized these elderly canines needed more than toys and beds.

“Well, I need to buy land and build them a home,” she said to herself. At the time she was working three jobs as a massage therapist for Baylor Scott & White Hospital, two doctors on the side, and a spa on the weekends, feeling a need to work seven days a week but never knowing why.

After settling on a nearly 5-acre property about a 30-minute drive west of Georgetown in Bertram, she scraped together every dollar she had, praying the down payment wouldn’t be more than the $14,000 she had in the bank. The amount turned out to be $13,998. “Now I know it’s not about me. This is bigger than me,” she thought. It finally made sense why she had felt driven to work so hard. “I needed those three jobs to make all this happen.”

Living Grace Canine Ranch provides a permanent home for unadoptable senior canines and faithful pet companions when their parents are no longer able to care for them. Its mission, Rhonda says, is community need driven and focuses on rural Texas shelters and animal control facilities where euthanasia is a common practice for senior dogs, as well as Sun City where senior citizens’ life transitions may limit pet ownership and care.

Living Grace has been active since last spring, rescuing senior canines that are currently living with foster families until the Bertram ranch opens in December.

One of the ranch’s first residents will be Gracie, a 14-year-old pit bull terrier that is both blind and deaf due to the cruelty she underwent as a bait dog for fighting. Despite more than 100 bite scars, bullet fragments in her leg, fourth stage heartworms, and a collapsing trachea, Gracie has survived, loving life and people. Rhonda rescued Gracie from a kill facility in Corpus Christi within hours before she was scheduled to be euthanized. “Gracie is a living, loving example of our organization’s mission to save unadoptable old dogs,” she says. “In Corpus, everyone had given up on her, including the local vet that did not bother to take her weight or give her pain medication. My heart broke just looking at her, laying in a puddle of urine. Gracie needs to come home.”

“Thanks to Living Grace Canine Ranch, Gracie and other unwanted senior dogs will have a loving home for the rest of their lives.”

A Place to Thrive

Rhonda envisions a place with relaxing music, individual canine suites, foraging trails, ample drinking fountains, and aquatic recreation for splashing fun and rehabilitation water therapy. Trainers and volunteers will provide daily group or one-on-one activities for canines, and each dog will be walked every day. All senior dogs are welcomed, even if they’re sick or have behavioral issues. They will find, Rhonda says, security, comfort, nourishment, unconditional love, companionship, and nearly five acres to play on. “It’s not a place to die, but a place to thrive,” she says.

Living Grace broke ground June 20 and plans to open at Christmas time with the public’s help of prayers, monetary or in-kind donations, local business supporters, family foundations, and volunteers with trade skills. This holiday, Rhonda will give senior dogs the greatest gift of all – a loving forever home.

To learn more, visit livinggracecanineranch.org or write to Living Grace Canine Ranch, 723 W. University Ave., Suite 110-142, Georgetown TX 78626.

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