In Greater New Haven, finding new homes for old dogs is possible with help from social media
MILFORD >> When Gina Queiroga got the call about Charlie, she wasn’t optimistic.
Charlie was thought to be 16 years old, beyond elderly for a dog. He also was thought to have several medical issues. But Queiroga was determined to try to find a forever home for the beagle, and figured if she couldn’t, she and her husband Val, a North Haven police officer, would provide that home.
Gina Queiroga posted Charlie’s picture on the North Haven Police Union Rescue 9-11 Facebook page, and to her surprise, within days Charlie had a new home — and what could only be considered the perfect home.
The new home was possible because when West Shore Middle School physical education teacher Lisa Sidella saw Charlie, she knew she wanted him. Sidella already has one beagle named Charlie, who is 15 and who she calls One-Eyed Charlie because he lost an eye to glaucoma.
But Sidella also has three other senior beagles: Ginger, 9, Roxie, 10, and Bennie, 12. Watching Charlie — now known as Big Charlie, to differentiate him from the other Charlie — romping around Sidella’s backyard, it seems as if he and his new siblings are not new to each other.
“I got tagged on a post on Facebook of him,” Sidella said. “I get tagged in these posts almost daily, and I don’t usually pay attention to them. This one struck me as different — that old white face. I knew I had to have him.”
And since he came home, everything has been going well, Sidella said.
“He’s very mellow, and it seems like he is very used to being in a home,” she said. “He walks in and finds a place and spreads out on the floor. He gets very excited for meal time. And he hasn’t even had any accidents.”
But he does have a penchant for going through the bathroom garbage pail, she said. “That’s OK,” she said. “That’s easy to fix.”
She keeps him crated while she is at work, and she doesn’t think he’s too pleased with that arrangement. “I don’t think he likes the crate very much,” she said, but he’s rewarded at night with his own bed in her bedroom.
Though he is at ease now, Charlie’s past, especially the last few years, is a bit of a mystery. He was with his first owner for most of his life, Queiroga said. His second owner, who had him for only a few years, had to give him up, she said, but they’re not sure how long he was in that home. When she and her husband took him, it was with the intention of finding him a home, and if that failed, they would keep him, she said.
Initially they thought he was 16 years old, Sidella said, but now believe he may be closer to 13 or 14. Most people want to adopt puppies and young adult dogs, Queiroga said, and it can be nearly impossible for a dog Charlie’s age to find a new home.
“We knew the odds of finding him a home were slim to none, so we were planning on him living with us” Queiroga said. But after posting his picture on the K-9 Rescue 911 Facebook page, she soon heard from Sidella, Queiroga said.
“When Lisa contacted me, I could tell her interest was sincere ,” Queiroga said.
And when she learned of Sidella’s other beagles, she was floored, Queiroga said.
“I was like, ‘Oh, my God, she has a crew of beagles!’” she said.
There were other people interested in Charlie, but she quickly determined that Sidella’s home was perfect, she said.
“I saw that this was the home I wanted him to be in,” she said.
“I knew as soon as I saw him that he belonged here,” Sidella said.
The couple also was told that Charlie was suffering from several ailments, including arthritis, Val Queiroga said, but watching him frolic with the other dogs, there was no sign of anything slowing him down.
“We were uncertain about his condition, but Lisa said that it didn’t matter,” he said. “She said she didn’t care what was wrong with him, that she was taking him.”
Age and medical conditions are the two factors that discourage people from adopting seniors, but one veteran rescuer said it shouldn’t.
“Senior dogs make the perfect pet,” said New Haven resident Maureen Mahon. “Just because they’re older doesn’t mean they’re sick. Most dogs stay relatively healthy for years. They’re calm, they’re often trained, and most of all, they know what is happening and they love you for it.”
Mahon has for decades worked in animal rescue, both before and after the advent of the Internet, Facebook and social media. Nothing has had a bigger effect on animal rescue than the Internet, she said.
“I remember in the 1980s, everything was word of mouth,” she said. “It was hard enough to find homes for young dogs, and practically impossible for older dogs.”
Many who worked in rescue avoided seniors because it was so hard to find them homes, Mahon said, leaving them to languish in shelters or be euthanized solely because of their age.
“The Internet, and specifically Facebook, has saved so many lives,” she said. “You share a dog, then your friends share the dog, then their friends share the dog. So there is the potential for tens of thousands of people, or even more, to see that dog.” And as happened with Sidella, you never know when someone with see a dog’s face and decide they have to have them.
Such was the case five years ago, when a Nebraska man saw a picture of an older black pitbull mix that had been at Hamden Animal Control for almost a year and was on the verge of being put to sleep. After Charlie Cifarelli saw the post, he drove the 2,000 miles to Hamden to pick up the dog, named Sadie, and bring her home.
“In animal rescue, networking is everything,” Mahon said. “The Internet has provided that ability and it’s been amazing.”
Because of illness, she hasn’t been able to work much for the last year, Mahon said, but before that was online “constantly” networking homeless dogs.
“At first there was Petfinder,” she said, referring to the pet adoption site. “Then with Facebook, it exploded. It not only made it easier to find homes for dogs, but also to raise money for rescues.”
It’s also provided a wide audience for organizations that specialize specifically in finding homes for senior dogs and cats, Mahon said, citing the page Susie’s Senior Dogs, one of the best known senior dog rescues that was started by Brandon Stanton, of the blog Humans of New York.
Gina Queiroga said she was surprised to see the response she got to Charlie’s posting.
Now, she and her husband are looking for a home for Storm, a mixed female who was dumped pregnant in a high-kill Texas shelter and delivered her puppies there.
“They became urgent the minute they were born because pregnant moms or moms with puppies get euthanized faster than a single dog,” she said, “because they don’t want to deal with the hassle of puppies.”
She and her husband saw an online post for Storm and the couple, teaming up with the Hamden rescue Where the Love Is, decided to make the 58-hour round-trip to Texas to rescue the dogs. Storm was covered in ticks and emaciated, Gina Queiroga said, so their first stop was at the vet, then at a groomer.
Since then Storm’s pups have all found homes, but Storm is still waiting for her happy ending, Queiroga said.
“She was the best mom, so attentive and loving to her babies, and she was so sweet with us, you can tell she just wanted someone to help her,” she said. “We know she was definitely someone’s dog at some point because she is housebroken and she knows how to sit. We think she was dumped once she became pregnant. She is an absolute sweetheart and loves being with you.”
For more information about Storm, contact K-9 Rescue 911 on its Facebook page.