It was no secret how the cat named Smelly got his name. He stank. With a mouth full of infected, decaying teeth, the senior cat arrived at the Philadelphia SPCA after his previous owners realized they were in over their heads trying to care for too many cats. Estimated at 12 to 15 years old, Smelly’s prospects for adoption were slim.
Fortunately, Erin Lewin, president of City of Elderly Love, a no-kill Philadelphia rescue focusing on senior pets, took a special interest in the ailing cat. She spent time with him and tried to find him a home, but she quickly realized his messed-up mouth was holding him back. He didn’t stand a chance in a shelter, so Lewin and her husband decided to foster Smelly and get him the care he needed. Another thing he needed, of course, was a better name.
"When we brought him home, we decided he needed a new name to go along with his new digs," Lewin says. "We chose Henson, mainly because he had these big googly eyes that kind of made him look like a Muppet."
Once Henson got the medical care he needed, he found his forever home with a loving family, including three children. Henson’s family might not have had a full lifetime with their pet, but the time they did have was extra special, and they loved him fully "until it was time to say good-bye."
Lewin’s experiences fostering seniors has been similar to the family who adopted Henson. She and her husband started off fostering and bottle-feeding kittens, but they quickly moved on to adults and seniors ÔÇô- and her husband, she jokes, says it has been "all downhill since then." The time adopters have with senior pets may be shorter, Lewin says, but she hears all the time that it is extremely rewarding.
"I’ll be the first admit that when we first considered adopting our senior foster years ago, I was nervous because we had no idea how long we’d have to spend with her," she says. "But now, thinking back about the relationship and bond I had with her, I would not trade our three years together for anything. We were able to fit a lifetime of love into a shorter amount of time, which was an amazing experience."
City of Elderly Love wants more people to have the amazing experience of sharing their lives with a senior pet. The nonprofit organization, which was founded in September 2012, is a branch of Citizens for a No-Kill Philadelphia, an organization that provides resources for families to keep their pets in times of hardship and helps pets in shelters by organizing adoption and outreach events.
City of Elderly Love contributes to Citizens for a No-Kill Philadelphia’s mission by pulling "less-adoptable" senior pets from the city’s animal control shelter, which, according to Lewin, takes in more than 30,000 animals each year and is "forced to euthanize more than 30 percent of them due to limited resources and kennel space." A large number of the animals euthanized are seniors.
"City of Elderly Love is hoping to help relieve some of the financial pressure on our rescue colleagues by stepping in to care for the oftentimes more medically challenged senior pets when possible, and focusing its efforts on this niche group of some of the shelters’ most vulnerable animals," Lewin says.
Because they help some of the most medically needy cats and dogs, funding is always a challenge for City of Elderly Love. They rely on donations and volunteer foster families to fulfill their mission of getting senior pets healthy and finding them forever homes.
"We hate the idea of having to turn an animal in need away because of limited funds," Lewin says. "For now, we have recognized the need to help where we can, but are cognizant not to overextend ourselves so we that we can gradually build into a long-term resource for Philadelphia’s senior pets."
In addition to pulling animals from the shelter, City of Elderly Love also provides assistance to individuals in need who are having trouble caring for their pets. When possible, Lewin feels it is best for people and pets if animals can stay in their homes.
"We feel as though it’s more important to find a way for a family to keep their beloved pet during times of hardship so that they do not have to feel forced to give him or her up," she says. "If there is something we can do to keep a senior cat or dog from entering the animal control shelter, we’ll work hard to do so!"
As City of Elderly Love continues to grow, Lewin will keep spreading the word on the many rewards of adopting senior pets.
"I would hope anyone considering adoption would open their hearts and their homes to a senior cat, because while you may not have the typical ‘lifetime’ together, the quality of that time together will be worth more than you can imagine," she says. "We have been so fortunate that our past adopters recognized this opportunity. So many of them have already stated that they will continue to adopt senior pets in the future.”
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About Angela: This not-crazy-at-all cat lady loves to lint-roll her favorite dress and go out dancing. She also frequents the gym, the vegan coffee joint, and the warm patch of sunlight on the living room floor. She enjoys a good cat rescue story about kindness and decency overcoming the odds, and she’s an enthusiastic recipient of headbutts and purrs from her two cats, Bubba Lee Kinsey and Phoenix.