Lionel's Legacy: Compassion and Advocacy by Jane Sobel Klonsky

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Reina and Madi Oliver with Ol' Red. © Jane Sobel Klonsky

In August, we interviewed photographer Jane Sobel Klonsky about her Project Unconditional photo series, and featured a selection of her photographs capturing the bond between people and their senior dogs. Since then, Jane has continued work on Project Unconditional, and her journey has included a stop in San Diego where she visited Lionel’s Legacy Senior Dog Rescue, a Grey Muzzle grantee.

Through Jane's photographs and reflections, we now meet the Olivers, the family at the heart of Lionel's Legacy, and see the loving connections with senior dogs that they have helped make possible for volunteers, foster families, and adopters. In founding Lionel’s Legacy, Laura Oliver and her family have honored their late senior rescue dog Lionel by providing homes for homeless senior dogs and educating children in the compassionate and respectful treatment of animals. With support from a grant from The Grey Muzzle Organization, Lionel's Legacy has also launched a program that helps senior citizens care for their senior dogs through food and medical care, and gives these dogs a new home when their owners can no longer look after them.

We thank Jane for sharing this beautiful testament to the compassion and dedication of those who devote themselves to senior dog rescue. More of her photographs can be found on Project Unconditional's Facebook page.

Lionel's Legacy Senior Dog Rescue in San Diego, CA
Jane Sobel Klonsky, Project Unconditional - September 2014

I was introduced to Laura Oliver, founder of Lionel's Legacy, thanks to Chandra Conway from The Grey Muzzle Organization. I told Chandra I was visiting Tender Loving Canines Assistance Dogs in San Diego, and she put me in touch with this simply amazing organization. Lionel's Legacy is all about kindness and compassion. I love this organization and what it is accomplishing. Its values are mirrored in the volunteers and the foster families I met. A sense of warmth fills this network of foster families. They are very grounded, and it permeates all that they do.

"Compassion and advocacy": Ol' Red, Misty, and the Oliver Family

In the Oliver home, "rescue" is a family affair! I met Laura and Jeff Oliver, their daughters, and their foster dogs - 16-year-old Boxer/Pit Bull mix Ol' Red and 10-year-old Labrador Retriever mix Misty - at Jeff's firehouse. Jeff is an American Red Cross-honored paramedic/firefighter, and in his downtime, rescues senior dogs. Laura was born into "the rescue world" thanks to her generous and compassionate parents, Sue and Kevin Walshe. Now, as a parent and teacher, Laura is passing on those values to her two daughters, Reina and Madi, as well as to her students. Laura and Jeff both believe, "It takes a village of compassionate, loving, and dedicated people to make our community great, and we feel strongly that if we instill these core values in our children, we will pass on a legacy that will surely make our world a better place!"

Ol' Red. © Jane Sobel Klonsky
Laura founded Lionel's Legacy to honor the family's first Pit Bull rescue dog, Lionel, who stole their hearts. Lionel was a flea-infested, malnourished, hospice case. With the love and tenderness he received from Laura and her family, Lionel gained weight, chased "the girls," and lived large for another happy seven months - well beyond anyone's expectations. When he passed, Laura realized that the gift they had given him paled in comparison to the gifts Lionel shared with Laura and her family, and she felt compelled to advocate for senior dogs in need. "Lionel's Legacy aspires to save and advocate for ONE senior at a time, and educate MANY young minds to create a legacy of compassion and advocacy."

Ol' Red came as a 15-year-old hospice foster with lymphoma and quickly became part of the Oliver family, teaching lessons in empathy, patience, tolerance, and compassion. At the time that we met, Ol' Red - like Lionel - had already lived much longer than expected. I was so happy to have captured images of the family with Ol’ Red less than a week before they all helped him cross over.

The world is a better place with families with values like those of the Olivers and with organizations like Lionel's Legacy. Bravo!

Dona and Lillie. © Jane Sobel Klonsky
"There's no downside to this little dog": Dona Tracy and Lillie

Lillie, a 14-year-old deaf Pomeranian, came from a shelter. She has lost all her teeth, and was hours away from being euthanized when Lionel's Legacy stepped in to rescue her. She was a mess, but they cleaned her up and removed the few damaged teeth she had left. By chance, Dona had contacted Lionel's Legacy to adopt a senior Dachshund, but Lillie greeted her at the door. Dona took one look at Lillie and she knew that she was the one.

Lillie is a true ambassador for dogs. Even Dona's 6-year-old granddaughter, who was terrified of dogs, is in love with Lillie. When she visits, she carries her around and won't put her down. "There's no downside to this little dog. There was no adjustment period when she came home. She just fit, like a glove, into the household. We just love her."

Dona is also a dedicated volunteer for Lionel’s Legacy. She helped secure funds for Lionel's Legacy by writing the proposal for a Grey Muzzle grant. Her commitment to this small, value-based organization has moved her to write more grant proposals for Lionel's Legacy.

"How could I NOT do this!": Polly, Grady, and the Godinho Family

Polly is a very precious, snuggly, blind and deaf, 11-year-old Pug who was rescued by Lionel's Legacy. Polly’s foster caretakers, Ally and Jeff Godinho, fell in love with their first senior dog, Josey, at an adoption event in 2003. Since then they have adopted eight senior and special needs dogs.

Ally and Polly © Jane Sobel Klonsky
Ally and Jeff met Laura Oliver of Lionel's Legacy when they became a foster family for a dog named Oscar. They met Oscar, and quickly became "foster failures," meaning they adopted Oscar right away.

Ally began as a foster for Lionel's Legacy and has been on its board for almost two years now. Together with their children Elle and Owen, Ally and Jeff are giving senior dogs the best possible life they can. Ally says, “We love taking in the old seniors. There is something about their grateful old eyes, the way they slowly rise to greet you, or the gentle way they snore knowing they are home, that makes you think, 'How could I NOT do this.'"

When we visited with Ally and her family, we also met another Lionel's Legacy rescue, Grady, a loving, 15-year-old Golden Retriever who came to them extremely underweight with chronic ear infections resulting in deafness. Grady had recently beaten heartworm disease too!

Lionel's Legacy has something so special to offer. Its foster families, such as the Godinhos, are filled with compassion, and love taking in the senior rescues.

To find out more about Lionel's Legacy, go to For information about all of the wonderful organizations that Grey Muzzle supports, visit Who We Help.

You can see more of Jane Sobel Klonsky's photography at, and can follow her journey for Project Unconditional on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

The Grey Muzzle Organization improves the lives of at-risk senior dogs by providing funding and resources to animal shelters, rescue organizations, sanctuaries, and other nonprofit groups nationwide.


About Jane Sobel Klonsky: Through her Project Unconditional, Jane has merged two of her passions – dogs and photography. Her photography career was launched in 1976 when she was the first photographer to scale the cables to the top of the Verrazano Bridge to get a shot of the start of the New York City Marathon. She was the official photographer of the New York City Marathon for the next 10 years and has been a major player in the world of commercial and sports photography for nearly thirty years. Her work has taken her around the world to Kenya to shoot photos of a family of Masaai Warriors; to record an international running competition in Tokyo; and to chronicle the untouched beauty of far-reaching places like Papua, New Guinea and Myanmar (Burma). Known for her award-winning lifestyle photography, as well as for her work in fashion, travel, landscape and sports, her work has been published widely, and she continues to do extensive work for Getty Images and The Image Source. Mother to up-and-coming filmmaker Kacey, Jane lives with her husband Arthur, their two therapy dogs, Charlie and Sam, and two cats, Lucky and Humphrey, in rural Vermont.