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For the Love of Old Dogs

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Julie Dudley and her dog
We envision a world where no old dog dies alone and afraid. In 2008, Julie Dudley would turn that personal aspiration into the gripping vision statement of her new venture, The Grey Muzzle Organization.

Leaving her corporate career behind, Julie founded Grey Muzzle and dedicated the next several years of her life to a cause of which most Americans were barely aware: the plight of homeless senior dogs.

As a longtime volunteer for Old Dog Haven in the Seattle area (a network of private homes that foster senior dogs with nowhere else to go), Julie witnessed the shocking number of animals who were abandoned by their families because they got too old.

Senior dogs slow down. They develop medical issues. And a lot of people decide to get rid of their dogs instead of caring for them. They take them to a shelter, put them out onto the streets to fend for themselves, or tie them to a tree and move away.

Julie describes a startling, yet commonplace, occurrence: You wouldn't believe how many people drop off their old dog at a shelter and go home with a brand new puppy.

Unfortunately, a shelter is a particularly harsh world for a senior dog. A cement floor is unforgiving on arthritic joints and the dog becomes painful and stiff, which makes him look less appealing to potential adopters. So the old dog remains in the shelter, often developing health problems the facility cannot afford to treat.

Julie felt compelled to create happy endings to these heartbreaking stories—on a national scale. And she cooked up an idea to do exactly that by founding a nonprofit fundraising organization she christened The Grey Muzzle Organization.

Grey Muzzle does not shelter, foster, or place homeless dogs; instead, the organization raises money to fund grants for existing animal welfare groups across the country. These animal shelters, rescue leagues, sanctuaries, and other nonprofit organizations use Grey Muzzle grant money to improve the lives of homeless, at-risk senior dogs in their areas.

Plenty of nonprofit groups are desperate to give homeless senior dogs the care they need, such as orthopedic beds, medical screenings, surgeries, dental work, senior dog adoption programs, and hospice care, but they lack the financial resources. Julie’s dream was to remove that barrier, giving dogs who would normally be euthanized the chance to go home to a soft couch and a person to cuddle with. I wanted to help empower these organizations. I wanted to be the person saying, ‘Hey, there are people out here who feel like you do; we’re here to help you make this happen.’”

In just a little over seven years, Grey Muzzle has grown dramatically, often doubling the amount of grant money raised from one year to the next. That said, Julie’s brainchild came from humble beginnings. In 2008, she personally funded the first grant cycle—and part of the second one—by putting up $40,000 of her own money. Clearly, this was not a sustainable business model. “I knew that if we couldn’t get other people to care about senior dogs, the organization wasn’t going to survive.”

Julie and her handful of board members continued to reach out to individual and corporate donors across the nation. By the following cycle, all grants were entirely donor-funded, and the Grey Muzzle concept became a reality.

It should come as no surprise that the original Grey Muzzle concept was, in part, inspired by a dog. Her name was Sassy. Back when Julie had been fostering for Old Dog Haven, a man called to say that he’d been keeping his dog outside for years because she smelled so bad, and if ODH didn’t find her a home he had decided to shoot her.

Sassy, being pushed in a stroller by her new owner

“Sassy was in a great deal of pain, with a severe skin infection, and missing a lot of fur,” says Julie. “She looked like an old teddy bear that someone had thrown out into the yard.”

When Sassy went in for her medical exam, the cattle dog/pit bull mix looked so pitiful that Julie and the vet looked at each other with tears in their eyes, wondering if it was worth putting her through the pain of treatment. But after leaving the vet’s office, Sassy began to sniff around in the grass. Julie could see she was still interested in life, and decided right then to give her a chance.

Julie brought Sassy home and never let her go. She was an amazing dog who ended up enjoying three more years of life she had almost missed out on. As her arthritis worsened, Sassy would ride in a stroller on family walks. And since she had spent so much of her life isolated outside, Julie and her husband Barry made sure Sassy was never alone again; someone was with her all day, every day, for the rest of her life.

Sassy, recovered and looking goodInspired to give homeless senior dogs like Sassy a chance to thrive, Julie began putting her passion into action. And less than 8 years later, Grey Muzzle has raised over $575,000, and has nearly 100 volunteers across the country, including a dedicated Board of Directors and an Advisory Board made up of 11 experts from a broad spectrum of vocations.

Three years ago Julie handed the reins over to a new president, Jennifer Kachnic, and now serves on the Advisory Board. “Jenny and the Board of Directors have done such a good job, thinking about new directions, bringing on more people. It’s like watching your kid get married. It’s sad not to be involved anymore, but super exciting to see the organization doing even better without me.”

About the Writer: Carrie Maloney is a Grey Muzzle volunteer. Her new novel, Breath to Breath centers around a veterinarian, a litter of puppies, and empathy for the other creatures we share this planet with.