Whispering Willows Senior Sanctuary gives abandoned senior dogs another chance to enjoy their twilight years.
Valerie Reid with a dog from her senior dog sancutary Whispering Willows
Credit: Courtesy of Whispering Willows Senior Dog Sanctuary

Valerie Reid is the owner of Whispering Willows Senior Dog Sanctuary, a pet rescue program in Missouri that's changing the lives of senior dogs who have been abandoned or lost their owners.

Whispering Willows is a lifetime hospice sanctuary, which means they take in dogs who are approaching the end of their life and care for them until they pass. Unlike other pet sanctuaries, the dogs who arrive at Whispering Willows aren't going to be fostered or adopted, and they are never kenneled or caged—they move in with Reid and her family and stay there until their last breath.

"They just get to be here and get to be home," Reid tells Daily Paws.

The senior dogs who come to Whispering Willows arrive at the home for a number of reasons—some have been abandoned, others have had their pet parents pass away, some dog's owners have moved into nursing homes, and some dogs have been removed from their owners by court order.

But that doesn't seem to dull their zest for life. "What I love about senior dogs is that they're so forgiving," Reid says. "No matter what has happened in their life—whether it be trauma, abuse, neglect, or that they've lost their owner and feel hopeless—they continue to forgive and they continue to love."

Reid says her dream of running a sanctuary began after her own father passed away from cancer. He left behind his best friend, a nine-year-old Doberman pinscher who'd been by his side throughout his battle with the disease. Reid, who had been caring for her father, was unable to take in her father's beloved pet. Thankfully, she eventually found a foster family who was able to provide a loving home to the dog for another year and a half—which inspired Reid to help provide the same experience for other pets and families.

"Imagine going to work and 68 dogs come wagging their tails at you," Reid says. "And there's nothing in the world they're happier about than seeing you."

Not all of the elderly pups at the sanctuary are there for years. Some of them are only residents during their final months and even weeks. But despite their short time with Reid, and the heartbreak that comes with losing a pet, she says it's still worth it to give them comfort during their final days.

"I think we are better together here at the sanctuary because they have taught me just to keep going no matter what life throws at you," says Reid. "There is trauma, there is death, and there is sadness—but there's a lot of joy and happiness."