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Petaluma dog sanctuary Lily’s Legacy a lifeline for older dogs

Saving senior dogs

For more information on Lily’s Legacy, visit lilyslegacy.org. For information on Saving Senior Dogs week, visit savingseniordogsweek.org.

Alice Mayn was born a dog lover. She started bringing home strays at the age of 5.

Decades later she would found and serve as executive director for one of the few large dog rescues in the U.S., Lily’s Legacy, at an expansive Petaluma farm. She would later start an annual online campaign called Saving Senior Dogs during the last week of October that would catch on across the country.

“I have this recessive gene someplace,” Mayn said, laughing. “My parents were very patient and let me keep my first stray. When my husband and I got married we had to have a puppy. And I’ve had dogs ever since.”

Lily’s Legacy offers dogs 50 pounds and up and at least 7 years old a second chance. Nearly all of them, who come from shelters or are surrendered by owners, have experienced trauma, and are treated lovingly by Mayn’s veterinarian partners, Drs. Aaron and Marybeth Wentzell, who practice in Fairfax. All incoming canines are given appropriate medical tests, get their teeth checked, nails trimmed and have a bath. They emerge “new dogs,” Mayn said.

After that, they live in large metal kennels in the back of a big red barn and are walked, cuddled and fed by 40-50 volunteers. The front part of the barn is a living room. Most of the time the canines, from German shepherds to Labrador retrievers, are given free rein, their kennel doors open.

“Our goal is to give these dogs something as close to a home life as possible,” Mayn said during a recent tour.

One German shepherd, Lady, 9, was a little shy; she was recently rescued from being a “backyard breeder” who had little socialization.

Saving Senior Dogs Week, which runs through Sunday and was created by Mayne three years ago, is a partnership with other U.S. rescues aimed at educating the public about the advantages of adopting a senior dog — they’re mature, potty trained and calm — as well as bringing in donations.

The site has a “Dog Tales” section, which tells of Buddy, the blind dog, now living a sedate life with two cats. And Barkley, a German shepherd taken off the streets of a rough Richmond neighborhood, who had no hair left on his body, had a complete transformation and found a home.

The number of pets being surrendered to shelters and rescues has increased during the pandemic as people have lost their jobs and homes.

“We got a bunch of dogs because of COVID,” Mayne said. “One family had dogs who were in too poor health to move back East. We put them in a hospice home and they had a good six months.”

Her path to Lily’s legacy began in 2007 when she was getting ready to retire. She had purchased an old farmhouse she planned to remodel in Forest Knolls, west of Fairfax. Her grandchildren lived down the road. She thought she was set.

Then Mayn learned of a 12-year-old golden retriever who had been found ill, wandering the streets in Santa Rosa and was at the Sonoma County Animal Shelter. A volunteer at a golden retriever rescue, Mayn went to check her out and discovered Lily was frail, had a nasal infection and a tumor on her eyelid. She went home with her that day.

Lily was treated by Aaron Wentzell, and responded well. She spent many happy hours with the family’s three other goldens and enjoyed napping in the tub. But within four months, Lilly died of a blood disorder.

After having Lily and knowing that senior dogs, especially large ones, are often abandoned, Mayn decided she wanted to establish a sanctuary just for them at her home.

“Lily changed my life,” said Mayn, 76. “Who knew? It’s an extremely rewarding thing to do.”

She met with Wentzell about partnering with her on a discount basis and setting up the nonprofit, taking in her first dog in 2010. The dog was a mixed breed named Miracle “and we’ve been having miracles ever since,” Mayn said.

As the number of dogs she took in increased, she decided in 2012 she needed a bigger place. After searching, she rented a house with 15 acres in Petaluma, where the sanctuary thrived. But in 2013, a donor called to say “We’re going to buy you a place,” she said.

With the help of other donors, they bought a big house, a barn and 5 acres with redwood trees in rural Petaluma. It’s been outfitted with a video camera that allows Mayn to see what the dogs are doing in the barn. There’s a dog pool. A wooden rainbow bridge and memorial stones decorate the front yard.

In 2013, lead volunteer Lisa Azevedo of Petaluma was looking for a new dog after the family canine died. Although she didn’t find the right match, she found an exciting volunteer opportunity.

Acevedo handles administrative duties in “the bunkhouse,” where a desk and computer are set up next to kennels for dogs recovering from medical treatment. She also cleans kennels and scoops up poop. “Everybody does that,” she said.

Volunteers work in shifts from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

“We don’t know what happened to them before; all we can do is make them feel safe ... and loved so they can go to a new home a little more balanced than when they came in,” Azevedo said.

In 2014 Kathy Dougherty of San Rafael attended a fundraiser for Lily’s Legacy. She turned to her husband and said, “They’re doing really valuable work here and I need to volunteer.”

“I knew people abandon older big dogs,” she said. “Senior large breeds really need somebody to speak for them. When I see the gray and white muzzle it just kind of tears my heart apart.”

Since then Mayn’s house dogs have come and gone (she now has a golden retriever named Angie and two German shepherds named Cooper and Lily) and some dogs have stayed until they died, but not many. Mayn said It’s a myth that older dogs are hard to adopt out.

“The thing that I love is they just exude gratitude,” she said. “People who have adopted one of our dogs say their children learn to have respect for an elderly being. I think that’s a very valuable lesson.”

You can reach Staff Writer Kathleen Coates at kathleen.coates@pressdemocrat.com.

Saving senior dogs

For more information on Lily’s Legacy, visit lilyslegacy.org. For information on Saving Senior Dogs week, visit savingseniordogsweek.org.

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