An elderly gentleman called Ken had always had his dog to keep him company. But ever since his poor pooch passed away, Ken had been all alone. That is, until Black Canyon Animal Sanctuary (BCAS) loaned him a dog named Hank. And now, with a new dog looking into his eyes, Ken felt that feeling again… the feeling of having something to live for.
BCAS is in Crawford, Colorado, and its founder – Debbie Faulkner – was brought up on a ranch surrounded by animals. Apparently, she’d always brought home stray dogs and cats, and her love for animals had only grown because of it.
Faulkner’s passion later translated into BCAS, which she officially opened in 2009. And with the help of local volunteers, she has been running the 40-acre sanctuary ever since. “I’m basically out here from eight until six every day,” Faulkner told WesternSlope Now in 2018.
“And then I come back at night and put everyone to bed,” Faulkner explained. “There’s a big difference with us versus other shelters; we’re a communal living environment. [That] means the environment is more like a dog day care.” In fact, BCAS is usually home to 50 dogs at once.
The sanctuary isn’t meant to be a permanent solution, however, as it also offers adoption opportunities. And BCAS’s unorthodox approach to dog care has thus far proven very effective. Indeed, the rate of adoption is about 80 percent, according to Faulkner.
In addition, BCAS has come up with an elegant solution for the shelter’s senior dogs. Shelters often find that older animals are harder to home, but in 2011, Faulkner had an unusual request. It came from the carers of an elderly man named Ken.
At the time, Ken was living in a hospice as a result of heart disease. Doctors had given Ken a short life expectancy, which was likely worsened by his refusal to take his medication. After meeting him, Faulkner described Ken as having “years of scowl on his face.”
No doubt Ken’s disposition was significantly worsened by the loss of his dog. After all, Ken was the only surviving member of his family, and his best friend must have been his lifeline. So Ken’s carers thought another dog might improve his mood and asked if Faulkner would lend him one.
As it turned out, Faulkner had just the partner for Ken – an eight-year-old basset hound/Labrador cross called Hank. And Faulkner said she saw the difference in Ken as soon as she introduced the two of them. She recounted the event to The Denver Post on December 16, 2017.
“He was a whole different man all of a sudden,” Faulkner described. Hank and Ken consequently formed a strong bond, and the two were great company for each other. Indeed, Hank moved in with Ken when he went to live at the San Juan Living Center in Montrose.
It seems that Hank brought new life to Ken, who exceeded his life expectancy after their introduction. And when Ken passed away two years later, his loyal friend Hank was lying by his side. So Ken spent his last days with a loved one after all.
Ken also left a legacy in the mind of Faulkner. In view of the positive effect that Hank had had on Ken, Faulkner opened up the Silver Whiskers program. “Silver Whiskers… matches senior dogs with senior people,” she told WesternSlope Now.
Faulkner continued, “There’s so many senior dogs in the shelters today, and they are the first ones to be euthanized. I’m placing 14-year-old dogs, ten-year-olds… easily. And what would be the alternative?” But that’s not all the Silver Whiskers program does.
BCAS will also help pay for the food and medical bills of Silver Whiskers dogs, so it benefits both the dogs and the program members. The program doesn’t just help the elderly either, since disabled clients can also apply for Silver Whiskers.
After Silver Whiskers member Bette-Baron Cyr got her first dog from BCAS, she has never looked back. In fact, she has since adopted several dogs during her time with the program. “[They bring] joy and happiness, and smiling, and laughter… I think it is life-changing,” Cyr said.
Cyr also told The Denver Post, “It’s opened my heart in a way that I might not have ever experienced.” In return for all the joy the dogs bring to her life, Cyr fills their lives with affection. She feels it’s the least she can do.
“My part’s the easy part; I just have to love them,” Cyr told The Denver Post. “They just need some peace and quiet, and safety and love. It’s such an important thing, in my mind, that these guys are not disposed of [or] discarded.”
“I hadn’t realized I was lonely until I wasn’t lonely,” Cyr concluded. So despite often being passed over for younger animals at shelters, older dogs undoubtedly have so much love to offer. Seniors also find them perfect companions because they don’t require as much energy as pups.
The Silver Whiskers program doesn’t just offer emotional benefits either. For instance, a 75-year-old member got rid of her walker as a result of the exercise she got walking the dog. Faulkner told The Denver Post, “It gave her a reason to get up every day.”
BCAS has evidently improved so many lives, and what’s more amazing is that it’s funded entirely on donations. Faulkner said she’s just happy to make a difference. “It’s heart-warming,” she told WesternSlope Now. “Basically, at this point in my life, giving back is my whole mission.”