ARLINGTON, Wash. – Every night, Per and Kelly Marlo and their son Sam take a walk around their nine-acre property. Happily following them are their several four-legged friends, seven to be exact.
“It’s a bit like running a daycare,” Kelly said. “We call it doggy assisted living."
It's true, these old dogs aren't exactly spring chickens. All of them are getting a little long in the tooth and all of them seem so happy to be here.
There's a reason for that.
Cindylou loves to be loved, she can't get enough. When she came here she had been horribly neglected.
Toby, their biggest dog, is rambunctious and full of life. But when he showed up he had no hair and was very thin – he'd been through hell.
And then there’s Slim – eager and alive. But that wasn't always the case, he was nearly starved to death.
The dogs all have stories like that.
Matilda is the sweetest and calmest of the bunch. Jesse is the oldest and is probably nearing the end. Wilson had cancer and nobody would adopt him, while Penny seems wise and content now.
“The thing about old dogs, they are so happy, so grateful,” Kelly said. “They deserve an end to their life that is worthy of any dog. They end up in these shelters and they are terrified. They're confused. They're abandoned by owners that they gave their entire lives to, and then they find themselves abandoned at the end of their lives because of medical conditions or because somebody's moved or just doesn't want them anymore."
These are the dogs that nobody wants – the leftovers. The ones that don't get adopted.
But an organization called ‘Old Dog Haven’ finds them and works with a few families like the Marlo's to give them homes.
“It's changed our life," Kelly said. It's changed how we look at life. It's changed how we live our life.”
Old Dog Haven pays the vet bills and takes care of the medicine, which is given every morning.
The Marlo's pay for the food, they give the baths, and take care of the grooming.
The love? That's the easy part.
"I have not had one dog come through my home that I have not fallen in love with, who doesn't have a distinct personality, and who doesn't have just the most amazing qualities,” Kelly said. “They're so forgiving, after all that they've been through. Being possibly dumped by a family that's possibly had them their entire lives, they are so forgiving. They will love you instantly."
Kelly added, "It really is just a marvel to watch it, an animal come in here that's really just shut down. They don't have any real personality or energy left to them anymore. And as their skin gets better and they're fed regularly and they're loved, just to watch them come back to life, it's really rewarding."
The thing about old dogs is that eventually they die. Around 40 friends have come here, lived out their last days and then passed on.
Kelly says it never gets easier and it never stops her.
“What they give us far outweighs any heartbreak that we endure,” Kelly said. “On a daily basis, on a monthly basis we might lose a few dogs, but it's all worth it because they didn't die alone in a shelter, they didn't die in somebody's backyard not receiving the medical attention they desperately need or the love they always wanted."
Kelly and Per know a secret now: if you open your heart, even the lowest, the abused, and the unwanted among us can teach us things, important things about love and life, and eventually death, too.
And so, on these beautiful grounds, all these dogs spend their days roaming free and being loved. They must feel like they’ve died and gone to heaven, which will come soon enough. But in the meantime, the seven of them, Toby, Matilda, Cindylou, and the other old dogs have learned a couple of new tricks: happiness and their own form of dignity.
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