In early June, a plea went out to animal rescues in the Tampa, Florida, area for help with a small dog that was part of a cruelty case. The 9-year-old pup looked like a walking skeleton. No local rescue groups were able to help so Senior Paws Sanctuary, a rescue in Fort Myers, stepped up.
"Beni was the worst starvation case I had ever seen. I cried when I first saw him," sanctuary founder Debbie Goldsberry tells MNN. "I said my faith in humanity was being tested. How anyone could watch another living thing starve is something I cannot comprehend. He was so skinny, and his doctor [said] she had no idea why he survived. All odds were against him."
But Senior Paws volunteers set to work helping Beni heal. After all, their mission is to rescue "those that are older, abandoned and left behind,"
During years of volunteering for rescues, Goldsberry saw how many senior dogs spent their last days in shelters because their medical care was often too much for their owners or rescue groups to afford. She created Senior Paws Sanctuary in 2015 specifically to help dogs 8 years and older. There's no facility; instead the rescue revolves around fosters who open their homes to the dogs while they wait for families to adopt them.
Somewhere between 50 to 60 dogs are brought into the rescue each year. Some find homes immediately, while others take weeks, months or even years to find the right forever spot. A few live out the rest of their lives with the sanctuary volunteers.
"I find it no harder to find homes for the seniors than I saw when I volunteered for other rescues with younger dogs," Goldsberry says. "In three years, we have had over 160 adoptions."
Health issues are common with senior dogs. Older dogs often have dental disease, bladder stones and urinary tract infections. Female dogs that have been used for breeding often have mammary tumors.
"We do not turn away a dog in medical need if we have the funds and can help," Goldsberry says. Right now, the group has a small Yorkshire terrier whose medical bills so far have reached more than $4,000.
Beni's bills have been nonstop due to his many medical issues. His care has included insulin, X-rays, bloodwork and prescription food. He will eventually need dental work for abscesses in his teeth and surgery to remove a growth on his foot.
But the small dog has made progress.
"He is eating, and he is now processing his food," Goldsberry says. "The food intake for the first week to 10 days just passed through him. He did not retain the nutrition."
Beni has gained a few pounds since he was rescued in early June, but his glucose isn't under control yet.
"We still are not out of the woods and it's been seven weeks."
There's a GoFundMe to help pay for Beni's bills,and the shelter also is in need of volunteers to help foster and transport, as well as donate funds for food and medical bills for all the dogs in their care.
Beni's owner was not charged with a crime, Goldsberry says. "She was taken to court and the judge dismissed the case. Dogs are considered property of their owners."
Although Beni is still trying to heal from his treatment, his heart is still big.
"Beni is very sweet. His tail never stops wagging and he loves everyone he meets," Goldsberry says. "Humans could learn so much about forgiveness from Beni."