Tucked away in the scenic town of Mount Juliet, Tennessee is a sanctuary. Not the luxurious kind that offers spa treatments and massages, but the kind that has given a group of senior dogs a second chance at a peaceful life, all because of a couple that has transformed their home into a safe haven for senior dogs – the Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary (OFSDS). Home to 55 dogs and another 152 that are forever foster dogs, Zina and Michael Goodin are the masterminds behind this nonprofit that provides a home for senior dogs.
It all started when the couple became avid volunteers at Adopt a Golden Nashville (formerly the Middle Tennessee Golden Retriever Rescue) and began taking in more and more of the organization’s senior dogs. It was there that they met Lucy Lu, the dog that inspired the vision that would ultimately become OFSDS. “The story I always bring up first is Lucy Lu; we consider her kind of the co-founder. She was our inspiration to get going on senior dogs,” Zina said.
Lucy’s backstory includes a history of living in a basement with 25 other dogs stacked in cages, weighing a mere 35 pounds. But after regaining a considerable amount of health, she found her new home with the Goodins. “She got here, she ran through the yard, she smiled, and she never looked back,” Zina reminisced. “It showed us that we can bring in a dog that’s had any kind of life and give them a good end to their life and they can be happy and appreciate it. They [dogs] live in the present, they don’t dwell on the past.”
And their gift for living in the moment is apparent upon meeting these loveable canines, which shines through in their unique personalities. There’s Rosebud, the “personal trainer” (“She will get the dogs moving and working,” says Zina); Ginger, a six-year-old Pyrenees mix who serves as the “head of Homeland Security”; and Gracie, a golden retriever who doubles as the “recreation director” that organizes games for the other dogs. All of these roles are ones the dogs fall into naturally.
“It’s been kind of an ongoing joke,” said Zina. “Each one, just like people, has their own absolutely individual personality. Dogs are social animals. Although some dogs need to be an only dog, most dogs are much happier being part of a dog group and having friends.” Their personalities have become so apparent that they’ve branched off into three social groups: the Lookout Gang, the Calmer Gang and the Wilder Gang. “What has amazed me from the very beginning is, as Zina said, they all come from different backgrounds and when they get here, they get along,” Michael revealed.
And these quirks come to life through the organization’s charming Facebook page, which has warranted more than 1 million likes. Anyone who’s seen the page is sure to have fallen in love with the many sweet faces that make up OFSDS, whether it’s Leo the rockstar, Lacy who loves to have a toy ball in her mouth, Mildred the Pug who’s running for president, and every other joyful story in between. “I try to create a soap opera kind of thing, so everybody gets to know the personalities, and by doing that, we’re educating people on senior dogs,” said Zina, who runs the page. “Education is a big part of our mission. We’re showing people that senior dogs are a lot of fun, [so] go out and get a senior dog because they’re a blast.” One effort they always make is to keep the message positive. “Even when something negative happens, we show it in a positive light because death is inevitable. We want to show that this dog had a happy life before it,” Zina explained.
A significant element of the sanctuary is its Forever Foster Program that allows families to take in these senior dogs, with OFSDS covering veterinarian and medication bills for the rest of the dog’s life. “Our goal is to provide lifetime homes for senior dogs. You want the dog to be part of the family,” Zina said of the program, adding that if one foster family is not a good fit, they will find another, or the dogs will remain at OFSDS. No matter what, these dogs will never be homeless.
A big part of this program is Sanctuary Manager Laurie Rathbun, OFSDS’ first official employee. “We do everything for the dogs and everything’s about the dogs,” Rathbun said of OFSDS. “I’ve never seen an organization that takes care of the dogs like this.” A large part of her responsibility is working with the forever foster families to make sure that a dog is the right fit, picking up the dogs at animal control and helping them adjust to the sanctuary.
Their insurmountable efforts are further reflected by the fact that Zina hand makes two gallons of food every day in a mixture containing everything from fish to sweet potato – a blend that received an A+ rating for human consumption and does wonders for these canines. “You can see immediately when these dogs come in malnourished, after a month or two of this food, they just are great. Their coats start shining; they lose their weight that they have to (some of them). It’s amazing,” Michael raved.
And their work is now gaining national attention. Best-selling author David Rosenfelt – a dog lover himself – is making a stop in Nashville on the book tour for his new novel “Outfoxed” on July 24 at the Hermitage. Rosenfelt has selected OFSDS as one of six rescues across country to host one of his events.
It’s clear when visiting the sanctuary how comfortable these dogs are in their forever home and how much running the sanctuary means to its humble owners. “Remember the old [saying] ‘today is the first day of the rest of your life?’ That is absolutely how we feel about the dogs. We can’t do anything about their past, so we focus on the future,” Zina said.
“It’s constant, Michael said of the heartwarming work they’ve taken on. “It’s our entire life.”