Leigh’s Lost and Found: See the new shelter at the Ozarks’ only senior dog sanctuary

Published: Jul. 16, 2020 at 11:50 AM CDT
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In Leigh’s Lost and Found, we’re taking a trip back to a senior dog sanctuary that is now able to care for many more dogs thanks to generous donors.

When we first visited Whispering Willows in Hermitage last fall, they were in the middle of a big expansion. It's now done and we got a behind the scenes look at all the time, dedication and heart that goes into taking care of the dozens of elderly dogs that call the shelter their last home.

“It’s a big job.”

That is quite the understatement.

″I usually get up about 5:30 in the morning.”

Whispering Willows founder Valerie Reid starts every day at the crack of dawn, ushering the 15 dogs who live inside her house, outside.

“Then we start doing feeding in the house, whoever lives in there.”

Extra helping hands arrive at 6 am. Sixteen staff members work around the clock every day.

“They begin feeding the seniors out here in the building so that as soon as they’re done, they take their bowls and they get to go outside and potty and everybody’s open and running for the day. They all kind of intermingle between the two buildings.”

The latest building is a state of art, air conditioned and heated shelter. Pictures and paw prints of those who’ve already passed peacefully here, adorn the walls and the comfy, individual suites can house up to 65 extra dogs.

"We have new seniors that arrive about very few days so each day looks a little different."

What stays the same is the massive effort that goes into taking care of elderly dogs with a variety of serious issues. Veterinarian Dr. Lindsey Roweten teamed up with Whispering Willows about a year ago to help with that care.

"The most common is dental disease, congestive heart failure, cancer of different varieties and all sorts."

Twelve year old Honey bear is one of the dogs battling cancer. Along with an autoimmune disorder, she now has soft cell sarcoma.

Dr. Roweten does check ups and treatment once a week, either at the shelter, or at her clinic in Bolivar.

“Some of them are on lists longs of medications or they need certain medical care where we’ve got to fix this problem before we put them under anesthesia to help them with x, y, z. It can be a little bit tricky sometimes.”

Just tracking all the dogs' medications and separating them into baggies and pill boxes is a huge task.

“We have a couple thousand pounds of dry food in here.”

Not to mention the feeding schedule, which includes a number of special diets. Dinnertime is at 4 pm.

Then some play time outside and by 7 pm, it’s time to start handing out the meds.

“By the time we do that, there’s a little time to chill and play around and we start putting them into their beds at 8:30 at night.”

Some nights, all the dogs sleep peacefully in their beds, but Valerie is often roused from her own bed.

“We’re up 4 or 5 times a night, either with emergencies, potty breaks, somebody not feeling well. It’s kind of a 24 hour job.”

But this job doesn’t offer vacations or time off.

"It is a way of life because it's from the time we wake up to the time we go to bed and then in between."

And that’s totally okay with Valerie. She’s dedicated her life to making sure dogs with nowhere else to go at the end of their lives, know a little love before they cross that rainbow bridge.

“We’ve had some seniors for three years and some for just three days. It really kind of depends on the kind of condition they’re in. It really doesn’t matter, we take them all, whether it’s a day or a year, we love them and we help them through it. They get the last chapter to be the best of their journey. So if nothing else, the last thing they’ll remember is that they were loved.”

If you’d like to check out Whispering willows for yourself, they’re holding a 3rd year anniversary and building dedication party this Waturday, July 18th, from 4 until 7pm. You need to get a ticket if you want to go. There will be live music, food and silent auction. The address is 22051 Old 64 Highway in Hermitage, MO.

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