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This Woman Turned Her House Into a "Retirement Home" For Aging Pets

A Maryland woman has opened her house for aging animals to thrive through their golden years.

A Maryland woman opened her house for aging animals to thrive through their golden years.


By Katina Beniaris, Woman's Day

All dogs go to heaven, as the saying goes, and one nonprofit ensures senior pets get the special care they need during their final years.
House With a Heart in Gaithersburg, Maryland, serves as a senior pet sanctuary. The organization rescues pets (mostly dogs) that have been neglected or abused by their families, and volunteers provide extra care and love to as many precious creatures as they can.



Founder Sher Polvinale opened up her home to these aging animals 11 years ago with her husband, Joe. "I started thinking about all the dogs and cats we had placed over the years and how we had agonized over finding just the right home," Sher told The Huffington Post. "I just felt terrible thinking about a pet who loved and trusted its person being given up because it was old, and not so convenient anymore."
[post_ads]For more than 30 years, Sher and Joe shared an interest for rescuing animals and searching for a loving new home for them. But as the couple got older, they noticed how so many dogs and cats were neglected due to their old age, and an idea came to them to create House With a Heart in 2006. Though Joe sadly passed away from lung cancer in 2008, Sher, 69, now runs the organization with a group of volunteers.
"I miss him every day, but I know he'd be proud that we're still taking in as many senior pets as we can and treating them with compassion in their final years," she told PEOPLE. "In order to feel happy and fulfilled in life, everyone needs a passion. This has become mine."


House With a Heart welcomes pets from ages 12 and up to live inside Sher's four-bedroom retirement home. Coming from shelters or families, about 30 animals live there until they die. A staff of around 60 volunteers gives Sher an extra hand on caring these senior pets. Some tasks include filling dishes, taking the animals outside, and more importantly, giving them as many cuddles as possible.
"The satisfaction I get from caring for them in their golden years is priceless," volunteer coordinator Martine Ferguson told PEOPLE. "Seniors are the last to get adopted in shelters and are too often overlooked — so trust me when I say that they are extra grateful for the love you provide."



Sher's life remains fully dedicated to her nonprofit: she wakes up at 6 a.m. to start a day of caring for her cherished guests. "Every morning I open my eyes and jump up ready to spend another day loving and caring for these dear ones who need me," she told HuffPost. "I am so fortunate to have this life!"
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Even if she sometimes doesn't go to bed until after midnight, Sher sleeps on the couch with some dogs, just to make sure they need any special care during the night. "They're like old people in many ways, with some of them having cardiac issues, dental problems, incontinence or blindness," Sher told PEOPLE. "We make a lot of trips to the vet."


Some days are harder, due to a loving pet's death, but every House with a Heart resident is never forgotten. Their pictures and names are decorated on frames, and are placed on the wall beside stairs, which the nonprofit likes to call, "The Stairway to Heaven."
"We've lost 80 so far and I remember them all." Sher told PEOPLE. "It's not easy to say goodbye, but we take comfort in knowing we've given them a wonderful end-of-life experience. Not a single animal leaves our care without knowing they were loved."

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Lifestyle Magazine: This Woman Turned Her House Into a "Retirement Home" For Aging Pets
This Woman Turned Her House Into a "Retirement Home" For Aging Pets
A Maryland woman has opened her house for aging animals to thrive through their golden years.
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