The Making of Mall Dogs - A Story of a Shelter Like No Other

I find that opportunities are never found where you'd expect. That said, when you recognize those that are once in a lifetime you need to hold on tight and not let go.

Jessi Badami is a film maker and actress, who resides in Albuquerque, NM who came upon just such a situation when running across Lucky Paws, an animal shelter located in a local mall.

It's a remarkable story. Remarkable enough that Jessi and her team of talented individuals started a Kickstarter program to share her dream that others would follow the Lucky Paws Model to film.

SP: What's your background? Where do you come from? What's your experience with adopting shelter dogs before coming across Lucky Paws?

JB: I’m from New York City and grew up in a home without dogs. Although I’ve always loved animals, my Mom was afraid of them. So our only companion animals were neon tetra fish. After graduating from college, I moved to Manhattan and occasionally volunteered walking dogs for the ASPCA, as well as helped the campaign to improve conditions for the horses that were used for carriage rides throughout the crowded streets of Manhattan. After moving to Seattle, I became very involved with rescue.

Before seeing Lucky Paws, I visited shelters in many cities. More often than not, they were depressing. Many were located in industrial or undeveloped, out-of-the-way places. The city of Albuquerque’s shelters were at least located in populated areas. But, even after years in rescue, it was extremely difficult to walk into the shelter and not leave in tears. And I didn't feel that I was being helpful to the animals when I was that sad.

SP: And that's when you found Lucky Paws?

JB: I stumbled upon Lucky Paws accidentally. I was visiting the Coronado Mall for the first time after moving to Albuquerque and I saw what I thought was a pet store. When I discovered that this ‘pet store’ wasn't a pet store at all and instead part of the city shelter, I was so surprised...and intrigued! I started asking my friends and acquaintances about it and everyone was raving about it. Well, not everyone. One woman I bumped into in the mall parking lot said she thought it was terrible to put dogs in a mall to get them adopted—as if it was sending a message that animals are something to be purchased, like new shoes.

But that was looking at things in a skewed way. Some folks I’ve met in rescue have a hard time seeing things from someone else’s point of view. I thank my extensive background in advertising for training me to see things from the customer’s point of view. Thinking about who the target audience is and what action we want them to take. For people who are already animal advocates, or who work in rescue, they may not need a ‘nicer’ shelter to motivate them to adopt. But for most  other people, who aren’t adopting, environment and messaging can make the difference between adopting and not adopting. And reaching those people is a worthy goal! After all, just 21% of people who acquire a family pet do so from a shelter. [From the HSUS statistics]

Think of the depressing messages that abound regarding shelter animals—most people will shut down when they hear about depressing things, rather than change their behavior. But if you create something positive, that shows benefit, they will be more open to learning and possibly changing their behavior. In this case, choosing to adopt.

After that experience, I was working on another film project and the person we were filming was a volunteer at Lucky Paws, so she asked if we could film her there. When I got to know Lucky Paws, the incredible manager, the staff, the systems in place, and how they approach things—I became convinced that this was a story that MUST be told.

SP: You talk about how colorful and friendly the shelter is, in comparison to what what people traditionally think of when visiting a city run facility, but what did you see with the dogs that were interacting with people at the shelter? How were the people reacting? How busy was it?

Bark Out Loud and Spread the Love

Senior Labrador Retriever Mix, Shelbie, in San Jose, CA

Shelbie's an adoptable lab-mix up in Northern California, who is still looking for a home. She's just about as sweet as can be. 

The past few weeks,'s posts have been picked up by eHow and I'm thrilled that as many people come to the site as they do, so having syndication partners like these two is more than I could have asked for before starting this little venture.

We've had several interviews come back just recently, so I'll be prepping them for the next few weeks. We have rescues, animal advocates, dog walkers, dog owners, and even movie makers coming our way in the coming weeks talking about a variety of topics.

Speaking of movie makers, I've been in touch with documentary film producer, Jessi Badami, who is creating a film about Lucky Paws, a very special shelter located in a mall in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The team is over at raising funds to get this film made. I'm a backer and hope that you'll watch their video and throw a few bucks in their direction to help make this very special project happen. You'll be seeing more of this on in the weeks that follow.

Here's a sneak peak of what they're up to:


Judge me by my size, do you?

If there's a dog that has more friends of all species in our neighbor than Rusty, it's his buddy, Blue, the pug pictured above. Blue keeps tabs on his person, a personal trainer, at the park behind where we live.

Whether you're a dog or a person, Blue greets all comers. Sometimes he'll just lay on a blanket or the foam playground padding either soaking it all in or chewing on a bone, but at 12 years old he's earned it. The first time we really had an opportunity to meet, Blue came right up to us, confident at meeting a dog at least five times his size. From all the wagging it was obvious they were fast friends.

Not every dog is friendly to us, but when we need reassurance that there are still kind, thoughtful beings in the world, we'll head on over to Blue's spot to say howdy. Sometimes he has a pack of admirer's and we have to move along before they'll let him be.

No matter how tired each of the dogs are, if they see each other, they'll make an effort to say, "Howdy" to one another.

Take the Long Shot - Adopt the Unadoptable Dog

You can't save every homeless dog, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try.

Those are my words and how I try to frame my rescue efforts. In the last year I've learned that there are a lot of people out there giving their all to decrease the overall number of companion animals euthanized every year from where it currently stands at 3-4 million dogs and cats.

Think about this for a moment. Three to four million animals are put to death for being homeless and their being insufficient resources (homes, funds, medical care) to take care of them. Somewhere along the lines their owners have failed them. In many cases, it is the unadoptable dog (or cat) that shoulders the lion's share of the burden by not being adopted or even highlighted by rescue organizations.

In my experience, even shelters that proclaim that they don't put adoptable animals down, feel that they have no choice but to relieve themselves of the following when resources are low to make room for pets that they hope they can save:
  • Seniors - those typically over 7 years old
  • Sick and injured - Including those that could be cured with less than $100 treatment. 
  • Less than all of their original working parts - Three legs, one-eyed, no eyes, scarred
  • Blind and/or deaf - Still perfectly capable of finding their way around with minimal help or just need someone to put the time in to help them retrain their other senses.
  • Behavior problems - Sitting confused in the confines of a dim shelter for days, weeks, or months on end is equivalent to what a prisoner of war would expect in the worst parts of the world and yet we assume that a cold hard floor and only the chance at human contact once per day is enough to keep these animals sane.
These conditions are not fatal and can be treated in many cases, when you:  
  • Take the opportunity to slow down and see the world at your senior dog's speed.
  • Invest in your companion's health and training so they can show you what they are like at their best.
  • Work with them on their challenges as an opportunity to reap the benefits of forging a deeper bond with them.
The next time your out looking for a new pet, don't worry if it's going to fit in your purse, what others will think, or how long it has left. Think about: the difference you'll make, what type of dog you can best provide for, and most important which dog wants to be yours the most.


Bark Out Loud - It's Your Birthday

...or more accurately, it's's birthday. This past Monday was the one year anniversary of the first post posted for the site. Sure... technically the site was up several months prior, but inspiration didn't take hold until a while later.

During the past year there have been a lot of memorable moments, including recognition from the local and international communities, reconnecting with the rescue that inspired me to take a second look at senior dogs, and most important: assisting in bringing senior dogs and their forever families together.

It has also helped me meet many interesting and caring people who have been kind enough to share their knowledge and experience here on, as well as directly supporting finding fosters and forever homes for dogs that have crossed my path.

I'm happy to report that Bertram (pictured, right) was adopted. I had the good fortune to handle Bertram (or Bertie, as his friends call him) at an event recently, and it's hard to believe that he's as old as the vets have said (9 years old.)

He's a good little boy, who still has plenty of fire in his belly and a lot of love to give to his new family. I wish them all my best.


Bully for Best Bully Sticks

Rusty is not discerning about a lot of things that he eats. While not everything agrees with his aging tummy, he's game for pretty much any treat that has some meat on it.

In an unofficial taste test I offered him two bully sticks, one from a big box store and another from Best Bully Sticks. I was surprised when he went for the Best Bully Stick, but decided to take it a step further by offering the big box brand and holding the Best Bully Stick a ways off. 

I can do this 100 different times with 100 different treats I can do this and he'll take the closer, put it down somewhere if he can't t knock it off right there, and then go for the treat further away. Not with Best Bully Sticks. He sniffed the closer stick and then went back to old faithful. 

Pure beef, made in the USA
They come in regular and odorless although I can't tell the difference. They're available in a variety of shapes and sizes. If you're looking for a great product, less expensive than the big box offerings, made right here in the USA, that dogs love get over to Best Bully Sticks. They're a real find and Rusty-Approved.

Find the size and style that works for you and give them a try:
Disclaimer: is an affiliate of Best Bully Sticks. I try to write a fair and balanced review of each product, in this case based upon first hand experience. If I find a better bully stick out there, I'll be back, but I haven't yet, not by a long shot.

Warm Weather Safety for Your Grey Muzzled Companions

Rusty says, Woof, woof, woof! (what did you think he was going to say? He's a dog!)
If you're hitting the streets with your senior dog this summer, make sure that you're not over doing it.

Brush out that old dog, if he sheds and think about trimming back his coat a bit to reduce the risk that he'll overheat. Even 10 minutes in direct sunlight will make a dark coat hot to the touch, so be mindful and check him often.

During peak sunlight hours, don't go on extensive walks. Enjoy the day, but don't over exert your old friend when the temperature is at its most warm. Make sure he has plenty of shade to retreat to outside.

You'll hear a lot of warnings about walking your dog on hot asphalt this time of year. Dogs paws are sensitive to heat, so don't walk them on the black top for any longer than you can stand it barefoot. If there are stretches where there is nothing but asphalt, try to walk them near the edge where they can step off into the brush or, better yet, try to take a route that is more shaded.

If you're leaving him home for the day, ensure that if he's outside that he can easily get back in. Even overcast days can get mighty toasty during the summer months. Short nosed dogs who are already predisposed towards breathing problems should be afforded a nice cool, dry place to relax during the day inside. Check to make sure that your dog knows how to use the dog door, just to play it safe.

Take extra special care of those dogs that have no coats, to make sure that they have some light clothing on to protect them from harmful UV rays. A dog's skin is so very sensitive that those dogs without a protective coat are especially at risk this time of year. Try to limit their exposure to direct sunlight as much as possible.

Finally, have plenty of water ready either in their regular bowl, or via a travel bowl if you're out and about. Check with your vet if you think your dog is drinking excessively, but make sure that you're providing enough context (like they were exercising more or it was extra hot out, etc.) so that they have all of the necessary information required to make the right call.

Bark Out Loud - Two Dogs Separated by the Waves

This week's Cover Pooch, Peppy, comes to us from The Chihuahua Rescue of San Diego (CRSD). Peppy was in a tough spot, when her owner was stricken ill. The CRSD swooped in to find a suitable foster home for her until someone can give her the forever home she deserves. A special thanks to Tanya, Peppy's owner's granddaughter who reached out to SeniorPooch, to all of the rescues that I contacted who gave me all sorts of great advice and contacts (which I'm now fully armed with for next time), and CRSD's very own Sabrina who through shear tenacity was able to work her magic to save one more small, but very important life.

Finally, the tale of two dogs referenced in the title of this post and the very different turns their stories took:

The first is Lennox, the pitbull sentenced to death because he looked like a banned breed in Belfast, Ireland, was put to death this week despite available alternative options to re-home him outside of the law's jurisdiction. To understand how such an injustice is allowed to go on, I'd recommend you read up on the subject on Understand-A-Bull and read through their explanations and tools for fighting Breed Specific Legislation (BSL).

The other dog is Blue. Blue continues his journey to freedom in Elephant Butte, New Mexico, where his adoptable family has been successful in keeping him safe from malcontents who were harassing him. In addition, the town has unofficially applied a hands-off policy in picking him up, while his family is in the process of constructing the electronic fence that will keep him contained enough to comply with the city's ordinance about off-the-leash dogs.  His Facebook page tells of his ongoing adventures and is thick with the love supporters from all over the world has been spreading.

Pet Urnaments - An Elegant Tribute to a Loyal Companion

The memories just don't fade away when a pet passes.

I have friends and relatives who still talking lovingly about their companions as if it were just yesterday that they sat begging under the dinner table looking for a scrap or waited patiently by a window while their human counterparts returned from home or school.

Many people choose to keep some memento of their friends now gone via a box or urn holding their ashes. It's a nice tribute they can keep close to remember the good times.

Mike Martino founded Urnaments, LLC to give individuals an option in how to keep their loved ones close after they pass.

I find that his Pet Urnaments line provides a unique and elegant twist on the typical box or urn keepsake. Although urnaments take their name from  ornaments I was impressed with how versatile these keepsakes can be with fitting into a variety of decors at any time of the year.

An urnament is an egg-shaped ornament that can be displayed on a couple of different holding structures. Right now, there are seven designs, all tastefully done, but Mike tells me that there are more being designed, including a customized version. Additional stand configurations are being explored for future release as well.

 Each urnaments holds approximately 7 ounces or the equivalent of a 7 pound pet. For me this means that there is the opportunity to sprinkle some of the remains over my pet's favorite places while keeping some of them close to home.

The reviews that I do here at are all meant to help the senior pet owner. In as much as the transition from life to beyond is part of the journey that pets take with us, I wholeheartedly endorse Urnaments for the respect they show for pets and their owners and the ongoing memories that they support.

Erin Palumba of Ridgewood, NJ echoes my sentiments by saying, "Pet Urnaments are a beautiful tribute to companion pets."


Senior Dog Baggage Handling

Maybe you're thinking about adopting and aren't sure whether a senior dog is right for you.

You already know that they have well-developed personalities, having been around the block or two and know how to interact with people, but is this really a mixed blessing?

The answer (as it is with many things in life) is: It depends.

Older dogs, especially dogs that you acquire from a shelter or other owner, may very well come with a number of pre-existing behaviors. Some of these will be pleasant, while others may require a bit more work on your part to address.

I bring this up, because everyone who adopts a dog should know that there may very well be challenges and its important to acknowledge these before you're surprised. Adopting a dog and then bringing it back to a shelter will only prove to shake it's confidence, which is likely to make it even a less adoptable dog.

The silver lining to this is that you have a chance to help shape your old dog's behavior and use it as a bonding experience. 

How can you best deal with these pre-existing behaviors or as I like to collectively call them, baggage?

Bark Out Loud For Liberty

We hope everyone had a Happy Independence Day and took some of our Independence Day Safety Tips to heart. In case you were wondering, they work just as well during thunderstorms.

We just learned that Lennox, the pitbull that isn't really a pitbull that the Belfast City Council confiscated, has received a date (Monday, July 9, 2012) to be euthanized. If you haven't signed the petition or reached out to the Council to do the right thing, check out the video and do what you can. We'll keep you posted on the outcome. We're hopeful that the Council changes it's mind in the 11th hour.

July represents SeniorPooch's one year anniversary. We're always looking for great stories about senior dogs, interesting products and books that we can review, as well as your own tips & tricks. Send them over our way and we'll see what we can do about getting a post or two crafted to show that there are many senior dogs out there waiting for a home and the few of us that have recognized this have a responsibility to share the message.


Something to chew on, Moose Antlers and the Senior Dog

What do you do when you're an old dog that doesn't have the choppers that you once had, but still have a hankering for something to chew on?

Honestly, there aren't many options. While Rusty still has excellent teeth, I'm always on the lookout for treats that even the senior canine would appreciate.

Enter: Doggie Delicacy's Moose Antler Chews.

I liked that they met my expectations for what I expected of the product based upon my research. The moose antler is a bit more porous than most other bones and if your dog is more likely to gum a bone than chew it, the surface is going to get get a little soft. After seven minutes of chewing this is what I noticed. The good news is that the bone itself didn't crack or splinter with my aggressive chewer. Of course you mileage may vary, so always ALWAYS supervise your pet when they're chewing on bones.

I have to tell you though that this treat was far from Rusty's favorite. The antler is still in tact, and while he'll occasionally sniff at it, he hasn't been back at it since the initial test. He's much more inclined to go for treat that have different favors or meat still on the bone, so if you have one of those dogs that are interested in a raw bone, this one's for you. As I mentioned, it gets extra points from me for being Senior Pooch-friendly.

Disclaimer: We received a complementary Moose Antler Chew from for the purpose of writing my opinion of the product. No other compensation was provided. 

Independence Day Dog Safety 101

The sun goes down on another balmy summer night, but this one is a little different. Your old dog's ears perk up, he raises his head, and then bolts (or slithers) for cover: It's Independence Day!

Long before you hear the first explosions of the evening, your pooch is going to feel them first. Dogs can feel the vibrations from those pops and crackles making for an equally disturbing experience even if they are partially deaf.

Here's a few tips on keeping your canine safe and calm:
  • Keep them inside - much as possible. If you can't, don't leave them unattended or off a leash outside even if you're in your yard. No matter how good your dog is around fireworks, a loose bottle rocket or serious explosion nearby is going to send them scampering. You'll never know how high your dog is capable of jumping until this happens. More dogs are lost on July 4 in the US than any other day of the year.
  • Frequent supervision - You're outside partaking in the festivities. Your dog is not. Check in on them frequently to make sure that they're OK, have plenty of water, and have have not injured themselves. 
  • Hands off - This isn't as obvious. If you're holding your dog or giving them a hug when they're upset, you're giving them permission to freak out. Be available. Reassure them. Pet them as you normally would. Just don't smother them anymore than you normally would. Speak in calming tones and...
  • Distraction is your best friend - Pull out a toy or treat they they haven't had in a while. Prior to the fireworks going off (and for some dogs, just as they're starting) play with your dog, give them that treat. Show them that you're not worried and they shouldn't be either. 
  • Extra car safety - Get a car harness, put them in a travel crate in the back seat, or at least have someone with them with a leash. My old dog LOVES to stick his head out the window when we're driving (so I now have to drive him around the parking lot once or twice before going home from the store... but I digress.) Even during the day, it's probably not a good idea. Keep  the window open a crack.
Put all thoughts of escape attempts out of your dog's head and be there for them and you'll have a safe and happy Independence Day. This works just as well for other occasions with fireworks.

Photo credit:
Attribution Some rights reserved by bayasaa