Shelters have a hard time finding adoptive families for elderly pets, animals with disabilities or chronic medical conditions, large animals that need special facilities, and working animals who have outlived their usefulness. Some people have stepped up to provide permanent care for these animals, so that they can live out their lives in comfort and security.
1. OLD FRIENDS FARM
Many thoroughbreds are born each year, but only a few can be champion racehorses. Of the rest, some become pets and a few will be used for breeding stock, but even they become old eventually. In 2002, the public was shocked to hear that 1986 Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand was sent to a slaughterhouse. The Boston Globe film critic Michael Blowen was already trying to raise money to start a thoroughbred retirement farm, and the response to Ferdinand's fate brought in enough donations to open Old Friends in Georgetown, Kentucky. That's where former champion racehorses live out their retirement years alongside thoroughbreds that never raced—160 horses in all. The farm in Georgetown and its other locations in Franklin, Kentucky, and Greenfield Center, New York, are open to the public daily. Pictured above is 1997 Kentucky Derby winner Silver Charm, who is now a resident of Old Friends.
2. CHIMP HAVEN
For decades, the U.S. produced medical breakthroughs with the help of experimental lab animals, including hundreds of chimpanzees. When animal testing began declining, research centers found themselves with a surplus of elderly chimps. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) founded chimpanzee retirement farms, funded through the Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance, and Protection (CHIMP) Act.
Chimp Haven in Keithville, Louisiana, is the National Chimpanzee Sanctuary, home to more than 200 retired research chimpanzees on 200 acres of forest land. The chimps are free to roam, build their own nests, and associate with each other as they please. The staff at Chimp Haven interacts with the chimps to ensure they have veterinary care, complete nutrition, and enrichment.
3. HEARTS THAT PURR
Elderly people worry about what will happen to their cats if something happens to them. In Tucson, Arizona, they know that their pets can be taken in by Hearts that Purr Feline Guardians. The cats that come into their care live in a family environment, but the demand is more than the home can provide. Founder Jeanmarie Schiller-McGinnis began a foster care program to help alleviate overcrowding by placing cats with other elderly people who could use a companion pet. The foster cats remain under the guardianship of Hearts That Purr in case something happens. Some of the cats are available for permanent adoption.
4. HOUSE WITH A HEART
Dogs of advanced age and dogs with disabilities have a hard time finding homes because they present unique challenges and potential expenses not usually associated with the many younger dogs available for adoption. In 2006, Joe and Sher Polvinale turned their Gaithersburg, Maryland, home into a pet sanctuary for such hard-to-place canines. Joe has since passed away, but Sher continues to run House with a Heart Senior Pet Sanctuary, a retirement home for elderly and special needs dogs. With the help of a team of volunteers, the dogs get proper care and lots of affection.
5. SHEBA'S HAVEN RESCUE
Sheba's Haven Rescue in Inverary, Ontario, Canada, is both a retirement home and a hospice for dogs. It takes in shelter dogs with incurable illnesses, disabilities, or limited lifespans and offers a loving family environment and palliative care. The resident dogs have three acres to explore, and orthotics, such as wheels, for those who need them. Dogs that are able can visit a local nursing home to spend time with human residents on Wednesdays. Dogs that were considered unadoptable have a permanent home at Sheba's Haven.
6. THE SHANNON FOUNDATION
The Shannon Foundation is a farm in St. Clair, Missouri, where all kinds of retired pets and farm animals can live out their lives. Current residents of the 100-acre farm include dogs, cats, horses, llamas, pigs, goats, chickens and other poultry, deer, a Fennec fox, and exotic pet birds. Some are special needs pets from shelters, others came when their owners died, and some were rescued from abusive situations. A few of the younger animals—including sugar gliders, emus, and horses, as well as cats and dogs—are available for adoption.
7. THE CENTER FOR ELEPHANT CONSERVATION
In May of 2016, Ringling Bros. Circus officially retired their last 11 circus elephants to a sanctuary in Florida. The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Center for Elephant Conservation sits on 200 acres of land between Tampa and Orlando. The facility holds 40 Asian elephants who have either retired from the circus since 1995, or are offspring of retirees.
8. THE ELEPHANT SANCTUARY IN TENNESSEE
Ringling's Florida facility is not the first elephant retirement village in the U.S., nor the largest. The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee has 13 elephants who retired from zoos and circuses and live on more than 2700 acres in Hohenwald, Tennessee.
9. ELEPHANT NATURE PARK
Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand is a retirement home for elephants that have spent their lives working in transportation and heavy lifting, or were rescued from abusive owners. Elephant Nature Park is supported by tourism, and runs various elephant care projects in Thailand, Cambodia, and Myanmar.
10. BIG CAT RESCUE
People are enamored with the idea of an exotic pet, like a wildcat, but then find that a full-grown wild animal is too much: too expensive to feed, too strong to live with, and in need of too much time and space. Exotic wildcats raised in captivity can't go to a normal shelter and can never be returned to their native habitats.
Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida, provides a permanent shelter for big cats and exotic wildcats that began their lives in captivity. In addition to abandoned pets, they take in cats rescued from roadside zoos, circuses, and other stressful situations. The current population includes lions, tigers, leopards, lynxes, cougars, bobcats, servals, ocelots, and more. Their mission is to give big cats as wonderful a home as possible, but Big Cat Rescue also lobbies against the exotic pet trade and works to educate the public about wildlife issues. They also have a great YouTube channel.