“A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than you love yourself.”
Sher Polvinale, the founder and main mistress at House With a Heart, provides a sanctuary in Gaithersburg for senior pets to live out their last years on earth. Sher’s home is the last stop for many dogs who are steps away from either being euthanized or taken to the pound by owners who can no longer care for them.
At any given time, House with a Heart’s Sanctuary has on average two dozen four legged residents of the canine variety. The number can double during peak holiday seasons as they take in additional healthy younger dogs for boarding. The funds raised from the boarding fees helps offset the costs of running the sanctuary. The rest of the funding for operating the sanctuary comes from donations.
Some of the boarders hang with the pack for playtime as long as everyone plays nicely. Sher says most do as the healthy younger dogs seem to enjoy the interaction with the older more infirmed dogs. I wondered do they know the pups are old and on their last leg? I’d like to think they do.
Sher operates on little sleep and rarely leaves the confines of her sanctuary. Her average day starts at 5:30 and goes well beyond midnight. She sleeps on the couch in the main family room off the kitchen with the pack of smaller dogs. Some are crated and others may sleep by her side. She says, “My guilty pleasure is to rescue senior dogs and have them spend their last years in a loving setting”.
Sher, along with her husband, did animal rescue for 30 years, until he passed away. She then segued into the creation of the sanctuary. The operation is impressive. It’s clean, neat and tidy. There are around five dozen different volunteers who come in 2 hour shifts each and every week. They help with cleaning the home, doing the laundry, as well as brushing and cleaning the animals. Meals for the pups are prepared way ahead of time and are neatly laid out on the kitchen’s center island, which helps greatly when meal times roll around as the prep time requires several hours.
Due to the fact that there is virtually always a volunteer around, there is no “me time” for Sher. She rarely leaves, ever. No vacations, no movies, no dinners out. Her groceries are delivered by a local store. She found a hair stylist who makes house calls. Products are purchased on line. The vet makes house calls too.
When Sher wants the dogs’ attention or to quiet them because there is a visitor, she taps a metal feeding bowl and the clanging sound signals the dogs to pay attention and to be calm. She has tried different methods to maintain an orderly house and this turned out to be the most effective.
I asked Sher what she would like her legacy to be and it was clear and concise. “I wish more people would love their senior pets until they pass away. I do the very best I can and hope I’m making enough of an impression so others will do the same. All the pets I care for would have a very different end of life experience if I did not take them in.”
The “Stairway to Heaven” is filled with the loving memory of former pets that have passed on. When the time comes for a pet to be buried, the volunteers take a picture of the pet and all sign a card with loving thoughts of that animal. When the remains are taken to be cremated, the people dealing with the pet know they were loved and well cared for.
Sometimes the sanctuary is not able take in all the pets who need to be cared for. To help with this there are two counselors who volunteer to talk with the owners to find the best solutions.
Home With a Heart is truly the last stop for many of our furry friends. Sher’s dedication and commitment are extraordinary. The Sanctuary relies on donations to operate.