Maryland Dog Retirement Home Gives Pets A ‘Happy Ending’

The tale of how one woman opened her home, and life, up to senior dogs in the final stages of life.

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Home With A Heart exists to give old dogs a place to go to live out their days. Via YouTube/National Geographic

At 6 a.m., every morning, Sher Polvinale begins her day.

Similar to most “moms,” the Gaithersburg, Maryland, woman prepares meals for her charges and gets them ready for the new day.

However, Polvinale’s family is unique — her little ones include a menagerie of dogs who have lived a full life and are now in their “retirement” years.

Sher Polvinale starts the day with breakfast for 30-plus! Via YouTube/National Geographic

“We have dogs that come to live with us till the end of their life,” Polvinale, director of House With A Heart, said in a National Geographic interview. “We make sure the end of their life is full of love and caring and lots of attention and make sure they get all the medical care they need.”

House With A Heart — HWAH — was founded in 2006 by Polvinale and her late husband, Joe, as a senior pet sanctuary. Both dogs (and cats) that are in the late stages of life are welcome in her home — indefinitely. The animals come from families who can’t take care of them anymore, are unadoptable due to health or age reasons, whose owners must enter a nursing home or who’ve passed away.

The primarily dog population includes those who still have some kick in them, as well as those who have health conditions like incontinence, respiratory issues and heart problems. They are even two who get around with the use of their mobile back paws.

Sher Palvonile plays with some of her "children" and holds one of those recuperating on her lap. Via YouTube/National Geographic

Sher Palvonile plays with some of her “children” and holds one of those recuperating on her lap. Via YouTube/National Geographic

Quick to explain that this is not a rescue group or foster home, Momma Polvinale embraces each animal, giving them her unconditional love and working full-time with only a few days off a year.

Freddy, Logan, Jenny, Monroe and Sugar are just a few of the pups with which she shares her home. A small group of volunteers (from a total of 55 in 2014) show up each morning around 11 a.m. to pitch in — caring for the “kids,” doing household chores, cleaning the yard and more.

And when it’s time for one of her children to go to puppy/kitty heaven, each is forever memorialized in a beautiful, homemade frame hung in the house.

Remember family members past. Via YouTube/National Geographic

Remembering family members past. Via YouTube/National Geographic

“We never forget them… they’re always with us,” HWAH Vice President Harriette Sackler said. She is the one who is often with the animals as they take their last breath.

From the moment they arrive to the minute the “leave,” Polvinale says she makes sure the more than 30 animals get the very best possible — funded from her own savings, grants and the kindness of others.

“This is the end,” she admits. “But it’s a happy end.”

Getting a personal massage! Via YouTube/National Geographic

Getting a personal massage! Via YouTube/National Geographic

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