Going Gray

Lionel’s Legacy proves that love has no age limit


We all want to grow old with family. But for the countless senior dogs spending their golden years in shelters, a close-knit family isn’t always an option. That’s where Lionel’s Legacy comes in, saving aging pets who, for one reason or another, find themselves all alone late in life.

Laura Oliver founded Lionel’s Legacy in honor of Sad Lionel Boy, a sick, skinny 15-year-old pit bull mix her family fostered from It’s the Pits, a San Diego dog rescue. They nursed Lionel back to health, and he spent the remaining eight months of his life knowing the comforts of home.

“He fell in love with my kids and my kids fell in love with him,” Oliver says. “It was an interesting relationship that they built together, and the way they looked at animals after that was different from anything we’d ever seen.”

When she first took Lionel in, Oliver had no particular intentions of the experience leading to anything greater. But word soon got out.

westwaystudio-rudolph-laura-oliver-mufasa“When people realize that you rescued a dog of a certain breed or age, they start bombarding you with more and more dogs, and I discovered how many senior dogs were being relinquished to shelters,” she says. “One of the biggest reasons is that elderly people don’t have a plan in place for their pet when they go into senior care, or they don’t have the means to pay for the astronomical medical costs for aging pets. That was the catalyst, and we started taking dogs into our family one at a time.”

Oliver was no stranger to the ups and downs of the rescue world, as her family had been involved in animal rescue for over 40 years. Today, Lionel’s Legacy works with San Diego Humane Society and shelters as far north as Orange County to give senior dogs a second chance by placing them with foster families or—for dogs whose behavioral or medical
issues make them unadoptable—with “forever fosters.” These families commit to caring for the animal for the rest of his or her life—whether that’s days, months or even years—with all medical costs covered. Relying on grants and donations, Lionel’s Legacy also offers resources to help owners keep their senior pets; they only accept owner surrenders from elderly people who pass away or enter senior care.

westwaystudio-lionelslegacy-foxy-01At any given time, Lionel’s Legacy has roughly 50 dogs in its program; 15 or so are with forever fosters. The organization has a core group of 75 foster families in its volunteer pool, and is always looking for more. Oliver says “senior” dogs can be as young as seven; the organization’s oldest dog to date lived to 19.

The rescuers benefit just as much as the rescued, she says.

“We get so many human lessons from doing this work. You learn so much patience and understanding. My kids and my family learn what it’s like to lose someone you love, and how that’s a part of life. And you see dogs who didn’t even want to lift up their head at first start to run around like a puppy. That difference means the world to another being.”

November is Adopt a Senior Pet Month

Visit San Diego Humane Society, lionelslegacy.org or your local shelter to open your home to a senior pet in need.


Special thanks to Terran at westwaypets.com for the amazing photos taken for this article.

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