Elderly animal farm
When entering David Bartley’s home, you really have to watch your step. Guests at A Chance for Bliss, a small animal sanctuary near Auburn, are greeted by the overwhelming affection of 21 canines who’ve been deemed “unadoptable” because they are seniors, special needs or require hospice care. That doesn’t account for the menagerie of horses and other farm animals that roam freely around the Bartley property. It may not be the most conventional of greetings, but it definitely beats a welcome mat.
There are a lot of animals here.
We have 22 horses, 21 dogs, seven pot-bellied pigs, six goats, three sheep, two steers, nine ducks, five geese, four chickens, three cats, four rabbits and two cockatiels.
This is their home. If we can teach people, if they have an older animal, how maybe through some nutritional changes and some other things to actually extend their time with them, we think in our own little way that we can make the world a better place. The average age of the dogs is about 14. Our two oldest horses are 35.
Wow! How long do horses typically live?
The average age here is probably around 28. It really shouldn’t be surprising: When their teeth are taken care of, when they get extraordinarily good nutrition every day and they have good hooves, they thrive. Our two 35-year-olds, it’s really unheard of. And they’re thoroughbreds, which is even more of a paradox, because a thoroughbred, typically, they maybe live into their 20s.
Tell me a little about how you came to start rescuing elderly animals.
[My wife and I] had a Boston terrier named Wally. I quickly fell in love with this little dog who snorted and farted. When he died, I felt like I had lost my best friend.
Two days after he passed away, my wife found a 12- and 13-year-old brother-sister Boston terrier pair. And she said, “We’ll go get a puppy one day, but let’s give these two the end of life that Wally had.” One had Cushing’s [syndrome] and was blind, and the other was described as being cranky and antisocial. [We] brought home Taffy and Feisty, who we later renamed Chance and Bliss, and the sanctuary is called A Chance for Bliss in honor of the very first two 10 years ago.
How do these animals come to arrive at A Chance for Bliss?
About 50 percent come from either animal shelters or breed-specific or species-specific rescues. When they get one that’s either old or sick or at the end of their life that they can’t adopt out, they’ll ask if we have room. The rest of them come from the public at large. Either an older person with an older pet dies and nobody wants the older pet, or due to financial conditions, people who had an acre or two, either [lose] their home or they’ve had to downsize.
What kind of maintenance goes in to keeping up all these animals?
It is a lot of work. It really, truly is a labor of love. We pride ourselves in keeping things really clean. All 21 dogs we have all live in the house with us, and we have no cages, we have no kennels. Trying to create an environment that’s clean—that’s very orderly, that is predictable—to do that takes a lot of work. It’s a 12- to 16-hour-a-day process.
Do you have a lot of volunteers?
Not that many. The population that we serve specifically is a little much for people to deal with. So the vast majority of the work is done by my wife and I. Our core group of volunteers is probably only five or six.
How can people get involved?
The easiest way is to become a sponsor. It only costs 10 bucks a month to become a sponsor, and you sponsor a whole category of animal. There are four categories in the sanctuary: horses, dogs, pasture pals and meadow mates. You can do a category, [or] if you want to sponsor the whole sanctuary, it’s only $40, $10 per category. You get a monthly update that tells the story of the featured resident, and you also get a picture and a link to a video of your resident. It costs about $10,000 a month to run the sanctuary. It’s expensive. The sponsorship program really is our lifeblood.
What do you spend the most money on?
Our food bill is our greatest expense. But because we spend so much money on food, our veterinary costs are very small. Unless it’s an emergency situation, we really don’t have to go to the vet. Most people assume because of the population we serve, our vet bills would be off the charts. They’re not. In the animal paradigm, nutrition and dental care are not necessarily things that are focused on. It’s more of a reactionary thing as opposed to being preventative. And like most of us, a good meal goes a long way. [That] and knowing that they’re never going to have to go anywhere else again, the whole combination of those ingredients creates, in the pure definition of a sanctuary, a safe haven.