Skip to content Skip to navigation

Shelter pet project prompts bear adoption

(OK, so Bear is the dog's name, but we still think it's pretty cool.)

From Animal Sheltering magazine November/December 2014

Vicki Hildreth and her husband Steve found senior dog Bear through the Shelter Pet Project.

The aged couple who’d adopted Bear and her companion, Smokey, 11 years ago had both died. And while their grown sons fed the dogs and pledged not to evict them, they wouldn’t adopt them. Still, Smokey and Bear had each other.

The sons contacted For the Love of Animals Dog and Cat Rescue (FLA), a Southern California group led by Jo Porter. For about eight months, FLA pulled out the stops to find someone who would want them both, but that was a challenge: The dogs both suffered from health problems. Bear’s hips and back legs were painfully arthritic, and one of the sons found a lump on Smokey, which her veterinarian diagnosed as a slow-growing cancer. Too old for an operation to remove the tumor, Smokey was taken back to the only home she and Bear had ever known, where the couple’s sons continued to feed them.

As Smokey’s health was declining, Vicki Hildreth was looking for a dog. Around the time Bear and Smokey’s owners died, she and her husband, Steve, had lost the second of two dogs they’d adopted as puppies more than 15 years earlier.

After seven months of grieving, Vicki had quietly started looking on the Internet for an aging dog to foster. One afternoon, her search was interrupted by an email from Steve: “Are you looking at dogs?” It turned out one of her fostering contacts had emailed him instead of her, but he was ready to help in the search. They’d always adopted puppies in the past, but their happy years with a pair of canine senior citizens changed their minds. Educators with chaotic, sometimes 12-hour work days, the Hildreths have a lifestyle that is better suited for older dogs.

It was Steve who found Smokey and Bear’s story on the Shelter Pet Project’s Twitter feed and sent the link to Vicki. “We should go look at them,” he told Vicki.

The dogs were living about an hour away from their home in Redondo Beach, but in the meantime, Smokey had gotten sicker. One day, she began to sneeze violently, blood spurting from her nose. Her veterinarian said it was time to say goodbye.

Porter is haunted by the thought of Bear spending that night lonely and confused. And although FLA volunteers visited her regularly afterward, for the most part Bear was utterly alone.

Happily, that didn’t last long—even without Smokey, the Hildreths were interested in Bear. It only took a walk together for Vicki to bond with the sweet “big old furball.” The Hildreths adopted Bear, staying up to comfort her through their first night together. Then they let veterinary care, healthy food, walks and affection do the rest.

Now Vicki reflects that there “couldn’t have been a better match.” And the “remarkable” Bear has taught her something enriching: “You can exact a lot of change in an older dog’s life. … I truly believe that they know that they’re being saved.”

Bear’s adoption is an example of the sheltering and rescue network coming through for a pet in need, says Christie Keith. Keith manages the Facebook page and Twitter feed for the Shelter Pet Project, a vibrant collaboration between The HSUS, Maddie’s Fund and the Ad Council to promote shelter and rescue adoptions.

Keith was optimistic about Smokey and Bear from the start. “They had a great story and a group that was highly motivated and was doing everything it could.” FLA advertised the dogs on its website and YouTube channel and on PetFinder. And FLA requested the Shelter Pet Project’s Facebook and Twitter promotion that caught Steve Hildreth’s eye.

“I saw a lot of beauty,” Keith says. “Everybody pulled together for these dogs. … This is the best of the shelter world working.”

Vicki says it’s been a pleasure to watch Bear’s personality emerge: “She’s a character … she’s got the quirkiness that we love, and she loves us to pieces.” Over time, Bear has learned how to navigate stairs, but she’s still puzzled about what a ball is for. One thing she is sure of is her role as Vicki’s personal protector. So if you want to meet Bear, go to the Hildreths and look for Vicki. You’ll find Bear lying contentedly beside her, probably in a nice, shady spot.

About the Author

Tanya Mulford is an Assistant Content Creator at The Humane Society of the United States.