Sanctuary helps place aging pets with Hoosier seniors


Stephanie Baer founded Serenity — Senior Living Pet Sanctuary in 2021 to help make sure older dogs and cats don’t live out their golden years in a shelter.

CARMEL, Ind. — An animal sanctuary in central Indiana is putting a new twist on saving cats and dogs.

Serenity — Senior Living Pet Sanctuary is helping aging animals find new homes with Hoosier seniors.

Stephanie Baer founded the sanctuary in 2021 to help make sure older dogs and cats don’t live out their golden years in a shelter.

“Most of my cats are 12, 15 and 17,” Baer said. “Those are the ones that get dumped and nobody wants.”

“Even when you know you’re not going to have them very long, it’s still a great feeling,” Baer said. “Just [knowing] that may be the last few days of that pet’s life. They know some love.”

In just one year, Serenity has rescued 20 cats and dogs and fostered them in their volunteers’ homes.

The animals come from shelters or families that can no longer care for an aging animal.

What’s unique about Serenity’s program is that they actually reach out to active seniors living in the community to get them to adopt senior pets, and then, they gain the benefits of having an animal in their home.

“Our target population that we really want to adopt are active seniors because we really feel like senior citizens can still benefit from having a pet,” Baer said. “We want to adopt to seniors so they can still have the benefits of having a pet and knowing that if something happens, then they will come right back to us.”

Char Willsey, who herself is a senior citizen, said the health benefits of having a pet are staggering.

“It helps our cardio, it reduces blood pressure, stress, triglycerides, cholesterol,” Willsey said. “Just the benefits are far-reaching.”

And by pairing seniors with an aging animal, they are easier to care for.

“We all have a need for touch. We shake hands, we hug. We hold hands, and to touch a pet is so therapeutic, even for someone who might be bedridden,” Willsey said. “If a cat is sitting on the bed beside them, to touch or just to listen to her, you know, is just so therapeutic.”

Another benefit in the partnership is that the animals don’t have the puppy energy, which could be physically taxing for senior citizens.

“They’ve kind of slowed down, too, so the pace is matched,” Willsey said. “To those of us that are a little slower paced in our lives, the pet and the owner receive the same benefits because those pets respond in touch.”

Right now, Serenity only has four volunteers working, but the hope is to continue growing to help the animals and humans benefit from each other.

Serenity could also use donations, both financially and items, to help care for the animals.

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