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Life in our Foothills September 2021 – Forever Dream Senior Dog Sanctuary

Verna Wilkins of Forever Dream Senior Dog Sanctuary, with Jack

Providing Care for Our Oldest Dogs in Need at Forever Dream Senior Dog Sanctuary

There aren’t many people willing to leave a paying job, cash in their retirement, and follow their passion without looking back. Verna Wilkins is one such person.

Six years ago, she took this leap and founded Forever Dream Senior Dog Sanctuary in Polk County. Verna has had a lifelong love of animals and knew that some needed help more than others. Polk County and the Upstate are blessed to have so many dedicated animal welfare groups, but no one was serving senior dogs. There are very few groups anywhere that do this. Verna stepped in to fill this void to help those dogs desperately needing a place to live out the rest of their lives.

Verna volunteered with Foothills Humane Society to foster a few hospice seniors when she first moved to Polk County in 2000. That helped spark the flame that kindled the idea for Forever Dream Senior Dog Sanctuary. While all of the dogs in Verna’s care aren’t necessarily hospice cases, they all come with a story. Some were found abandoned in the woods or even in one case, a blind dog left in the middle of a road near Shelby to meet certain death with each passing car. That dog now lives at Forever Dream.

Some dogs were turned in by owners who just didn’t want to deal with the trouble and expense of dealing with an elderly pet. Some were pandemic adoptees who were returned to the shelters when they no longer needed the extra diversion of a pet. Some dogs make their way to the Sanctuary because their owners have died. Many were saved from euthanasia because of ailments owners just didn’t want to deal with.

At Forever Dream Senior Dog Sanctuary, all have found a loving home to call their own. Sure, a few do get adopted, but for most this is their forever home. Verna’s mission is to make the best life possible for these small dogs where others would turn their backs.

The days are long at the Sanctuary. Most days start between 4:30 and 6. When it’s wake-up time, they all go outside to take care of business. With 25 or more dogs at any given time, clean-up is a 24/7 job. Feeding takes up another extraordinary chunk of time. Every dog has a special diet. Most of the dogs need daily medications. These dogs come with a long list of ailments. Some are blind, some are deaf, some have diabetes, and some are in kidney failure. They all have one important thing in common – they are loved unconditionally by Verna.

Verna’s dedication to these seniors is fierce. She doesn’t take vacations. She hardly gets to rest. There is a lull in the action around mid-day when most of the dogs decide it’s naptime. It’s then that Verna can take care of some office work for the Sanctuary, return phone calls, possibly earn a few dollars doing freelance gigs as a web designer, customer service agent, tech support specialist, and other skills she’s honed over the years. Then it’s time to do more house cleaning. Virtually all of these dogs are shedders and for many, getting outdoors to the bathroom in time is just not going to happen. To Verna, this is all natural and she’s going to take care of it.

The hardest part for Verna is when she loses one of the seniors. She is also saddened by some of the stories of their lives before entering Forever Dream. But this is tempered by knowing she has done all she can to help give them their best life imaginable. 

Dana Mayer, director of Paws, Prayers & Promises (another local rescue) says, “Verna Wilkins has a huge, caring heart. Her patient and loving work with senior dogs is well-respected in the rescue community as well as the community as a whole. The sweet seniors are pampered beyond their wildest dreams and have a loving home at the Sanctuary if they are not adopted out. Verna makes it happen.”

Verna could use some help. There’s no money to hire anyone. She has a couple of parttime volunteers. Andy Clifton was there during this interview. He drives down from Asheville to help when he can. He loves that he can help in this way and not feel guilty driving home without a car full of dogs in need of care like when he used to visit an animal shelter. He knows that the dogs in Verna’s care are being well taken care of and that they are happy to have found this place. They are loved. Local resident Claire Nettles is also a parttime volunteer who helps when she can. Andy and Claire find the work with Verna and the senior dogs to be incredibly meaningful. They only wish Verna could get more volunteers to help.

Pet owners often mention the Rainbow Bridge as the place that dogs (and other much-loved pets) cross over when they die. Here they find happiness and peace. They find cures for their ailments. They find plenty of food and water and shelter. They eventually find the other family pets they shared a life with and at some point, they find their owners who are so happy to be reunited. Until that time comes, Verna Wilkins is doing all she can to provide these dogs with their own heaven on earth. She is a treasure.