A healing relationship for old dogs and humans

Sweet Loretta already lived a long life and needed a soft couch to lay her head.

She was old, about 11, and her owner had passed away. The black and white boxer mix required medical care for arthritis and allergies, and surgery to remove a lump under her eyelid. Stuck at the shelter, she needed a special human to step up and take care of her.

Enter Helen St. Pierre and her family, who took in Loretta seven weeks ago.

“She’s just an old lady with a lot of issues,” St. Pierre said. “The first night I brought her home and she ate a full meal, I cried.”

Giving love to an old girl like Loretta isn’t for everybody, but it’s what the St. Pierre family does.

St. Pierre owns No Monkey Business Dog Training in Concord. Four years ago, she started taking in old or ill dogs whose owners no longer wanted them or couldn’t afford their care. After a parade of frail animals came through her home, she started a new organization this summer that she affectionately calls “Old Dogs Go to Helen.”

She gives them a warm bed, good food and any medical care they need. The dogs get to play with St. Pierre’s two daughters, Grace and Evelyn, as they live out the rest of their days. Some dogs stay for years, others spend just a few weeks before their time comes.

“Old dogs, for me, they have a presence in our house that makes it feel like home,” St. Pierre said. “I could have a house filled with puppies and it won’t feel complete. I need an old dog just kind of resting. They have a wiseness and a presence to them that I absolutely love.”

It started with a little guy named Elliot, a tiny Yorkie who had been eating leaves to survive. He arrived totally bald and covered in fleas. He lived his last year regaining his health and feeling good again.

“He became this amazing little buddy,” St. Pierre said. “He was just this little fireball. He was so playful and sweet.”

Elliot required special care, like eating soft food every night because his teeth were bad. He appreciated it and gave thanks with his abundant personality.

“He was just full of life,” St. Pierre said. “He was a wonderful little guy and great with my kids.”

Most of the old dog St. Pierre rescues are named after characters in Beatles songs. Loretta’s name comes from the song “Get Back.”

After Elliot, the St. Pierres took in dear Prudence, an older pit bull. She was bald and lumpy and stinky, St. Pierre said.

“She was the greatest, sweetest, kindest dog,” St. Pierre said. “She was my companion, kind of like Loretta.”

She lasted a year and gave even more love than she received.

Then came Gunner, who was renamed Sergeant Pepper, after that, Blackbird, a 13-year-old black Lab who needed a wheelchair for his bad hips.

Later came Jupiter, another pit bull who arrived with massive medical needs, but didn’t get a Beatles reference for a name.

“It took weekly baths, endless medicine and lots of care to get him back into shape,” St. Pierre said about Jupiter on her website. “He had the best few months with us and in the end, his heart just gave out. We miss him every day.”

After Jupiter, St. Pierre started to get a reputation as someone who was willing to take in special needs dogs that others wouldn’t. People wanted to donate to help pay for expenses. She set up a charitable foundation and used the money to pay for prescriptions and X-rays not only for the dogs staying with her, but other dogs who were still at the shelter that needed more care.

St. Pierre says taking in older dogs is easier than it sounds.

“They are usually incredibly kind-hearted, easygoing, nice dogs, you know, they’ve made it this far, but by being so wonderful, and wanting to get along exactly, to get along with other dogs to get along with kids. So that’s the nice thing about senior dogs is that they’ve really kind of been there, done that.”

Her family has made it a point to try to take in a senior dog every Christmas.

Loretta is the newest addition to the household, which includes eight dogs in all, and several other furry and feathered friends, including a parrot and a bunny.

“The seniors balance the group out quite frankly,” St. Pierre said. “It really helps having a senior dog, helps calm everybody down. And it brings a lot to the group of them.”

The care for the senior and hospice dogs gets done with the help of husband, Jake, and the girls. It’s proven to be a gift for the whole family.

“You teach your kids about compassion, you teach him about loving things, and even sacrifice,” St. Pierre said. “For me, by far, it has been one of the best teachings of empathy that I could do for my kids.”

“Everybody is on board,” she added. “We’re an animal family obviously.”

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