The downward dog took on new meaning at a recent Yoga and Yappy Hour hosted by Young at Heart Pet Rescue.
As part of an ongoing effort to raise funds and awareness about the nonprofit group, which shelters senior dogs and cats, visitors were invited to strengthen their bonds with their dogs through yoga at Mixin Mingle in Woodstock.
“I found places within [the class] where the dogs could play a big role … where you could lay on your pet or rest your hands on your pet in certain ways that really allows you to connect with them,” yoga instructor Kelly Jensen said.
A Young at Heart volunteer, Jensen hopes to regularly host the class when the organization opens a permanent shelter in Woodstock.
Housing animals in foster homes throughout the northwest suburbs for the past 14 years, Young at Heart first bought land on Route 47, just north of Route 176, about nine years ago. The group broke ground about two years ago, and work began on an estimated 3,500-square-foot shelter, said Sandy Bacino, a volunteer coordinator for the organization.
The goal is to open the permanent shelter this summer, she said.
“It’s taken a long time,” she said.
Young at Heart now relies on about 200 volunteers to take care of 30 to 40 animals in homes, as well as two donated spaces – the Petco in Lake Zurich and Best Friends Pet Care in Prairie View.
At the new Woodstock facility, the group expects to be able to care for up to 50 animals, while still housing animals with medical problems and other needs that require them to be more isolated in foster homes, Bacino said.
“Because the public can come and visit, we expect to process so many more adoptions just because of the exposure,” she said.
In the meantime, Young at Heart volunteers are working to make the organization known in McHenry County and raise funds for the shelter. When Jensen suggested yoga, it was only natural, considering the cause, that dogs would be invited.
The event drew 11 people and their animals, ranging in size from a tiny Chihuahua to a giant mastiff. It wasn’t only about hanging out with the dogs, Jensen said, as she took beginners and regulars through a typical yoga routine.
“It was a lot of fun to spend time with your dog in a way that you normally don’t get to,” said Jensen, who has fostered a cat for Young at Heart for the past nine months.
Young at Heart founder and Executive Director Dawn Kemper created Young at Heart out of a love for animals and, in particular, a passion for the older animals often overlooked at shelters. For the most part, the organization rescues cats and dogs age 7 and older, Bacino said.
The group has rescued a dog as old as 17 and a cat as old as 23, she said. Bacino described the animals as having the perfect balance of energy, yet the ability to be “champion nappers” who can cuddle on the couch while their owners watch a movie and go for walks.
“They deserve a second chance, for sure,” Bacino said of the senior animals the group helps. “They might have found themselves in a situation where they weren’t wanted anymore or their owner had to give them up for whatever reason. They are super sweet and move-in ready, just wanting to live out the rest of their lives in a nice, quiet home.”
The group has a Club Grand Paw program for seniors age 70 and older, where they receive extra help to care for the animals in their homes if they adopt them.
But people of all ages can and do adopt from Young at Heart.
“Some people think, ‘It’s senior animals, it must be senior citizens that come and adopt,’” Bacino said. “It’s everyone. They do well if someone is home a lot. They love the companionship.”
The Woodstock shelter that is under construction will include two open-floor dog rooms and two cat rooms, including “catios,” or screened-in porches for the cats to roam, as well as meet-and-greet and volunteer spaces.
Young at Heart continues to raise money for the medical equipment needed to create a vet clinic at the facility, Bacino said, so the organization can have an on-site veterinarian to care for its animals instead of taking them to various clinics.
“We’ve gotten as far as we have in these 14 years just because of our supporters – people who’ve donated $5 and up from the beginning,” she said. “It’s kind of like, after 14 years, this is the sanctuary our supporters built.”