Debbie Faulkner is a gentle soul. As the owner of the Black Canyon Animal Sanctuary in Crawford, Colorado, she cares for all creatures great and small. While she mainly looks after dogs, a recent program of hers has allowed her to help another of the planet’s most fascinating creatures: people.
In 2011, Faulkner received a call from a cancer patient’s caregivers, asking if they could borrow a dog. The patient, Ken, was not expected to live much longer but he had recently lost his own dog and needed somebody to fill the hole in his heart.
Faulkner brought him in Hank, an 8-year-old labrador-basset hound mix. Ken had been pretty grouchy up until he met Hank but, as soon as that pooch entered his life, all of his anger faded away.
When Ken was moved into the San Juan Living Center in Montrose, Hank moved with him. The furry friend slept on Ken’s bed and greeted his fellow residents. Thanks to Hank’s friendship, Ken ended up surviving for two more years, far longer than anyone expected him to live.
When he Ken passed away, Hank was there on his master’s bed with a paw over his arm.
Seeing Ken and Hank’s friendship inspired Faulkner to create Silver Whiskers, a program to help elderly animals find elderly owners.
Doing so means that seniors can adopt a dog without worrying about them energetically running around all the time, the cost, or how much longer they are going to live. If a dog does outlive its owner, however, they are sent back to the sanctuary and passed on to a new owner. This is exactly what happened with Hank, who now lives with a 94-year-old woman in Fruita.
Faulkner has had to place some dogs multiple times. She has agreed to take care of them for free if the owner is hospitalized or otherwise unable to take care of their pet. Sometimes she’ll need to take animals back due to changes in her client’s living situation. With 90 percent of her clients renting their homes, they will occasionally run into issues with keeping animals, since some apartments/assisted living facilities don’t allow pets.
Right now, Faulkner has 30 clients all with their own unique stories. This includes Bette Cyr who always assumed she was more of a cat person until she adopted from Silver Whiskers.
Cyr was depressed because she realized that she knew more people who had died than were still living.
She tried getting a stray neighborhood cat to love her but to no avail. She decided to give Silver Whiskers a shot and they sent her Ruby the miniature schnauzer.
Ruby only had three legs, so it was tough for her to get around, but Cyr loved her all the same. Ruby lived for another year and a half before passing. Since Cyr was still kicking, she decided to adopt again. She got another schnauzer named Walter. When he passed, she adopted again. And again. And again. Now she has two dogs, Cassie and Sissy.
Thanks to her dogs, Cyr has gotten out more often and met more of her neighbors. Walking them has given her plenty of exercise and she’s feeling healthier all around.
“It’s opened my heart in a way that I might not have ever experienced,” she said.“I hadn’t realized I was lonely until I wasn’t lonely.”
This isn’t a one-off case, though. Many of Faulkner’s clients have become both happier and healthier thanks to their new furry pals. Faulkner’s program proves that dogs really are man’s best friend, no matter how old those men (or women) might be.