GAITHERSBURG, Md. - Just like people, dogs and cats can struggle as they get older and come to the end of their lives.
To alleviate that pain and suffering, a Gaithersburg, Maryland woman has created what amounts to a hospice for animals.
House with a Heart founder Sher Polvinale has devoted the past decade of her life towards helping these animals live out their final years in dignity. She created the senior pet sanctuary in 2006 with her late husband, Joe. Polvinale now relies on volunteers, donations, grants and wish list gifts to help her run the sanctuary.
"It definitely takes a village. In the very beginning, I did this on my own, but it just became too much. Sometimes we have as many as 20 or 30 dogs here," Polvinale told FOX 5. "The volunteers come and help do laundry, they clean, they do the work in the yard, poop scooping and they just help in all areas of the sanctuary. And without them, we couldn't take care of as many as we do."
Polvinale said the mission of House with a Heart is to save senior dogs and to make sure they are loved until the end of their lifetime. They usually take in dogs that are ages 12 and up.
"She has devoted her entire life to the care of all of these animals," a volunteer at the sanctuary said. "She doesn't go out to lunch, she doesn't go out to dinner and she hates to leave the house even for a medical appointment of her own."
Once the dogs are gone, they are not forgotten. The stairway in Polvinale's home displays what she calls the "stairway to heaven." All along the wall are photos of dogs that the sanctuary has taken care of that have passed.
"You get very attached," she said as she holds back the tears. "Like I said, that's the mission - you take care of them the very best you can until you have to let them go."
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer or looking to find a temporary or permanent home for a senior pet, you can head to the House with a Heart website.