Sherri Franklin (center) at Muttville, her San Francisco dog shelter, with colleagues from Peace of Mind Dog Shelter. (Photos credited to: Muttville Facebook page)

A decade ago, whenever entrepreneur Sherri Franklin wasn’t styling hair at the salon she owned, she was spending time volunteering at the San Francisco Humane Society. It was there that she met a small elderly dog named Heidi, who arrived at the shelter after her owner passed away.

Franklin instantly became attached to Heidi, “a beagle-basset mix, a low-rider girl with a big laggy tail.” And walking her became a “passion,” she says. But one evening when she came in for her usual shift at the shelter, her furry friend was nowhere to be found. At that moment, Franklin had to face the hard truth: Heidi had been euthanized. Soon, she began to notice that many other older dogs were meeting a similar fate. “It changed me,” she says.

Heidi’s story is not unusual. Dogs aged 7 and over are far less likely to be adopted than younger dogs, research shows. Franklin, harnessing her grief, decided to turn that tide and in 2007 started a shelter that would rescue and find foster and forever families for senior dogs. To date, Muttville has made a difference in the lives of more than 4,000 dogs throughout California.

Space, Time and Love for Senior Dogs

In the beginning, Franklin ran Muttville out of her home and spent her own money on dog food, veterinary costs and other basic pet care expenses required to prepare her canines for adoption. She accomplished much of the other work thanks to volunteer help; several of her former salon clients helped her secure grants, establish a web presence, and more.  

“I knew I couldn’t do it by myself,” she says. With help, she saved 29 senior dogs during her first year in operation and coordinated several adoption and fundraising events.

News of Franklin’s mission spread by word of mouth throughout the Bay Area, and, by 2010, she had rescued nearly 600 dogs. She also received hundreds of requests to take in aging dogs. Overwhelmed by the demand, she decided to look for a proper building to use as a shelter, and solicited donations to make the move.

To encourage people to help, Franklin sent out newsletters and shared inspirational pictures and videos on social media that showcased positive stories about the dogs — and humans — she has helped.

It worked. She raised $100,000, and Muttville signed a lease for an old office building able to house 25 dogs at a time and give them space to roam freely in large rooms outfitted with beds and couches. From the moment they arrive, dogs are cared for by Franklin, a staff that now numbers 14, and a rotating cast of volunteers. They are vaccinated, deflead and dewormed, then given urinalysis and blood panels to detect any health problems. “We get dogs in pretty bad shape, so it’s important for us to treat them right away,” she says.

Throughout the process, the Muttville staff prioritizes the comfort of their furry guests, especially those in need of additional love and care.

Improving Lives for Two Species

Muttville has several programs for older dogs, but the one that put Muttville on the map with the  local press is “Seniors for Seniors.” The program places senior dogs in homes with people who are over 62 years old, with no application charges.

Having a furry companion in a senior’s life can offer benefits like reduced stress levels, lower blood pressure and increased social interaction, research has shown.  “A lot of seniors do not get out much,” Franklin says, “it’s a chance for them to get some good love.” Seniors who aren’t allowed to keep pets where they live can attend Muttville’s weekly “Cuddle Club” with its dogs.

Muttville also offers a “fospice” program for dogs facing illnesses that make them less-than-ideal candidates for adoption. Fospice, a term that combines the words “foster” and “hospice,” gives these animals a last chance to live in in a loving home. “A lot of people that do this feel very rewarded by the experience of loving this animal, even though they know this animal is going to be on limited time.”

A Permanent Home for Everyone

As demand continues to increase, Franklin says she hopes to find another location for Muttville and avoid renewing her lease for what is becoming a cramped space. She also wants to spread the love by helping other shelters implement similar programs to hers successfully.

Muttville will be celebrating its 10-year anniversary in 2017. Over the course of that decade, Franklin says she has enjoyed many triumphs, including being named a finalist for CNN’s Hero of the Year award in 2016. But passion, more than winning, is what drives her.

She calls Muttville her “baby,” and says her favorite part of running it is helping people. “That’s similar to hairstyling because you’re still making people happy, but you’re working with animals to create and nurture that human-animal bond.”