'Cuddle Club' unites senior people and senior dogs in the sweetest way

The first time Vince Louie went with his local senior group to participate in an animal rescue organization’s “Cuddle Club,” he didn’t plan on adopting a dog. The event, hosted several times a month by San Francisco’s Muttville Senior Dog Rescue, gives senior people the chance to spend time petting and walking senior dogs aged 7 and up.Louie, 75 at the time, met a 14-year-old Maltese mixed breed named Monte and it was love at first sight. Louie adopted Monte that very day.“He’s pretty mellow, a go-along kind of guy,” Louie told TODAY. “He just seems in sync, so I was like, ‘Well, let’s have a go at it.’ It was time to have another family member.”
Monte "helps" Vince Louie volunteer at fundraising events for the Chinatown YMCA from the comfort of a backpack.Courtesy of Muttville Senior Dog Rescue / Muttville Senior Dog Rescue
It turned out to be an important decision. Louie’s wife died three months later, and Monte offered countless snuggles while Louie coped with his grief.Over a year later, the two are peas in a pod who go everywhere together. Monte, now 15 1/2, is a popular sight at fundraising events like running and bike races for the Chinatown YMCA, calmly “helping” Louie, now 76, volunteer from the comfort of a backpack.While many people want to adopt puppies, Louie said senior dogs — who are typically less energetic and already housetrained — can make wonderful pets , particularly for older people. He’s grateful to Muttville for rescuing Monte and offering programs for seniors like the Cuddle Club.

Many dogs have a condition nicknamed “Frito Feet,” in which their feet smell little bit like corn chips. As Matt Soniak wrote in a Big Question on this site, this has to do with the kind of bacteria found on a pup’s feet, and “could be due to yeast or Proteus bacteria. Both are known for their sweet, corn tortilla–like smell. Or it could be Pseudomonas bacteria, which smell a little fruitier—but pretty close to popcorn to most noses.”

“They do a great service,” he said.

Since its inception in 2007, Muttville Senior Dog Rescue has rescued and re-homed more than 6,600 older dogs. The nonprofit’s innovative programs like the Seniors for Seniors initiative, which waives adoption fees for people over age 62 and offers a free starter kit with pet supplies, have boosted success rates.
In Muttville Senior Dog Rescue's Cuddle Club, there's one dog per lap.Courtesy of Muttville Senior Dog Rescue / Muttville Senior Dog Rescue
Angela DiMartino, who volunteers as the Seniors for Seniors program manager, said the Cuddle Club started as an offshoot of the program in 2013 since not everyone can adopt a dog for financial or physical reasons, or when living in a facility that doesn’t allow pets.
Muttville wanted to create a program where people could come meet the dogs, and even if they couldn’t take one home, they had an opportunity to share the love,” she told TODAY. “We always try to have one dog per lap.”
The Cuddle Club is a win-win situation for seniors who can't have pets of their own and for animals who enjoy socialization and affection.Courtesy of Muttville Senior Dog Rescue / Muttville Senior Dog Rescue
The Cuddle Club started as a partnership with Openhouse, a nonprofit for LGBT seniors, and has since expanded to include a variety of senior groups and is even open to the public on certain days. Seniors congregate in a handicap-accessible room to meet the free-roaming dogs and visit with one another as well as volunteers.

INTERESTING FACT ABOUT YOUR PET: While other pets have positive effects on your health as well, dogs have the added benefit of needing to be walked and played with numerous times a day. This means most dog owners get the recommended minimum 30 minutes of exercise a day, lowering their risk of cardiovascular disease and keeping them in better overall shape.

There’s an option to walk the dogs after about an hour of visiting; one man enjoys letting small dogs ride on his walker. Another woman in her 70s delighted in walking a dog for the very first time.