This 25-Acre NJ Dog Sanctuary Offers Senior Canines Comfortable Retirement

by Sue Fajgier
senior dog shelter nj

Right now, in America, over 69 million households have one or more dogs sleeping quietly on their sofas. Each year Americans spend $124 billion on just our canine friends. You would think we lived in a country devoted to our dogs. But if you have ever owned a pet, you know the rollercoaster ride it can be from exuberant puppyhood with endless sleepless nights and teething on our most favorite things to the slow crawl of senior hood-when sleeping becomes the focal point of the day for our beloved companions. In the early days of dog ownership, we don’t often think about the life span of our beloved friends; but if you have ever loved and lost a dog, you know that the final chapter is always a tender time for pet owners and pet alike.

Doreen Jakubcak, founder and executive director of Marty’s Place Senior Dog Sanctuary, has not only thought a lot about the quality of life for senior dogs, but she has also built from the ground up – a facility specifically designed to enhance the quality of life for senior dogs. This sanctuary, nestled quietly off the road on 25 acres in Upper Freehold, is the ultimate retirement home for senior dogs in need. Here they are able to live out the remainder of their years where their physical and emotional needs are a top priority.

New Jersey has approximately 106 licensed dog shelters and pounds. This doesn’t include the approximately 128 rescue organizations scattered throughout the state. Yet few of these 238-plus organizations have any special accommodations for the ailments and infirmities of our senior dog population. So, while our New Jersey dog shelters may post an impressive almost 84 percent “save” rate, this doesn’t take into account the majority of the “unsaved” are in our senior dog population. These are dogs, who have lived the majority of their lives in a home environment, are now being surrendered to the concrete cages and metal bars that, unfortunately, are the world of most of our shelters and pounds. The thought of dogs facing an uncertain fate in their golden years is what sparked Jakubcak to establish a unique facility in the state of New Jersey.

Jakubcak had worked in various segments of Technology and IT for her entire career. In 2011 she decided to retire from that industry. She and her partner had owned two Labradors and lost both of them within one year of each other. The losses had such an impact they decided to take a break from pet ownership. Then, one day she saw Marty in an e-mail appeal for adoption. Something about that eleven-year-old dog that had been stuck in a shelter for six months struck a chord in her. Shortly after adopting Marty, he suffered a stroke. Jakubcak lovingly nurtured Marty through the end of his life just eleven short months after taking him into her home. This experience forever changed Jakubcak, and also the lives of many senior dogs.

Once she realized the need, Jakubcak got to work. Over a four-year period, she searched and located property on which to build the sanctuary, gained all approvals needed for the project, visited animal care facilities, and met with architects and building contractors.

A former tree farm in Upper Freehold, in a still rural part of Monmouth County, provided the ideal setting to design and purposely build the facility from the ground up. The 85-acre farm is now home to the three buildings that comprise the 25 acres now being used for the sanctuary operation and 60 acres of farmland and trails surrounding it all. Jakubcak’s goal was to design an environment that provided not only good medical care, but a warm homey setting. She did her homework, planning and designing a custom facility that provided care without the clinical feel. The results are incredible.

The main building is 8,200 square feet. This is where the dogs are housed. There’s a Kitchen/Operations Room where the smaller and special needs dogs spend their days in a common area. When I entered the room the dogs that could, happily greeted me with licks and wags.

I met some larger dogs in the Main Family Room/Common Space. Here there were five dogs with varying stages of mobility. They are able to mingle with other dogs and volunteers while lounging on comfy sofas and dog beds as a television plays softly in the background. If this feels like home for the residents, that’s exactly what it’s designed to do. In this room alone, there was a total of 68 years just from these five beautiful dogs, so much life lived. It’s a moving experience to gaze into the eyes of these dogs and see that they are enjoying a quality of life at the end of days that is just as loving as in the beginning.

After spending their days socializing together the dogs retreat at night to their private rooms. These glass-enclosed areas are designed for maximum comfort and have a homelike feel, no concrete and bars here. Marty’s Place has seven full-time staff members and five of those are devoted strictly to dog care. There are a variety of reasons someone may have to surrender a dog. They include; owner’s financial situation or forced relocation, owner passing or transitioning to a long -term care facility, serious owner health issues. There are lots of bad things that happen to good people. Jakubcak doesn’t judge – her empathy is boundless. She told me that the intake calls are often long and emotional on both ends of the phone. Over the years the sanctuary population varied between 20 – 30 dogs. They see more dogs with chronic health conditions, but they are also having increased success placing some of their residents in new forever homes.

The grounds also include a 1,700-square-foot pool building managed by 4 Paws Adrift. The building has a 14’ x 29’ four-foot-deep pool for swimming exercises and an underwater treadmill for dogs. The facility is available for Marty’s Place residents and also can be booked by private clients. Dogs use the facility for a variety of reasons, including recreational exercise, post-surgery recovery, neurologic issues, joint disease, and more.

I think the most challenging part of being involved with any rescue of any type is the realization that you can’t save everyone. It’s a point we all come to when working with those in need. From the beginning, Jakubcak committed to do the very best job for those that come to Marty’s Place, and in a small way, that would certainly make a difference. Marty’s Place focuses on dogs seven years and older. At any point in time, the population ranges from active adults to hospice.  Every day it’s a balance managing the changing needs of all of the residents.

Being senior dogs the need for medical care is great here. Several local veterinarians routinely provide veterinary services to the sanctuary. They include; Nottingham Animal Hospital, Heartland Veterinary and Boarding Clinic, Imlaystown Veterinary Clinic and NorthStar VETS. The support received by their veterinarians is integral to the overall health and well-being of Marty’s Place residents.

In addition to the dedicated dog care staff, Eileen Ready, Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator, works with over one hundred active volunteers. These individuals assist the sanctuary in numerous ways from helping with the residents to fostering dogs.

Recognizing that financial responsibility could be a barrier to adopting a senior dog, Marty’s Place created a long-term foster program with Morgan Misiur as the program coordinator. The objective of this program is to eliminate the financial aspect as an obstacle for those with hearts big enough to welcome a senior dog and the extra love and care that comes with this gift. Marty’s Place continues to pay for most of the expenses associated with the dog placed in a home.

In September 2022, Marty’s Place launched its newest initiative, the Senior Pet Assistance Program. The program was designed specifically to provide emotional and financial support to senior citizens that suddenly find themselves in a situation where they might not be able to keep their beloved pet. The program offers financial assistance for veterinary wellness visits, food, medication and core vaccines. It is designed to keep senior dogs WITH their senior citizen owners. The program is compassionate and unique with the objective of keeping the bonds in place between pet and owner.

All of the above good work requires funding. Marty’s Place welcomes the usual types of donations to the sanctuary. They also do outreach and fundraisers. Their biggest annual event is scheduled for Saturday, October 22, at the sanctuary. It’s the annual Howl-O-Ween Family Fest and K-9 Costume Contest. The event is from 12-5 and includes; pet photos, K-9 ghost walk, dog-friendly hayrides, an agility demo, raffle baskets, mini-swim sessions, a kid zone and much more. It has to be seen to be believed. If you want to visit the sanctuary at 118 Rte. 526, Upper Freehold Township, this is the perfect time to see how happy senior dogs can be.

Full disclosure note here; in April of this year, we lost our beloved dog of sixteen years. The hole in our hearts is still healing. Having gone through the loss of three dogs in my adult life, I understand that pain. For those living with older dogs, and starting to sense that they won’t be able to provide for them in their pet’s final years, that’s a sadness I can’t fathom. Luckily, there are people in the world like Jakubcak that see a need and fill the void. We can’t save everyone, unfortunately. That’s just how it is. However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to use what we have to do what we can do. I have always known that all dogs go to heaven. For some senior dogs, before they get to the rainbow bridge, they will experience heaven on earth at Marty’s Place.

About the Author/s

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Sue graduated from Rutgers University with a B.A. in English back when you could still get a degree for reading great literature. She spent nearly 40 years working in the Sales & Marketing field with companies ranging from non-profits to small businesses to Fortune 100 Corporations. Most recently retired after nearly 20 years with S & P Global, she is now free to pursue her true passions for hiking, writing and photography. Sue was born and raised in New York State. As a New Jersey transplant, her passion for the special blend of culture and nature that is uniquely Jersey is what Sue loves to share with the world. She has one grown son that she is insanely proud of. Her husband of many decades is an amazing partner both in life and hiking. When not out exploring, Sue is most likely at home reading a novel with her dog.

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