Oakley ‘dog lady’ offers sanctuary for rescue animals

The yard sculptures are a tipoff: Here lives a dog lover.

But when Joyce Sanderson opens her front door, it’s immediately clear that her affection goes far beyond the ordinary.

Dogs dominate the three-bedroom home where the 73-year-old Oakley resident and her husband live on nearly an acre.

“It’s a 2,000-square-foot doghouse, and we get to sleep here,” Sanderson laughed, noting that eight of her charges spent the previous night on their bed.

Asked about that day’s census, she pauses.

“I think 30, but I’d have to count,” Sanderson says.

An ever-changing guest list is to be expected of this stalwart supporter of Homeless Animals’ Lifeline Organization, a nonprofit that has played a central role in Sanderson’s life for the past decade.

Of the 5,012 dogs that HALO has rescued to date, nearly all have spent time with Sanderson before finding permanent homes.

So constant is the canine presence that the family’s African Grey Parrot has learned to mimic a growl and added “Stay back!” and “Good baby!” to its vocabulary.

Sanderson became involved with the group while recovering from a work-related injury that had forced her into retirement.

Depressed and bored, she was trying to distract herself by adopting a playmate for her dog, and in the course of her search, she met a couple of HALO volunteers.

Would she be interested in fostering one as well, they asked.

Sanderson hesitantly agreed, and within

a matter of weeks, her property had become a way station for a dozen other dogs.

She also began donating dog food and flea medication and in short order had joined HALO’s board of directors.

Because area shelters initially were reluctant to turn over their overflow populations to the then-fledgling adoption group that had no track record, Sanderson made a 300-plus mile drive to Southern California multiple times that first year to collect dogs from a friend who volunteered at a Lancaster shelter and could vouch that they would be in good hands.

News of her work spread, and as she gradually established relationships with shelters in Northern California, she made the switch to fostering some of their dogs.

These days Sanderson oversees a cadre of volunteers as HALO’s dog foster manager, and is a go-to person for those with animals that need homes as well as those wanting to adopt.

She takes in not only stray and abandoned dogs but voluntary surrenders: A Bichon Frise in Sanderson’s care belonged to a woman too ill with cancer to care for her. The Miniature Pinscher arrived when its owner lost her home to foreclosure.

Other dogs are relinquished when couples divorce and, after selling their home, find that they have neither the space nor money for a pet.

Some are displaced when a baby comes along; some that were adopted as puppies are rejected as not-so-cute nuisances once they grow up.

The one constant is that they all find safety and affection with Sanderson.

“She just really loves them with all her heart and soul,” said HALO President Tamara Reed. “It’s just her makeup. It’s Joyce.”

Creature comforts

A volunteer bathes a small, scruffy terrier in the kitchen sink as Sanderson shows a visitor around the premises.

Two wriggly baby pugs scoot around the laundry room, while next door a Maltese nurses 8-day-old puppies.

Snow White and her litter of seven share the space with a small white terrier-mix that had been on a list of animals scheduled for euthanasia at a Stockton shelter.

The two-car garage is filled with eight more dogs. A vocal 1-year-old Bichon vies for attention with a Min Pin that’s bouncing like a pogo stick in its cage.

As Sanderson steps into the backyard a river of small dogs follows, swirling around her ankles in a cacophony of yips and yaps.

A beagle in a kennel by itself watches the activity without comment, but on the far side of the spacious garden one of two Labs cloistered in a dog run joins the chorus.

Sanderson is quick to point out that as she rescues these dogs from uncertain futures, they’re also saving her.

“I do it to keep me alive,” said Sanderson, who suffered a heart attack four years ago.

The gravelly voiced great-grandmother admits that emphysema and chronic fatigue haven’t persuaded her to give up heavy smoking.

Without her animals, “I truly believe I’d be dead today,” Sanderson said.

Caring for them requires her to stay on the move, she explains.

“It forces me to get up and go when I don’t feel like it. The dogs won’t wait.”

Up by 6:30 a.m., Sanderson spends her days shepherding them outside for potty breaks and cleaning up their messes, which include remnants of stuffed toys they have mangled and foam from chewed-up bedding.

“It’s constant picking up,” she said.

But that’s not a complaint.

Never mind that the couch purchased less than a year ago now is duct taped where sharp little teeth have torn the leather.

No matter that countless toe nails have scratched the varnish off wooden doors and oak tables.

And Sanderson accepts that she must pay housekeepers to clean accidental puddles and fur off the hardwood floors as part of the daily ritual.

The dogs also chew their way through bed sheets and computer cables, and keeping clean bedding on hand means running the washing machine and dryer three to four times a day.

“It’s absolutely terrible,” said her husband, Wayne, but his indignation is unconvincing.

In addition to giving her a reason to exercise, the dogs guarantee that Sanderson won’t join the ranks of those who lose the will to live once they stop working, he said.

“We firmly believe that retirement kills more people than anything else,” Wayne said.

Sanderson’s sense of purpose certainly keeps her busy. When she isn’t doing welfare checks on dogs that recently have found permanent homes, she’s posting descriptions of ones that are up for adoption on Petfinder.com.

For the past few years has hosted an open house every Saturday and Sunday so prospective pet owners can meet the candidates.

Once the organization opens a shelter in the city’s former fire station, Sanderson expects her inventory to shrink to the eight-dog limit her husband has set but never enforced.

TO HELP HALO
For more information on how you can help Homeless Animals’ Lifeline Organization, call 925-473-4642, email halo@yahoo.com or go to www.eccchalo.org.

http://www.mercurynews.com/breaking-news/ci_19172412?nclick_check=1

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