When 19-year-old black Labrador retriever mix Annie was surrendered, she wasn't in the best shape. She barely ate and walked. The vet said she likely had only one month to live.
Then, her life changed when she was taken in by her new foster family: best friends and roommates Lauren Siler and Lisa Flores.
Annie went from only expecting to live for one month to now going strong — and viral on Instagram — for four months.
Siler was getting ready to go on a trip when she saw Annie's photo on the Dallas Animal Services Instagram page.
By the time she reached out to the municipal animal shelter, Stephanie Rowe and Duke Hemstreet — founders of the nonprofit The Pawerful Rescue of Royse City, Texas — had taken her in. It was the start of a beautiful friendship.
“When we saw Annie ... I personally felt like I was strong enough to (foster),” Siler told TODAY of taking in Annie in June after the death of her own dog, Bear, in 2022. “I knew I was strong enough to do it because I just had to do it... I couldn’t have imagined not being there with my dog and it just made me feel like, if all I get is Annie for a week, then at least she will die with somebody that she knew loves them.”
“It would have broken my heart more for her to have been put down in the shelter surrounded by nobody that she knew than it would have for us to have to go through that grief when that time comes,” she said.
When deciding to foster Annie, Siler said that Rowe and Hemstreet were really good about setting the expectations of taking care of an elderly dog and how much time they might get with her.
“In the beginning, we were just excited to love on her and have her," Flores said. "So we didn’t really think much about how hard it would be to let her go. I think we are just really focusing on the joy that she was bringing us at the time and just us enjoying loving on her and giving her all of these great experiences.”
Annie is bringing joy to not only her family but also to her Instagram followers. Trying to make the most out of Annie's golden years, Siler and Flores decided to create a bucket list for her.
Over the last few months, Annie has had a birthday party (they don't know her actual birth date), painted a picture, had Christmas in July, been on a hamburger tour, done a professional photoshoot and more.
“As people started following the Instagram, they were really just loving watching these pictures and these little videos of the bucket list,” Flores said. “And that’s when the suggestions started coming in. And so we were like, ‘Oh, this is great! Like, now we have more ideas,’ because it seems like Annie’s gonna be sticking around for a while. So we have more things to do.”
“And people want to be a part of it,” Siler added. She said it’s amazing to see people connect with Annie even though they have never met her. Siler and Flores, as well as Rowe and Hemstreet who joined TODAY on the Zoom, agreed that it also raises awareness for the need to foster elderly animals.
Rowe and Hemstreet, who gravitate towards senior dogs or severe medical cases, said that unfortunately people surrendering older dogs happens “every single day.”
“Most of the time, the reason is what they listed for Annie, which is, ‘She’s old, she can’t walk, she can’t eat. It’s a lot of work and we’re just kind of done with her,’” Hemstreet said. “And I know that sounds really crazy to the average person, but it does happen daily. Unfortunately.”
In Annie’s situation, Rowe said the pup “still has a lot of life in her.”
“And for whatever reason, her owners thought that that was the best they could do or really didn’t care,” she said, adding that they’ve also heard that the emotional toll of seeing their pets die is also a reason people surrender them to shelters. “I can only speak for myself, Duke, Lauren and Lisa, that’s not even a concept. We love our animals so much and they’ve given us so much, in Annie’s case 19 years, how could you not be there with her in her final moments?”
Annie, meanwhile, is thriving. Next on her bucket list includes a chicken nugget tour, being a chef for a day and even serving as principal for a day. She also has a new roommate.
This month, Lauren and Lisa added a new friend to their family, an 18-year-old male black lab named Tippy. “I think Annie requested a boyfriend,” Rowe joked. “I think that’s on her bucket list.”
In Siler's Instagram post introducing Tippy, she wrote, “You have landed right where you are supposed to be… where old dogs come to fulfill bucket lists, live life extravagantly, and be spoiled rotten.”
Tippy's former humans were an elderly couple but one died and the other had health issues. Siler and Flores said they gladly took him in.
The two dogs have gotten along great — aside from fighting over a bed, they joked, which is documented on Siler's Instagram stories.
As Annie's story goes viral, Siler, Flores, Rowe and Hemstreet all said they wanted to shine a light on how rewarding it is to love older dogs and animals.
“There’s a lot of dogs out there that are just like Annie that were dropped off that are around Annie’s age,” Rowe said. “Yes, she’s a unicorn, but there are a lot of unicorns out there.”
They added that they want dogs like Annie to be in quieter homes, filled with love and to be able to do bucket lists while being “spoiled silly.”
As for tips they can share with people who are looking to foster elderly dogs or ones with medical needs, Hemstreet said that the “rescues should be guiding you properly.”
“They should be taking care of all medical, supplies should be taken care of. Because that doesn’t happen every time, unfortunately,” he said. “There are so many shelters that need help. Sometimes people get caught up and ...trying to get as many out as they can. And that’s really not our philosophy. We feel it’s important for rescues to guide people.”
Siler and Flores, on their end as first-timers, said “it doesn’t take a special person” to foster an elderly dog.
“It just takes somebody that’s willing to spend a little bit of time with an animal, somebody who’s going to commit to it for the rest of its life, especially for these seniors,” Siler said. “They’ve given so much joy to somebody out there. Don’t be another person that lets them down, just open your home and be committed to them.”