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

Muttville Senior Dog Rescue's innovative program is a win-win solution for people and animals who need companionship, exercise and affection.
Vince Louie, 76, and his senior dog, Monte, met in 2018 at Muttville Senior Dog Rescue's Cuddle Club in San Francisco, California.
Vince Louie, 76, and his senior dog, Monte, met in 2018 at Muttville Senior Dog Rescue's Cuddle Club in San Francisco, California.

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/ Source: TODAY
By Jen Reeder

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.

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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.

“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.

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.

Both senior people and senior pets benefit from the Cuddle Club in terms of exercise, well-being and affection.Courtesy of Muttville Senior Dog Rescue / Muttville Senior Dog Rescue

Beth Hofer, who volunteers as the Cuddle Club manager, said the interactions are “amazing to see.”

“The seniors are giving love to the dogs that they need so much. The dogs are giving love to the seniors that they need so much,” she told TODAY. “I think also the dogs are giving some of our guests just a sense of value, because sometimes a dog will come down and they’re nervous, and they start shaking, and over the course of 15 or 20 minutes, the dog quits shaking and has fallen asleep on that person’s lap. You can just see how happy and fulfilled that person is that they were able to help that dog.”

“The seniors are giving love to the dogs that they need so much," said Beth Hofer, who volunteers as the Cuddle Club manager. "The dogs are giving love to the seniors that they need so much.”Courtesy of Muttville Senior Dog Rescue / Muttville Senior Dog Rescue

Some of the dogs are blind, missing limbs or have arthritis, while others have so much pep that it’s hard to believe they’re 15 years old, she said. Seniors enjoy learning about the background of each dog, and sometimes share stories of pets they’ve loved in their lives. Volunteers have fun chatting with their guests.

“I think it brings a great sense of community together where everyone is talking,” she said. “It’s pretty special.”