Ten-year old Cocker Spaniel Mack arrived at Mt. Juliet’s Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary in 2016 during a battle with glaucoma, and his struggles with anxiety made it difficult to find him a home.

While facing down those challenges, Mack rediscovered his spark. He had his eyes removed and formed a strong bond with the sanctuary’s marketing manager Mason Taylor, who eventually fostered him.

Now, Mack is ready to show the world his youthful energy when he appears in Animal Planet’s Dog Bowl, which will see 65 dogs from ages 3-14 competing for the “Super Senior Award.”

“The Dog Bowl is an offshoot of the Puppy Bowl, and both events are meant to put a focus on animal shelters around the country,” Taylor said. “They have a 100% adoption rate for the dogs that participate.”

Old Friends gained a spot when Animal Planet reached out to the sanctuary, and Mack traveled to New York City with Taylor in October 2019 to shoot footage for the broadcast.

“Mack is one of our more popular social media dogs,” Taylor said. “They asked if he could come out, and we were there for a few days. We walked 15 miles in a day and a half, and all he wanted to do was walk the New York City streets. Before the trip, he didn’t like riding in a car, but by the end of it he was really comfortable with it.”

Animals participating in the dog bowl typically go out and play on the field in small groups, since dozens of them are represented. One might think Mack’s blindness would cause an issue, but longtime Old Friends volunteer Kay Norman said he adapted very well to it.

“From the beginning, he was very forthright. He found his way around, found his friends and even after his eyes were removed it was the same,” she said. “He’d been in a lot of pain, but once his eyes were gone it was almost like he became a puppy again.”

Norman also filmed a segment for the Dog Bowl spotlighting Old Friends. She and her husband have fostered multiple dogs through the sanctuary in addition to her volunteer work.

“Watching myself on TV is going to be strange, but I’m excited and honored they chose us,” she said. “I think it’s going to be fantastic publicity for the sanctuary. A lot of people think we’re like an animal shelter with cages, but we’re a sanctuary for these dogs and if we’re lucky they’ll find forever homes.”

Old Friends currently has an estimated 90 dogs living on the property, with 400 more fostered out to people in and around Mt. Juliet. They work with local shelters to take in their older dogs, and after a medical checkup they can spend their days making new friends, playing in the yard or just napping in a warm bed.

“We try to focus on what we call super seniors — dogs 10 and up,” Taylor said. “To be a senior dog is classified as 8 and up, though. Senior dogs have much more expensive health bills, but we have a veterinarian on-site and the organization takes care of the bills for the dogs we take in for the rest of their lives.”

The sanctuary is also looking to move into a new building that would provide a full veterinary clinic, among other services.

“This building we’re in now was an old gardening center,” Taylor said. “The new building is meant to have more efficiency, in that it’s being built specifically for dogs.”

Taylor hopes for the new facility to be open this year, and said it will include more space to walk dogs, some additional rooms for dogs who have trouble socializing and high-end cleaning supplies.

Laundry is actually an important aspect of Old Friends’ operation, since the number of dogs on the property means there is no shortage of beds and blankets to clean.

“I’m one of the main laundry volunteers, so I come in every day and work on that,” Norman said. “I love the great feeling of accomplishment you get when you come in and see the piles go down, but they never really go down that much because there’s more being added every day.”

Norman and the other volunteers make use of large washing machines that can clean several loads worth of laundry in 20 minutes, and they find time in between to bond with the dogs.

“I have a favorite dog that lives in the back,” she said. “She can get nervous around people, but she loves when I hold her. And I have the fosters my husband and I picked up.”

Mason Taylor hopes Mack’s appearance on Animal Planet will encourage more people to get involved with the sanctuary, whether as a foster parent or a volunteer. Those interested in helping can email Nell Taylor, the sanctuary’s volunteer manager, at ofsdsvol@gmail.com.

“Being able to have Mack participate in the Dog Bowl was an honor, and a huge thing,” Mason Taylor said. “I think we’re all in this together as far as helping make a quality home for dogs, and Animal Planet is one of the heavy hitters.”

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