On a 25-acre section of property in Upper Freehold Township, aging dogs live out the rest of their years at a sanctuary called Marty’s Place Senior Dog Sanctuary.
Walking into the main sanctuary building, people are greeted by a dog named Murphy, who is 16 years old and one of the many residents of Marty’s Place. Designed as a residential community for dogs, Marty’s Place was created to be a home – not a shelter – for its residents.
All throughout the building, couches and dog beds are lined about the walls and common space rooms as the dogs socialize each day. There is even a multi-purpose room with a TV that serves as the main family room for the dogs living at Marty’s Place.
“For us the cliché that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks does not apply, because we have seen dogs that are frightened and don’t understand those kind of basics, then we see them turn into dogs that are thriving and happy,” said Doreen Jakubcak, founder and executive director of Marty’s Place.
When Jakubcak stumbled across the property it was nothing but a tree farm, and in October 2015 Marty’s Place opened its doors.
“From the time that we wanted to do this to the time we became operational that was like a 4-and-a-half year process. Once we became operational it was clear that the need and demand was great,” she said. “We were not creating a shelter or a rescue. We want this to be as much like a home environment recognizing that this is a community living setting.”
The property she acquired for the sanctuary is a total of 85 acres: 25 acres where the sanctuary sits and the other 60 acres are farmland.
“Everything that is here we purposefully built for the dogs and the sanctuary operations. When we acquired the property it was just rows and rows of trees,” Jakubcak said.
There is a main building for sanctuary operations and amenities at the site that is more than 8,200 square feet and in the front of the main building is a separate structure that contains a pool and underwater treadmill for the dogs.
The two buildings combined are about 10,000 square feet.
The idea for Marty’s Place arose in 2011 after the death of an adopted senior dog named Marty in 2010.
“There really was a Marty. My partner and I had two Labradors and lost them a year apart. It was emotional over the course of losing both of them,” Jakubcak said. “We were going to take a break from having dogs and you know it is simple story of Marty finding us.”
Marty had spent time in shelters before finding a home with Jakubcak.
“He had great physical needs and shortly after we brought him home he had a stroke. He was only with us for 11 months.”
For dogs to reside at Marty’s Place they must be 7 years old at a minimum. They also take dogs in less than 10 pounds to 100 pounds and are open to all breeds.
The main building is in a shape of a cross and as people enter through a doorway into the operations center there is a common open space area for the dogs. Upon entering the common open space center there is a north and east wing of the main sanctuary building that consist of individual dog rooms.
“All the dogs have a room assignment and are in those rooms for two primary reasons: the first is sleeping overnight and the second is meal time. As good as the dogs coexist in the open spaces, when you have food it is just total chaos,” Jakubcak said. “Other than feeding and sleeping we want them to be able to be in open spaces to socialize with dogs and people. This where they hang out most of the day.”
The north wing has eight rooms plus a sitting area. Most of the rooms in the sanctuary are 6 feet by 8 feet.
Marty’s Place has five full-time staff members and has more than 100 active volunteers. The sanctuary staff days go from roughly 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. and Jakubcak on the weekends usually goes from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
“Depending on what happens during the course of the day or in the evening you may be here until 9 p.m. at night or whatever is needed. The dogs needs come first,” she said.
Pepper, going on 10 years of age, and Amber are two senior dog residents of the sanctuary and also a bonded pair. They came to Marty’s Place together. Whenever Marty’s Place receives two dogs coming in from the same household they do not separate them.
Pepper has a hypothyroid condition and is on medication. Amber is a diabetic, one of two the sanctuary currently has residing at Marty’s Place. The diabetic dogs receive insulin injections twice a day. Amber also has mature cataracts; surgery was done but ultimately unsuccessful, as she continues to have limited vision.
“Most of the dogs at Marty’s Place are on some type of prescription medication and some are on joint medications,” Jakubcak said. “Sometimes we know the medical history when they arrive and sometimes we don’t.”
Marty’s Place will conduct its own workup of the dogs from scratch for those who arrive at the sanctuary without a known medical history.
The sanctuary, pre-pandemic, had between 25-30 senior dog residents, while during the pandemic that range is in the low 20s. The sanctuary is moving forward currently with its adoption and long-term fostering program.
“This way we can find a permanent home for a dog and then help another dog. I believe we are at the point where we are taking in more dogs now then we ever have,” Jakubcak said. “At the start of 2020 we formalized our adoption and long-term foster program and with that focus we have been able to place more dogs and take more dogs in. It has been an evolution.”
While senior dogs are often overlooked at shelters and rescues, adopting an older dog comes with certain advantages and rewards, she added.
“Many are already house trained, require less exercise, and adjust more quickly to their new homes,” Jakubcak said.
With adopting there might be some hesitation by people to do so with an older dog for two main reasons described by Jakubcak, one is the thought of losing a dog after a short period of time and secondly the preconceived notion that they would come into the household with existing medical conditions and the cost associated with those conditions.
“We try to urge people to focus on the quality of life for the time that you have as opposed to the quantity. You truly are saving a life,” Jakubcak said. “Second, we wanted to remove cost as a potential barrier to having an older dog in your home by offering a long-term foster program and so with the program we are saying the dog stays with you and we will pick up most of the cost for veterinary care, medications or specialty food.”
Marty’s Place offers the long-term foster program as option for people who might hesitate with adoption.
“We are offering long-term fostering as an alternative to an outright adoption,” Jakubcak said.
On site there is a structure that houses a pool and underwater treadmill for dogs.
Early on, Marty’s Place wanted to have a pool as a low impact form of exercise for residents and it has evolved into being offered as a form of exercise for outside dogs who are not residents of the sanctuary. Owners can rent out time for their dogs to use the pool and treadmill.
Additionally, some dogs will walk the fenced yard, while others take a primary walk path at the rear perimeter of the property.
Brando is a chow mix that came to Marty’s Place with side effects of vestibular disease that includes the loss of balance, disorientation and a head tilt. Jakubcak described that most dogs recover from a vestibular episode, but Brando’s side effects are permanent.
“After additional diagnostics we did for him, one conclusion is that it was a vestibular episode, but they could not definitively rule out that he had a stroke or a really bad ear infection,” Jakubcak said. “He has a permanent head tilt and it is like he is experiencing motion sickness, so he doesn’t really walk in straight line, so we help guide him.”
He will go on short walks and for creature comforts in his room he does not use a bed.
Another resident is Migo, a 16-year-old Pomeranian mix that had some kidney and liver issues, has social moments and gets along quite well with other dogs. His diet involves baby food.
There is not a one-size-fits-all model used in terms of a medication plan or diet plan for the senior dogs at the sanctuary. Every plan is tailored to each individual dog.
There are a variety of reasons as to what circumstances have led to the senior dogs residing at Marty’s Place.
“It could be that an owner has passed away, an owner is transitioning to a long-term care facility, relocation and the owner or caregiver can’t take the dog, financial hardship, and the dog getting older and has health needs and the owner is not in a position to care for the dog either for financial or their own health reasons,” Jakubcak said.
Depending on each individual dog there is a range in cost of caring for each dog, due to the fact that some dogs may require surgery.
Senior dogs at Marty’s Place have a specific routine and for volunteer purposes the sanctuary has segmented its day into two-hour shifts.
They will have time in the morning for to go out to fenced portions of the sanctuary yard. They will receive breakfast back in either their rooms or other personal places in the building.
The two diabetic dogs have a scheduled routine that works in their feeding and injections.
After meal time, there is a walk and cleaning routine conducted. All the rooms get cleaned on a daily basis and part of the dogs walking routine they find themselves in the sanctuary’s open spaces in the building.
At the end of the day they will receive a final walk before the dogs head back into their rooms for the night.
Jakubcak, who had previously worked in tech and communication prior to retiring, describes Marty’s Place as different than having retail store or restaurant.
“Here these are live beings. We are here seven days a week almost 24/7,” she said.
When owners and caregivers go through the process to have a dog placed at Marty’s Place there is not a required financial cost that must be paid. The sanctuary will ask for a donation, but the donation is at the individual’s discretion.
“We rely heavily on donations to sustain us operationally. Our rough estimate for a baseline annual cost to care for a dog is about $1,000,” Jakubcak said. “That includes bi-annual blood tests, wellness checks, vaccines, and worm and tick testing. On top of that is the over and above based on the medical conditions. A lot of dogs come and they are in a significant need of dental cleaning that can easy be $1,000 for one dental cleaning.”
Through fundraisers throughout the year staff at Marty’s Place are able to raise funds to keep the operations of the sanctuary going. The main fundraiser Marty’s Place has is the annual Howl-O-Ween Family Fest, which occurs this year on Oct. 23 from 12-4 p.m. at the sanctuary on 118 Route 526 in Upper Freehold.
“We did not have it last year. It will be outside on the grounds again this year,” Jakubcak said. “It is a family-friendly, dog-friendly event. Activities will include hayrides, canine costume contest, kids activities, mini swim sessions and more.”
Marty’s Place Senior Dog Sanctuary is located at 118 Route 526, Allentown. For more information, visit martysplace.org.