A senior dog’s journey home

Hanjae the dog with Caroline Moss and Jeanhee Yu
Hanjae was at a shelter with a life-threatening medical condition. Today she’s thriving in her new home.
By Best Friends staff

We will likely never know how Hanjae ended up wandering the streets of Los Angeles on her own. The stoic, yet gentle senior girl was picked up and taken to a large city shelter and from there landed at the Best Friends Pet Adoption Center in Los Angeles. It’s unclear how long Hanjae had been on her own, but she was thin, her coat rough.

After a few days at the Best Friends center, staff noticed she was struggling to urinate. A medical exam showed that Hanjae had two large bladder stones that likely developed from an untreated urinary tract infection. The stones were large and needed to be surgically removed; if not, there was a risk of complete blockage in her bladder, a life-threatening situation. So veterinarians did the surgery to give her relief from what must have been incredible discomfort.

Hanjae’s medical challenges were just one life-threatening aspect at the time. Last year around 378,000 dogs and cats were killed in our nation’s shelters just because they didn’t have safe places to call home. Best Friends’ goal is for shelters across the country to reach no-kill by 2025, and collaborating with our shelter partners to take in and place their pets in new homes is just one of the ways we work together toward that shared goal.

With the stones gone, Hanjae appeared to feel better, but she was experiencing urinary incontinence. Everyone remained hopeful this would subside once her bladder fully healed, but only time would tell. “She was an independent pup but still sweet as ever,” says Ana Pulido, Best Friends senior coordinator of lifesaving outcomes in Los Angeles. The next step was to find Hanjae a patient foster family who could support her and keep her comfortable during her recovery.

Cat volunteer brings home a dog

As Ana considered possible foster families for Hanjae, one person came to mind. Caroline Moss had become a Best Friends volunteer five years ago, when she and her daughter signed up to help in the kitten nursery. She has since become a loyal foster person for many cats and kittens at Best Friends. During a conversation with the adoption team, Caroline expressed interest in fostering a dog someday. When she answered Ana’s call, Caroline didn’t expect “someday” to be that day, but she just couldn’t say no to an animal in need.

When Hanjae first came to stay with Caroline, it was clear human affection wasn’t one of her greatest desires. She did enjoy interacting with Caroline’s two cats occasionally, but humans appeared to be a bit overrated. Thankfully, with time and a lot of patience, a trusting relationship began to build between Caroline and Hanjae.

“It was beautiful to watch her start to lean against me and ask for affection, when before she didn’t want to be touched much at all,” Caroline says. “And now, when she smiles at you, you know you’ve earned it.”

Social media helps a dog in need

Caroline has always worked actively with Best Friends to find homes for her foster pets. She often posts their pictures and stories on social media to help them be seen by as many people as possible.

After fostering Hanjae for nearly two months, Caroline felt it was time for her canine houseguest to receive a little digital spotlight post of her own. So she posted Hanjae’s photo and bio on Nextdoor and encouraged anyone looking to adopt, or even become a long-term foster caregiver for Hanjae, to please contact Best Friends.

By this time, Hanjae’s incontinence issues were still prevalent and showing signs of becoming more of a permanent challenge for her. Cleaning up the occasional mess didn’t bother Caroline one bit, but she knew Hanjae’s next person or family would need to be equally understanding about the senior dog’s weak bladder. Fortunately for Hanjae, that special someone would soon come “knocking” from Nextdoor.

Dog gets a dedicated roommate

Jeanhee Yu considers herself a late bloomer when it comes to caring for a household pet. She says, “I remember my parents having pets, but they were never mine. My roommate in college had a cat, but that really sums up my experience with pets.”

Previously, Jeanhee had stumbled upon a guide dog organization looking for volunteers to raise puppies who were bred to be service animals. The critical factor for her was that the organization provided a solid structure and support system for the puppy raisers, which was comforting peace of mind for Jeanhee. The experience allowed her to see what it was like caring for a dog before fully committing to one of her own.

[Senior dog with medical issues charms new family]

After raising the puppy to his next phase in the training program, Jeanhee still wasn’t quite ready for anything long term, but she was open to fostering a rescued dog. While searching for a new canine friend in need, Jeanhee came across Caroline’s post on Nextdoor about Hanjae.

As Jeanhee found herself returning to Hanjae’s post multiple times, she decided to send Caroline a quick note to find out more about her potential friend’s history and care needs. The two talked back and forth for a few days before deciding to meet in person.

Jeanhee was cautiously optimistic upon meeting Hanjae, but she still had concerns about caring for a dog on her own. Noticing Jeanhee’s apprehension, Caroline reassured her that she would help the two of them however she could throughout the fostering process.

Jeanhee went to the Best Friends Pet Adoption Center to meet Hanjae in person and agreed to foster her. It was the beginning of another new chapter for both of them.

Stoic dog meets a kindred spirit

In the beginning, Jeanhee focused on observing her new canine houseguest and trying to understand who Hanjae was intrinsically — her individual nature. “Right from the start, I recognized that we were both the open and adaptive but reserved type,” Jeanhee says. With neither Jeanhee nor Hanjae knowing what to expect from the other, Caroline was there each time Jeanhee came to her with a question or concern.

The first concern Jeanhee had was that Hanjae seemed to be having gastrointestinal issues. She did a deep dive to learn about nutritional health for dogs, and then she began making Hanjae’s food herself. “The impetus of our elaborate meal program was rooted in health and nutrition,” says Jeanhee. She created Hanjae’s diet with human-grade ingredients, assembled fresh for every meal. She rotated the menu every three days. All the effort paid off — Hanjae blossomed. Her coat was thick and shiny, her eyes sparkled.

Everyone who knew and cared about Hanjae knew she’d do best with a special person who could not only love her but could be diligent with the senior dog’s care and medical needs. Jeanhee may have been new to it all, but she was incredibly good at it.

Once-hesitant roommates find their stride

After a month of living together, Jeanhee and Hanjae began trusting one another. Their walks also became a pleasant experience for both parties. With a lot of repetition, patience, and respect, they began to walk as if they were giving each other a gentle handshake. Neither one was leading the other. They simply walked in unison while the leash remained loose between them.

Jeanhee continued to call Caroline with questions, but she soon began sprinkling their conversations with stories about the moments of success with Hanjae. The three of them also regularly met up at a local park. The two ladies were swiftly becoming friends, thanks to their mutual love for a very special dog.

Hanjae’s happy new life

As time passed, Jeanhee eventually had to decide whether she wanted to adopt Hanjae or see her go off into another adopter’s home. “I really wanted to keep her, but I also wanted what was best for her,” says Jeanhee. When she couldn’t decide what to do, she turned to Hanjae for an answer. Jeanhee explains, “I asked her for a sign, so I knew what she wanted.”

Then Jeanhee pulled back the covers and climbed into bed. And Hanjae, the dog who once turned up her nose to any kind of affection, jumped in right next to Jeanhee and fell asleep. That was enough of a sign for Jeanhee. She called Best Friends to adopt Hanjae the very next day.

[Older dog gets new lease on life]

Hanjae has been living her best life with Jeanhee for several months now. The two of them also continue to have regular outings with Caroline, who will always be a very important part of Hanjae’s story. Jeanhee says, “Caroline has been our fairy godmother.”

Jeanhee and Hanjae clearly found their happily-ever-after.

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