Meet the Utah woman on a mission to save senior dogs

Seth Schilling has launched Golden Bark Foundation, which works to give older dogs “the last best part of their lives.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Seth Schilling, Founder and Executive Director of the Golden Bark Foundation, a non-profit that rescues senior dogs, takes Jenkins, a 10-year-old pointer mix for a stroll in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023.

Seth Schilling has a tattoo on her right bicep, with the word “dogs” on a scroll over a red heart. She sometimes sports a baseball cap that reads “support your local rescue.”

When she talks, she describes going the extra mile for dogs, particularly senior dogs.

Once, she said, she drove to Texas to adopt Daphne, a diabetic, blind schnauzer who otherwise would have been put down. Another time, she said, she drove to Las Vegas to pick up a foster dog named Bogi.

The first dog Schilling rescued, in 2015, was Sadie, then 13, whom she found on Facebook. When Sadie died in 2018, Schilling found Harvey, a 10-year-old schnauzer that was surrendered to the Humane Society.

When Sadie died, Schilling said she told her husband, “We should do this again. That was so amazing, to give a dog the last best part of their life. … I would like to do this forever. Like, this is something that I’m very interested in to pursue down the road.”

Schilling’s pursuit has become The Golden Bark Foundation, which she founded in April 2022, dedicated to saving senior dogs.

“I don’t think people realize that senior dogs, older dogs, dogs with disabilities, dogs that have medical issues, they take a lot longer to find homes than just a regular puppy or a nice purebred dog,” Schilling said. “They’re like the first ones that go in the shelter if they have to euthanize; it’s usually the older dogs, dogs that have been there for a couple of months, or dogs that have issues.”

When Schilling spoke to The Salt Lake Tribune, she was caring for eight dogs in her Ogden house — four of her own and four foster dogs. On the mantel of her fireplace, she has commissioned portraits of every dog that has ever been hers or lived in her house.

Her foundation’s logo — designed by Ogden artist Chloe Norvell — features portraits of Sadie and Harvey, on top of marigolds. “Because a lot of my roots in the nonprofit are from my Hispanic roots, Día de Los Muertos, that’s the flower,” Schilling said.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jenkins, a 10-year-old pointer mix loves getting love as he leans into Seth Schilling, Founder and Executive Director of the Golden Bark Foundation, a non-profit that rescues senior dogs, during a recent stroll in Memory Grove on Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023.

Meeting Jenkins

One of Schilling’s current foster dogs is Jenkins, a pointer who she got earlier this summer. The shelter in Utah County where he was staying contacted Schilling, because he wasn’t doing well there.

“He’s calm, sweet and serious,” Schilling said, while letting Jenkins lead her around Salt Lake City’s Memory Grove Park.

Mostly, she said, Jenkins is curious.

Every dog has their sassy quirks, Schilling said. Often, when dogs come to her, Schilling doesn’t know their backstories — so she extrapolates those stories from behavior.

Jenkins, she said, “just stands right next to you. Like he doesn’t sit with you. He just stands right in front of you.”

Two days before this interview, Schilling said she had taken Jenkins to the veterinarian, where they found he had a severe bladder infection — and might possibly have cancer, though they won’t know that until the infection passes.

“If he does, he’ll probably end up being a hospice dog,” she said. “So he’ll stay under our care until he passes on, but we’ll provide all the medical. Everything will be funded by us.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jenkins checks in on any possible treat sources as he strolls Memory Grove with Seth Schilling, Founder and Executive Director of the Golden Bark Foundation, a non-profit that rescues senior dogs on Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023.

Shelters and rescues

Since starting the nonprofit more than a year ago, Schilling said, they have helped 14 senior dogs, either rescuing them or helping them get adopted — deploying a foster network from Tooele to Brigham City. About 80% of them have come from shelters; others were surrendered by their owners.

Eventually, Schilling said, the foundation aims to shift focus to taking senior dogs out of shelters. Senior dogs have a rough time in shelters, she said, because of overcrowding and euthanasia issues.

“Shelters are just a very depressing place,” she said. “They’re loud, dirty, mostly underfunded. A lot of local community shelters don’t have enough funds to take care of a senior dog like [Jenkins,] that requires medical care.”

Most people adopting dogs are looking for puppies and younger dogs, Schilling said — but older dogs have their advantages, too.

“For the most part, they’re pretty laid back,” she said. “They’re at a point in their life where they just kind of want to hang out.”

The foundation aims to help its dogs find their forever homes, Schilling said — but she’s adamant that there must be a good match between dog and potential owner. For example, they’ll note if a dog in their care doesn’t do well around other dogs.

The help Golden Bark gives to senior dogs, she said, includes many things — but medical care is a big part of the service.

“Every dog, when they come into our rescue, we get their medical needs taken care of. We try to do a lot of testing and get all their bloodwork done and just give them a full senior workup,” Schilling said. “Most of our funds that are raised go towards the medical expenses.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jenkins, a 10-year-old pointer mix seeks out love from Brynn Meulenberg, center, and Ashley Pappal as he gets an outing with Seth Schilling, Founder and Executive Director of the Golden Bark Foundation, a non-profit that rescues senior dogs on Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023.

In their mid-year update, Schilling said, the foundation spent $1,940 on food and other supplies, and $11,250 on veterinary expenses. They also received $3,025 in donations. The Schillings — Seth and her husband, Nathanial — cover the rest. (The foundation is holding its annual fundraising gala on Friday, Sept. 22, and takes donations year-round; go to goldenbarkfoundation.org for details.)

Looking ahead 10 years, Schilling said, the foundation’s goal is to create a senior dog sanctuary, grow their foster network and start a community of senior citizens and senior dogs.

“I just wish more people would consider adopting a senior dog, or a dog with disabilities, or a dog that wouldn’t have a chance if rescues wouldn’t take them in,” she said.

It’s inevitable, and heartbreaking, that they will lose some dogs, Schilling said.

“Our last dog, Carlie, she was the first dog we rescued, she was only with us for 311 days,” Schilling said. “She didn’t even make it a full year, but I can’t imagine not having her for those 311 days.”

“I’ve lost four seniors now. Every time I lose a dog, it’s a lot harder,” Schilling said. “But after I go through the grieving phase, … I’m able to look at it in a different way, like, ‘Oh, wow, I was able to have this dog.’”

There are moments, Schilling said, that remind her of why she does this work.

“It’s usually when, like with Jenkins the other day when we found out about all these issues that he has, this is why we’re doing it. Because if we didn’t, who would? Not everyone has the funds to help a senior dog,” she said.

Schilling added, “It’s so important that people should give [senior dogs] a chance, because everyone deserves to live out the best time in their golden years, not just puppies.”