image1Ever wonder what life would be like without a pet?  So many people spend their entire lives with a beloved pet and then find themselves aging and alone and wondering if they’d be able to take care of a cat or dog.

For dog lovers, it’s a big dilemma.  Large dogs require large amounts of exercise and an elderly person may not have the stamina or the ability to walk them. There’s also a danger of being pulled down, or knocked down by a large dog. Then there’s the question as to whether or not you are able to lift the pet if it becomes ill and suddenly needs care.  There’s also the expense of caring for a pet on a fixed income.

While you may be a fan of big dogs, little dogs offer a lot for people who are aging—especially those who are compromised by illness.  The phrase “good things come in small packages” rings true for many small dogs.

Somerset Cottage Poodle Rescue in Middleburg has been saving small dogs from kill shelters and an unknown fate on Craig’s list for the past three years.  Lesley Clark started the organization when she saw that there were many poodles, bichons, mixes of the two breeds, and other small dogs posted for adoption by some of the region’s high kill shelters.  Having had poodles her entire life, she has a special affection for them. “They’re smart, easy to train and usually easy to care for,” she said.

Three of the poodles Clark has raised have lived to be 19 years old. Which is why many of the dogs she rescues from kill shelters are older.

“For older people, senior dogs are a piece of cake to care for,” she explained.  Most of the older dogs are housebroken and many have learned training commands.

“Someone loved them at one point but then either circumstances or family changes forced them to take the dog to the shelter,” Clark added.  Many of the dogs become confused and frightened by the shelter experience and it takes them a few weeks to adjust.  Clark enlists the aid of foster volunteers and, right now, she’s in need of fosters. Most of Clark’s rescues come from Prince George’s County, Md., Prince William and Craig’s List.

Many of the dogs rescued are in need of a good doggy dentist.  Clark gets all of their shots taken care of and has their teeth done.  Because many are seven or older (some of the shelters consider a seven year-old dog to be a “senior”), many need to have some serious dental work.  The initial veterinary care required for these dogs is often high (as much as $600). A local veterinarian helps Clark out by providing discounted services.

As far as those who have rescued some of the dogs, Clark says she could write a book. Everyone getting one of her rescues, goes through a rigorous application process.  She has had people fly in to adopt the dogs including one woman who flew in from Long Island to adopt a blind dog Lesley saved from a high kill shelter.  There was another woman who drove from Ohio to adopt a puppy that had been shot in the eye with a pellet gun.  People also bring their dogs back to visit.  Just last week a man and his daughter brought their dog to Middleburg to visit with Clark and thank her.

Somerset Cottage Poodle rescue is in need of foster homes.  The organization pays all of the medical expenses for the dogs and provides a leash and a collar.  The only rule is that fosters cannot have small children.

Drivers are also needed to get some of the dogs to Clark.  For years, a very kind woman in Prince George’s County has brought dogs that Clark has been able to save to Reston.  Clark then has to find a way to get them from Reston to Middleburg.  She’s in desperate need of drivers to make the run from Reston to Middleburg.

Clark herself is not without her own challenges. 

Fourteen months ago, she was involved in a debilitating car accident that has left her in a wheelchair.  Understandable though that she has one demand for all of her approved adoptees—they must show up with a safe car seat for the dog.  Anyone else having suffered the trauma that Lesley has suffered would have given up the rescue efforts.  Instead, she’s more determined than ever.  Her mantra is “I wish I could do more.”

For more information on Somerset Cottage Poodle Rescue or to volunteer to foster or drive dogs, go to or call Lesley Clark at 703-599-6018.  The organization is also always in need of donations to cover dog medical costs. Donations may be made directly to the Loudoun Veterinary Services, P.O. Box 480, Purcellville, Va. 20134-0480 for Lesley Clark, Somerset Cottage Poodle Rescue; or to Somerset Cottage Poodle Rescue, P.O. Box 2186, Middleburg, Va. 20118.

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