These old dogs are special picks at sanctuary


NORTH VERSAILLES, Pa. — Eleven dogs greet visitors at the door of the lovely 115-year-old Victorian house. There’s a lot of slow-motion tail wagging but very little barking and no jumping up and down. Most of the dogs have a lot of white around their muzzles, several limp a bit, and some have the rheumy eyes that come with great age.

The dogs are happy to welcome people to the Gray Paws Sanctuary in North Versailles, where they live with Joe Brescia and his wife, Darla Poole-Brescia.

The oldest dogs are Harley, 15, Sammy, 14, and Licorice, 14. The four youngest are 11-year-olds Sunny, Faith, Reisling and Ginger. Four are beagles, four appear to be Labrador retriever mixes, one is a cattle dog mix, and two are mixed breeds of indeterminate origin.

The Brescias’ mission statement is “providing quality forever care to abandoned senior dogs.”

“They stay with us until the day they die,” Poole-Brescia said.

Since they incorporated their nonprofit sanctuary in 2014, they’ve taken in 18 dogs. Seven have died.

Although they know their time with each dog will be relatively brief, “you never get used to it” when they die, Brescia said.

A need: “We just saw a need to help old dogs,” his wife said, adding that they are sweet, loving and appreciative.

Many of their dogs were scheduled to be euthanized when elderly owners died or went to a nursing home. Some were relinquished by owners who were unwilling or unable to pay for veterinary care.

Seraphina, 13, and two others were strays, thought to be “discarded hunting beagles.” They were apparently dumped because they weren’t good hunters anymore.

Seraphina wears a pearl necklace and clearly prefers napping and lounging to chasing rabbits or anything else.

Home: Gray Paws gets old dogs from shelters and rescues, including Forever Home Beagle Rescue and White Oak Animal Safe Haven. The dogs need to be able to mix and mingle peacefully with a good-sized pack in the cage-free sanctuary.

In case you’re wondering, the house is enviably clean, though the couple work full-time jobs. It does not smell “doggy,” although old dogs are prone to problems with incontinence.

There are many large, cushy dogs beds upstairs and downstairs. A doggy door gives them unlimited access to the fenced backyard. All have the run of the house, but Hershey and Licorice aren’t able to make it upstairs.

“We have too many stairs,” Bescia said, so the couple are having a one-story modular home built on 3 acres they purchased in White Oak, Pennsylvania. It’s custom-designed for dogs, with crates and resting nooks built in under counters. There is a separate utility room where they will be able to isolate sick dogs. They hope construction is completed by November.

Then they will sell their North Versailles home, which has hardwood floors, lots of beautiful wood trim and charming window seats.

Donations: The Brescias welcome donations, and they hold fundraisers, but vet bills and other expenses are paid largely out of their own pocket. Earlier this month Denise Cognito DePalma of Level Green, Pennsylvania, held a golf outing in memory of her son, Michael, 27, who loved animals. She donated $2,000 to Gray Paws.

Go to or its Facebook page for more information. Donations can be mailed to 211 Arlington Ave., North Versailles, PA 15137.