“Writing on a blank slate is one form of love. Finishing a story already written, over which you have no power except to bring it to a full and happy ending, is simply beyond love.”
Although those words come from the desk of an unknown author, they mean a whole lot to Jean Stelten-Beuning, the owner of Top Dog Country Club in New Germany. While Top Dog Country Club has earned the unofficial title of the “un-kennel,” boasting Club Med-style digs for dogs when their owners are away, behind the hotel lies a cause that’s close to Stelten-Beuning’s heart—finding forever homes for dogs in their golden years.
The Top Dog Foundation strives to be like its namesake in that it works toward providing an excellent standard of care for senior dogs, or as Stelten-Beuning refers to them, “elder pups.” The rescue program has been created with the goal of rehousing mostly elder dogs (typically age 10 and up, depending on breed) whose owners have passed away or become unable to care for them any longer, or dogs who have simply been abandoned. “Dogs can live happy and full lives with the right care,” Stelten-Beuning says. Through the Top Dog Foundation, older dogs are able to be taken in, brought back to health and found a new home where they can spend their final days.
“I have had the privilege of being loved by many senior dogs,” Stelten-Beuning says. “That love and loyalty is like no other.” The foundation's genesis was inspired by Bentley, an older sheltie who was found wandering the streets of Shorewood by animal control 18 years ago. After receiving a call from the owner of the kennel who had him, Stelten-Beuning knew she had to let him call her home his own. When Bentley was found, he was estimated to be around 11 years old. Under Stelten-Beuning’s care, Bentley lived another six and a half years.
“The value to me is taking a life that would otherwise end and letting [a dog] know that they’re still valued and loved,” Stelten-Beuning says. Over the past 17 years, she has fostered over 150 dogs, many of whom have been seniors with terminal illnesses. “They had a fabulous last chapter of life,” she says. “When it was time, they died in my arms—the arms of someone who loved them very much.”
Stelten-Beuning has also established Dogs & Angels, a trust that allows owners to plan for the care of their dogs after they have passed away: where they will live, who will care for them, how their care will be funded, and so on. Created at the request of many Top Dog Country Club clients, Stelten-Beuning says that the trust is the collaboration of both the country club and the foundation. Some clients have set aside funding so that their dogs can live at Top Dog Country Club, once the dog reaches the age and health criteria for the sanctuary.
“Often, dog parents think family or friends will care for their dog when they pass,” Stelten-Beuning explains. “More often than not, those plans fall through.” With nine dogs currently enrolled, the trust is still in its nascent stages but has plans to grow. Ultimately, everything boils down to dogs for Stelten-Beuning. “I have loved dogs since I could walk and talk,” she says. “I couldn’t imagine life without them.”
Learn more about the Top Dog Foundation at topdogfoundation.org.