Angel’s Rest—the retirement home for dogs

Christine Van Moorsel receives plenty of kisses from Duncan and Dragon. Joining them are Zoe, Gracie, and Blossom. JENNIFER CHORNLEY PHOTO

Christine Van Moorsel offers a final home for our best friends

Special to the VOICE

Some say angels are everywhere and present themselves in various forms. For many people, young and old alike, angels come in the form of dogs.

Their never-ending companionship and love effortlessly fills one’s heart, yet, they ask for nothing in return

Unfortunately, some dogs become displaced for various reasons. It could be because their owner becomes ill and passes away, has to move into a care facility, or the dog has aged to a point where medical bills become a financial burden and they are surrendered to a humane society.

Fortunately, there is a piece of heaven in Niagara providing a comfortable, caring environment as an alternative to euthanasia.

Heaven’s gate is open at Angel’s Rest Dog Rescue and Sanctuary, with Christine Van Moorsel standing behind it with open arms.

This piece of green heaven is located on a sprawling 20 acres in St. Davids, with plenty of trees and a handful of angel statues strategically placed throughout the property.

Behind the 1840 farmhouse is a sizable fenced area where Van Moorsel’s 11 fuzzy residents can safely romp around carefree.

Upon entering her home, one would think it was day care. Playpens along one side of the kitchen, interlocking foam mats at the back entrance and a change table in the bathroom. This would be fitting as Van Moorsel operated a daycare centre in Thorold for 25 years.

Van Moorsel is avid dog lover, having grown up with them and providing a rescue environment most of her adult life. When she worked at her husband Nick’s business she would always bring along four or five dogs.

When she began fostering and rescuing dogs, they took in various sizes. Now, Van Moorsel only cares for smaller breeds, as they are less physically demanding.

The rescue and sanctuary was established in 2008.

Its foundation is to be a welcoming dog sanctuary for smaller dog breeds to live out remaining years in a loving home environment after they lose their owners.

“Because they give so much by serving us with their love, I wanted to mirror back that love by giving them the best possible environment so they could live out the rest of their days.”

It was a long process to put everything into place.

To provide an opportunity for the maximum number of allowable dogs in her home, Van Moorsel and her husband purchased the 20-acre property. This allowed them to obtain a kennel license and work within the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s regulations.

Angel’s Rest Dog Rescue and Sanctuary recently achieved another milestone. September marks its first-year anniversary as a registered charity.

“It had come to a point where taking on 10 dogs was beginning to become a financial burden, especially in the beginning when they first arrived and needed extensive vet care,” Van Moorsel said.

She explained that while some vet services can be donated, many others need to be paid for out of pocket. Quite often, many treatments for specific age-related conditions are expensive due to the procedures and medications involved.

The sanctuary has a community-based board of directors and professionals who have a heart for dogs in need. One member is Huntington Animal hospital, who graciously assists with providing care for the dogs through routine check-ups and frequent visits.

For Van Moorsel, the board helps keep the charity in line ensuring it is operating within its budget and doesn’t overextend its resources.

Van Moorsel said that a sanctuary environment for older dogs has and will continue to be needed, especially since Niagara has an influx of senior residents from larger centres such as Toronto and Ottawa.

If she does take in more dogs, Van Moorsel is agreeable to recruit assistance to ensure they receive the best care possible.

She and her daughter Jane are working toward establishing a waiting list database of Niagara seniors and their pets. The intent of the list is to secure a spot for the pet if its owner needs to transition into a care facility or if they pass away.

Van Moorsel would meet the potential fuzzy resident and its owner ahead of time to ensure both are comfortable with the surrounding environment once the time of need comes.

Van Moorsel strives to provide a loving, supportive environment for the senior dogs. Her gang consists of five Pugs (Duncan, Rosie, Lulubell, Zoe, and Blossom), one Chihuahua (Rico), a Puggle (Dragon), two Poodles (Fuzzy Wuzzy and Gracie), a Sheltie (Sheltie) and Shih Tzu (Karly). Each comes with a story and unique personality.

Not only does Van Moorsel rescue senior dogs from area humane societies when called upon, but sometimes also younger dogs that would be difficult to re-home due to environmental situations that have caused behavioral and physical issues, or natural birth defects.

“You would be amazed at how many people think that birth defects can’t happen to dogs and cats, but they do,” she said. “They are just like humans in that sense.”

An example is Dragon, the smallest dog of the group. “When I went to get him he was the size of a hamster, covered in fleas and had skin issues.”

Van Moorsel explained that due to certain behaviors caused by brain damage, he was at a higher risk of being unadoptable.

“I did work with him to get him to the adoptable point, but when the time came, well, as you can see he never went and been with me ever since.”

Even with Dragon’s challenges, he is the sanctuary’s marketing ambassador when they attend community awareness events.

“Everyone just loves that crazy dog. He’s madder than a hatter, but just has so much love to give.”

Duncan is a jet-black pug that was rescued from a strictly-breeding environment. He came with injured back legs due to being crated for extensive periods, and damaged right portion of his face due to head trauma. Van Moorsel invested $3,000 in vet care for him to be comfortable.

Van Moorsel admired his resilience in the face of the challenges he faced.

“Despite everything he’s been through he is the most docile of them all. Duncan is the ambassador for any new adoptee that comes in.”

Karly, 15, is an example of displacement, as her owner died in hospice care due to illness. It was her owner’s final wish to have Karly stay at Angel’s Rest for her remaining days.

Sheltie, a stray, was rescued from the Niagara Falls Humane Society, as he did not do well in a shelter environment. Van Moorsel was advised by her vet that the breed tends to shut down in environments such as a shelter and she worried he wouldn’t pull through once he arrived at Angel’s Rest.

Those fears were quickly squashed.

“It’s been a year now and he has completely turned around. He’s very social. He loves it outside and likes to herd the other dogs whenever given the opportunity.”

Kathy Fuller, Managing Director with the Niagara Falls Humane Society, said that all humane societies need the support of community resources.

“It is wonderful to have people like Christine who are willing to take on animals who may have issues from medical to behavioral to aging,” said Fuller.

Van Moorsel is conscientious when she accepts a new “Fuzzy,” as she calls them. She says depending on the dog, it does take time to adapt to the environment and routine. She also wants to ensure they mesh.

“If they don’t fit in, they don’t stay,” she said. “We are like family here.”

The dogs have a well-structured routine just as though they were in a daycare. They are up and fed at 7 AM, nap between 11 AM to 1 PM, eat dinner at 3 PM and by 8:30 PM are ready for their 9:30 bedtime.

Each dog has its own kennel, except for Chico and Zoe who arrived together and are best friends.

“They are just like a baby when it comes to their bedtime, they all need their blankets,” Van Moorsel said.

Van Moorsel enjoys the full-time responsibility of taking care of the dogs.

“I have three kids. I would have loved to have had more, however, that wasn’t in the cards. This fulfills my nurturing need, yet doesn’t feel like work. They are the reason I get up in the morning.”

Asked what her favourite breed was she answered with a laugh, “Dog. However, if I did have to pick one I would have to say the pug. I think they were put on this earth to do nothing more than entertain us.”

Fuller said, “Christine is a wonderful lady and we are grateful to have the resource she provides. She has taken on three senior dogs with challenges for us. She tells us that they are all doing amazingly well.”

As Angel’s Rest is a non-profit organization Van Moorsel is always questioned what is needed the most and that is wet dog food.

Those who would like to make a donation, be on the board of directors or make a general inquiry, may reach Van Moorsel at 905-262-6585.


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