WHITEWATER — It’s said that a dog is man’s best friend. But if anyone ever bothered to ask the dogs, they likely would name Mandy and Darren Lewis as their BFFs.
The Lewises have operated Albert’s Dog Lounge at their rural Town of Whitewater home since January. Named after the Dachshund that inspired them, Albert’s Dog Lounge is a foster- and hospice-care nonprofit that focuses on special-needs and older dogs that have been abused, abandoned or surrendered by their owners.
Their primary goal is to place senior canines into permanent, loving homes for the remainder of their golden years.
“We moved here from Fort Atkinson two years ago with the intent of doing something for the dogs,” Mandy said. “We looked for acreage and privacy.”
“In town, at one point, we were kind of pushing it,” Darren jested. “We did not have enough yard.
“We have almost an acre now for the dogs,” he added. “We have a divider so we get let the little ones out front and the big ones out back, where there is more room for them to run.”
Albert’s Dog Lounge came about by chance. Mandy was a foster parent for Paddy’s Paws for about three years. The organization rescues dogs from the Houston, Texas, area and finds them homes in Wisconsin.
“In 2016, a little Dachshund ended up on the transport, but due to some miscommunication, he did not have any place to go when he got here,” Mandy recalled. “My husband carried that dog around for about two hours and then said, ‘No way am I giving this dog back.’ His name was Albert, and we decided to give this hospice thing a whirl.”
They had Albert for eight months.
“He was so full of charm and character,” Mandy said. “He ended up with his own Facebook page, and followers, and everyone grew to love him. When he passed away, we made a promise to Albert that we did not want to see any more dogs go through what he did. We decided to do something in his name and in his honor.”
At first, they simply were going to create a space to foster dogs.
“That snowballed and we started taking in senior fosters,” Mandy said. “It was evident that it is difficult for rescues to bring in that number of senior dogs. Most, unless they are focused on seniors, sit in fosters for a long time. It is difficult when they have a lot of young dogs. We decided to do our own rescue to focus strictly on these dogs. We really started the ball rolling on Albert’s Dog Lounge at the start of this year as our own rescue.”
Since January, the Lewis’ have rescued about 35 dogs. Each canine’s stay at Albert’s Dog Lounge varioes.
“If they are hospice, they stay with us for the duration of their life,” Mandy said. “I think the longest one we had was Pepper, who was here five months. Most of them are adopted within a month, I’d say, which is pretty amazing for a senior.”
“Pepper was brought into a shelter by her previous owners, and they walked out with a puppy,” Darren said. “She was 13 years old.”
Mandy said Albert’s Dog Lounge has been a big success.
“We are blessed to be able to help some of these dogs,” Mandy said. “Some areas, where dogs are overpopulated, seniors are almost always euthanized. We have done quite a few local cases, as well.”
“I was not expecting as many as we have done,” Darren noted.
Sometimes dogs come to Albert’s Dog Lounge because they have medical issues or their owners die.
“We had one couple where the wife developed Parkinson’s disease,” Mandy explained. “The dog became a fall risk, because the dog had always walked under feet. They were devastated they had to get rid of the dog, but other groups were not able to help them. They went to euthanize the dog as that was their final option, but the vet knew about us and gave us a call. That dog found a new home a week-and-a-half later.”
Most of the people who adopt dogs through Albert’s Dog Lounge maintain contact with the Lewises.
Albert’s original Facebook page morphed into the page for Albert’s Dog Lounge, and that is one way adopters stay in contact. They post pictures of the dogs; for example, one adopter posted pictures of their adopted dog living the high life on a boat sailing on Lake Monona.
“We always like the updates if we can get them,” Darren said.
“If the dog has a problem, we can provide guidance and advice if we are still in contact,” Mandy noted. “We just build relationships with them, and it is always great to just get updates on the dogs. We pride ourselves on being a home-based rescue. We never want to see these dogs in a shelter again.”
The dogs at Albert’s Dog Lounge are “part of the family” when the Lewises are home; they take them places and do things with them. During the day, the dogs stay in a converted garage that is both air-conditioned and heated, and they are able to listen to soothing music or other sounds.
“One of my friends from Fort is a plumber, and he installed our dog-washing station,” Darren said.
Albert’s Dog Lounge is 100-percent donation-based.
They just purchased a van to transport the dogs to the vets, adoption events or other community outreach events.
“That was through donations, as well,” Mandy said.
All the dogs get needed medical treatment at Albert’s Dog Lounge, including vaccinations, dental exams, bloodwork, biopsies or procedures such as tumor removal. They also are spayed or neutered if needed.
“Most puppies get one or two shots when they are adopted, but for us, we have lot of other things, and that makes every dog expensive for us,” Mandy said. “That is where the donations are extremely helpful for us.”
The adoption fee of $250 is used to recover medical expenses for the canines, as well as getting the them microchipped. All the medical paperwork goes with the dogs when they are adopted.
“We do have to say ‘no’ sometimes, and that is the hardest part,” Mandy said about when asked about having too many dogs seeking their care. “We are foster-based, and we are always looking for more people who are willing to foster dogs. The more people we have, then the more we can save. We can only keep so many here. We have to manage our number to make sure the ones we have get the proper attention. We only have so many fosters ,as well.”
Similar to Paddy’s Paws, the Lewises have a crew that works with them in Texas.
“Some will be in foster care down there before we can pick them up,” Darren said.
“For us, its about seeing these dogs have a happy home for the last years of the lives,” Mandy added. “Its not easy, and there are lot of tears, but there are a lot of happy moments, too.”
Darren recalled one dog in hospice, Ladybird, for whom they created a “bark-et list” (instead of a “bucket list”) for her last few weeks. The Whitewater Police Department made her a K-9 Officer for a Day, she was a therapy dog at St. Coletta of Wisconsin in Jefferson for a day and was a therapy dog for a day at Dairy Queen in Sun Prairie, where she got ice cream and a tour of the building.
“Her last item on her bark-et list was to be adopted,” Mandy said. “She was adopted by a family in Fort Atkinson, who had her for the last six weeks of her life. They invited us to be there when Ladybird had to be put down. We are still friends with them.”
Word about Albert’s Dog Lounge is starting to spread. The Lewises’ mission will be featured on the 10 p.m. news broadcast this Thursday on Madison’s WKOW-27.