Cynthia Todd has a passion for dogs, especially for senior dogs that find themselves homeless after their owners pass away, become incapacitated or simply can’t care for them any longer.
She’s putting her feet where her heart is and has challenged herself to walk 60 miles in three days in mid-February to raise funds to promote the adoption of senior animals through the Arizona Humane Society.
Her Funds for Old Friends fundraiser will funnel all donations to the organization to be used to “promote the adoption of homeless senior animals” by underwriting the adoption expenses.
The 66-year-old Ahwatukee resident was prompted to undertake the fundraiser after the loss of her own aging and special-needs Shih Tzu named Gizmo, whose various ills and pains necessitated being put down at age 13 ½ last May.
“I just have a really, really special place in my heart for dogs, and any animal going through a hard time,” she said. “This is my tribute to Gizmo.”
Gizmo was a 2004 Christmas present from her husband, Bill.
“Gizmo was a puppy mill dog and was probably taken from his mother too soon. When I got him, he was so tiny he fit in my hand and weighed about half a pound. He didn’t get a good start in life, but I knew he had needs and I was okay with that, but I sometimes wondered what would happen to him if I passed away first,” she said.
Following the death of her husband in 2011, Todd moved to Ahwatukee to be closer to her son, real estate broker Ben Quillinan. She is now employed part-time as field service manager at her daughter-in-law’s Ahwatukee real estate company, Rachel Richards Realty.
It was while walking in Ahwatukee that the idea for Funds for Old Friends came to her.
“I volunteered at a number of charities but hadn’t found one that was a good fit for me. I do feel a need to help others, though, so I’ve tried to think of ways to use what I love to be of service in my community,” the seven-year Ahwatukee resident said.
“As I was walking one day, I thought about how I love animals and I love walking, and wondered how these could be combined in a productive way to bring some good. I thought about an old dog I’d seen surrendered at the Humane Society,” she explained, adding:
“It broke my heart then, and still haunts me, because in addition to its apparent distress and confusion as its human walked away, I knew what an uphill battle it faced in being adopted into a new home.
“That reminded me of my own old dog, Gizmo, who had a myriad of health issues, and I worried constantly about this, because I knew that if anything happened to me, there would likely be no one who would take him in. I wondered if there was a way that I could help senior animals like him and the one I’d seen surrendered at the Humane Society to be adopted into new families.”
She said she was inspired by the myriad charity runs and walks for various causes, and as she walked through Ahwatukee, she wondered if she might organize her own charity walk to help aging dogs and cats find homes.
“That was my seminal moment for my founding of Funds for Old Friends,” she said.
“The concept of 60 miles in three days came from an endurance walk I’d read about in northern Europe. Participants walk for 57 miles and the time limit is based on their age. For my age group, the cutoff is 72 hours. I liked that idea, but 57 was an awkward number, so I rounded it up to 60.”
And though walking 60 miles in three days may sound daunting for any 66-year-old, Todd has a few miles under her walking shoes – including two treks of 100 and 150 miles on the Camino de Santiago, Spain’s famous pilgrimage trail that culminates at the tomb of St. James at Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain.
“I spend a lot of time walking,” confessed Todd, who now walks up to 16 miles daily around Ahwatukee and South Mountain, often accompanied by Tomboy, her 3-year-old Chihuahua.
“In October I’m doing the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim Hike. I did one Rim-to-Rim with my son, but this time I’m doing it all; it’s like two marathons with approximately 26 miles each way.”
Not that she considers her 60-mile Funds for Old Friends fundraiser a walk in the park. In fact, she is training to help ensure she can complete it.
“I’m gradually increasing the length of my walks for several days each week to mirror the three days I’ll be walking. When I was preparing for the Camino walks, I did a lot of strength and hill training, but here my focus is on endurance since I won’t be tackling any mountains,” she said.
“As to routes, I have three different routes I walk that wind through areas of Ahwatukee which allow me to avoid a lot of time walking along busy roads.”
As any athlete knows, shoes are important, and Todd has her favorite walking shoes.
“I wear Brooks Adrenaline running shoes, and I just ordered a new pair because there’s basically no sole left on the bottom of the ones I’ve got, and that makes walking a lot harder,” she said.
“Running shoes are good for 300 to 500 miles, and then they lose their support. I’ve got around 750 on the pair I’m wearing now. By the time the new ones come, I’ll be able to get them broken in and in good shape for 60 miles straight of walking.”
The Arizona Humane Society is enthusiastic about Todd’s endeavor and how it could encourage adoption of elder animals in their care.
“There are so many benefits to adopting senior pets. Not only do they tend to already be trained and ‘what you see is what you get,’ but pets in general offer so many emotional and physical benefits to people such as helping lessen anxiety and stress while also keeping people active and social,” said Arizona Humane Society spokeswoman Bretta Nelson.
“We love our senior pets at the Arizona Humane Society and while the average length of stay on our adoption floor for our pets is less than seven days, it is not uncommon for senior pets to get overlooked for puppies, kittens and younger pets,” Nelson continued, adding:
“Funds for Old Friends is such a unique way of bringing awareness to senior pets and what wonderful companions they make. We’re grateful to Cynthia for her creativity and generosity devoted specifically to some of our oldies but goodies!”
Nelson said several older pets are awaiting adoption including Kami, a 7-year-old Akita mix; Rusty, a 9-year-old Chihuahua surrendered to the Arizona Humane Society in December because his owner had too many pets to care for, and Gus, a 12-year old Australian Shepherd mix and “staff favorite” found last July in Glendale.
Because these particular dogs may have already been adopted by the date of this article’s publication, Nelson suggests researching their availability and other senior adoptable pets at AZHumane.org.
Once word spread about Todd’s Funds for Old Friends fundraiser, donations began coming in – some through GivingGrid.com, and others directly to the Arizona Humane Society.
She’s distributing fliers featuring a photo of her and Gizmo taken on his last day at the Humane Society, her veterinarian – Family VetCare of Chandler – and local pet stores.
“I’ve already got $755 in donations and that’s an encouraging start, I think,” said Todd, noting people can donate before or after her mid-February walk.
“If donating by check, it should be written to the Arizona Humane Society with a notation that the donation is to be credited to the Funds for Old Friends adoption campaign,” she explained.
To donate online, go to GivingGrid.com and enter Funds for Old Friends in the search bar. One hundred percent of donations made by check will go to Arizona Humane Society. All donations made online will go to AHS, once a bank transaction fee has been deducted.
She said checks can be mailed to Mary Hetrick, Arizona Humane Society, 1521 W. Dobbins Road, Phoenix, AZ, 85041.
All donations should be made on or before March 15, 2019.
“There are many reasons why senior pets are surrendered, but whatever reason, it means this vulnerable, helpless animal is now homeless, and its road to adoption is rocky,” she said.
”Senior pets can be wonderful companions and sharing your life with one can be tremendously fulfilling. My hope is that by underwriting the expenses of adoption, potential adopters will be encouraged to give these animals a chance to become loving and beloved members of a new family.”