A ‘pawsitively’ loving home for the elderly

Of all the successful ventures Michael Goodin ’71 and his wife Zina have started, the one that they are most passionate about is a nonprofit they co-founded with a golden retriever named Lucy Lu.

Lucy Lu

When Michael and Zina first met Lucy Lu, she was a very sick dog that had been shuffled from home to home. It took them months to nurse her back to health, with much of her time spent at the veterinarian. But when Michael finally brought her home, Lucy Lu thanked him by providing a bolt of inspiration.

“She came to our house, started running, and never looked back,” Michael says. “She always had a toy in her mouth, and she was always happy from the very first day we had her.”

In his years at Colorado Academy, Michael remembers developing a willingness to try new ideas, something he has done throughout his life, and now Lucy Lu was giving him and Zina their next new idea. What if they started a dog sanctuary for senior dogs—the ones that are old and often in need of expensive medical care and therefore usually passed over by prospective adoptive families? And what if they placed those dogs with foster families—they call them “Geezer Guardians”—and provided all medical care for free?

It was an ambitious, expensive undertaking that would have been destined for failure in the hands of many well-intentioned people. But for the Goodins, who brought years of experience as mechanical engineers and small business owners, it was the right idea at the right time.

“We knew we wanted to make a difference in our lives,” Michael says. “We wanted to do something that was worthwhile in the world.”

Lucy Lu lived for four years after she joined the Goodin family, but her legacy continues to this day through the Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary (OFSDS). Located just outside of Nashville, Tenn., it is the largest facility in the world for senior dogs, with 120 dogs and two veterinarians. OFSDS has 1.8 million Facebook followers in 45 countries and has been featured on the Today Show, and in The Washington Post. But getting to this point of international fame took grit, planning, and perseverance—all qualities that Michael honed during his years at CA.

The lessons of used clothes

What brought Michael to CA in Seventh Grade? Well, there had been unwelcome scheduling adjustments at his old school and, he says simply, “I wanted a good education.” Beyond that, his memories tend to the sartorial.

At CA, he found a sense of camaraderie, and he made lifelong friends. In the classroom, he appreciated the emphasis on what he calls “liberal arts.”

“CA was a wonderful experience,” he recalls. “It was a place where I could cultivate my thirst for knowledge and for travel, and it gave me the foundation to live a very rewarding life.”

At the University of Arizona, where he met Zina, he earned a degree in psychology, but Zina persuaded him to pursue a second degree in engineering. The two moved to a small farm in Connecticut and worked as mechanical engineers for private companies associated with the Defense Department. They had relocated to Tennessee, when Michael got a call from Zina while he was working on a project in Mexico.

“She said, ‘I’ve decided to sell used clothes.’” Goodin recalls. “I said, ‘What, are you crazy?’ I will be right home.”

As it turns out, Zina was not at all crazy. (“She proved me wrong,” Michael admits, and not for the last time.)

The couple opened the first Plato’s Closet, a retail-resale store for teens and twenty-year-olds, in Nashville. They expanded with a second store and then a third, all selling gently used designer brands. Zina ran the stores, Michael handled the finances, and they found themselves working seven days a week, year after year. But as the businesses grew, they hired staff and began to look for ways to use their extra time.

Again, it was Zina who came up with an idea, this one tied to their love of animals. Michael had grown up with dogs—a German shepherd and poodle—and the couple had a collie and an ark of animals at their Connecticut farm—including exotic birds, goats, a Shetland pony, and a guanaco. Why not use their new-found spare time to work with dog rescue shelters?

The lessons of shelters

And that’s how it all started. In addition to volunteering for shelters, the couple started taking in strays—Oscar the keeshond, Charlotte the black Labrador Retriever, and Plato the pit bull. Zina got involved with the Middle Tennessee Golden Retriever Rescue, and she and Michael learned about the business side of rescuing dogs. They were struck by the challenge of placing older dogs with major medical problems—arthritis, missing limbs, diabetes, blindness. If people would not adopt an older golden retriever—a popular breed—what chance did other breeds have?

More and more rescues found a home at the Goodins’ house, and one day the couple looked around and realized they had 15 dogs, including seven goldens, living with them.

Once again, Zina had a vision. “We should start a sanctuary,” she said.

And once again, Michael was, by his own admission, the pessimist. “We have 15 dogs!” he said to her. “Why would we start a sanctuary?”

But Zina prevailed. The two used the design and problem-solving skills they had learned as engineers, combined with the people skills they had acquired running retail businesses. Zina loved the Simon and Garfunkel song “Old Friends,” and their brand was born—the Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary. Michael designed the business plan with an eye on the bottom line.

“We had big hearts, but it doesn’t help if the heart is bigger than the brain and the bank account,” says Michael. “We decided it had to be brains first and then the heart.”

They acquired their 501(c)(3) nonprofit status in record time, only to discover what could very well have been the fatal flaw in their plan—they did not like to ask people for donations.

A decade of dogs

Again, (and you may be detecting a pattern by now), Zina came to Michael with an idea. She planned to post photos of some of their dogs on a relatively new platform she had found online called Facebook.

“I thought she was out of her mind,” Michael says. “I was so wrong.”

The word spread online, donations started coming in, and OFSDS expanded, first to a second property neighboring the Goodins’ home and then to a 7,200-square-foot former Garden Center which they renamed “Grandpaw’s Gardens.”

The number of rescued senior dogs grew to 50, then 75, and then to 120. With 96 percent of the donations coming from private supporters, OFSDS flourished, gaining top marks in nonprofit ratings.

Their final move was to the current facility, a 20,000-square-foot state-of-the-art building dubbed PAWvillions, which the Goodins designed and built on more than nine acres of land. They have 70 paid employees, a top-notch surgical center for their veterinarians, and a wing of the building dedicated to specialized care, including a chiropractor, an acupuncturist, plus laser, medication, and physical therapy departments. “Forever Foster” families come from a 100-mile radius to pick up their senior family pet, knowing that all the care the dog will ever need will be free at OFSDS. 

In April 2022, OFSDS celebrated “A Decade of Dogs,” marking 10 years since they had received their nonprofit status. In that time, Michael and Zina have given countless dogs a second chance to experience love. But to hear Michael tell it, he is the one who has benefitted most.

“No matter how old they are or how sick they are, these dogs appreciate that you are giving them a home in their final years,” he says. “You can see it in their eyes, and it changes your life.”

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