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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Amy Milligan’s Pet Project is Her Passion

By Sherry DiBari

Amy Milligan refers to them as the "Golden Girls." The "girls," Frieda and Tilly, spend most of the day sleeping - they are 13, 12, respectively, after all - but rise for a few hours for some backyard time, lunch and treats.

When Frieda, a former hunting dog, was found abandoned in a field, she weighed only 10 pounds. Since coming to the Milligans' home in November, she gained an additional 15. She is also deaf.

Tilly was an animal testing dog and spent most of her life in a cage - she even has a number tattooed in her ear from the lab. Now her favorite thing to do is ride on a kayak with Milligan's husband on the Elizabeth and Lafayette rivers.

"The best thing about Tilly and Frieda is watching them heal each other," Milligan said. "They are both dogs that have had really significant trauma. Seeing the way that they are able to connect to each other and really speak to each other in a way that I don't think we can shows me the power that they have to connect and love, even in their old age."

In Milligan's "day job," she serves as the Batten Endowed Associate Professor of Jewish Studies and Women's Studies and the director of the Institute for Jewish Studies and Interfaith Understanding at Old Dominion University.

However, in her other life, her passion is helping senior dogs.

"For me, there's something about how dogs are just always so happy to see you," she said. "And they really, for me at least, are in tune with my emotions and how I'm feeling."

"I just feel a real connection to them."

Milligan both adopts senior dogs and is an advocate for them. She works with organizations like the Norfolk SPCA, the Senior Dog Sanctuary of Maryland and Cookies for Clara, and helps with foster placement, fundraising and transportation of available dogs up and down the East Coast.

It all started with Brandy, a 16-year-old Jack Russell mix.

"I just saw that she had a lot of love and life left in her that maybe other folks wouldn't have seen," Milligan said. "After that, it was just a slippery slope."

Then came Darcy, a cockapoo rescued from a puppy mill, and then Clara, a beagle.

"I think once you've loved a senior dog and you see that they have a soul and they matter, it's just really easy to want the next one and the next one," she said.

Milligan feels that senior dogs can often be easier than puppies. "They already know who they are, you don't have to figure out if they are good with cats or if they are good with kids. You already know before you rescue them," she said.

"And there's something about senior dogs that they know they are rescued and they seem to be thankful for it," Milligan said. "There's just this moment, and everyone I know who has ever adopted a senior has had it, where they just are like, 'Oh, yeah, this is the right thing' and my dog knows it, too."

Milligan sees connections between her job at ODU and senior dog rescue.

"In Jewish Studies, we talk about how Judaism believes that every soul has value," she said.

"And, a big part of Judaism is tikkun olam, which means repairing the world," Milligan said. "That is also the same thing I see in women's studies and in my own activism of trying to make the world a better place. For me, that comes in many forms and one of those forms is in animal advocacy."

For those interested in senior dog advocacy, Milligan suggests a few options: adoption, fostering, volunteering at the local animal shelter or monetary donations.

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