Doggy retirement home

Before dogs (plus a load of cats and a 51-year-old Yellow-headed Amazon parrot named Randi) go to heaven, they spend their twilight years at Dirk Bufé's pet retirement shelter. Meet the mastermind of this menagerie for geriatric and unwanted animals.

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Photo by Marta Dominguez

Old or unwanted pets are usually ‘put to sleep’. Dirk Bufé believes this is wrong. “Every animal deserves to be treated with dignity, even if it doesn’t fit the typical cute pet mould anymore,” he says. Together with his husband Hartmut Benter, Bufé has been running a pet retirement home since 2005.

The story of Bufé’s love for animals began when he was a child in East Berlin. His mother was an alcoholic and did not allow pets. “So when I was 12 I started keeping abandoned cats in the basement. I had 22,” says the now 45-year-old. As soon as he had saved enough money from his job as a postal worker, he launched the shelter. “Almost all animals here are sick or old. When someone drops off a healthy one, we usually try to find it a new home.”

Currently, the 1300sqm complex in Pankow-Blankenburg shelters 22 dogs, 20 cats and 180 birds. The oldest animal is Randi, a 51-year-old Yellow-headed Amazon parrot. Thirteen volunteers help manage the workload Monday to Friday. “People often promise they’re going to keep financing their pets after leaving them with us, but 80 percent don’t.” Covering medicinal needs, food and trips to the vet (at least two a week) costs €4000 per month. Only half of this is covered by donations. The other €2000 comes out of Bufé and Benter’s own pockets.

In March 2012, district mayor Jens-Holger Kirchner threatened to close the complex for zoning reasons. But when media flocked to the story, Kirchner promised to set up a new, grander shelter. “We’re looking forward to having something bigger. That will be nice for the animals,” says Bufé. Until his old dogs get new digs, he and Benter will continue as usual, looking after those pets that were once loved and then forgotten.

Altenheim für Tiere, Burgwallstr. 75, Pankow, S-Bhf Blankenburg, Tel 030 4748 9623