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Keeping dogs and their senior owners together. This CNN Hero delivers 'Peace of Mind'

Pacific Grove, CA (CNN) Having a dog has been shown to improve the quality of life for senior citizens, increasing their activity and socialization. But what happens as the senior ages and it becomes more challenging to care for their pet?

Carie Broecker learned about this issue more than a decade ago while helping to care for an elderly woman's dog. Broecker and the woman, Alice, had met five years earlier, when Alice adopted the dog Broecker was fostering. After Alice developed emphysema, she reached out to Broecker for help.

Broecker took care of the dog, Savannah, while Alice was at medical appointments. When Alice was later moved to hospice, Broecker would bring the dog to visit. During Alice's final days, her biggest worry was what would happen to her dog after she passed.

"I said I promise I will make sure that Savannah finds a good home," Broecker said. "She was so relieved that I could make that promise to her."

After leaving that visit with Alice, Broecker came up with an idea that would become her life's work.

"I remember it clear as day," Broecker said. "The whole concept of Peace of Mind Dog Rescue came to me: the name, and that we would take in dogs from senior citizens who were dying."

Broecker co-founded the nonprofit with Monica Rua, who also worked in animal rescue and added the idea of rescuing senior dogs from shelters. In 2009, Peace of Mind Dog Rescue was born.

The organization takes dogs from senior citizens who are no longer able to care for them, have gone into a nursing home or have passed away. Many times, it's family members who contact the organization to surrender their aging family member's dog.

"Often times, the dog can be your last connection to that person," Broecker said. "You're giving away a part of that person who was so special to you. So, it can be really hard."

Peace of Mind Dog Rescue finds these dogs new homes and checks in on the dog every year for the rest of their life.

"We've seen it over and over again that dogs can adjust after losing their person and become part of a new family," Broecker said. "You'd love for them to be together forever, but when that's not possible, we're really glad we're here to be a safety net."

Typically, a senior doesn't need to surrender their dog, they just need some assistance. As part of the organization's dog walking program, a volunteer will go to the senior's house to walk their dog for 30 minutes or an hour.

"We can preserve that human-animal bond and make this person's life better and brighter through our services ... it's about honoring the elderly," Broecker said.

The nonprofit also helps senior dogs find forever homes. It can be challenging for overcrowded shelters to give senior dogs the attention they need, so Peace of Mind Dog Rescue is in contact with local animal shelters to see what senior dogs they can pull and help adopt out.

CNN Hero Carie Broecker

After a medical workup, the dogs are placed in foster homes. The organization has more than 160 foster homes available allowing the dogs a comfortable place to stay and the adopter to learn how the dog behaves in a home environment.

Then the dog is put up for adoption. Broecker says they're up front with adopters about any medical issues, since many senior dogs have some degree of medical needs.

"It blows us away over and over again how somebody will fall in love with a silly-looking blind chihuahua with a tongue hanging out and all kinds of medical issues," Broecker said.

To date, the organization has helped 2,000 senior citizens and found homes for nearly 3,000 dogs. For Broecker, this work is about allowing seniors to pass through the final phase of their lives with dignity.

"In our society, sometimes the elderly, whether that is senior people or senior dogs, get ignored," Broecker said. "We really want to cherish all of life."

CNN's Meg Dunn spoke with Broecker about her work. Below is an edited version of their conversation.

CNN: Your organization has recently opened a veterinary clinic. How has that helped your work?

Carie Broecker: About 10 years into operating Peace of Mind Dog Rescue, we realized we needed our own veterinary clinic. We used to contract with about 15 different veterinarians in the area. And they were all wonderful, they gave us a discount, but it was a lot of administrative management of the medical records, and it was cost prohibitive. But now, with our own vet clinic, we can rescue even more and save a lot of time.

We have our own veterinary staff, so all of the dogs get a complete exam, heartworm test, senior blood panel, urinalysis. A lot of times they need x-rays or ultrasounds for various things, biopsies of any kind of masses.

CNN: You've also expanded your program to help more than just seniors.

Broecker: We have our Helping Paw financial assistance program. So low-income pet guardians -- and a lot of senior citizens are in that low-income category -- if they have veterinary care that's needed and they can't afford it, we have $500 grants each year for people to apply. And sometimes it's just an ear infection, sometimes we're paying because the dog has a broken leg and we're contributing $500 to that. But that's how we help to keep people and their animals together.

CNN: Why do you think people should adopt a senior dog?

Broecker: There are a lot of benefits to adopting a senior dog. They're typically calmer and have some sort of training. They usually kind of get how life works, and it's very rewarding for the person. I know it sounds kind of cliché, but I really do feel like they are grateful, and they know what they've been through, and there's a relief once they settle.

When they finally just curl up and lay down and just give a sigh, you just feel like, "Okay, they just realized they're home."

Want to get involved? Check out the Peace of Mind Dog Rescue website and see how to help.

To donate to Peace of Mind Dog Rescue via GoFundMe, click here