We’ve all been through it; if you own animals, there is a tearful time when we have to say goodbye. If you haven’t heard the term “Rainbow Bridge” it refers to the animal version of Heaven. It’s a nice thought to imagine our animals finding peace when they leave this life, but it is also a relief to know that they experience love and comforts here before they go. Some of us even feel privileged to be there for them in the most difficult time of all; the end of life.
This is why I want to sing the praises for the special foster care providers who are willing to take in hospice dogs. Most of our dogs are lucky enough to find themselves living out their final days in the loving homes they already know: with their raisers, graduates or adoptive families. But a few come to us in need of a new home and they happen to have the added challenge of a serious medical condition. Our stellar veterinary staff continues to care for these animals and local volunteer foster care providers agree to house them until the end of their lives. It is a huge gift they give these dogs and to their raisers and to the grads who had these dogs as guides. After all, it’s not always possible for previous caretakers to continue to care for these dogs when they face some of the most challenging times of their lives.
Below are some thoughts from several California campus Foster Care Volunteers as well as comments from the graduate whose guide dog is in hospice care.
From Foster Care Provider, Edith Allgood and Philip Farmer:
There is no question that it really hurts to lose a dog, especially a particularly beloved one like Wilma. Death is inevitable, and there’s never a good time for it. Very often people say, when they learn what we are doing, “I could never do that because I wouldn’t be able to deal with losing him or her.” I don’t really understand that. When you decide to share your life with a perfectly healthy dog, you are accepting the inevitability of their death by virtue of the fact of their naturally short life span.
Because it is going to die somewhere, sometime, we think the dog should be with us, because we will love him or her and do everything we can to insure he or she has the best life possible while it lasts. As hospice care providers, we place the animal’s well-being and quality of life before our desire to keep the animal with us. This makes it less difficult to help make the decision for euthanasia when the end of the dog’s life is near. What motivates us to do foster care, as well as hospice care for GDB in particular, is that we feel that since the dogs have been bred to be service dogs, we owe them service when they are unable to do their jobs for us.
Doing this work with GDB is about as easy as it could be. Everyone wants the very best for the dogs and they work hard to insure that they get the best. The staff at GDB is tremendously supportive of all of its volunteers; we always feel appreciated and supported by the veterinary staff, the kennel staff, the foster care coordinator, the adoption folks and other foster care volunteers. If we had not taken Wilma into hospice care, we would not have had the pleasure of knowing and loving one of the best dogs ever.
From GDB Graduate, Rosalyn Butt:
Last October I had one of the scariest experiences of my life. Bryant, my eight-year-old Yellow Labrador guide, dog, became very sick one October evening. He had to have emergency surgery to remove his spleen and lab results confirmed that Bryant had hemangisarcoma, a particularly virulent cancer. A few days later, he came home, where he began to heal from the surgery. I knew I couldn't take care of him permanently myself and nobody I knew was in a position to give him the care he needed and deserved. So after considerable discussion with GDB staff, it was decided that Bryant must retire and return to San Rafael to find a new home.
After being medically examined at GDB, Bryant met his new family and entered his new foster home. Bryant gives and receives all the love and affection he can handle. He goes to work often with his new Mom, Rebecca, and receives care at GDB's state-of-the-art veterinary clinic. He is pain-free and loves his retirement. Rebecca, her husband Mike, and their three sons enjoy the love of a wonderful dog. If Bryant becomes sick again, he will leave this world peacefully. Until then, he's having fun.
My family and I took in Bryant six months ago and as of right now, his cancer shows no outward signs. This beautiful dog shows only happiness and joy to everyone he meets, so it’s impossible to imagine he has any illness at all when he acts like Mr. Sunshine, wagging and smiling all the time. Dogs are like that – they can teach us how to embrace each moment and that every day can be a great day if we focus on all the good that surrounds us.
When I first told people I was fostering this terminally ill dog, a heartbreak waiting to happen, some wondered if it was fair to my kids (I have three boys, youngest is 10). But I have always been the kind of parent who feels this can be one of life’s many lessons that teaches compassion. We know it will be hard to say goodbye, but we make the most of our limited time together and I can honestly say, having Bryant has been a joy for all of us. This experience has been so intrinsically rewarding, not only giving Bryant all the love he deserves, but also to give peace of mind to the graduate and puppy raiser who were unable to take on his end-of-life care. Every time I share with his graduate the new funny nick names he has or about his latest adventures or new fans, I feel I am comforting her and myself.
Obviously, hospice care is different, but somehow similar to the loss the puppy raisers must feel when they send their pups back for formal training. But I hope that once they sort through their pain, they feel, like me; so happy to have helped another person and a precious dog, through the gift of their time and love.
Bryant has changed my family forever because he taught us that illness and future heartache doesn’t have to destroy all happiness. We have shared the greatest time together and treasure all of the happy little moments. Even though we know it won’t last forever, we still feel lucky because we have walked this path with this amazing animal and experienced the joys of unconditional love.