A Lasting Gift: Foster Care for the Dying
Six months ago, Maggie May sat in a high kill shelter in Los Angeles, waiting her turn to die.
Her family left her there, confused at her abandonment. A tumor invaded her tail, raw from being chewed upon. She was older, she was sick, and she was an all-black dog—three strikes.
With multiple factors working against her, neither potential adopters nor rescues wanted to invest in her, until the folks from Labradors and Friends walked by and looked in her eyes. They saw something that touched their hearts, so they pulled her.
Her tail was amputated to remove the worst of the tumor, but the vet warned them that they were unable to resect it all. She was not sure how much time Maggie had. So the rescue decided to look for a foster hospice home (“fospice”), the most challenging and delicate of placements to locate.
They approached my friend Karen, who called me and asked me what I thought. Karen has young children close to mine, and was understandably concerned about bringing a pet into the home only to leave again in an indeterminate amount of time. We discussed the pros and cons, and as a family they made the brave decision to give Maggie a lovely retirement.
Within days, Maggie was transformed. Her coat brightened, her head lifted, and her eyes brightened. Karen debated making a doggie bucket list for Maggie, but she soon realized that Maggie’s bucket list was already taking place: she wanted a place to feel secure and loved, and she had it.
She was welcome on the human beds, and took advantage of it. In addition to her two human siblings, she had a four legged buddy, Ramone, who immediately took to her as well. They spent afternoons roaming the fence line looking for people to bark at; no one knows if Maggie was warning them away or simply announcing her joy at being at home.
She knew trust, affection, and love. She lived in the moment, and the moments were good ones.
Last week, Karen noticed Maggie had been losing weight. Her breathing seemed a bit fast. A trip to the vet confirmed her worst fears: the cancer had spread, and now it was in her lungs. There was nothing they could do.
Well, that’s not entirely true. There are some things you can do. There always are. They started pain meds, and the family steeled themselves for what was now about to come.
When I arrived to help them say goodbye, I was struck at the way Maggie followed Karen from room to room, looking at her with absolute trust. She knew she was ill, and was looking to Karen to do what needed to be done. Right after sunset, with her kids and her people by her side, Maggie made the last transition peacefully, calmly, surrounded by a love that had eluded her just six short months ago.
Some may ask why people would invest in a dog who was going to die soon anyway. Why her death this week versus her death earlier in the year made a difference. To Maggie, and to the family who learned that it only takes a day to fall in love and a day to make a difference, there was never any question.
“Fospice” is a beautiful thing, and I feel so honored to have these beautiful friends in my life.
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang
Image: Maggie May