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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

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

Comments  7

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  • Maggie
    10/09/2015 12:25am

    What ya wanna bet that Maggie's previous humans dumped her at the shelter because they didn't want to deal with her ailments?

    It's so nice to know that fospice exists and I truly wish I had the fortitude, time and money to be able to do it.

  • 10/23/2015 01:16pm

    Hospice fostering doesn't cost you anything -- monetarily, that is! The group for whom you are fostering picks up all expenses.

    It's an incredibly difficult thing to do but one I've had the pleasure of doing several times. Your heart breaks, but you learn so much about how animals love, how YOU love, and also how your family/partner/friends love.

    You don't have to be noble or special or anything but human.

  • 12/24/2015 08:54pm

    Seeing this and your other comments, I'm certain you give as much love as you can to all animals

  • It will change your life
    10/23/2015 01:24pm

    Guess I have more to say about this! I ran a dog rescue for 12 years and my husband and I have additionally fostered bottle baby kittens, ranging in age from 2 days to 8 weeks. Several of the kitties it was clear were not going to make it. We gave them all the love and care we could until they told us it was time to let them go. Just writing about it makes me cry, but I wouldn't change one moment.

    Additionally, we had 2 dogs come to our rescue group's attention: one a Malamute whose owner had been deployed to Afghanistan, and one a Malamute whose owner had terminal cancer. The first dog was just 2 and the absolutely most perfect dog ever. It turns out she had bone cancer. We were so blessed to find a foster home willing to give her all the love and care she needed until she died, which was just a month later.

    The second dog, whose owner was dying of cancer, was 13 years old. Malamutes don't often live that long, so we knew this was also going to be a short-term foster. Another family with a huge heart took her in and loved her til the end of her life, which was more than a year later.

    I will never forget those families and I always think of them when I am filled with despair about the actions of other so-called humans.

  • best thing i ever did
    11/13/2015 08:06am

    i fostered a bull terrier, Marley, 3 years ago, who was terminally ill with heart disease, and pkd. he was only 5, when he was diagnosed, at the kennels, they were told that he only had 2 years at bes. he had been in rescue kennels for 18 months, when we tok him home. it was the best and saddest thing ive done. we had this gorgeous boy for 10 months before his kidneys failed, and we lost him. he taught me so much in such a short space of time, i will never forget the love and loyalty he gave us. xxxxxxxx i would do it all over again, just to give a dog a good quality of life for their short time that they have left. its heart breaking, but to know you have helped ease their pain, and loved them, is priceless. xxxx

  • Abandoned pets
    12/24/2015 02:52pm

    Yes, I imagine Maggie was left because of her condition. Instead of taking that step to humanely euthanize her if they didn't have the money for care it was easier to let someone else do the job. Fortunately she found love before she passed. I work with a cat colony and found a beautiful long haired white cat (front and back declawed) living in a hen cage, obviously abandoned. She had lost a ton of weight and barely ate. Her eyes were sunk in yet she was very loving and frightened of the other animals. I brought her home and tried to get her to eat but it was obvious she had something major and was in her last days. A rescue tried to save her but it was too late. Poor cotton was left to die in a strange, frightening place. I wish people had some heart and am very thankful for those of us who do.

  • Bittersweet
    12/24/2015 08:51pm

    We fospiced an elder cat named Mooch. He was only with us for 10 months but it was wonderful to get to know him, and make his last days good. Like Maggie May, he filled out and had a ball, and soaked up every bit of love and attention he could. When he did go over The Bridge, it hurt as much as if we had him for years.

    Karen and her family made Maggie May's last day full of love, and those are the memories MM took with her.

    Fospicing is not for everyone - I was surprised that I did it, because I get so attached . But when you know how much the love you give is needed ,,, you just take it day by day

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