20 Sep A Best Last Day — Part 4 in a Series on Fospicing
“Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough; Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.” From the poem Anyway, attributed to Mother Teresa
So what do a vet, attorney and actress all have in common besides an abundance of compassion? They’ve all opened their hearts to shelter animals that needed a best last day. Meet Dr. Bruce Silverman, owner of Village West Veterinary hospital and co-founder of the Critical Animal Relief Fund (CARF), attorney Lisa Iverson, and actress and long-time Safe Humane volunteer Kara Severson.
Dr. Bruce and his partner in life-saving Allison Tarr have always had a soft spot for the hard ones. They founded CARF five years ago to focus on the health-challenged animals at Chicago’s City shelter. Many of the 1500 cats and dogs they have helped have been rehabilitated and homed, but many have been rescued knowing that limited time was part of the deal. Those usually stayed with Dr. Bruce and Allison. “They’re orphans, whether abandoned or lost. No innocent soul should meet their end in fear and distress or without companionship,” said Dr. Bruce.
As a vet, Dr. Bruce is in the business of animal life saving, as well as palliative care. But to live it every day and night takes a certain singular strength and a rallying cry and heroism reminiscent of Hank V, “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more. ” There’s always a few fospice cases that stand out though, and for Dr. Bruce, that stand-out was an old cat named Jax, with chronic, difficult-to-manage diarrhea. “He was a character, and kept me company late into the night as I did desk work.” Jax unfortunately had a tumor, which perforated his bowel. Sepsis set in. But ingenuity bought time and Dr. Bruce dove into a surgery he’d never previously performed to save Jax: “I resected a big area of large intestine and surrounding infected tissue in order to remove the necrotic tumor.” It was the only chance for the old cat, and the gamble paid off. Jax pulled through for a while longer with his vigilant vet by his side. “I loved that little guy,” said Dr. Bruce. “And I kept my promise to take good, close care of him until he eventually passed.”
“With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.” From Desiderata by Max Ehrmann
Attorney Lisa Iverson took on a fospice case with whom I had a personal connection. In fact on that fateful day in 2017, a kind and loving foster was my only desideratum. And given what happened … I knew she probably would never trust my judgment again.
Petunia was an ancient, dirt-infested shepherd mix barely able to stand. She was in a portable kennel in the City shelter’s unloading area when I first came across her. While I was the director of the shelter, I enjoyed spending the first hour of the morning, from 7:00 to 8:00 a.m., with the animals in this area. I would get her out for little jaunts, but she was a most pathetic old soul, whose time was swiftly running out. Or so I thought. On one of the days that the Chicagoland Rescue Intervention Support (CRISP) program was at the shelter, I decided to schlep the old dog out to the ladies and gents in the diversion program to see if there was any possibility of fospice, as she would soon have to be euthanized or we ran the risk of her dying in kennel. “She has very little time,” I represented. The ladies agreed — Lulu’s Locker rescue placed the hold, Fetching Tails’ Kristen Gottshock loaded her into her van, and Petunia landed at Lisa’s home.
As many who take on these cases realize, the good life can be addictive, even rejuvenating. Petunia was renamed Petunia April Figgy Pudding, and also became known as “Sweet P – Goddess of Immortality.” Petunia survived quite a few months after she was pulled from the shelter.
And Lisa didn’t mind: “To see her thrive and last as long as she did gave me such great joy and happiness. She had dementia so she didn’t necessarily grasp everything that was going on, but she thrived on being part of the pack and I could tell that she recognized me and my voice. It was so wonderful to see her relax. And most of all, she knew that she was safe, and so very loved.” Lisa credits her mom for imparting strength and inspiration: “She always stressed to us that we should help out those that need it the most. To me, the fospice dogs and cats need us the most in their final days.” For Petunia, Lisa was the hostess with the mostess.
“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, but indifference between life and death.” — Elie Wiesel
Among her sources for inspiration, actress Kara Severson mines her faith, as well as looks to Jewish mysticism Kabbalah for strength, and is inspired by the “we must care for, love, respect & protect each other… always… regardless of species” message imparted through Judaism and intertwined in its rituals.
Kara has been fospicing for quite some time for various organizations like Friends of Chicago Animal Care and Control, and Family Pet, and does not flinch at providing some of the medical care, like IV fluids, or pills, that must go into those who have journeyed closer to their end-time: “They gave their love to someone their whole life. It’s not fair they end up homeless during their most frail, vulnerable time. They’ve earned love, protection, peace.”
Olive, an 18-year old, scrawny cat surrendered to the City shelter is among her most memorable fospice guests. Olive had a distinctive wobble because she lacked the ball that normally occupies a hip socket. Friends’ foster coordinator at the time, Kat Budrean, who saw Olive being surrendered to the City shelter brought Olive to Kara’s home and advised her that if Olive died that night Kara shouldn’t blame herself, as Olive’s chances of survival were believed to be quite slim.
That first night was tough as Kara watched Olive writhing on the floor, clearly uncomfortable and straining to poop. She remembered some old advice regarding the magic effects of pumpkin to move things along, and sure enough, it had the desired effect. By morning, Olive had taken a miraculous turn for the better, and stuck around for another 18 months. In her final months, diabetes hastened her demise, and Kara fashioned a day that she hoped Olive would remember: “We went to the beach and stared at the water, breathing the fresh air. We walked through the rose garden in Grant Park, sniffing roses. That night, she enjoyed all the foods she craved — a feast of raw meat.” Kara made certain that Olive fulfilled her bucket list.
Running through all of these stories was a deep sense of gratitude within the caretakers — gratitude for being able to be there for the most vulnerable beings, and a gratitude for having the strength to do it. There was also a keen sense of duty to make final days, the best days.
Thank you to everyone who shared.