A Best Last Day - Part Three of a Series About Fospicing - Little Orange Buddha
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A Best Last Day — Part Three of a Series About Fospicing

“First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.” – Epictetus

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” – Anatole France

As part of this series, I asked folks why they provide end-of-life care to shelter animals, and what inspires them to do this important work. Here are some more wonderful fospice stories from those who responded:

Kristen Jeppeson, St. John, Indiana. Providing fospice care since 2012. Volunteer with Humane Indiana and ABRA Rescue.

Kristen’s inspiration to provide end-of-life care evolved from seeing senior animals passed up repeatedly, as though invisible against the stressful shelter backdrop. One dog in particular, a critically ill dog named Washington prepared her mentally for her ongoing commitment to fospicing: “As a dog who suffered severe neglect and abuse, I hope I was able to help him leave this life knowing he mattered, that he was family. He was a very stoic dog not affectionate at all.  But on his last day, he got on my lap and licked my cheek.” It was a moment she would never forget.

Washington was her first foster dog, and cleared the path for the more than 13 that have since followed. Her experiences have evoked a sense of deep gratitude, and engendered a belief in miracles. “There is a fragile beauty in sharing our lives with them, knowing every moment matters.”

Kristen draws strength from the many who have walked the journey with her, including her friends and veterinary staff, who have gone above and beyond for each of her fospice dogs and shared in the unavoidable grief of fospice.  Of particular inspiration in her journey was Chicago dog trainer Sawat Curtis Scott, who passed away last year, and whom she considered both a mentor and friend.  Says Kristen: “He taught us about making the impossible possible on so many levels.”

Haley Cugier, Sandwich, Illinois. Volunteer with Newman Nation and the Aurora Animal Shelter.

Over the past year, Haley has welcomed more than 20 senior and hospice dogs and cats into her home to live out the remainder of their days in peace. Currently, she has three fospice animals. “I cannot stomach the thought of them passing away alone and scared. The heartbreak I feel when I have to say goodbye is overpowered by the joy that comes knowing they feel safe and loved.”

Many of the dogs and cats she has helped come to Newman Nation in horrible physical condition: some are sick; some are terrified; and many do not trust people. Building their confidence and making them comfortable is an important part of the assumed responsibility. “Nothing is more rewarding than that moment where they look at you with trust and they finally feel safe,” she stated. “I choose to focus on the present with them and just making every moment count. I hope that the love they feel outweighs anything negative they ever had to face.”

For Haley, Wallace is an especially memorable case: abandoned in a box on the roadside, the dog was nothing but skin and bones, barely able to move. He was rushed to the emergency vet from the shelter where he’d been brought, and then he was welcomed by Haley: “Day by day, he got stronger and I remember the first time he looked at me and wagged his tail, and I cried because that was probably the first time he’d ever known love.” He struggled with an enlarged heart condition, and passed away two months later.

Despite the emotional toll, Haley remains committed to taking on these animals. “Chances are I might just be single for the rest of my life,” laughs Haley. “And I’m okay with that.”

Cathy Chimens, McHenry, Illinois. Volunteers for Dogs are Deserving Rescue and Mobile Mutts Rescue Transports

Cathy is newer to fospicing, and decided to try it seven months ago: “I believe the animals should know the comfort of a loving home and be a part of a loving pack in their last days here on earth.” She started her fospice journey with a gal named Misty, a soulful eyed, brown-coated, croppy-eared and very beautiful “Chicago Dog,” who has cancer. “I don’t know what their life experiences were that landed them in a shelter or a rescue but I do know that I can make the last days, weeks, or months they have left full of love. I can also help them do the things they love to do.” She and Misty enjoy van rides together. (You can follow Misty’s journey on her FaceBook page “For the Love of Misty.”)

Cathy leans on her Christian faith for strength. “I don’t think it was just by chance that ‘dog’ is ‘God’ reversed.”

Stay tuned folks for more inspirational stories on fospicing as the series continues.

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Susan Russell
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