03 Sep A Best Last Day — Part Two in a Series on Fospicing
“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.”
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
To preface this series of stories about treasuring old and sick animals, and providing best last days, I thought the words of both an ancient stoic and beloved author who loved flight and justice would be apt. As you will see, a reasoned, unvarnished compassion and rare mettle appears to be the common thread sewn into the experiences of the fospice care givers that answered my request for stories. The next few posts will illumine what drives these hearty few to open their hearts and homes over and over again. Today, meet Tawney Denn and Donna Moyer Shelby.
Tawney Denn is a pretty fearless lady, and in her every day enjoys the company of the horses she rides, boards, and trains with her family on her ranch in Harvard, Illinois. She fosters primarily for Guardians of the Green Mile, and has fospiced four dogs over the last three years. “It troubles my heart deeply to know that there are people out there who will care for an animal its entire life just to dump it at a shelter when it nears the end of its life,” says Tawney. Like many who have fostered terminally ill or elderly shelter animals, Tawney has seen many live much longer than anticipated:
“I suppose I approach any animal that perhaps their time is not going to be as short as originally thought. Mindset is a powerful thing. If you have it in your head that an animal only has a few days, I think subconsciously you convey a limited energy, and not open-ended. I try to approach any fospice dog like a regular foster. If their life ends with me, then I am grateful for the opportunity to be there for them. I had one foster, though, that I was told only had weeks, and he is still alive, bossy and kicking two-and-a-half years later with his forever family. So, my personal philosophy is to do what you can while the animal has a good quality of life. They will tell you when it is their time.”
Believed to have only a few weeks to live, Bosley was the fospice that never was. An old grey Chihuahua wracked with pneumonia and sporting a mouthful of bad teeth, Bosley was abandoned by his family at the shelter. Tawney took him on as a fospice, but Bosley had other plans. “He is the one who changed my mentality from treating an animal as if they only had a few days to being very open minded and treating them like a member of my family until they chose to go.” Bosley called everyone’s bluff, and went on to recover and be adopted by a loving family.
Tawney credits others in the rescue community as inspirational in her fospice efforts, noting Donna Moyer Shelby. Donna is a volunteer at Chicago Animal Care and Control on the transfer team, one of the more difficult volunteer roles at the City’s open-admission shelter. This team is responsible for photographing and promoting to rescue the many dogs that are not available for direct adoption for one reason or another. These volunteers are also subject to a lot of heartbreak when animals they’ve put considerable effort into saving are not saved.
Donna is a healer and a nurse by trade. Her personal philosophy shines through in the name of her rescue, “All Life is Valuable,” which she established in 2014. Her focus has always been the geriatric dogs, which have become her family members in some cases. Says Donna, “senior dogs deserve to live out their final days in comfort surrounded by love. Some of my forever fosters have lived for 18 hours, one week, six months, two years. No matter how long they have left, they need to live knowing what love is and being cared for to the fullest. That’s my commitment to them.” Over the last four years, Donna has provided end-of-life care to roughly 20 senior dogs, footing the sometimes staggering costs out of her own pocket.
Donna finds deep inspiration in the words of Jim Willis. She also has a mantra that she repeats when her mission creeps toward the overwhelming: “This is who I am and this is what I do.” Listening to Donna, it is clear that she has found a calling in her work, “I find comfort and strength in knowing that I am fulfilling my life’s mission. Many people live their whole lives, not knowing what they’re put on this earth to do. That is not my concern. I know what I’m supposed to do and I do it to the best of my ability every day.”
Kashmir was 14 years old when his family surrendered him to the shelter. He would urinate on their floor when he had seizures, and the family was moving into a new place with carpeted floors and didn’t want the mess. Donna was particularly heartbroken by the callousness, and the lack of value placed on Kashmir’s old life. She scooped him up and brought him home; and she had him vetted and placed on seizure medication. This senior enjoyed two more years of life in Donna’s fospice care.
Stay tuned for more stories from amazing folks who provide fospice care!