(Rob Kessel is a long-time Homeward Bound volunteer and the guest author of this post. He fosters and works with some of the dogs most in need of rehabilitation and training to make them adoptable.)
You know, I fall so hopelessly in love with some of the dogs at Homeward Bound that I would like to require that any potential adopter first prove to me that they deserve to take home such a special companion. So it is with Danny, although his case was a little different. Danny wasn’t made available for adoption because he has a growth in his mouth. It was removed but came back very quickly. There is no additional practical treatment for this type of cancer, so for Danny – it becomes a quality of life question. He’s doing extremely well right now, but eventually the tumor will change that outlook. Fortunately, his mass seems to be growing slowly, and Danny can enjoy his time with us now.
At ten years young, Danny fit in well in Homeward Bound’s senior yard. It seemed that he might stay there with us as a Sanctuary dog. But Homeward Bound has a couple of volunteers that foster dogs such as Danny; one of them, Alex Russell, agreed to take him home. I was elated at this news but figured I should check her out to, well – you know, make sure it was a good match!
I met with Alex and asked about her experience in what is, essentially, hospice for the Homeward Bound dogs she fosters. I found out that she has been taking the sick dogs in the last stage of their lives for almost the entire 11 years she has been associated with Homeward Bound. Her very first foster was a black and white dog named Patches that was definitely not a Golden, but most assuredly had a Golden heart according to Jody Jones, President of Homeward Bound. Alex has fostered many, many dogs over the years with Oliver, a heartworm positive old guy, being her latest guest.
Until Danny, that is.
Alex has two dogs of her own, one a 17-year-old named Buddy whose owner died and left instructions to euthanize the dog. Alex had other ideas.
Her Charlie came to her as a very sick puppy that she nursed back to health and then couldn’t bear to give up. So he’s now a permanent part of her pack, as well.
Did I mention the miracles? Alex says that some of her fosters pass quickly, but most are with her at least a year – well exceeding the Doc’s prognosis. And then there was the one who was given only a few weeks and ended up enjoying Alex’s hospitality for three full years.
I wondered how this was all possible. Alex’s view is that the dogs come in not understanding what is happening to their bodies, and why they are living in a new place, but they soon learn that they are a valued part of a new family. The atmosphere is laid back and mellow, and the sick dogs just blend right in. All their needs are taken care of, so they can focus their energies on what’s going on within their bodies.
Most folks want to adopt a perfect, younger dog. So why does Alex take in the old and sick dogs that might otherwise be passed over? Talk to her and you’ll hear about life coming full circle and what a privilege it is to help her dogs navigate that final stage. You’ll hear about the quiet, but profound joy of witnessing an old dog get comfortable on a new bed. She’ll explain her delight at watching Oliver wait patiently for his clean blanket and then settle down for a nice, long nap. And she’ll tell you about talking to them calmly when the time comes, so they are not afraid as they take their first hesitant steps toward the Rainbow Bridge.
I was humbled today. The world needs more people like Alex.
Alex on The Circle of Life:
“Folks often ask me how I can take dogs into my home when I know they are going to die. I love all dogs, but the old ones just pull at my heart. It seems that no one wants an old dog – especially one that is ill. But they are so very easy to adjust to a new home and are thankful for everything. The dogs that come here become part of my family and so when it is time to go over “Rainbow Bridge” I am always with them. Then I have them cremated and bring the ashes back here to spread in my back yard. This is the “circle of life”. They are not alone – but are with me; they are loved and they don’t need to be afraid.
I have been told how special I am because of what I do for the dogs, but I am the lucky one because of everything these dogs give to me.” ~ Alex