Have you ever wondered how dogs with terminal illnesses end up in a shelter? Perhaps their owners couldn’t pay for their veterinary care, or perhaps they grew ill in the shelter as they waited to be adopted. The next question then is: what happens to these dogs who are nearing end of life? Most people don’t choose to adopt a terminally ill dog, and for rescues and shelters to have them treated can be expensive. At first thought, it seems hopeless…. but I’m here to say that it’s not.
This week’s story is a very special one. It’s the story of one dog who was afforded the chance to live out his illness in a loving home instead of a shelter, but more than that, it’s the story of a movement to provide all dogs this comfort. I feel greatly honored and privileged to relay this beautiful story of compassion and hope, and I hope you’ll keep coming back each day this week to hear more of the story.
TAZ’S STORY, PART ONE:
When Madhumita graduated from business school and started working on Wall Street, she had never owned a dog or lived in a home with one. In fact, her particular cultural upbringing didn’t view dogs as family pets, so this was a completely unfamiliar concept. She was working 14-hour days and simply trying to survive when the market crashed in 2008 and her life took a different trajectory… left without a job or a plan, Madhumita began to desire to have a dog as a companion. She was actively searching for full-time work, so in her own words, “I knew I wanted a dog in my life, but I couldn’t commit to a permanent situation, so I began to consider other ways I could help. A friend told me about a program raising service dogs for the blind and I attended an orientation.” Isn’t it interesting how the hard things in life often turn us towards something very, very good?
TAZ’S STORY, PART TWO:
When Madhumita told her family that she was thinking of raising puppies to be service dogs for the blind, they thought something might be wrong with her. “Because of our cultural background, it was very upsetting for my mom and grandmother especially, and I think at first they were actually worried about me,” she told me,” but I was an adult by this point and had made the decision to move forward.” She began raising puppies and through the process learned so much about compassion, training, companionship, and discipline. It was hard, dirty, sleepless work that was also incredibly rewarding and fun. But, one thing kept gnawing at her… whenever she told people what she was doing, they would say something like “how wonderful to work with puppies!” and constantly reminded her of how fortunate these dogs are. She began to think, “yes, but what about the less fortunate animals? Is there anything I could do for them?”
Via social media, Madhumita was connected to a friend who followed Foster Dogs Inc. and social media kept “suggesting” that she follow. Through this connection, she soon found exactly what she had been looking for: a way that she could help dogs who were on the opposite end of the spectrum from her beloved service puppies: homeless dogs with terminal illnesses. Madhumita told me, “As I read about Fospice for the first time, the idea seemed amazing. It had never occurred to me that someone could abandon a dog at the time they needed it most. This seemed like a great injustice, and one that I wanted to be involved in.” That day, Madhumita contacted Foster Dogs Inc. to ask how she could help.
TAZ’S STORY, PART THREE:
Madhumita sat frozen to her computer as she scrolled through theFoster Dogs Inc. website for the first time and stumbled upon information about their Fospice (Foster + Hospice) Program. This program connects local rescue groups with foster families in order to take dogs out of shelters who have less than 6 months to live. Fospice care provides each dog with beds, food, training, toys, a photo shoot, treats, veterinary care, and end of life care, and foster families provide each dog with love and a comfortable home. Madhumita laughed as she told me, “I was raising puppies, but really, I feel more like an old dog myself. I thought this could be a perfect fit.”
TAZ’S STORY, PART 4:
Story of the week, part 4: No one knew Taz’s history when he was pulled from the ACC, but when he became part of the @fosterdogs Fospice program and came home with Madhumita, his future was clear: he was going to be spoiled and comfortable for as many days as he had left. Madhumita was raising her 7th service puppy (Owen, 2nd photo) and was a fospice mom to Taz, so needless to say, she had her hands full! And, something else beautiful had happened before Taz joined the family… as Madhumita’s parents experienced dog ownership secondhand through being in and out of her home, their perspective slowly began to shift. At first they kept their distance from the dogs, but then they began to look forward to visiting them. With time, they signed up to begin raising service dogs themselves and have now been part of raising 9 service dogs to give guidance to the blind. Madhumita told me, “When you have any living creature share your space for a period of time, eventually they will start to feel like part of your family and they will think of you as part of their pack.” Though it was initially an unfamiliar concept for her parents to think of dogs as family members, now they can’t imagine their family without one.
TAZ’S STORY, PART 5:
After Taz moved from the shelter into his fospice home and began to receive veterinary care, grooming, and love, his physical condition began to improve! Most dogs in the @fosterdogs fospice program are only expected to live a handful of weeks or month, but it soon became clear that Taz was going to be an exception. When I asked Madhumita about Taz’s life and personality, she described him as follows: “He’s a quirky, grumpy old guy who knows what he wants. People see him and think he’s delicate or helpless, but he’s definitely not either of those things. He’s the boss of now-80-pound Owen, and he keeps us humans in line, too.” Madhumita told me that people have called her morbid for wanting to help dying dogs, but according to her, “it’s not morbid at all. Death is just a moment, and every moment up until death is still living. We’re providing the best conditions we can for all those stages, and when the time is right, I hope it Taz’s transition out of life will be easy for him. It’s natural to feel bad for a dog who is nearing the end of his life, but we shouldn’t. Taz doesn’t feel sorry for himself… he is just living each day.”
Taz moved into Madhumita’s home three years ago, and though he is still struggling with some of the same health issues, his quality of life is good. He has a labrador brother Owen (a service puppy who didn’t pass his tests and was adopted by Madhumita) and Auburn, another service puppy in training who is being raised by Madhumita’s parents. Madhumita has the financial, emotional, and physical support of Foster Dogs Inc., a team of veterinarians, and friends/family who are happy to help when needed. Though it’s not certain how much longer Taz has with her, her only goal is to ensure those days are good ones.
TAZ’S STORY: FINAL PART
The @fosterdogs fospice team headed by @melissaottstadt believe that life is worth celebrating, so when Taz’s 17th birthday and 3-year fospice anniversary was approaching, they planned a party fit for a king! So many wonderful dog professionals came together to shower Taz with love. He received homemade pupcakes from Maison de Pawz, had an in-home grooming from Sam of Elite Pets NYC, received a new fancy tag from Rebel Dawg, was lounging on a bed previously donated by Harry Barker was showered with love by everyone in the room, and even had celebrity friend/guest @chloekardoggian in attendance! I was fortunate enough to be there to take photos of the festivities, and it was so meaningful to see the beauty of the fospice program in action.
I want to end this week’s story by coming full circle. Taz is one example of many the many dogs who are living out their final weeks in shelters, and the Foster Dogs Inc. team can only place as many fospice dogs as they have families who are willing to open their homes. Though it’s not always easy, fospice caretakers are supported financially, emotionally, and physically by Foster Dogs Inc. and each dog’s rescue group, so it’s truly a team effort. Sarah told me, “People might think that the fospice program is sad, but actually, every Fospice caretaker has come back to say they want to do it again. We want it to be a positive experience for both the caretaker and the dog, and though we all mourn when these dogs pass, we are so happy knowing that they were comfortable and loved for their final days, weeks, or months.” Would you consider opening your home to a dog in his or her final months of life? What kinds of questions or concerns would you have? At the very least, joining the conversation is a good place to start.
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
Thank you so much for following the story of Madhumita and Taz this past week. It was a joy to photograph and share it, and I hope that many of you learned about Fospice for the first time! A few people have asked how they can help if they don’t live nearby and/or aren’t in a place to be a fospice caretaker right now. Most of all, Foster Dogs, Inc. always needs financial help to ensure that their caretakers are supported. You can contribute to a dog’s medical treatments or end-of-life care, or you can donate items or services to help fospice dogs be more comfortable. If this is something that sounds interesting to you, please contact me via DM and I will put you in touch with the right people!
Remember the puppy in the crate with Taz at the beginning of this story? This is baby Owen now! He didn’t pass his service dog exams and is now a permanent member of Madhumita and Taz’s family. 🙂