– while defying death herself
Alexis Flemming has dedicated herself to giving terminally ill animals the best last days of their lives – despite recently almost dying herself.
The animal lover, who lives with autoimmune diseases, was recently given only a few days to live before an operation helped control her condition.
Now recovering, she is back giving care to the variety of animals she has taken in at her animal hospice and sanctuary in Scotland.
She was inspired to set up the Maggie Flemming Animal Hospice in 2016 after her beloved bullmastiff Maggie died suddenly at the vets.
“Not being able to be with someone you love when they die can be quite traumatic,” she says.
As she walks through the sanctuary to the hospice, she knows every pig, sheep and chicken by name.
She wants all the animals to have a dignified end.
“They come here to spend however long they have left, a few days, a few weeks – sometimes even a few years – and I do end-of-life care to give them peace, comfort and friendship,” she says.
At the hospice, situated just outside Kirkcudbright in Dumfries and Galloway, Alexis makes a point of discovering what the animals like.
For some it’s sweets and reading. For her 19-year-old pal Bran, it’s adventures in the car.
“Bran was dumped on the street when he was about 17, he had a tumour on his spleen. Bran came to us with just six weeks to live and that was two and a half years ago,” she explains.
Bran is still going strong but Alexis admits her own health problems have made it harder to keep up with the care demands.
“It’s very hard to deal with that much grief. There was a time last year when I did 10 end-of-life cares in one month, that really took its toll. I was really ill at the end of that because my health isn’t very good anyway,” she says.
Inevitably her own recent doomed diagnosis – while thankfully avoided – has made her re-evaluate her life and work.
“I almost died twice. Even if you think you’re the most life-grabbing, go-getting person, when you’re told you’ve only got a few days left and you survive that, every day is just… you make the most of it,” she says.
On dealing with the mortality of her farmyard friends, she says: “I know how I felt thinking it was almost my end and I know it’s almost their end so let’s just make the most of it, let’s not hang around and think of the sadness.”
She is now developing what is the first purpose-built animal hospice in the UK. She believes it could be one of the first of its kind in the world.
“We try to never turn anyone away if we can help it, but it’s very important to do end-of-life care properly, so we have very small numbers [and] we only do end-of-life for three animals at any time,” she says.
The passionate animals rights advocate believes “most animals in our society are denied a peaceful life and death”.
But she says she remains focused on helping the animals living out their final days in her care.
“Doing this kind of work you realise anything can happen at anytime and it could be today, it could be tomorrow, it could be a month from now, I just don’t know,” she says. “I try not to dwell on it too much.”
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