Providing end-of-life care for special dogs

By Kim Bromley

IN JANUARY 2011, an old female dog was found across the highway from the Marin Humane Society. It had the appearance of an African village dog, emaciated, sick and having very few usable teeth. It also was the sweetest, gentlest, most affectionate dog many of us had met in a long time. A microchip scan revealed the dog’s name: Princess.

sad-sick-dog-by-This-Years-LovePrincess’ guardians were no longer interested in caring for the animal. The dog’s blood panel was unremarkable, and urinary tract infection it had was treatable. But the dog needed to get out more frequently at night than staff could manage, so Princess went into an overnight foster program in which its foster guardian picked the dog up at the shelter around closing time and brought it back the next morning before opening. In late March, I became one of the dogs overnight foster guardians.

Despite a zest for life and a love of people and other dogs, Princess continued to have minor but annoying health issues that included vomiting and diarrhea. The animal’s adoptability was in question.

It was inevitable that my husband and I developed a deep affection for Princess. So when we were asked to take the dog home for end-of-life hospice care, we agreed. The dog’s lack of appetite and continuing digestive problems along with a wet cough suggested the animal might not live much longer. Two months was one specialist’s guess.

As people who believe in gentle and dignified death, we were honored to offer refuge and peace to a sweet old dog and to make its final days warm and comfortable. My first order of business was to find something delicious for the dog to eat. Our resident dog eats a raw diet, and so it was the easiest thing in the world to give a chicken patty to Princess. The dog loved it and ate it right up. And after a few days its cough cleared up along with the vomiting and diarrhea. Could it be that the animal had a grain allergy? Because of the dog’s age and foster status, we never had Princess tested but we were struck by the coincidence.

After a few weeks we tried longer walks with Princess, something more robust than just a stroll around the block. The dog soon became part of my Saturday morning hike — a one-hour, 2.5-mile trek up and down fire roads in Pacheco Valley. Princess was a champ. The dog loved to ride in the car, visit friends and meet other dogs. We took the dog to the beach and on a couple of our dog vacations. In short, the animal thrived for another year. Princess was the salt of the earth and sweet like a homemade dessert. We started calling the dog Betty — for apple brown Betty. Sometimes, Betty Jean.

Eventually, Princess Betty Jean did show real signs of decline. Her legs began to fail, and walks became fewer and shorter.

After conferring with the Humane Society veterinarian we concluded Princess’ time had come.

On a beautiful fall day 16 months after she’d come to our house for hospice care, Princess went to her final sleep surrounded by those who had loved and cared for the dog since the day it arrived at MHS.

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