By Dr. Becker
At Monkey's House in Southampton, New Jersey, about two dozen dogs roam through the home, resting on specially designated toddler beds and, when they feel up to it, frolicking on the home's 6 acres. The home is owned by founders Michele and Jeff Allen, who, after fostering end-of-life dogs for years, decided to open a non-profit dog hospice and sanctuary dedicated to providing a loving, peaceful environment for dogs to spend their last days.
They rescue sick, homeless dogs that would be otherwise unadoptable, getting them the help they need to live comfortably for however long they have left. The organization is named after Monkey, a stray dog with a severe heart murmur who ended up in a kill shelter. The Allens took him home and loved him for 17 months until he passed away.
To work through their grief, they started Monkey's House, and the rest is history. "In losing Monkey the grief was really, really tough and the greatest thing we could do was push through our grief in honoring him, and Monkey loved other dogs," Michele told CNN.1
Monkey's House Gives Sick, Homeless Dogs a Home
Many of the dogs at Monkey's House are blind and/or deaf. Others have heart conditions, cancerous tumors, diabetes or dementia. Some of the dogs spent their entire lives outdoors before coming to the organization, while others were found with severe skin conditions, hernias, rotting teeth and malnutrition.
Some of the current residents include Daisy, who "was found as a stray who could barely walk," Holly, who was in the advanced stages of starvation when she was pulled from the shelter and a bonded brother-sister pair, Mr. Peabody and Lucy, who's owners gave them up because they were "too old to hunt." Both have chronic health conditions — lyme nephritis and dry eye for Mr. Peabody and seizures and a brain tumor in Lucy.
As you can imagine, caring for all of these animals is time- (and emotionally) consuming and expensive, with thousands of dollars in veterinary bills each month. Monkey's House is funded by donations and volunteers — it has no paid employees. A dog food company donates about 60 pounds of food a week (I was pleasantly surprised to learn that raw dog food is the cornerstone of their nutrition program) and more than 50 volunteers help to care for the dogs.
Providing Proper End-of-Life Care Is a Gift
Unfortunately, veterinary students in the U.S. don't receive training on hospice care for pets, even though end-of-life care is such an important aspect of veterinary care. Dogs that end up in shelters have even less of a chance of living out their final days in peace, so the gift that Monkey's House provides to animals is priceless.
If you're the pet parent to an older pet or a sick pet and are wondering how to cross this next chapter in your pet's life, I urge you to watch my two-part webinar "Winding Down: A Comprehensive Look at Companion Animal Aging and Dying," below. One of the most difficult decisions as a pet parent is deciding when it's time to stop aggressively treating disease and instead switch to comfort care.
During this latter stage (your pet will often give you signs when it's time), you'll want to focus on your pet's quality of life, providing pain relief as necessary while also creating a safe, loving and calm environment for your dog, much like they're doing at Monkey's House. One of the greatest gifts you can give to your pet is to remember that dying is a natural process, just like birth, and sometimes the most important thing you can do is just be fully present when your pet needs you.
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Do You Know a Dog in Need of Hospice Care?
There are many dog hospice organizations across the U.S. with missions similar to Monkey's House. Senior Dog Haven, located in Delaware, for instance, also offers hospice care to rescued senior dogs "who have been abandoned at a time in their life when their need for comfort, companionship and care is at its highest."3
If you come across an older dog in need of hospice care, such as at your local shelter or found by animal control, you can contact a dog hospice in your area. If you'd like to get involved, many of these organizations are in need of donations and volunteers. You can also become a foster specifically for hospice dogs.
If you plan to open your heart and your home to these special dogs, be sure to watch my interview with Dr. Ella Bittel, a holistic veterinarian with a passion for older and special needs animals, including pets reaching the end of their lives. She explains how to support a dying animal and how to emotionally prepare for your pet's passing.