Heaven on Earth for Abandoned, Terminal Dogs

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

Story at-a-glance -

  • Michele Allen, founder and director of Monkey’s House Dog Hospice & Sanctuary in New Jersey was nominated as a Game Changer by Paula B.
  • Monkey’s House takes in chronically ill and often elderly dogs that are near the end of their lives, providing them with love and care in their last chapter
  • Since Monkey’s House was opened, 120 “exceptionally special” dogs have crossed through the doors
  • The dogs that come to live at Monkey’s House may never have had a chance to experience love before, but once they arrive, they’re met with a team of volunteers that works together as a family with the common goal of caring for the dogs
  • Monkey’s House depends on volunteers and donations to survive and keep helping more dogs in urgent need

Michele Allen is the founder and director of Monkey's House Dog Hospice & Sanctuary in Burlington County, New Jersey, along with her husband Jeff. Michele was already changing lives by fostering dogs that were near the end of their lives, but when she met Monkey, it turned into a passion that's helped dozens and dozens more.

Michele adopted Monkey after he ended up at a shelter with heart problems, and were able to spend 17 months together, during which Monkey got to experience love and happiness. "Having Monkey in our life was an incredible blessing that has changed us, changed our lives, changed the course of our lives forever. He was with us 17 months and we work every day to honor him," Michele said.

She's been nominated as a Game Changer by Paula B., and since Monkey's House was opened, 120 dogs have gotten the same love and care as Monkey. "I can tell you 120 exceptionally special dogs have crossed our doors," Michele said. "They're just sitting there in the shelters," which is what prompts her to keep saving as many dogs as she can during this crucial stage of life.

Giving Sick Dogs a Chance to Live

The dogs that Michele takes home are chronically ill and often elderly. Some are blind and/or deaf, while others have heart conditions, cancer, dementia, skin problems, hernias or malnutrition. In each case, Michele doesn't give up. Instead, she works with her partner veterinarians and volunteer team to give each dog its best life possible, no matter how long that ends up being.

"I'm in the volunteer pages or the rescue pages for several of the local rescues," Michele says. "They only send me dogs now that are really truly in the end of their life. They've done a great job of helping dogs that are borderline to do well and to find homes with the knowledge, of course, that they do have a preexisting condition."

While this may sound like a hard passion to follow, Michele gives these dogs a chance to thrive during the last chapter of their life, and her reward is getting to share this experience with them.

"They may be smelly and matted," Michele says of many of the dogs she picks up from shelters. "They need a bath and a vet visit and some good nutrition, and you would be just amazed what comes next. The journey does end with a broken heart, but the middle part of it is the most incredible, most incredible time, most incredible thing to watch and to live through and to live with them."

A Family of Volunteers Loves Each Dog

The dogs that come to live at Monkey's House may never have had a chance to experience love before, but once they arrive, they're met with a team of volunteers that works together as a family with the common goal of caring for the dogs. Michele says:

"We have volunteers. We call them aunts and uncles because we have to be family to do this. We have to trust each other, and they're fabulous … They add a tremendous amount to the love that the dogs get. It's funny, every single volunteer has one special dog and they're all different. It's kind of magical the way it's worked out."

Michele is knowledgeable about pet nutrition, so she feeds a fresh-food diet to the dozens of dogs in her care. That alone is a remarkable endeavor, and one that helps the dogs to feel their best for as long as possible.

"We usually have volunteers that come in and they help with breakfast and dinner, so feeding fresh to these dogs, to 20, 25 dogs, we feed fresh and we add a little twist of traditional Chinese veterinary medicine, food therapy, to help with their illnesses. That's about a two-hour process twice a day.

They come, they help with the food. They help with food prep. They walk the dogs. They take the dogs on transport when it's time for the dogs to leave."

Unfortunately, there aren't many resources available for dogs in shelters that receive a terminal or chronic diagnosis or are nearing the end of their natural life. Even veterinary students don't receive training on how to provide end-of-life care, even though this is such an important part of an animal's life. 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.

Michele works with dogs no matter the condition, and gets to spend precious time — months and sometimes years — with these special creatures. She's had, for instance, six dogs with hemangiosarcoma, an aggressive form of cancer that often strikes without warning, and with each case she gets more experienced and more knowledgeable about how to best help these dogs. Most importantly, even though he's sick, he's happy:

"We have a dog right now with him hemangiosarcoma, and anytime I mentioned it, people look away. They say, oh, they hate that, their dog collapsed, and that was it. There are no warning signs for this disease until they have it.

But … I can say that I average a year with these dogs … with this dog, who's been with us a little while … he has heart issues and he's deaf and blind, but has such an incredible quality of life … we're connected 24/7 he and I now, and even after a day where he's had some internal bleeding, he gets medications for nausea.

We do everything we can to keep them comfortable in the setting. I scratch his butt and I rub his ears. I go to listen to his heart and he needs a belly rub. But what's so amazing is he'll look so sick one day, and then at one o'clock in the morning, I'll wake up to a paw on my throat and an ice cold nose on my face, and he's like, 'Hey, let's have some kisses. Wake up. Let's have some kisses.' They don't waste any time."

Monkey's House depends on volunteers and donations to survive and keep helping more dogs in urgent need. If you'd like to get involved or learn more, you can find them at their website, MonkeysHouse.org,1 as well as on social media at Monkey's House Dog Hospice and Sanctuary. Also, if you're looking to adopt, remember that even dogs that are older or with chronic health conditions deserve a second glance — and a loving home. Michele says:

"It doesn't matter how sick these dogs are. It doesn't matter if they're matted and if they have heart failure and kidney failure and trouble walking. They're not throwaway dogs. The dogs we pull, we pull only based on what's wrong with them and if we think there'll be a good fit for the population that's here at the moment. Every single one of them turns out to be incredibly special."

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