By Holly Amann, Foster Program Manager
If you are familiar with Brother Wolf and our history, you may know that most of the animals in our care aren’t actually at our Adoption Center at all — they are in foster care with loving families who have opened their homes to an animal in need. Sometimes, we have animals who go into foster because they have terminal illnesses and we don’t want them to live out the remainder of their lives in a shelter.
We are lucky to have a really special group of foster parents who take in these “fospice” animals so that they can love, cherish, and provide end of life comfort for as long as the animal has a good quality of life.
Riley is a dog who was one of our recent fospice animals, who crossed the Rainbow Bridge surrounded by her foster family this past March. We all immediately loved Riley. She was sweet, beautiful, and friendly with everyone she met. When we first took her in last summer, she had a chain of mammary masses along her body that needed to be removed, and she needed to be spayed. We felt confident that as soon as those surgeries were finished, she would get adopted quickly.
Unfortunately things didn’t turn out as we’d hoped. Riley had a seizure the night before her second surgery. After additional tests, we discovered that one of the masses on her leg was cancerous and inoperable. All future surgeries were cancelled due to the stress that they would put on her body, and we began our search for the right fospice home for Riley.
Dylan and his three daughters (ages 12, 9, and 4) took Riley into their home in December and cared for her until the end of her life in March. They began fostering for a lot of the same reasons that many families apply: they were thinking of adopting a dog one day, and hoped fostering would help them understand the time commitment and responsibilities. They also wanted to help animals in need and knew that this would be a good opportunity.
Shortly after being approved to foster, Dylan brought one of his daughters to our Adoption Center to help pick out their first foster dog. They walked around our campus, met a few of the animals, and talked to staff. When they asked for a dog who was in need and who would also be good with kids, everyone had the same answer: Riley.
“We met her, and we could tell that she was just really sweet,” Dylan says. “We could also tell that she was just so scared. Our hearts felt for her right then.”
Dylan admits that he hesitated when he found out Riley had terminal cancer. “I was concerned that the kids would get really attached and that this would be traumatic for them,” he said.
“They were way better with it than I was,” he laughed. “I was a wreck, and they were more like — we know this is happening, let’s spoil her!”
When Riley had first come back to the Adoption Center after her cancer diagnosis, she trembled constantly. After entering her new foster home, however, that behavior stopped almost immediately. Finally, Riley was relaxed and happy. “That was one of the best parts,” Dylan says, “just to see her comfortable.”
Dylan and his daughters took Riley for walks and gave her lots of treats to spoil her. “We started out by giving her a treat every time she would go outside to use the bathroom. But then, she figured that out and would just start to go outside and immediately come back in for a treat.” Riley also got to spend Christmas with her foster family, and Dylan says that her absolute favorite thing to do was to hang out on the couch surrounded by him and his daughters.
By the end of February, Dylan and his daughters were noticing that Riley was becoming less and less comfortable. Her masses had grown larger and she was no longer able to sleep restfully through the night. She was also chewing through the anti-bite collars that kept her from biting at the lesions on her legs.
After talking with our medical team about Riley’s condition, Dylan made the appointment to have her humanely euthanized at one of our partner veterinarians. The morning of her appointment, Riley got to eat all of her favorite snacks. “We all sat with her on the kitchen floor and fed her peanut butter and cheese puffs,” Dylan says. “We spent time just petting her and telling her that she’s a good dog.”
The family is still thinking about adopting a dog, but they are taking some time first. Dylan says that even though fostering a terminally ill dog was an emotional experience, it was a valuable one. “It really helped us keep things in perspective. It reminded us that life is short and to focus on the important things. She really helped us with that.”
To learn more about fostering or to get involved fostering animals with terminal illnesses, click here.
If you’re able, please use the button below to make a donation — big or small — to our Help Me Heal fund, which helps us provide care and comfort to injured or ill animals like Riley.