Focus on fospice: Providing comfort and dignity to senior shelter animals

single-meta-cal June 1, 2022

“He brings us a lot of joy,” Myles Boone said with a laugh. “He’s so eager to get going in the morning, and that makes it a fun way to start our day, too.”

An old dog named Doug smiles at the camera with his tongue out

Doug, an elderly dog from HAS, lives his best life in fospice care with his new family.

Boone is referring to Doug, a 65-pound mixed-breed boxer Boone and his wife, Sara Murphy, brought home from Huntsville Animal Services (HAS) in March. Formerly known as “Duck,” Doug’s coat is black, white and tan with a generous amount of grey peppered around his nose and mouth.

After starting the day with a treat, morning walk, some outdoor time and copious amounts of napping, Doug is living his best life outside of the shelter.

“He has his routine,” Boone said. “Around four or five o’clock every day, we go for a walk, and he just lights up. That’s when you see this old dog become a young puppy.”

Fospice program

Doug is part of the HAS fospice program, a service that blends “foster” and “hospice” to give aging and terminally ill shelter animals happy homes where they can live out the rest of their days in comfort and peace. According to Foster Dogs, Inc., the “focus of fospice care is on the animal’s comfort level, rather than the caretaker’s desire for the animal to live a long time.”

“He’s so sweet and happily just snoozes near me most of the day. He actually snores when he’s awake and asleep. He has so much personality.” – Murphy

Other than hypothyroidism, tooth loss and chronic skin issues, Doug is a relatively healthy dog that just happens to be old. After falling in love with Doug’s photos and write-up on the HAS Facebook page, Boone and Murphy decided to foster him for a short time to see if he would be compatible with their other dog, June, which they also adopted from HAS last year.

Murphy was thrilled to see gradual positive changes in Doug in the weeks after taking him home.

“The first couple of weeks we had him, he really was like a little old man,” Murphy recalled. “After a couple of weeks, we noticed he started acting more like a puppy on our morning walks. He was so excited. It was really fun to see.”

June, a younger pit bull mix, has also benefited from Doug’s presence. His mellow demeanor and good manners have rubbed off on her, and her playful exuberance has kept him moving at a younger pace.

Support for foster families

Two dogs laying on a couch

Doug and June settle in for a nap together.

Little is known about Doug’s former life. He had low muscle tone and moved very slowly when he was surrendered to HAS by his former owner. HAS did blood tests that revealed his hypothyroidism, requiring lifelong therapy with thyroid hormone replacement medication, which Murphy and Boone dutifully administer every day.

All signs point to Doug feeling much better in his old age now that his condition is managed. Thanks to fospice, Doug gets to live the rest of his life – however long that may be – in the comfort of a loving home rather than the stressful shelter environment.

“He’s so sweet and happily just snoozes near me most of the day,” Murphy said. “He actually snores when he’s awake and asleep. He has so much personality.”

HAS assists with palliative care while the animals are in fospice homes and helps foster families with end-of-life decisions when the time comes. Adoption into a “furever” home is always the goal so the shelter can reallocate resources to other animals in need.

“We try to do baseline blood work and assess quality of life,” said HAS Director Dr. Karen Sheppard. “We get them into a foster home and hope that we can get the foster family to adopt and continue care with their family veterinarian.”

Part of the family

Two framed paintings of black dogs

June (left) and Doug have been added to the family portraiture.

Sheppard said after a foster family sees how amazing the pet is and it becomes a part of the family, it often chooses to adopt. Fospice gives older animals, usually overlooked when compared to their younger counterparts at the shelter, a better chance at adoption.

“I’d definitely recommend fospicing!” Murphy said enthusiastically. “Older dogs fit right in, they tend to need a lot less training and exercise than younger dogs, and they are typically pretty happy just snuggling and snoozing most of the day. And HAS really helps support fospice families with the more difficult parts of caring for older dogs.”

If you are interested in providing a fospice home for an older dog or cat in need, visit the HAS website and fill out an application.