Have you ever visited a friend or family member in hospice? Knowing they were living out the final days of their life?
If you have, you may have wondered how anyone could work there. How they could spend every day in the presence of people who were dying.
It’s never easy to be with someone you care about during their final days. But, it’s very important to make the last days of their life special.
It does take a special kind of person to take on the friendship of someone who has a terminal illness. But, that’s exactly what Jillian Conigliaro agreed to do when she agreed to foster a senior dog named Kayla from the Animal Haven, a no-kill shelter in New York City.
Kayla wasn’t just an elderly dog, she had oral cancer, MRSA (a type of antibiotic-resistant bacteria) and kidney disease. The veterinarian said Kayla’s life expectancy would be from three to six months.
None of that mattered when the Conigliaros saw Kayla. Animal Haven had contacted Jillian to see if she was ready to foster another dog after her beloved Chloe Ann had passed away. She said yes.
“I happened to be in Manhattan right by Animal Haven,” Conigliaro told The Dodo. “[My husband and I] went and met her, and we were like ‘Oh my God, that’s our dog.’”
Kayla didn’t just get a new mom and dad, she got a whole new family. She got five human sisters, six canine siblings, one feline sibling and a rotating host of other foster friends.
“I think [Kayla] lived her whole life outside, alone — at least that’s what I imagine,” Conigliaro said. “I don’t think she had ever had the comfort of being indoors. She didn’t know what a bed was. She likes having her own space, and she loves standing outside in the rain.”
It wasn’t enough for Conigliaro to just give Kayla a home and lots of love. She decided to write a bucket list for Kayla and then help her fullfill even item on it.
One of the things on the list was something that a lot of humans don’t ever get to do. For the past seven years, Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park on Coney Island has hosted an animal-friendly day where pets can ride the towering Wonder Wheel for free with their owners, so the Conigliaros decided to take Kayla
“Kayla is a very stoic dog,” Conigliaro said. “She didn’t show any fear when we got on the Wonder Wheel, but she was very curious to look out over the park. She’s very interested in observing her surroundings.”
Can you imagine what that was like for a dog that apparently had never been much of anywhere? Or done much of anything? To suddenly be up above it all, looking down?
Of course you can’t go to Coney Island and not have a hot dog. One of the perks of having a terminal illness is that you can have treats without worrying about weight gain.
She strutted her stuff out on the boardwalk.
And then it was time to play the part of a beach babe, with her new mom.
“[Kayla] loves going to the beach,” Conigliaro said of the generally mellow senior dog. “She gets so excited and runs around like a maniac.” Kayla loves the fact that they live close enough to a beach that they can take Kayla and her other siblings frequently to get their sand and surf fix.
Kayla is used to having her alone time, so the Conigliaros try to give her as much as possible. They let her out to wander around the fields and streets near their home. (They are always nearby, but they allow her as much as freedom as possible.
“She will bark to be let out,” Conigliaro said. “She usually only stays out for about 20 to 30 minutes at a time, and then she will bark nonstop when she’s ready to come back inside.”
Kayla may still like a little bit of alone time, but she’s obviously rapidly getting spoiled to this whole “part of a family” thing.
Another bucket item that Kayla has gotten to mark off is meeting some of New York’s finest firedogs.
“I wanted her to meet some FDNY firehouse dogs,” Conigliaro said. “We went to a few, and each one gave her a T-shirt and let her sit on a fire truck.”
Knowing how much Kayla loves the beach and the water, Conigliaro has another surprise in store for her. She is planning to take Kayla on Manhattan By Sail — a boat tour that sails around NYC. Conigliaro took her dog Chloe Anne on the same tour before she passed away.
Kayla is also going to have a 1-year anniversary party. It is being planned as a fundraiser for other animals and as a fun way to celebrate her time in fospice (foster hospice) — time that has already surpassed the three to six months the vet initially thought Kayla would live.
Her health has gotten quite a lot better, in fact. She still has oral cancer, and it’s very hard for to eat, but that hasn’t squelched her appetite a bit.
Her medical bills have been high, but thanks to help from Animal Haven and her Instagram followers, Kayla isn’t wanting for anything.
“She’s a picky eater and the mouth tumor can make it harder to eat, but she will not give up,” Conigliaro said. “She eats an unnatural amount of food and she’s a relentless beggar. She actually knows how to open the refrigerator and the treat cabinet.”
“I didn’t know what to do with myself after Chloe Anne passed,” Conigliaro said. “Bringing Kayla into our home has been extremely heart-healing. We are fortunate to have more space and a lot to offer. I guess I have a thing for taking care of older dogs at the end of their life.”
We are so glad that you have that thing. It has certainly given Kayla a new lease on a life that hadn’t had a lot of good things in it.
We should all be so lucky as to be surrounded by so much love at the time in our life when we need it the most.
You can continue following Kayla’s adventures on Instagram. To learn more about Foster Dogs, Inc.’s fospice program, visit its website — where donations arere greatly appreciated to help more dogs like Kayla.
Source: The Dodo