People are always asking me how I became involved in rescue, especially palliative care. My life went into this direction due to a special friend, Michelle Kemp. Some of you may know Michelle, who passed on in June of last year. Every time I look at my residents, I think of Michelle and when I look at an angel, be it a statue, picture or whatever, I think of Michelle. Those of you who knew Michelle know how she loved her angel statues, most likely because she herself was an angel. When a resident passes on, I see Michelle cuddling them. Michelle will always be part of my heart, a part of every dog that comes into my life and always a part of the Haven.
After Michelle lost her cat, Ashes, she decided to visit the Kingston Humane Society to find another companion and invited me along. I really should say she dragged me along unwillingly, as I had never been to an animal shelter before and had heard negative things about them. The only dogs I had owned were adopted as puppies through private adoptions.
I tried my best to get uninvited but Michelle was unrelenting and finally, we went. The day we visited the Humane Society had a profound effect on me; never before had I experienced such a large number of helpless animals. There were so many cats and dogs of all sizes, breeds and ages – confused, scared, and waiting for a home. One dog in particular caught my eye. She was a small spaniel with a large growth on her head. Who would adopt her? My heart was breaking for these poor animals. I couldn’t understand how people worked there. For the rest of the day, I could not get that poor spaniel off my mind. I called my husband and told him about the dog and we met at the Humane Society.
When we got to the shelter, to my surprise, she had been adopted! I felt a little disappointed but happy for her. My husband wanted to visit the other dogs and for the second time that day, I reluctantly went. As we were leaving the dog room, another spaniel made eye contact with me and then turned his back on me. He kept his back to me while I read his information slip that noted his hip dysplasia. My husband and I left with the spaniel’s back still to me.
That gesture haunted me and gave me nightmares. Finally after three weeks of torture, I contacted the Humane Society inquiring about the spaniel and they informed me that he was still there. I decided then that I would adopt him. When I got to the shelter, the dog they brought out was not the same spaniel that I had seen with my husband. The new spaniel was a blond Cocker Spaniel named Caleb. Caleb was very dirty and had bald patches all over his body. They told me that he drank and urinated a lot. I knew right away that I would take Caleb, but he was a mess. I didn’t want to take him home right away in case he had fleas or something that could jeopardize my other three dogs at home. I made arrangements with the shelter to pick him up the next day after they had bathed him.
Unfortunately, Caleb had not been bathed when I arrived the next day but I had a vet appointment to keep so I took him, dirt and all. The vet did an examination; Caleb had no fleas or worms. Blood work was done to determine his excessive drinking and urinating.
Caleb turned out to be a sweet cuddly boy. He was only with us for 22 months before he went to the Rainbow Bridge. He had been diagnosed with a double whammy – Cushing’s and Spinal Disc disease. Even though it was a sad experience to lose Caleb so quickly, I continued to adopt palliative shelter dogs. Many people say never adopt an animal companion from a shelter because you will be getting someone else’s problems or health issues. Those people have never experienced the love and happiness you get from a shelter animal when they know they have found a forever home.
Sheba was the one that inspired me to make a larger commitment. I connected differently with Sheba because for the first time, I had knowledge of some of the hardships she had endured. Sheba’s experiences convinced me that I wanted to be someone to give palliative/special needs dogs a place to live out their lives, as residents in my home. With volunteers and donations, I would be able to help more dogs without jeopardizing the quality of care they received.
At Sheba’s Haven, some of the residents trot off to Fairmount Home in Glenburnie every Wednesday morning. They bring happiness and revive pleasant memories for the seniors who reside there, of when they had their own pets. At the same time, our dogs are getting out of the house, having new experiences, and loving the individual attention they receive! They also love all the extra treats the residents give them. Even before they get into Fairmount, their tails are wagging and they are running towards the door. Once inside, faces light up and the dog lovers are waiting to greet them. The bedridden residents enjoy that the smaller dogs are easily able to be brought up to their level. For the few residents who cannot speak, you can see the joy in their eyes and smiles that show they are thrilled to have the dogs visit. You certainly don’t need words when you are communicating with a precious pet! The residents with Alzheimer’s disease thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to grab hold of the leash and help walk the dogs. It brings smiles to everyone and sometimes the greatest challenge is getting residents to give up the dogs they are walking.
Researchers have found that pets can lower the risk of heart problems, lower blood pressure, and improve levels of relaxation in humans. We and the people at Fairmount certainly believe in the power of pet therapy for seniors. What about the pets? For those Sheba Haven residents that have cognitive issues, the stimulation of a new environment helps keep their brain active as well.
Not all of Sheba’s Haven residents are able to visit Fairmount, due to their medical conditions and they also have to meet the requirements of Fairmount Home. Sheba’s Haven Rescue enjoys giving some of our time to Fairmount Home each week and we also visit on special holidays like Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Sheba’s Haven is a tranquil resort for those in need, with the future being shaped by the residents, volunteers and supporters.