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A place for old dogs to die loved

A little peace, and quiet, and love, and attention — they’re all any of us really want in life.

And maybe even more so when death is on the way.

For humans, hospice care is now big business, but the opportunity for sick and elderly dogs to die in peace and dignity isn’t always there.

And often, their last days are less than peaceful — especially for those whose owners, hoping to avoid the expense of veterinary care, abandon them to shelters or worse.

Seeing that happening too often — seeing them get abandoned at the time they need someone the most — a northern Michigan woman started the Silver Muzzle Cottage, a rescue and hospice for homeless old dogs.

The Detroit Free Press on Sunday took an in-depth look at the organization and the woman behind it, Kim Skarritt.

Silver Muzzle Cottage takes in dogs left behind either by owner choice, or by circumstances, as when a dog’s owner suddenly dies and no one else can care for it.

In two years, she has cared for more than 70 of them. It remains the only such hospice in the state, and one of the few in the country.

1441360_668204089941476_771065216946594329_n“They don’t ask for much when they’re really old,” said the 56-year-old former auto engineer. “They want to be loved and cared for, they want food and they just need a warm place to lay their head at night.”

Five years ago, Skarritt opened a dog boarding and fitness center called Bowsers by the Bay. Through that work, she noticed the pattern of elderly dogs being abandoned in their final days. After calling animal shelters throughout the state, she estimated there were about 900 senior dogs within 500 miles of Elk Rapids needing a home.

Skarritt researched the issue, finding many area shelters were taking in old dogs whose owners had surrendered them, sometimes just leaving them tied outside the shelters at night.

“I kept seeing these 14-year-old dogs and 13-year-old dogs in shelters and needing homes, and I’m going, ‘What is that? Who does that?'”

So she bought an empty storage building next door to her business and opened Silver Muzzle Cottage as a nonprofit rescue just for elderly dogs, which she defines as age 10 or older, or terminally ill but not suffering so much they need to be euthanized.

The Free Press described the inside of the rescue as a “big living room with couches, throw pillows, a fake fireplace with decorations atop the mantle, end tables with vases and a coffee table with a thick photo book about dogs atop it. It looks like a normal house, except there’s a bunch of dogs lounging on the couches like they own the place.”

The dogs aren’t caged at night, which means someone has to be there at all times. Skarritt moved into a small bare bones room adjacent to the living room and sleeps there at night.

About 100 rotating volunteers visit the dogs, take them for walks and car rides and pet and play with them.

Despite their old age, many get adopted — both by volunteers and by those among whom Skarritt works to spread the word about both the plight old dogs face, and the joys of having them around.

If you ask me, the world could use more places like this — for dogs and humans; places that aren’t about being poked, and prodded and prolonged but about being treated with some love, dignity and compassion when the end is near.

Silver Muzzle Cottage is at 201 Industrial Park, Elk Rapids, Mich., 49629. For information, call 231-264-8408, or visit the Silver Muzzle Cottage Facebook page.

(Photo from Silver Muzzle’s Facebook page)

Comments

Comment from Miss Jan
Time April 23, 2017 at 12:52 pm

I not only provided hospice care for my (very) elderly, and now departed, Jack Russell Terrier but also for a beloved horse who had been my companion for most of my life. The problem with hospice is that few veterinarians are willing to support an owner who wishes this for their four-legged family member. It is very, very difficult to find a veterinarian who will work with an owner on this end-of-life scenario; they sometimes are more willing to work with a bona fide “rescue” or sanctuary because they assume owners are too ignorant to “do right” by their animal. When seeking out a new veterinarian always ask what their policy is regarding hospice care and how far they are willing to go to support hospice including whether when the final hour is near providing in-home euthanasia. Just like in human medicine the whole end of life thing is largely ignored and glossed over by veterinarians – in human medicine I have the cynical but probably accurate opinion that human medical deliverers prefer to make as much money off of the sufferer as possible, though I don’t think most vets feel that way though some clearly do put profit before patients. Fortunately there is beginning to be increasing awareness in the animal medicine community about palliative care and end of life services where hospice for a beloved pet is the desired choice.