Kalispell hospice director adopts dog with advanced cancer
KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) — The diagnosis of a terminal illness would dampen most spirits, but for Seeley, his best days began with the news that he had just six months to live.
The 5-year-old Pomeranian mix once had a life and family in Newport, California.
However, when he was diagnosed with Stage IV lymphoma, his owners dropped him off at a local animal shelter.
Things looked grim for the fluffy pup until he was transported to the Thompson River Animal Shelter in Thompson Falls.
The shelter posted his pictures on their Facebook page, requesting a special home for a dog with only a little time left.
Meanwhile in Kalispell, Jenna Justice, director of Frontier Hospice, was still mourning the loss of her 17-year-old long-haired Pomeranian, Pepsi, when she began getting notifications about the terminal dog from friends who thought they might make a good match.
Nervous about the implications of taking on a sick dog after witnessing the pain and difficulty of her beloved Pepsi’s final days, Justice agreed to make the drive to Thompson Falls to at least meet the dog.
She arrived to find a subdued little mutt with no training and no name, and fell in love in an instant.
“Meeting him sort of took away any fears that I had because he was just so cuddly and ready to be at home,” Justice said.
After 20 years of working in hospice care, Justice said she felt called to adopt the dying dog.
“I felt like if I really believed that the last six months of life can be full of quality, then I should be able to do that for a dog,” she said. “I felt really strongly that I could make a difference in his life for the last six months, that I could make him comfortable and I could keep him happy. That he would be loved on here.”
Upon his adoption, the shelter offered to cover both the fee and any future medical bills for the remainder of the pup’s short life.
Justice said the little dog kept his subdued demeanor until the moment his feet touched the floor of her house.
“He woke up,” she said, “and he’s been awake ever since.”
She named her new companion Seeley, after the lake, and immediately began to take notice of how much life her dying friend had left in him.
His tail wagged relentlessly as the pair strolled the aisles of Petsmart, filling up a cart with everything a dog could ever need.
“Being the director of hospice here, I know what the end of life can look like,” Justice said. “One of the things we talk about in hospice is life is every day and death is but a moment, and Seeley is a perfect example of that.”
Justice soon started taking Seeley everywhere with her, from work to business trips to outdoor adventures, and it wasn’t long before he started gaining fans.
Though some days the tumors crowding Seeley’s throat take their toll, draining his stamina, Seeley spends most of his days entertaining all who meet him, handing out kisses and begging to play.
“We don’t know how long he’s going to be with us, but he’s living hard,” Justice said.
He’s been kayaking, hiking, flying and stayed in a yurt. He goes to work at Justice’s office every day, and even has his own bed in her office, thanks to the generosity of a secret admirer.
More than just a cute, fluffy companion, however, Seeley is a pup on a mission.
“With our hospice patients, we talk about how if you’re still here that must mean there is still some work for you to do,” Justice said. “There’s still work to be done, and his work to be done is to spread the word about hospice care and that it means quality of life and living until that last moment.”
In hopes of inspiring others in the community, Justice made Seeley his own Facebook page, titled “Seeley the Hospice Dog.”
In the seven weeks she’s had him, the page has gained over 300 likes and thousands of views.
“They’re just engaged in the story of who this little guy is,” Justice said. “I think what resonates is that he is still just so full of life.”
For all the love he’s received on social media, however, Seeley makes his biggest impression in person.
Though much of his day is spent sleeping, Seeley goes nuts over his toys, wearing himself out fetching with the staff and visitors to the hospice office. He also acts as official greeter, giving newcomers a sniff and a kiss before allowing them to pick him up.
“He’s a very loving dog. He’s a very engaged dog. And I think it’s almost hard for people to believe that he’s on hospice and people get attached to him very quickly,” Justice said.
According to Justice, Seeley’s enthusiasm for life exemplifies everything she tries to help patients and the public understand about hospice care.
“People get scared that if they get that terminal diagnosis that everything stops right then, when it could be that you have weeks, months, years left to go,” she said. “His job right now is to spread the message that hospice is not something to be scared of.”
Still, Justice said, letting go when the time comes will not be easy.
“I’m not sure I knew how attached I would get to this guy, and it is certainly going to be a loss for me when he goes,” she said.
“I think as long as I have a good attitude about what I’m doing, a specific focus on what I’m doing, I’ll be alright,” she added.
Taking Seeley in not only reaffirmed Justice’s work as a hospice director, but also opened her mind to the possibility of taking in more hospice dogs in the future.
When Seeley’s last day comes, she said she plans to call on a mobile vet to put him to sleep among his friends, in the comfort and company of her office.
Until then, though, you’ll find Seeley and Justice living their best life, one day at a time.
To keep up with Seeley and his adventures, follow him on Facebook at Seeley the Hospice Dog.
Information from: Daily Inter Lake, http://www.dailyinterlake.com