Nicola Harrison (formerly Coyle) has taken on a rewarding job, but one that always ends in heartbreak – she takes in dying dogs and gives them the care, love, and affection they deserve in their final moments.
Sadly, many people abandon their pets when they become terminally ill. It sounds heartless, but sometimes it’s simply because of financial constraints or the inability to handle care.
Other times it’s more selfish – people simply can’t handle watching their pet die. In these cases, pets end up dying in unfamiliar places.
It’s truly heartbreaking to think of an animal taking its final breaths without a loved one to give them a final cuddle and goodbye like they deserve.
Harrison feels this pain and is doing something amazing to make those moments bearable for as many dogs as she can handle by opening a pet “hospice” in the UK.
But the hospice isn’t just a depressing place where dogs go to die. Harrison makes it as fun as she can for her residents. And there’s a lot of leeway one can give (especially in terms of treats) when longevity is no longer an issue.
Harrison got the idea while she was working at a kennel and was upset to see so many lonely dogs with so little time left.
That eventually led her to open the Grey Muzzle Canine Hospice Project from her home in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire which provides end-of-life care for abandoned terminally ill dogs that have less than 6 months to live.
These pups get to spend their finals weeks and months celebrating birthdays, getting ice cream, and even indulging in steak dinners. And they get loads of love and attention – and that’s partly why Harrison can’t take in too many animals at once.
“We take them down to the local pub – it’s really dog-friendly, and they’ll get a steak dinner too. Many have not led a very nice life too, used for breeding or guard dogs, so when they’ve become unwell, they’re not useful anymore and left,” she told Metro.
Harrison estimates that she spends up to $600 on each dog to make their time comfortable and special.
Because of the cost and time, Harrison limits herself to two dogs at a time so she can give them maximum attention, though the turnover rate is obviously high.
“The longest I had one is one year, the shortest was two weeks. It’s so rewarding when you can make those times special. I don’t know when their birthdays are, so we throw all of them a birthday party,” she said.
But just because a dog is only with her for two weeks doesn’t mean she isn’t emotional when they pass. But she puts that aside in the hopes of giving them comfort.
“They just want to feel loved and safe. I really believe they should get a nice ending.”
And she does grieve every dog that spends time at her hospice.
“We all get very attached to them, it’s very emotionally intense and we do mourn and grieve for them. We do need to have breaks between them.”
Harrison is a retired nurse and while she once paid for all of the dogs’ expenses out of pocket, once people found out about her pet project, she started receiving donations online.
Now that she has more resources, her efforts have expended to providing advice and outreach to pet owners who are caring for their terminally ill dogs. Grey Muzzle provides “guidance, support and help with medications.”
While the 48-year-old good samaritan makes each dog a bucket list including lots of treats, vets have warned others that you need to know what you’re doing when you feed them human food since that could shorten their lifespan even further.
Of course, some dogs have nothing left to lose.