What Muttville Means To Me: The Story of Collette
I truly miss the joy my fospice girl brought me everyday. In honor of Collette, I want to share my great experience of fostering and hospicing for Muttville. Even if it comes with sadness, what I’ve gained because of her is immeasurable.
I loved an old, weathered Border Collie. Her name was Collette.
January last year, she was delivered to my door, having traveled all night via transport from Los Angeles. After receiving heartfelt emails from shelter volunteers who gave her the name Collette and pleaded with Muttville to save her life, Sherri knew she belonged with us.
A scared and unhappy dog, Collette chose to keep to herself and curl up in a bed in a corner of my house for 7 days. Sherri nicknamed her “the saddest face in the world,” and we lovingly described her this way on her profile. Her eyes reflected a lost, displaced dog who could not make sense of why she was here or where she belonged. Collette did not do well at adoption events, always looking around like she was waiting to see someone or something familiar. I later learned that this was an inherent part of her personality.
Our first hike together at Land’s End I will never forget. She smiled for the first time, and she began to carry herself with purpose. We didn’t know each other well yet, but she stayed right next to me. If I fell behind, she would slow down and look back at me as if to say, “hey, i’m waiting for you!” In over 20 dogs that I fostered, this was the first time I felt a bond. We were yin and yang. And it seemed that she had decided I was her “someone.”
Her initial vet check included a biopsy of a large growth on her front paw. I knew it could be a tumor, but I certainly wasn’t prepared to hear our vet say she would only have 3-6 months to live. I was equally unprepared to hear Sherri say, “Let’s cut off her leg if it can save her life.” The day I brought her in for surgery I was a nervous wreck. The vet would not know how much of her leg he would remove until he was in surgery. Luckily, she ended up losing only one toe in her paw. But the bad news was the tumor appeared again just a few days later.
Having mass-cell cancer and possibly a short time to live, Collette joined Muttville’s hospice program. I committed to learn all I could about caring for a dog with cancer and researched holistic treatments. She started chemo and steroids as well. I shared her story with Pet Nutrisystems, and as a result a majority of her holistic cancer supplements were donated by customers who lost their pets to cancer. I was touched by the selflessness of pet owners who, amidst their grief, took the time to donate their unused treatments to help Collette and other dogs in Muttville’s hospice program.
Although the term “hospice care” means caring for someone facing an end of life situation, I decided that I would look at this as an opportunity to beat the odds, a challenge to see if I could give her more life. Her diagnosis motivated me to take her for special hikes every Saturday morning. It became our weekend ritual, and it also helped me to rest my “workaholic” self. When we were enjoying a beautiful view or peaceful spot together, I’d realize how much I needed it for my health as much as hers. I also knew that I wouldn’t be there if not for Collette.
Muttville volunteers re-named her “no longer the saddest face in the world”, and everyone knew Collette and I were meant to be together. At times we’d walk with other dogs and friends, and no matter what, Collette was always next to me. Even at home she stood up when I did and had to know what I was up to. She never acted like she was following me. She carried herself like she was just doing her job.
After a year, it felt inappropriate to call her my “hospice” dog. She was so healthy, her coat was shiny, and she had no signs of cancer. Muttville profiled Collette in its Winter 2010 newsletter, celebrating her extended life. I thought she would be with me for years to come, and it was easy to believe looking at her smiling face, excited for her weekend hike.
I wasn’t prepared for the sudden turn of events that happened last week. It wasn’t even cancer that took her in the end. During the unexpected final moments that Tuesday morning, she was cradled in my arms. I wasn’t ready for her to go, and I begged her to stay. I believed Collette would fight it all the way, if only her frail body was as strong as her desire to stay by my side. The night before, I slept beside her, holding her paw. She was looking at me steadily, eyes wide open. It was almost 3:00 am and I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I fell asleep as she watched over me. Perhaps she already knew.
Our life together lasted a year and three months. Missing her is unbearable still, and it’s so hard to believe she is gone. I think about that January when she entered my world, how I thought I was going to give her more life. Words can not describe how much life she gave me.
Because of her, I’ve learned about cancer care for dogs, enabling me to help Muttville in a more special way. The best gift Collette gave me during our 15 months together was a lifetime of love, loyalty, and memories I will never forget.
When my time comes, Collette just might be at the end of my life’s road, looking back at me, as if to say, “hey, i’ve been waiting for you…”
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