Angels of Compassion

October 24, 2012  

Opening hearts and homes to abandoned pit bulls in their final days.

By Micaela Myers, first posted on Aug. 3, 2011

Tera had been at the shelter for two months. An older pit bull with skin cancer and two blown knees, her adoption chances were as low as can be. Knee surgery would cost at least $8,000, and the skin cancer wasn’t going to get better, either. Plus, she was now suffering from kennel stress.

So Tera went to live with Nicole Edwards, a veterinary nurse who welcomes dogs like Tera into her home for what’s known as compassion fostering.

Most foster parents bring a dog into their home knowing that the dog is on his way to a happy ending: a forever home. Compassion fosters have a very different end game: to shower that dog in love until he or she is euthanized. For a dog who is frightened and alone, compassion fosters open their homes and hearts so that dog can leave this world enveloped in love.

Even Chance

Edwards is the president of Even Chance: Pit Bull Advocacy, Resources and Rescue, based in San Diego. In addition to a regular foster and adoption program, her group offers compassion fostering.

“If there weren’t such a surplus of pit bulls,” she says, “maybe people would be into adopting a 10-year-old dog who’s a little gray and a little bit slower, or a dog that has a weird gimp because it was hit by a car and nobody helped. We’re just trying to alleviate the stress on the shelter system because [euthanasia is] all they do, and it’s really sad.”

Tera stayed with Edwards for eight months. “I loved this dog so much,” she recalls. “We took her skin cancer off. We let her live like a normal dog as long as we could, but her skin cancer came back, and her knees became a bigger problem. So she had an awesome eight months. She hung out with my dogs. She slept in my bed. She was like the mama dog of the house, which was very cool. Her favorite toy was a football, and it’s my favorite sport. I have two big baskets of toys. She would always pick the football out and literally throw it around the yard, squeak it a little bit, throw it around the yard some more.”

How compassion fostering works

Approximately 5 million animals are killed in shelters each year. Up to one in three are pit bull types (or labeled as such). Many shelters won’t even put pit bulls up for adoption. For those shelters that do, placing even healthy young pitties can be difficult given the misconceptions, stereotypes and breed restrictions.

In a better world, every dog would find a good new home, but until then Edwards and other dedicated volunteers make sure that no pittie in a San Diego County shelter has to die afraid or alone. The dogs Even Chance accepts into their compassion foster program have medical problems or behavior issues due to past neglect or abuse.

“The dogs pretty much get spoiled as long as we can,” Edwards explains. “That can be anywhere from a week to several months, depending on the case and what we can provide them.”

If there is no room in the compassion foster program, Edwards or one of her team members will spend a day with the shelter dog.

“I’ll take them to Fiesta Island [dog beach] on a long line. They can run around for as long as they want. They can get all dirty, have fun and play on the beach. We go back to the shelter to the outside area that’s set up [for their euthanasia]. We have a rotisserie chicken. They know me by then. They get to sit and eat an awesome meal.”

Focusing on the love

For most of us, the very thought of bonding with a dog we can’t save is too much to handle. Edwards focuses on the love she is able to give these dogs in their final days.

“I try and do everything I can, taking them on lots of walks or letting them smell all the things they didn’t get to smell at the shelter, giving them treats, letting them see the beach and the mountains.”

“I think the way that I’m able to deal with it is that we know this is the end for these dogs, and I feel fortunate enough to make it easier on them,” she says. “That’s my way of coping with it – knowing that they’ll have a full belly before they go, and that they’ll be happy and be with people that they already know and feel comfortable with.”

Edwards has personally welcomed nine compassion fosters into her home in the last few years. Loving seniors like Tera, who were cast off by their owners, are some of the hardest compassion cases for her to deal with emotionally.

“There’s definitely a grieving process after, especially when they’ve lived with you for almost a year. It’s almost your own dog,” she explains, adding that her fellow rescue volunteers are the best therapy during the grieving process. She calls them to reminisce about the dog and also vent about the previous owners who abandoned their pet. “I’m a big talker, so I talk it out,” she says.

Fellow compassion foster Jessica Stone says that showering the dog with love and positive experiences during the time he or she is with her helps during the grieving process after.

“I feel like during the time I have the dog I try and do absolutely everything I can,” she says, “taking them on lots of walks or letting them smell all the things they didn’t get to smell at the shelter or maybe in their previous life, giving them treats, letting them see the beach and the mountains.”

Edwards agrees. “It’s like going to grandma’s house for the weekend. They get to be on the bed. They get to be on the couch. They get to eat food they probably wouldn’t get.”

Eight-month-old Cooper was the second dog Edwards took in as a compassion foster. “He was found on the side of the freeway. He had his ears cut down to his skull. He also had two broken elbows that the vet thought had been that way maybe two months if not longer. He was not a surgical candidate to have them fixed, given the damage.”

Because of his broken elbows, Cooper had to crawl to get around and would tear open his skin in the process. He lived with Edwards for two weeks before he was humanely put down.

“That was a really sad case for us because there was nothing we could do for that dog,” she explains. “He was so young, but I’m sure he endured some pretty crappy situations in his short time.”

Edwards hopes that in his next life, “he can go on and get a new body where his elbows are not broken. He can have his ears back, and he can live with someone who loves him.”

Because in the end, that’s all any pit bull wants: someone who loves them.

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32 Responses to “Angels of Compassion”
  1. Barbara Sands says:

    After reading ANGELS OF COMPASSION by Micaela Myers I felt admiration and compassion for these “angels” and their work with these dogs of ‘last chance’.
    And to answer the question above, no, other People’s Fear of Pit Bulls does not change my relatinship to our dog.
    Maybe before we rescued our Pit Bull we would have been hesitant to adopt a Pit Bull.
    Now we know we have been blessed with another sweet, loving and deserving dog in our life. Our Delta is sweet and playful and incredible with young children
    I hope this article about compassionate fostering reaches more people.

  2. StubbyDog says:

    Thank you for your comments, we were also very touched by the story.

  3. Liz says:

    Very touching story– thank you for sharing it.

  4. Jessi says:

    Micaela, you captured this story perfectly. I continue to admire your and Nicole’s dedication to these dogs, this story should be shared everywhere!

  5. Anne Hanley says:

    This story moved me to tears – for the dogs who were so neglected and abused and for the people who have such generous and loving hearts to respond by filling their last “moments” with nothing but kindness and compassion and joy! This is the true meaning of love. Kudos to the Angels of Compassion, to the author for bringing us this incredible story, and to Stubby Dog for the work you do! Anne Hanley

  6. Beth says:

    I never knew there were angels out there that help one of Gods creations in their last hours. Thanks for sharing their story and God Bless all of you who have been given the strength to care for these fragil forgotten animals.

  7. Kudos to StubbyDog for featuring Even Chance: Pit Bull Advocacy, Resources and Rescue! Compassionate fostering is so needed in every town, city or state shelter that “euthanize” their seniors and special needs (due to illness or injury) dogs and cats coz of their low adoptability rate. Kudos again for Even Chance for what they do…I was moved and happy to know that a population of pitties have been and will be loved when they need it the most!

  8. Julie says:

    This story brought me to tears. Nicole and Jessica, your work is so important. Thank you for your kindness and compassion. Angels helping Angels. What could be better. Thank you StubbyDog and Micaela for sharing this story.

  9. brenda says:

    Angels is the best word for these people! They are wonderful, filled with compassion. God bless them!!!

  10. Dale says:

    I had no idea that there were such generous people giving so much to these neglected and abused animals. It mends my heart to know that this program exists. Thanks to you for your compassion, and to you, Micaela, for sharing the story.

    I know the dogs appreciate it, and deserve it, most of all.

  11. Melanie says:

    Wow, what an incredibly moving account!

    You people are the epitomy of an Angel!

    What you do is so incredible. I would love to be able to help out by doing this in the future and will hold on to your website details. I have just rescued a gorgeous young pittie girl, she is our first Pitbull and she is a gorgeous loving dog. Keep up the amazing work! All I can say is Wow, your story moved me so much!

  12. Cindy says:

    There is such cruelty in this world, and we need more people like these kind-hearted volunteers. Thanks for putting a spotlight on such wonderful souls!

  13. Ellyce says:

    What an incredibly unselfish act of love carried out by these folks. Helping to shepherd a tender soul through the transition of life to afterlife…so beautiful.

    Thank you for sharing such a moving story.

  14. AnnVanderlaan says:

    What a beautiful story, and a loving way for a discarded animal to spend its final days. Thank you Even Chance and Stubby Dogs for sharing the story with us.

  15. StubbyDog says:

    @AnnVanderlaan Thank you Ann, the title is so fitting, as they are really angels of compassion.

  16. AmberGarciaHand says:

    I just lost my baby (9 year old pittie) to cancer a few weeks ago. It was (and still is) increddibly heartbreaking. I hope one day to be strong enough to take in dogs and shower them with love in their final days. Bless you!!!

  17. AmberGarciaHand says:

    I just lost my baby (9 year old pittie) to cancer a few weeks ago. It was (and still is) incredibly heartbreaking. I hope one day to be strong enough to take in dogs and shower them with love in their final days. Bless you!!!

  18. StubbyDog says:

    @AmberGarciaHand We are so sorry for your loss Amber, take comfort in the fact that you gave your baby an incredible life filled with love, that many dogs don’t even get.

  19. kristina.lubomski says:

    i love this article. i hope when i become a homeowner my housemate/possiblefuturehusband join me in making a difference in the lives of foster dogs – hopeful is my current mood

  20. StubbyDog says:

    @kristina.lubomski we hope so too Kristina, fostering dogs is such a noble thing to do.