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Hospice Care For Shelter Pets: Making Endings Happy

If you are following 31 Ways To Celebrate The Holidays By Helping Animals, you know that today is all about providing fospice – hospice care for a senior or terminally ill shelter dog or cat.

While sharing a long, happy life with an animal is a wonderful thing (the best), spending a few months, days, or even hours with a dog or cat who has never known kindness or love is just as amazing. It’s all about living in the moment and rewriting their story with a happy ending – helping homeless animals leave the world knowing they are safe, cherished, and finally home. You get back way more than you give and some pretty good karma, too.

Cleo was my once-in-a-lifetime, feel-good, rewrite-the-story-and-make-the-ending happy, fospice cat.

providing fospice or hospice care for shelter dogs and cats

Hospice Care For Shelter Cats and Dogs

Some cats, like some humans, travel a bumpy road in life. Through no fault of their own, they are bounced from one home to the next, surrendered to shelters or left to fend for themselves on the street. Cleo was one of those cats.

In January 2000, a man called the shelter and told me that he was allergic to his wife’s cat and needed to place her immediately (like that day). The shelter had just opened and we were still setting up the cat rooms so I told him we could take her the following week. The next morning his wife called and pleaded with us to take her cat. Her husband didn’t have allergies and was keeping her cat locked in the basement. Ten minutes later the husband called and said, “Give me one reason I shouldn’t shoot this cat.”

Was he serious, I didn’t know. But listening to his wife crying in the background, I assumed so and told him to bring the cat right over, no questions asked.

Fospice or Hospice Care for Shelter cats
Cleo at Red Door Animal Shelter 2001

Cleo was a ten-year-old, petite black, declawed cat with piercing eyes and a furrowed brow. When she arrived at the shelter, she also had a furless nose from pressing against the basement door, trying to escape. She didn’t care for other cats and was a bit choosy with humans, too. Adopters skipped right over her – no one was looking for an older, crabby black cat. Cleo had been hurt and it showed, swatting and hissing at even the kindest of volunteers. She had a sharp-tongued, angry meow that, combined with her mean right hook scared people and cats away.

Looking back, I think Cleo pegged me pretty early on as her only ticket out of the shelter. Regardless of the weather, sub-zero January or sweltering July, she waited for me in the front window. While the other cats interacted with neighborhood children who knocked on the glass and waved, Cleo did not – and she soon became known as “the mean one.” But when she saw me, she would leap out of the window and run to the door, her eyes going from angry slits to wide-eyed wonder.

The stress of shelter life took its toll and Cleo grew more irritable and unpredictable. After three years at the shelter, she was diagnosed with kidney failure. She stopped eating, lost a bunch of weight, and pretty much gave up. Because I was the only one Cleo would tolerate, the shelter vet asked if I would bring her home for hospice care. I already had a dog and four cats  and taking another one seemed a stretch even for me. But I agreed and at the end of the day, I packed Cleo up and off we went. Sometimes life’s timing isn’t perfect, but you make it work anyway

Cleo wasn’t crazy about our other cats, but she eventually joined them for naps on the radiator, movie night on the couch, and kitty pile-ups on the bed at night. Her crabby cries changed to sweet chirps and each morning she led the happy prance to the kitchen for breakfast. We discovered that behind the swats (and the mean right hook) was a sweet lap cat, afraid of rejection. She lived with us for two more years – celebrating holidays, the birth of my daughter, new jobs, moves, and lots of ordinary days that, when bound together, make years that matter.

Providing fospice care for shelter cats in your home
Toonces and Cleo 2004

When I was pregnant, Cleo would sleep on my stomach and chirp when my daughter kicked. We weren’t sure she would meet her human sister, but Cleo lived until August 2006 when my daughter was six months old. Was it hard taking care of a newborn and a cat in hospice. Yes, it was. But life is not supposed to be perfect or easy and often the most sacred things are also brutally hard, but in a lovely way.

Obviously not all hospice pets have such remarkable second acts. We have provided hospice care for several cats and while none of the others lived as long as Cleo, their final days were in a home surrounded by comfort and love – and for a cat who has been abandoned, betrayed or abused, that’s all that matters.

Celebrate the Holidays By Making An Ending Happy

Shelters are filled with cats like Cleo who probably won’t get a second chance. They will die alone, as if they never existed at all, only to be replaced by another cat who may not get a second chance either.

This holiday season why not give the ultimate gift? Visit your local shelter and inquire about fostering a senior or providing fospice care for a shelter dog or cat. While your time together may be brief, you might just find your once-in-a-lifetime, rewrite-the-story-and-make-the-ending-happy, heart-cat (or dog). Kindness matters.

Please forgive the low quality photos. My photography skills have clearly improved in the last 10 years.

Providing hospice or fospice care for shelter pets, senior dogs and cats in shelters


  1. Mark Muller
    December 11, 2017 / 7:52 am

    I'm so sorry for Cleo… why people can act this way? I had some doubts about the story this people told abhout allergies etc… But there was fortunately a way and a happy end…and I hope that we will have a lot of happy endings this year…

  2. Emma
    December 11, 2017 / 11:48 am

    Our shelter here just had a tv blurb about doing hospice for elderly/sick shelter pets. It is a wonderful program.

  3. Sheltie Times
    December 11, 2017 / 12:26 pm

    I know people get angry over pets being surrendered but in a neglect or abuse situation it is a gift for the animal to move to a safe location.I've never heard of hospice for pets but it seems the logical step forward in foster care. I've also noticed the term forever foster turning up at some rescues for dogs physically, behaviorally, or emotionally deemed too challenging to place who the rescue will pay to live out lives in rescue.

  4. Brian
    December 11, 2017 / 2:41 pm

    Hospice care for those who need it is a true blessing!

  5. 24 Paws of Love
    December 11, 2017 / 5:42 pm

    The giving and life changing works both ways.I love that!

  6. Tails Around the Ranch
    December 11, 2017 / 5:52 pm

    Bless you for taking care of Cleo and making her last days happy ones.

  7. Millie and Walter
    December 11, 2017 / 5:55 pm

    Cleo was lucky to have found you when she needed you most.

  8. Madi and Mom
    December 11, 2017 / 6:02 pm

    Cleo was loved to bits in her final days…of this I am sure.Bless your big heart Kristen!!Aging kitties and kidney disease is a paw full, one pet I cannot imagine how you did it with a new baby and other petsSweet Madi is almost 16 and we too are dealing with kidney disease.Our new motto is 3 seniors living and loving one day at a time.Hugs Cecilia

  9. Molly the AireGirl
    December 11, 2017 / 7:35 pm

    Cleo had a wonderful life with you. Bless you♥

  10. Idaho PugRanch
    December 11, 2017 / 9:24 pm

    So wonderful of you to make Cleo's last years her besthugsHazel & Mabel

  11. Eastside Cats
    December 11, 2017 / 9:37 pm

    A lovely post! Fostering is top on my list, when I retire.

  12. Mary McNeil
    December 11, 2017 / 9:51 pm

    So glad the shelter gave you a chance to care for Cleo – and Cleo apparently wanted it to work out as much as you did.

  13. The Island Cats
    December 12, 2017 / 2:46 am

    We're so glad Cleo spent her last days out of the shelter and in a happy home.

  14. Marv Marvelous
    December 12, 2017 / 4:57 am

    Cleo was blessed and she had picked her family long before her family knew they had been picked!PurrsMarv

  15. Denise Gruzensky
    December 12, 2017 / 5:37 am

    What an amazing gift you and Cleo gave each other! Our senior Shasta blessed us beyond measure! It is so difficult to not have them for a lifetime but the memories of the time together are precious!

  16. The Menagerie Mom
    December 12, 2017 / 2:31 pm

    What a beautiful story. Cleo may have had a rough start in life, but you gave her a happy ending. Thank you for that, and for sharing this with us.

  17. Momma Kat and Her Bear Cat
    December 12, 2017 / 11:19 pm

    The best part?!? The "gift" is repaid a thousand times over in love and companionship. I'm so glad Cleo's story had a happy ending.

  18. Three Chatty Cats
    December 13, 2017 / 1:28 pm

    Oh gosh, what a beautiful story of love and kindness. You always make my eyes leak. Beautiful writing and such a beautiful heart. Cleo ended up with the perfect person after all.

  19. Rochelle
    December 13, 2017 / 3:01 pm

    What a beautiful, sweet story. You're Cleo's angel! I would love to foster, and fospice especially. Thank you, thank you, thank you for raising awareness for such an important topic and for being there for Cleo.

  20. Lori Hilliard
    December 13, 2017 / 3:31 pm

    Cleo was fortunate that she had someone special who could re-write the ending for her. Your generosity in taking her in for her final two years is a testament to your dedication to shelter pets. I hope your beautiful article inspires others to offer in-home hospice to other shelter pets.

  21. Lola The Rescued Cat
    December 13, 2017 / 5:17 pm

    Cleo was so lucky to spend her last days with you. You gave her an amazing gift of kindness and love.

  22. Dear Mishu
    December 13, 2017 / 6:51 pm

    This is a beautiful idea! I am sure Cleo had a happy ending and am so happy you shared this story with us

  23. Montecristo Travels
    December 13, 2017 / 6:58 pm

    I do love when something ends well … even if my gut wrenches every time I hear of horrible stories. Hospice care is such a great idea. I do think we need more of that.

  24. Hindy Pearson
    December 13, 2017 / 7:17 pm

    I literally had tears in my eyes reading about Cleo. Thank goodness they at least called to place the cat rather than just shooting him as that madman threatened. How fortunate she found you and learned what a happy and loving home was. You're so right and thanks for advocating for the dogs and cats who will always be passed over and die, alone, in a cold and lonely environment. I hope this post will inspire others to look for the ones considered "unadoptables."

  25. Heather Wallace
    December 13, 2017 / 8:02 pm

    I love that you were able to help Cleo. I have a soft spot for black cats and also animals with attitude. My cat Puck was antisocial with everyone but me and adopted me from the first. He was so special and no one else understood him. There are so many animals in shelters, and I love that you were able to take a sick animal home to give her the love and care she needed. I hope more people do this.

  26. Ruth Epstein
    December 13, 2017 / 8:48 pm

    I so admire people that foster as a hospice, I do not know if mentally I could do it but I always make sure I adopt / rescue a middle aged pet.Cleo knew you were her angel and that is why she was so amazing with your kid also, thanks for such a tear jerking happy ending post

  27. Fashion Beyond Forty
    December 13, 2017 / 9:08 pm

    Bawling. I do not know who the lucky one is here – you or Cleo. Honestly, these shelter animals give us far more than we could ever give them but I am so happy you took dear Cleo in! Bless you! Now, to get over the anger at that so-called "man" who threatened to shoot Cleo. More like a monster!

  28. Tenacious Little Terrier
    December 13, 2017 / 9:31 pm

    How lovely you gave Cleo a place to call home for the last years of her life. She spent a long time in the shelter! I was reading something about how dogs deteriorate after spending lengthy amounts of time in the shelter, I imagine cats are the same way.

  29. Allison
    December 14, 2017 / 2:10 am

    Thank you for giving Cleo love in her last days. When I was growing up, my dad adopted a senior dog that would have otherwise gotten placed in a shelter. I bonded instantly and developed a soft spot for older dogs. This led my husband and I to foster a senior dog. At the time we didn't think of it as hospice, but just knew that no one else was going to adopt him because of his many medical issues. He ended up having three happy years with our family, but also left us emotionally drained. When I began working with community cats, I once again started to feel a tug for older animals. If we can successfully adopt the kitten we're currently fostering, we plan to put our names in at the local no-kill cat shelter as being available to do hospice. This time around we'll better understand what that means. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  30. Sweet Purrfections
    December 14, 2017 / 2:43 am

    What a sweet ending to a tough life for Cleo. I admire you for taking in a cat needing hospice care. I know how emotionally attached and devastated I get when getting close to an animal, so I'm not sure I could do it.

  31. Beth Patterson
    December 14, 2017 / 4:15 pm

    I'm glad you stretched and gave Cleo a home. There was a time in my life when I couldn't do hospice care, but I think I am strong enough now emotionally. I just have to convince my husband.

  32. Animal Lover Amelia
    December 14, 2017 / 5:41 pm

    What a touching story. Cleo was so fortunate to have you in her life. Her behavior change showed how much she appreciated being a queen in your household. She will never be forgotten.

  33. 4 Dogs and a Little Lady
    December 15, 2017 / 10:40 pm

    Before I started doing rescue work, I didn't really "get" why senior dogs and cats having a home in their twilight age was a big deal. But, after witnessing the difference in a dog myself, I can completely understand why giving an animal a place to transition lovingly is so so important

  34. Marty the Manx
    December 21, 2017 / 4:15 am

    What a wonderful story. I fostered an elderly kitty with Cerebellar Hypoplasia for almost a year. He was so sweet. I learned so much from him.

  35. September 15, 2018 / 1:45 pm

    This post has me in tears. I am so glad that these furbabies have someone to love on them as they prepare to cross the Bridge. It is a worthwhile way to volunteer and love Heavenly Father’s special creations.

    Have a blessed weekend.

  36. Nadine
    April 9, 2019 / 9:42 pm

    Brought tears to my eyes, sad and happy. I have fostered kittens but never fospiced. It sounds rewarding yet possibly difficult. I hope to try it someday.

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