Foster mom gives a terminally ill dog the time of her life
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Brownie captured Cheryl Scheck’s heart the moment they met. Each time Cheryl arrived at the Best Friends Lifesaving Center in Atlanta for a volunteer shift, she’d look for the tan dog with the frosty face. On most days, she’d take Brownie out for a walk or for a car ride around Atlanta. Other times, she’d just sit quietly with Brownie.
Then one day after Cheryl arrived, excited to see Brownie after being away for a few days, she received the kind of news you are never quite prepared for. A trip to the veterinarian and some medical tests showed that Brownie had advanced liver cancer.
Immediately, Cheryl knew how she could help Brownie. She’d be a hospice foster (“fospice”) mom to Brownie, so the sweet dog could live the rest of her life in comfort, surrounded by love. “It just seemed like the right thing to do, and there was nothing stopping me from doing it,” says Cheryl, determined to make sure Brownie lived her best life in her last days.
Prescription for the good life: toys, hugs, doggie massages
Cheryl let Brownie have the run of the house. Luckily, there were no objections from her dog, Nala, who welcomed Brownie without hesitation. Brownie became a part of the household in no time. She joined Nala on daily walks and had her very own bed, although sometimes Cheryl would help her into her bed, when Brownie hinted that she’d rather sleep with her and Nala.
“She got toys, love, hugs, car rides and a doggie massage daily, just like Nala. And she had a nice yard to hang out in, and a nice neighborhood to take walks in,” says Cheryl.
When Brownie wanted to go on a walk, she’d stand at the front door and wait for Cheryl and Nala, who adapted to Brownie’s slower pace. “She was one of us and belonged here,” says Cheryl.
Simple things, like stretching out in the sun on a nice day or looking out the front door watching kids play, made Brownie happy. She waited eagerly for the mail person, loved treats and looked so content when she slept. “And she snored,” says Cheryl. “I just love a dog who snores.”
A dog’s lesson: live each day to the fullest
When Brownie walked through the front door of her home for the first time, Cheryl knew that her days were limited. And while there were times when the inevitable goodbye was tough to think about, the pain paled in comparison to all the joy Brownie brought to Cheryl’s life.
Fostering a terminally ill dog, says Cheryl, taught her many things. “You get the vibe that they are appreciative — just the way they look at you and lean into you,” says Cheryl. “And it reinforced to me that everyone should live each day fully, because you never know what the next day will bring.”
Cheryl made it her goal to give Brownie the best life she could. She wanted Brownie to know nothing but kindness and love in the comfort of a home. It’s something Cheryl believes every being — pet or person — deserves. And fostering Brownie also reinforced something that Cheryl already knew — that dogs are always ready to give unconditional love.
Making a difference for animals
The day Cheryl had to say goodbye to Brownie was difficult, but she felt at peace knowing that she gave Brownie some amazing days that she otherwise might not have had. “I loved her and she loved being with us,” says Cheryl, who counts the moment she watched Brownie settle in on her bed and get cozy as one of her favorite volunteer moments ever. And she would do it all again.
A year ago, Cheryl retired from her job as a corporate director after more than 35 years. Today, Brownie’s memory colors everything Cheryl does as a volunteer. In fact, if anything, it’s made her want to do even more to help homeless pets. Now, if she’s not visiting a far corner of the world, you can find her at the center, which is just a few miles from where she lives.
When Cheryl stepped up to foster Brownie, Brantlee Vickers, Best Friends volunteer coordinator in Atlanta, says she wasn’t surprised. “Cheryl volunteers in so many ways,” says Brantlee, who has come to rely on Cheryl’s help with everything from socializing dogs to doing data entry to training new volunteers.
In fact, soon Cheryl will begin fostering a six-month-old puppy who just had surgery for a torn ligament and needs a quiet place to heal. “It’s my happy place,” says Cheryl about the center. “I love being able to make a difference to an animal, whether it’s getting them outside or out for a car ride, or just showing them love and human touch. And I get a great feeling from it, too.”
Thinking about fostering a terminally ill pet? If so, Cheryl has some advice. “Stay focused on all the good you’re doing. I loved Brownie to pieces and, yes, the end was hard. But it was also peaceful knowing she had some great days, love and companionship.”
Best Friends in Atlanta works collaboratively with area shelters, animal welfare organizations and individuals to save the lives of pets in shelters in the region. The Best Friends Lifesaving Center is a hub for animals and a base for local programming and coalition-building to help the metro-Atlanta area in its final push to achieve no-kill, while strengthening the movement in the Southeast. Together, we will Save Them All.
Photos by Cheryl Scheck