Michele Allen has had many dogs over the years. But a 13-pound shelter dog with heart problems and bad teeth changed her life forever.
Monkey was a foster dog, and Allen and her husband took care of him for the last few months of his life.
“Monkey’s death was really hard on (us),” Allen said. “We knew what we were getting into, and we decided to just love him as much as we could.”
As Allen learned that so many older, terminally-ill dogs like Monkey were being euthanized in shelters, she decided to open her 6-acre farm to them.
Since 2015, her nonprofit — which she affectionately named Monkey’s House — has provided a loving place where dozens of dogs have spent their final days.
“I can’t think of a better way to channel our grief than to honor him,” said Allen, a former nurse. “He would have just loved that dying dogs were coming to his house to live for a little bit before they leave.”
Allen said most people think a dog hospice would be a sad place. But she calls it “the happiest place on earth.”
“We’re very busy giving them a story, a life, adventures, love, special moments,” she said.
Allen cares for around 25 dogs at a time. All dogs get home-cooked meals based on their medical needs, with individual meal plans created by the organization’s veterinarian. The dogs also receive herbs and natural supplements, acupuncture and chiropractic care.
Around 50 volunteers help Allen and her husband, Jeff, care for the dogs. Allen says someone is always cooking, doing laundry, walking dogs or preparing medication.
“It’s extremely important to me that we not fail them in their final moments,” she said. “I want them to have a very gentle passing, and I want them feeling as loved and supported as they can be.”
CNN’s Meghan Dunn spoke with Allen about her work. Below is an edited version of their conversation.
CNN: How do you address all the dogs’ specific needs so well?
Michele Allen: We’ll do whatever we have to do. The first thing is changing it up nutritionally. I’ve learned a tremendous amount of ways that I can help them with food. If I have them for a week before they see Dr. Morgan (the organization’s vet), sometimes I can tone down some of their issues so that she can hone in on what things we need to get to work on. And that’s through nutrition alone.
So, nutrition, amazing vet care and whatever medications they need. We also use alternative therapies like acupuncture, chiropractic work and cold laser therapy. We see a rehabilitation specialist. He works with pain management in rehab and has an underwater treadmill that the dogs work on. It seems like we start doing right (by them) and their body picks up.
CNN: And you’ve built a great team of volunteers.
Allen: We call all the volunteers aunts and uncles. I would say about 20 come out every single week for a decent amount of time. They’ll come in, they’ll look at our board in the kitchen, and there’ll be dogs that need to have a bath, that need a walk or dogs that shouldn’t be walked. So, they’ll kind of go within their comfort zone of what they choose to do.
What’s really incredible to me is when we have a dog that is short on time, if I ask, “Could they please spend some time with them?” that dog will have volunteers booked solid until they pass.
CNN: This can’t be easy. What keeps you going?
Allen: Every life matters, and their lives matter tremendously. In the shelter world, statistically, every dog here could be put to sleep right now. That’s just a horrible injustice to these companion animals who have brought us joy, have brought us love and have licked our tears. They shouldn’t leave like that.
I want them feeling at home, I want them in my arms or in the arms of their favorite volunteer. I want them to have a very gentle passing, with them feeling as loved and supported as they can be.
CNN: How has this work changed your life?
Allen: The life that I’m leading now with them, I’m tired, but every single day is incredible in some way. It used to be that it was Monday, and then it was Tuesday, and then we had to remember to take the garbage out, we had to pick up groceries on the way home from work.
Now, it’ll be like, somebody made a new noise that was a joyful noise, or somebody walked that didn’t walk before, or someone who had a tumor, the tumor disappeared on its own. That’s incredible. That’s an amazing way to go through life, and I feel very blessed to be doing that right now.