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In Southampton, NJ, there’s a place where the old, the sick and the homeless can spend their last moments surrounded by love, care, and compassion.

The place is called Monkey's House, one of the country’s very few dog hospices and sanctuaries.

Michele D. Allen, who founded the place with her husband Jeff, offers shelter dogs in need of hospice care a chance to live and die with dignity and in the arms of people who care.

The Honest Kitchen: How exactly did Monkey’s House get started? What’s the story behind it and why establish a home for elderly dogs

Michele Allen: I have been blessed to have had dogs all of my life but have only intentionally adopted two before 2009. Dogs just found us or ended up with us. In April of 2009, our dog Emmy passed away kind of suddenly. She was 13 and had been having frequent bouts of pancreatitis but still I wasn’t ready, if such a thing exists. We had just one dog left and while she was a handful, our home was terribly empty, so I called a dear friend, Joanne Collier—who volunteered at the Animal Orphanage of Voorhees—and asked her to find us a dog. She eventually brought two out to meet my dog and I left with both of them. The first one was a goofy looking little guy named Poncho who was seven-ish, had teeth going in every direction, the worst breath imaginable and the biggest smile. And then there was McKenzie, a 13 and a half-year-old Shih Tzu who was skinny and frightened but so sweet. At our initial vet appointment we found out that McKenzie was the healthy one. Poncho had a serious heart murmur and really bad dental disease.

The adoption of these two dogs was a very healing and rewarding experience for me, so after Poncho and McKenzie were gone, I wanted to learn more about how I could help shelter dogs without actually going into a shelter. So we started fostering. I preferred sick dogs as I had been a nurse for many years and always felt that the best healing was done in a home.

As time passed, I was astounded by the number of really old, sick dogs in shelters everywhere and how little help there is for them. As we fostered these seniors, I often preferred to take them to my own vet where I could ask questions and have a better understanding of what was going on and have a more active role in their treatment. Being a nurse, I was taught to ask questions, to constantly evaluate what was helping and what wasn’t. Shelters and rescues didn’t cover that level of veterinary care. This was becoming an extremely expensive undertaking.

With each foster dog came experience, knowledge, joy and tears, as well as a gratifying sense of a job well done. Taking a foster dog for end-of-life care doesn’t mean we love them any less than our own dogs, but we have the luxury of knowing the clock is ticking and I needed to come up with a plan of managing their illness, helping them to feel as well as possible and making decisions about how and when the end would happen.

It’s not like having a reasonably healthy dog for 15 years and then ending up in an emergency room with a vet you never met telling you your best friend was dying. The dogs came to us dying. It was up to us to help them have the best possible life until that final moment came and to make sure that final moment was filled with love and peace. With each dog, our job became clearer and more focused. While fostering dogs that weren’t going to die was very rewarding, it seemed that hospice care was our forte. Health care for dogs can be more expensive in their final year. It’s their families’ responsibility to do right by them. However, we kept adopting these “most expensive last year of their life” dogs. We couldn’t keep spending like this but there were always dogs that needed end of life care.

THK: Can you tell us the story behind the name Monkey’s House?

MA: Monkey was, at first, just another foster. He had the same story: a little stray with a cough that turned out to be a bad heart. He had horrible breath, horrible teeth and a contagious zest for life. When he came to us, his respiration was 80 breaths per minute. That is incredibly uncomfortable and, in my mind, is suffering. I knew there were two medications at Walmart that were $4/month that would help him and one that was $40/month through the vet that would make a big difference.

I spoke to the shelter vet, who was not on board with prescribing the meds. He felt nature should be allowed to take its course and that I should enjoy him for the short time he was with us. So we adopted Monkey and off we went. He got his meds, a vet who he really wanted to bite, a cardiologist and lots of wonderful adventures. We had him for 17 incredible months. Not a day went by that he didn’t bring us joy.

Monkey left us February 26, 2015. I channeled my pain into opening Monkey’s House, a dog hospice and sanctuary. I started our Facebook page as a gift to my husband. Our grief was the heaviest burden I think either of us has ever felt but neither of us would have changed a thing. Telling Monkey’s story, letting people know his short life mattered to us, kept us moving forward.

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