After thirty years as a 911 supervisor, Kat B. found peace and a calling as a volunteer fostering hospice animals at Multnomah County Animal Services.
Allergies and Animal Companionship
As a child, Kat recalls being highly allergic to dogs. While visiting family during the holidays, she would often sleep in the car, because she was allergic to a family poodle. Later in life, Kat adopted several Rhodesian Ridgeback dogs, and didn’t have any noticeable allergies, opening the door to a lifetime of animal companionship.
Kat recalls -
I adopted my first Ridgeback in 1990, who passed away at 11 years. Then I got another Ridgeback, and then a kitten. Later, I had four cats.
For thirty years, Kat had a career as a 911 dispatch supervisor.
The main thing people should think about before calling 911 is whether their situation requires emergency services, Kat says.
There were lots of frivolous calls. I remember one call where someone called because their pizza was too hot! As a 911 dispatcher, it was very difficult mentally and emotionally. We didn’t have breaks between the calls where someone was dying, or in life-threatening danger, and other calls that didn’t necessarily constitute an emergency. We couldn’t take a break to process what we had just heard and experienced, and it was one after another.
While it was an essential and meaningful role, Kat needed some time to recover and heal after retirement. She found comfort in the quiet setting of volunteering with cats at Multnomah County Animal Services.
Work at MCAS
After a short period of volunteering at MCAS, Kat was invited to apply for a part-time position as an employee. Once hired, Kat worked for MCAS from 2003 to 2008 in Animal Care. Kat socialized cats, cleaned enclosures, and remembers doing laundry, dishes, and assisting the Animal Health team.
Everybody at the MCAS taught me something, Kat says.
Everyone treated me with so much kindness. They were never too busy to answer my questions, which may have seemed routine to them, but they weren’t to me. They never made me feel like they were dumb questions! I still reach out to Roberta in Animal Health a lot for help with my fosters.
Starting in 2008, Kat started volunteering to transport animals. It was becoming more common to transport adoptable animals from MCAS to Oregon Humane Society, Cat Adoption Team (CAT) and other regional shelters and rescues. At first, Kat would use her covered F-150 truck, and volunteer after her shift. Later, transport vehicles were available for her to use.
It amazes me the way that all the shelters in the area work together, Kat says.
I’m amazed with the animal community, and how far things have come since I came onboard nearly twenty years ago. I tell people things aren’t the same as they used to be.
As a volunteer, Kat was on the mailing list for foster requests. She remembers the e-mail she received with a request for a hospice foster home for Penny, a senior Bichon Frise. Kat couldn’t say no to the little blind dog -
I couldn’t NOT take her, she says.
After I got Penny home and cleaned her up. She was the happiest girl. I got a stroller for walks, and she loved the wind in her face. She couldn’t see very much, but she loved it. I enjoyed a strong bond with Penny for eight months in hospice care.
After Penny, I took on another hospice foster- Henry, a toothless and blind dog, who was with me for 16 months. Then I fostered Jo Jo and Ernie- both fifteen years old. Jo Jo still chased a ball at first. Ernie kind of tottered around.
Jen, the MCAS Foster Coordinator, has entrusted me with lots of my hospice kids. She knows the ones that are going to be my kind of fosters. I love the little ones that are special and older.
Kat has fostered many hospice cases since her first. Many are still with her.
Age and Dignity
Each one of my hospice animals has taught me something. They have given me a better understanding of age and dignity. It doesn’t take a whole lot to give a person or an animal dignity and respect, regardless of their physical or mental state. Penny taught me that when she ran into something she couldn’t see, she would find a way around an obstacle. Henry’s happiest moments were when he would climb up to snuggle, and lick me with his toothless mouth. They ask so little- a few cuddles, a few treats. They’re all so joyful just to be with you!
The most important thing is that the fur kids get the most love and respect that they can have in their final days. I have strollers and wagons for the animals to be outside on walks with me every day. I go out from 10:30 am until around 3 pm, taking all the dogs two at a time on a one mile loop. Lately it’s just been around the neighborhood. If I walk a few miles from my house, there’s a dirt road with a stream, and it’s quiet. It’s important that the dogs get outside as much as possible. They deserve the most that they can get at the end of their life. They give me so much more than I could ever give them.
Love and Loss
When I lose a hospice foster, the reason I’m ready for another one right away is because I believe the fur kids would want me to bring another one into my family whenever I can. Then I can get another hospice foster and give them the experience and companionship they deserve in their final days.
Kat has established a ritual way to honor and remember her hospice fosters.
For every foster that passes away, I pay for a private cremation. I have shelves for all their urns. I also made a rainbow bridge with colored marbles in the backyard. Every foster animal has a memorial rock by the rainbow bridge. So they’re always here with me. I think they’re always watching over you anyway.
My advice to those interested in hospice foster care is to be prepared for lots of love. It’s heartache, but if you look at it in a different way, you’re giving love, companionship, and care to these senior animals in their final days. It could be a week, or a year and a half, you don’t always know. But you have to focus on the love, and not the loss and sadness, because they have lots of love to give, so do you, and they deserve to be in the comfort of a home.
Thank you, Kat, for your service to the animals and people of Multnomah County as a volunteer.