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Old dogs find new life and a warm bed at Lizzy’s Animal Hospice


India’s owner never would have expected his dog to end up with Karen Cole, but before he died, he didn’t make any plans for India, a sweet Australian Kelpie mix who is now 10.

For more than a year, India has been living with Cole, who started Lizzy’s Animal Hospice, formerly Lizzy’s Hospice House, four years ago. As Lizzy’s intake coordinator, she’s helping India get more used to people. India loves to go for walks and rides in the car. She loves other dogs, too. Cole is searching for a home or foster home for India — a home with patient people who would let India adjust slowly to her new surroundings.

“Once you get to know her, you’ll realize what a great dog she is,” Cole says.

Freedom, 14, a chow mix, and Patriot, 11, a white Chihuahua, go everywhere together. When their owner, who was in the military, died, family members couldn’t take care of Freedom and Patriot after losing their home. The doggy duo found their way to Lizzy’s.

“They are very sweet dogs,” Cole says, but they need to be placed together because Freedom depends on Patriot a lot. “They are both loves,” she says. “You will fall in love with them once you meet them.”

These are three of the 30 dogs Cole has taken in since starting Lizzy’s Animal Hospice.

Cole, 53, who works as a legal assistant for a private law firm, didn’t grow up in a home focused on animals. Her family did have dogs and rabbits, too, at their house in Maryland, but “they were not cared for like we do now,” she says of her childhood animals.

One dog ignited Cole’s passion for finding homes for hard-to-place dogs. After moving to Texas from California in 2000, Cole found a pit bull wandering around outside her office building. Her building security was warning people about a “dangerous” dog. Then Cole went outside and found a beautiful, sweet pit bull — Sandy.

After Cole called around to different rescue groups and was told no, a local group told her it couldn’t help take Sandy but would help Cole with resources. Cole kept Sandy at a local kennel that also gave Sandy basic obedience training while Cole looked for a home for Sandy for six months. Cole and her ex-husband decided to keep Sandy and bring her home.

Sandy led Cole to begin volunteering with that rescue group. Then came Lizzy, a golden retriever mix that inspired Cole to start her own rescue group. Lizzy had lived her whole life chained to a tree. When Cole found her, Lizzy was estimated to be 13 and not expected to make it. Her hair was so matted she fell over every time she tried to stand up. Cole got her cleaned up and started giving her better quality food.

“We thought she’d be with us two months. She lived two years,” Cole says.

Cole’s priority is to give dogs the best life before it’s time to say goodbye. Sometimes that’s only a few days. Sometimes it’s a few years.

“My main goal is the quality of life of the dog, that they spend the end of life with a family on a nice fluffy dog bed, but not in a kennel, not alone.”

Not all of Lizzy’s dogs are seniors. The youngest dog Lizzy’s has had was a 1-year-old with a hole in her heart. “Sophia died after a day of play,” Cole says. “Her heart just gave out.”

Currently, Lizzy’s has a special case in Mika. The 12-year-old red heeler mix needs hip replacements and for his front legs to be scoped for bone spurs and a possible bicep tear. It’s very painful for him to walk, but Cole takes him swimming. Mika’s surgery will cost about $10,000.

Lizzy’s mostly finds its dogs at kill shelters, rather than rescue groups, and often learns about dogs through emails Cole receives. Cole looks for dogs that are 15 or older or are a special health case.

“I never tell anyone no,” she says. “I remember what that feels like — being told no.” She does try to find other avenues for dogs if it looks like another group could take them.

Lizzy’s is often the last hope, but Cole’s always aware of what her capacity is, both in space and monetary resources. Lizzy’s is entirely funded by private donations. When Lizzy’s takes in a new dog, it immediately spends about $300-$500 for blood work to look for any medical problems and then teeth cleaning. Lizzy’s charges about $200 for the adoption fee.

Unlike some rescues, Lizzy’s doesn’t have a kennel. Her dogs live in foster homes or with Cole, as the intake coordinator, in her house outside of Dripping Springs.

When we talked last month, Cole was caring for eight dogs, plus her own dog, who is another heart-breaking story turned happy ending.

Ray Charles is a 10-year-old blind American Bulldog. She got him when he was 2 and left in a yard after a family moved. The real estate agent found him and put out calls to rescue groups to come get him. After another group picked him up but didn’t have a foster home for him, Cole volunteered to foster him and find him a home. “After three days, I realized he had found his new home — mine,” she says.

Many of the dogs Cole brings into Lizzy’s were surrendered by owners to shelters. Often people are in a desperate state. They can’t afford to put the dog to sleep or they fear putting the dog to sleep. “People view it as a sad experience,” she says. “I would rather they take it to the vet and be there in the end than send it to the shelter.”

Cole has gotten used to saying goodbye to dogs. She looks for dogs to give her clues that it’s their time — and they do.

Cole makes sure she is with them and that the last thing they see is her face. “It’s very sad every time I do it,” she says, but she leaves her emotion at the door and is strong for the dog. It’s very peaceful, she says. They just fall asleep with the sedative before the medication that stops their heart is delivered.

Even though it’s peaceful, she says: “I cry like a baby afterwards, every single time.”

Cole’s biggest goal is to find more fosters to care for these special dogs and more people to adopt them. “I’ve learned that there’s a special community that does enjoy old dogs,” she says. “They might have a dog for five or three years.”

But they won’t need to potty train, and they often get a mellow dog who doesn’t want to go running every day.

“Karen always has an eye on what’s best for the dog and what makes them happy,” says volunteer Nancy Niland, who also just adopted Suzy Q, a poodle who was found matted up with burrs and a gash in her mouth.

Board member Lisa Stevens fosters 10-year-old Sheltie/border collie mix Lindy. Lindy was thought to have lymphoma when she came to Lizzy’s and given six months to live. After eating better food and getting her lymph nodes biopsied, doctors discovered she has a type of breast cancer that isn’t terminal.

Stevens says caring for Lindy is no more care than her other dogs and her potbelly pig. “I don’t do anything extra for her,” Stevens says.

“It’s extremely hard to find foster care for this type of animal,” Stevens adds. “People don’t understand that it’s really not a burden.”

Cole is an amazing person, Stevens says. “She’s more durable than I certainly am. She’s tireless … she’s willing to drive anywhere at any time. She’s a crusader for the weirds. They may be blind or deaf or limp or if you grab them wrong, they might try to bite you because they are old,” Steven says.

Cole sets up meet-and-greet events to put the dogs in front of people. At one event in November 2014, Becky Struwe spotted a blind 10-year-old Rottweiler, Paisely Mae, while volunteering with a different rescue group. “I fell in love,” she says.

She had been thinking about bringing in a second dog to go with her high-maintenance mutt, Humphrey, who’s 5. Paisley Mae, who is low-key, was perfect.

Cole recommends potential adopters do a trial sleepover week. Struwe did and it was a good fit. The biggest challenge was teaching Paisley Mae how to go up and down stairs to Struwe’s third-floor apartment. “She had to trust me,” Struwe says. Now they are family, and Humphrey proves to be the more difficult dog.

“I’ve worked with several different dog rescues,” Struwe says. “I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone with the heart Karen has. … She loves dogs that other people consider unlovable.”



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