Muttville's Danny Boy: Bringing "Bark-It" List Joy to Hospice Dogs by Vicki Holt

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Danny Boy at the Beach. © Russell Ulrey

 On a cool February day in 2013, a happy 11-year-old Australian Cattle Dog mix named Danny Boy arrived at Muttville Senior Dog Rescue in San Francisco, California. Little did anyone suspect the adventures that awaited or the inspiring legacy that Danny Boy, with the help of his dedicated foster parents, would leave behind for the dogs of Muttville.

Danny Boy with his Muttville hat.
Muttville Senior Dog Rescue, a Grey Muzzle grantee organization, takes in senior dogs who, because of their age, don’t have much chance of adoption in a shelter. Since 2007, Muttville’s goal has been to change the way people think about older dogs and to create better lives for them through rescue, adoption, and hospice. They have recently reached an impressive milestone, with 2,500 senior dogs rescued.

Danny Boy was fortunate to become a Muttville dog when he was pulled from a shelter across the Bay in Oakland. At Muttville, Danny quickly became a favorite of everyone he met. Although seemingly healthy, it wasn’t long before he was diagnosed with terminal multiple myeloma cancer. Instead of adoption, he was destined for their fospice (foster hospice) program. In fospice care, the focus would be on giving him the best possible life for whatever time he had left.

As long-time Muttville fospice volunteers with a dog care business of their own, Danny Boy's caretakers, Marie and Russell, were well-placed to give Danny Boy what he needed in the months he had left. Rather than dim Danny’s carefree spirit with chemotherapy just to eke out a little more time, they committed to keeping him healthy as long as possible and making every remaining day a celebration.

Danny Boy's fospice parents described him this way: “[His] motto is to make every day awesome. His joy is infectious. He tells the world that his life is awesome by singing with his raspy voice, or rolling on the ground, arching his back side to side and touching his back toes to his nose all at the same time.”

Danny Boy Enjoying Crab at Half Moon Bay. © Marie Macaspac
Marie and Russell wanted to do something for Danny Boy as special as Danny Boy himself, so to honor his unique spirit, they created a bark-it (bucket, in dog-speak) list of all the things Danny might want to do before he left this world. Then they set about fulfilling it.

In the months that followed, Danny went on to be a model for a day, attend a fancy fundraiser for another important dog cause, and swim in a barrel of treats. He got to march in the San Francisco Pride Parade, and go girl (dog) watching. He delighted in gnawing on an emu neck and munching on fresh crab right off the boats in Half Moon Bay. He loved taking his family on a picnic, getting a massage, going on a road trip, going to the beach, and joining dog friends for yappy hour, among other things.

It was, however, with Danny Boy's goal to be a Dogster Hero that the world learned about his bark-it list, and this in turn helped him fulfill another wish - something even more wonderful. His wish to be a Dogster Hero was accomplished with an interview published on Dogster.com; then, with the help of donations from Dogster readers, he launched a pay-it-forward campaign for other Muttville hospice dogs to live out their dreams. The program's founding philosophy is “short time or long time, as long as it’s a good time.” To date Danny's Bark-It List Fund has raised over $1,900 and is well on its way to a goal of $3000.

Nubia, who benefitted from the Bark-it Fund with Ashley. Photo Courtesy of Russell Ullrey
His Bark-It List Fund has already benefited other Muttville hospice dogs. A little Shih Tzu named Nubia, in end-stage cancer, longed to feel beautiful. Thanks to Danny’s Fund, she got her first experience at a dog spa. The groomer spoiled her with a warm bath, massage, and potions made with mangoes and berries that smelled good enough to eat. Back home she proudly showed off her new haircut and bright purple toenails.
 
Sweet 16-year-old Peggy, orphaned when her guardian died, was also lucky enough to make her way to Muttville. With a terminal illness, she joined the hospice program. Her foster mom describes her as an active senior girl with a positive attitude, a gentle spirit, and a passion for food. Peggy likes to swim, and topping her bark-it list was a wish to do some serious dog paddling. Danny’s Bark-It Fund made sure her wish came true. Ellen Davison, owner of The Rex Center in San Francisco, donated a swim to Peggy, and after seeing her happiness in the water, Ellen has invited Peggy back any time.
 
May-May is the most recent Danny’s Bark-It List Fund recipient. This lovely little old lady came into Muttville’s hospice program with failing organs and a touch of senility, but still with a love of running. Her heart’s desire was to have a day at the beach where she and her friends could run with abandon, wind in their fur, unfettered by leashes or city traffic. Danny Boy’s Fund made her dream a reality, and May-May had her romp on the beach with her human friends Julie, Linda and Louise. The dogs picnicked on homemade stew and chicken broth while the humans ate pizza. For May-May the crowning moment was when she got to run through the waves with Julie, and then be wrapped up in Linda’s arms to watch the sun go down. Her friends at Muttville report that a few days later, with her dear friends Linda and Louise holding her paw, “she followed the sun out of sight and into a new kind of day.”

Danny Boy with foster mom Marie. @ Russell Ullrey
Danny too has gone on to his next great adventure. He passed on May 13, 2014, having spent 15 months enjoying life with his loving fospice family. In his memory, Marie and Russell wrote: “We are deeply grateful to him for showing us how much he loved his life, even in his final hour. Danny is an inspiration to stop thinking so much about tomorrow and give it your all today – it didn’t matter that this was his last hike, it mattered that he loved it and he did it.”  Danny Boy not only left deep paw prints on the hearts of those who knew him, but he inspired a wonderful program that will live on at Muttville.

Danny's gift demonstrates the difference that the love of a single dog can make. Through his Bark-It List program, old dogs get the chance to experience joy and adventure at the end of their lives and their devoted fospice families are given a wonderful way to say goodbye. Danny Boy's Bark-It List Fund can be found at: rally.org/dannysbarkitlist. You can follow the stories of Bark-It List recipients on Russell's Small Club blog.

For information about Muttville Senior Dog Rescue and the rest of The Grey Muzzle Organization's grant recipients, visit Who We Help.
 

The Grey Muzzle Organization improves the lives of at-risk senior dogs by providing funding and resources to animal shelters, rescue organizations, sanctuaries, and other nonprofit groups nationwide.
 
About the Contributor: Vicki Holt volunteers at The Grey Muzzle Organization as a news writer and is a freelance writer who has published articles on a variety of animal topics.  She has dedicated her life to animals, especially seniors. In addition to adopting a string of senior dogs and cats over the past 10 years, Vicki owns a pet sitting business in Seattle, WA, specializing in senior and special needs dogs. She is an animal communicator and teaches pet first aid and CPR. She publishes a blog on pet-related topics called “Pet News You Can Use” at www.AnimalsReign.com.