Happy dogs go to heaven
As I walk into the pub where we’re holding our Real
People Christmas party for the Grey Muzzle dogs, Sassy the Staffie bounds over to greet me, jumping up as if I’m a long lost friend. She must be able to smell the treats in my Santa sack!
Buddy the Jack Russell isn’t far behind on his wobbly legs – he’s 18 years old, partially blind and deaf but when it comes to pulling the wrapping paper off presents, even without any teeth, he’s as enthusiastic as a pup.
And they both don their Christmas hats cheerfully, lapping up the attention as our cameras click. It’s hard to believe that just a month ago these dogs were sleeping on the cold concrete floors of council pounds…
The Grey Muzzle Canine Hospice Project was set up by Nicola Coyle, 46, and she’s Buddy and Sassy’s Christmas angel. A trained nurse and former kennel manager at a rescue centre in Rotherham, Nicola had to retire five years ago for medical reasons. With free time on her hands, she adopted Thor, an elderly Rottweiler who’d been removed from his previous owner, a drug addict. With Nicola, Thor spent the last 18 months of his life in a safe and happy forever home.
Soon Nicola was known in the dog rescue community as someone who’d take in older endof-life dogs and requests poured in so, just over a year ago, she made her work official and launched the Grey Muzzle Canine Hospice Project.
‘Old dogs give such a lot of love,’ she says. ‘Somehow they know they’re coming to take their last steps with me and, when I cuddle them, they gaze up, their eyes full of gratitude for this simple display of affection.
‘However creaky their bones, their tails still wag and they never lose the ability to raise their paws for a treat.’
Now Nicola has built up a network of adopters for older dogs and is contacted daily by rescue shelters, council pounds and members of the public worried about elderly doggos in need.
It’s not all pipe, slippers and putting their paws up for Grey Muzzle’s retired residents though. As well as compiling a care plan for every dog she takes in,
Nicola writes a bucket list full of adventures, including trips to the seaside, steak dinners and take-aways from Mcdonald’s drive-thru.
Former resident Dora spent her last six weeks with Grey Muzzle after being picked up as a stray with tumours all over her body. Nicola’s friend Linda bought her a big teddy and she carried him everywhere.
Then there was Bumble, a German Shepherd who was due to be put to sleep the day Nicola picked him up from the pound. She drove him straight to the groomers and he spent his last five weeks happy and loved with a trip to the beach – probably his first ever – at Filey.
Dougie, the American Bull Dog, was tied up outside a vet’s surgery in Sheffield and taken, by the dog warden, to the pound. He had advanced lymphoma and died a month after arriving at Grey Muzzle.
But his legacy lives on as the photograph of him enjoying a Mcflurry sums up Grey Muzzle’s work and has been shared on Facebook many times all around the world.
So what items on their bucket lists have Buddy and Sassy ticked off, apart from a sack full of presents from
of course? Buddy’s wolfed down Chicken Mcnuggets, Nicola tells me, and, since moving in with her in November, has got a new lease of life. Nicola hopes this will mean there’ll be time for many more treats in the future.
‘He was so timid at first that if you put your hand down to stroke him he’d cower,’ Nicola says. ‘God knows what sort of home he’d had before he was abandoned and found wandering as a stray – he didn’t even know what a dog bed was.
‘For his first night I put him in a comfy bed, but he climbed out, stared at it, confused, then laid down on the floor next to it!’
Only a month on, Buddy’s realised his true worth – and then some. He likes to be treated like a little prince, carried around in Nicola’s arms, or to lie on the sofa and be fed sausages Roman emperor style. Quite right too, Buddy!
As for Sassy, she was off to the beach at Whitley Bay within a week of arriving with Robyn Brownless, 28, who adopted her through Grey Muzzle in October.
‘She’s coming out of her shell now all right,’ Robyn laughs.
‘When I first brought her home she’d lie on her back with her paws in the air and freeze. Her previous owner had dumped her in a garden with some relatives, but they couldn’t look after her so she ended up in the pound.
‘She’s 12 – how awful for her to reach that age and then be abandoned.’
She continued, ‘At first, she never did dog things – she was just blank somehow – but over the past few weeks she’s blossomed. She loves a game of tug with a rope and is such a friendly, happy girl.’
Right on cue, Sassy jumps up at me for a cuddle to prove Robyn’s point.
Since launching Grey Muzzle, Nicola has saved the lives of 10 old dogs and, with awareness of her work growing, hopes to rescue many more in 2019.
Christmas is the toughest time for old dogs, she tells me, as often people decide they want a puppy and dump the faithful friend they’ve had for years to make room for it.
Another issue is that, with presents to buy, people can’t afford vet’s bills if their dog gets sick so hand them over to the pound.
It’s tragic – older dogs are the most difficult to re-home and many council pounds have a policy of euthanising dogs after seven days if they can’t place them. The work Nicola and her team do is heart warming and inspiring but, of course, all the stories have the same ending – after a few days, weeks or months with Grey Muzzle the old dogs die. It must be so hard to lose a wonderful animal every few months?
‘It is distressing,’ Nicola admits.
‘But it’s amazing that the dogs, who come to us on their last legs, live for much longer than predicted. I’m proud of that – it shows the happiness we bring. ‘Then, when their time comes, they can pass over the rainbow bridge from a safe place instead of feeling scared and alone. ‘I’m always with them at the end and we give them dignity in death, paying for private cremations and then bringing their ashes home. I have an urn for every Grey Muzzle dog. ‘Of course it’s sad but, because we do it properly, it can be beautiful too and we’re able to honour these dogs who’ve often suffered so much.
‘No dog should be alone and unloved in a council pound, especially at Christmas.’ And, thanks to Nicola and Robyn, Buddy and Sassy won’t be. Instead they’ll be exactly where they deserve to be
– paws up in front of the fire and tummies full of left-over turkey.
Dogs are our best friends and Nicola truly is theirs in return.
Fundraiser Jess (left) with Buddy and Nicola Bumble, loving life on the beach Jane, centre, with Nicola (right) and Sassy’s adopter, Robyn Brownless
Dougie enjoys a trip to Mcdonald’s Adorable Dora with her teddy bear