Kim Skarritt was heartbroken when she discovered that hundreds of elderly dogs were struggling to find new forever homes. As a result, she came up with a solution that allowed them to live out their final days with joy and eventually die with dignity.
Skarritt, from Elk Rapids, Michigan, once worked as an auto engineer. However, back in 2012, she downed her tools to open a dog fitness, boarding and rehabilitation center called Bowsers by the Bay.
It was because of this business that Skarritt started visiting local animal shelters, where she noticed a worrying pattern. In 2017 she told the Detroit Free Press, “I kept seeing these 14-year-old dogs and 13-year-old dogs in shelters and needing homes, and I’m going, ‘What is that? Who does that?’”
Skarritt simply couldn’t understand how someone could dump an old or sick dog, precisely at the time of their life that they needed love the most. Disturbed, the animal lover decided to do some digging. And that’s when she learned that the problem was much bigger than she had originally thought.
By calling local animal shelters, Skarritt estimated that there were approximately 900 older dogs within around 500 miles of the village of Elk Rapids. All of these dogs were in desperate need of a home. However, what’s worse was the lengths people were willing to go to in order to rid themselves of their faithful companion.
At various shelters there were reports of owners dumping their dogs outside the building. Some claimed their pet was a stray to get the shelter to accept it. Elsewhere, people brazenly handed their canines over, without a second thought to the animals’ well-being.
Skarritt was deeply affected by the plight of these pooches. As a result, she decided to take matters into her own hands. She purchased an empty warehouse beside her existing business and launched Silver Muzzle Cottage, a nonprofit hospice and rescue especially for old and sick dogs.
To keep canines as comfortable as possible, Skarritt set about transforming her hospice into a home. She filled the living room with comfortable couches and decorated it with a coffee table and vases. She even added a fake fireplace to give her dogs the illusion of warmth.
Once Skarritt was finished, her rescue looked no different from any other home, which was a good job since she would be moving in too. The dogs at Silver Muzzle Cottage would not be caged, so they needed someone to watch over them constantly in order to keep them safe.
Speaking of her decision to live at the canine hospice too, Skarritt told Detroit Free Press, “Seriously, I sometimes wonder if I’m just crazy. But somebody has to do it. I don’t require much. I’ve got everything I need here.”
Now that she had somewhere to house elderly pooches, Skarritt set about filling her unique shelter. Soon enough, the animal rescuer had taken in over 70 dogs. And all of the animals were either old, sick or approaching the end of their lives.
While caring for dozens of ailing doggies sounds like hard work, for Skarritt it was all worth it. “They don’t ask for much when they’re really old,” she said. “They want to be loved and cared for, they want food, and they just need a warm place to lay their head at night.”
Indeed, for Skarritt, the most important thing was for the dogs in her care to know love while they still had the chance. “At some point they were cared for, and then when they needed it most they’re not. And that’s why they really need a place like ours,” she explained.
But while Skarritt had little sympathy for owners who heartlessly ditched their ailing dogs, she did acknowledge that some people had been put in impossible positions. “There’s been a few cases where, without question, it’s been one of the hardest things they ever did,” she said.
In one particularly heartbreaking case, a woman had to hand over her ten-year-old dog under doctor’s orders after the owner’s young daughter developed severe asthma. “She was clearly devastated,” Skarritt said. “Sometimes it’s really tough.”
To keep Silver Muzzle Cottage functioning, Skarritt relies on a 100-strong volunteer army. Often they take the dogs out for works or simply for a spin in their cars. Other times, they snuggle up for cuddles on the couch or play with the pets indoors.
The job must be very rewarding, but clearly, caring for dying dogs has its downsides. Each time a volunteer develops a bond with a canine, their four-legged friend is gone too soon. They move on to the next pet, but the cycle simply continues.
Silver Muzzle Cottage volunteer Anita Marshy-Bosley explained to Detroit Free Press, “It’s tough, yes, but life is tough. If somebody has to step up and do this — and I think this group and this organization are wonderful people — we do what has to be done and we make a difference. And that’s important.”
However, not all the dogs who come to Silver Muzzle Cottage spend their final days there. In fact, many of the animals who come through the doors are later adopted out. That means they can live out the rest of their lives in a proper home with a family who loves them.
And for Skarritt, having more people embrace older dogs is a dream come true. “For some people, it’s too hard. They really can’t handle it,” she said. “But for those who can, they find it very rewarding. We have to look at it in a positive light, otherwise it would be very depressing. But it’s a win-win for us and it’s a win-win for the dogs.”