Nicole Elliott was browsing a Georgia animal shelter’s Facebook page two weeks ago when she saw him: a scruffy charcoal-gray dog with sad eyes.
His name was Chester. He was about 14 years old. And he was dying of cancer.
“Hospice needed,” the profile said. Chester had mast cell tumors spreading throughout his little body. The shelter was looking for someone willing to give him a home for the final weeks of his life.
The dog’s story touched her. But who wants to foster a dying pet? Elliott stepped away from her computer, but she couldn’t get Chester and his plight out of her mind. The next day, she went to Animal Ark Rescue, signed some paperwork and brought Chester home.
“I only hope someone would do the same for me if I was terminally ill,” she said.
Now Elliott, 24, has gone one step further. The Columbus, Georgia, woman has created a “bucket list” for Chester and is spoiling him with extra treats, oatmeal milk baths and outings to parks. It’s all documented on a Facebook page, “Chester’s final journey,” that has more than 50,000 fans.
“I think he deserves it. He seems to have been neglected in his past life. He is such a sweet boy,” said Elliott, who works as an administrative assistant. “I have been trying to get a feel for what he is capable of, and most of the things are general doggy things like going to the park and eating tons of treats.”
Over the past 10 days, Chester has been living like a king. He gets to eat pretty much anything he wants. He chews on squeaky toys and enjoys belly rubs. On road trips, he sits on the center console of Elliott’s car, where he can snuggle against her arm and look out the windshield.
Although he is weak, Chester still wags his tail like mad when excited.
“He follows me everywhere, and when I walk out the door, he is usually right behind me. I can tell he has been enjoying all of the love he has gotten. And the food is his favorite part,” she said.
In the near future, Elliott hopes to take him on a day trip to the beach and maybe to visit sick kids or hospice patients to help cheer them up.
“It all depends on him, though,” she said. “We don’t want to make him do anything that makes him uncomfortable.”
Chester appears to be a mixed breed — maybe part miniature schnauzer. When he arrived at Animal Ark Rescue in April, his fur was overgrown, and he had a large tumor under one leg.
“He had not been taken care of in a while,” said Sabine Stull, the shelter’s executive director.
The shelter cleaned him up and had the tumor surgically removed, only for others to soon appear. Resigned to the inevitable, shelter staffers sought hospice care for Chester and were thrilled when Elliott showed up.
“It’s absolutely wonderful what she’s doing for him,” said Stull. “It’s really something. This is not an easy thing to do.”
Veterinarians are not sure how much time Chester has left. It could be anywhere from days to several months, Elliott said. The dog is on pain medication to keep him comfortable.
In the meantime, Chester’s bucket list has brought international media attention and an outpouring of support on Facebook and Instagram. Elliott has started an online campaign to fund the hospice program at Animal Ark Rescue and is hoping Chester’s story will inspire others to foster terminally ill dogs and cats.
“All of the kind words and support help me get through it. I have cried many happy tears reading the comments,” she said.
“It will be very hard (to say goodbye to him), but I know the legacy he is leaving behind makes it easier. I am already in love with him and feel lucky to be there for the remainder of his life.”