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A Look Inside Bark-N-Rest, a Retirement Home for Former Death Row Dogs

"We take those who won't recover but still need and deserve quality of life for what time they have," says founder Dawn Enriquez.

 |  Sep 17th 2013  |   9 Contributions

Tiny, frail Jordan is almost 20 years old, has no teeth or a lower jaw, and is blind in one eye. She was dumped at a shelter in 2012 and scheduled to be euthanized.

Minnie, who is between 12 and 14 years old, was surrendered to a shelter in 2013 with a tumor in her belly that weighed as much as she did: three pounds. The little Chihuahua also had mammary cancer, likely from being overbred.

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And while Chance may not be a senior dog, the young shepherd suffers from advanced cerebellar hypoplasia; he's missing 95 to 98 percent of his cerebellum. When he was left at a shelter in Fort Worth, Chance was unable to eat or drink on his own, couldn't walk, and his little bobble head would knock into the metal walls of his cage from his lack of coordination.

All three dogs were deemed unadoptable and were going to be put down.

But then a miracle happened.

And that miracle was Dawn Enriquez, founder of Bark-N-Rest retirement center and hospice for senior, special needs, and terminally ill dogs. She rescued Chance, Minnie, and Jordan from death row and brought them to Bark-N-Rest to be cared for, and most importantly, loved.

Since 2009, Enriquez and her small team of volunteers (including a volunteer groomer) have rescued 36 death row dogs, three of which were later adopted out as healthy seniors. Twenty-two dogs have passed, and the remaining 11 are being cared for at one of Bark-N-Rest's three foster homes in Texas.

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Camera shy Enriquez with Bark-N-Rest's current residents. From top left (then down and around): Spanky, Jordan, Sugar, Mr. Moose, Baily, Minnie, Buddy, China, Sally, Chance and Bebe.

Bark-N-Rest was started after Enriquez's dog, Gidget, died from cancer. Gidget, who was adopted by the Enriquez family from a shelter in 2007, had been listed as young and healthy. Unfortunately Gidget was actually neither young nor healthy; she was riddled with disease and very fragile. 

Enriquez did everything she could to give her ailing senior dog a good quality of life, and when Gidget passed in 2009, the idea for Bark-N-Rest was born. "I decided from this point on, I would only take in the terminally ill, deaf, blind, senior, and all-age special-needs dogs with life-altering disabilities that one one else wants," she says.

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Community living at Bark-N-Rest. The biggest resident, China (who is deaf and has some neurological issues), sleeps next to the smallest, Jordan.

Unlike other rescue groups that often deal with younger, healthier, and adoptable dogs, Enriquez is regularly faced with the decision to send her "residents" to the Rainbow Bridge when it becomes the most humane thing to do. She can never really know how long she'll have with each dog, but believes that for most, the time they spend at Bark-N-Rest is often the only time in their lives that they've ever felt loved and secure.

"For me, it is much sadder for them to die alone, scared, confused and suffering in a shelter as just part of another day-to-day process. It's worse than me having to make the call to send them peacefully with care and love to the Rainbow Bridge," she explains.

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In memory of Heather, a beautiful spaniel whose cancer was far too advanced to be treated. Enriquez rescued her and Heather spent her final days surrounded by love and compassion, and not alone in a shelter cage.

The dogs all come from high-kill shelters as owner surrenders or strays with conditions that would make most of them unadoptable. But thanks to Bark-N-Rest -- whose priority is to rescue the oldest and most disabled, and those who are terminally ill -- dogs like Minnie and Chance do not have to die alone and unloved. "We take those who won't recover but still need and deserve quality of life for what time they have," Enriquez says, but she also makes sure to always choose quality of life over longevity. "I won't allow dogs to suffer or go through painful procedures if the prognosis is too poor. It's not fair."

And while in the care of the foster families ready and willing to go the extra mile for Bark-N-Rest's special residents, the dogs are made to be as comfortable and safe as possible. In Enriquez's home where she fosters some of the dogs with neurological issues and arthritis, there are carpets with thicker padding, baby gates to block off stairs and thick, industrial nonskid fatigue mats for dogs like Chance (who requires round-the-clock, hands-on care).

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The smaller dogs travel to and from the vet in this double stroller. Enriquez also has the "Bark-N-Rest" mobile, a utility van specially equipped to transport the dogs safely and comfortably.

Thanks to the care and unconditional love they receive at Bark-N-Rest, the residents often blossom from sad and depressed dogs into happy, thriving ones with a new lease on life.

Since arriving at Bark-N-Rest (following a short stay at Texas Star Rescue), sassy senior Jordan now has an appetite as big as her diva personality. Enriquez says she loves to lay around in the sun and walk around in the yard.

"Miss" Minnie underwent surgery to remove the mass in her tiny belly and it bought her some time and a better quality of life. She has terminal cancer, but will never have to worry about passing away alone, scared, and unloved. According to Enriquez, Minnie hates being left by herself for even a minute and her cry sounds like a newborn baby. She likes getting her way!

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Little Minnie had to undergo surgery to remove the massive growth in her belly, but the surgery was a success and today she's all smiles!

And despite missing almost all of his cerebellum (a case so severe it's the first time documented in a live dog), Chance is defying medical odds and thriving in his new home. He must be fed and watered by hand, as well as be kept on soft surfaces because of his floppy head, but the young dog is expected to have a normal lifespan. He goes to swim therapy in a canine rehabilitation and conditioning center, and Enriquez reports that he's happy and he wags his tail. Chance even has his own Facebook page, where fans can read his story and follow his progress.

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It's hard to believe just by looking at him that Chance is a actually a medical marvel. He likes to lounge in the sun and play like any other dog.

But when it comes to taking care of multiple special needs and terminally ill dogs, funding is always a challenge. "Our average costs are around $800 per month, and many grants are only for healthy and adoptable animals," Enriquez says. "So few funding sources, other than private fundraising, are available for the forgotten ones."

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Bark-N-Rest resident cutie, Mr. Moose.

Most of Bark-N-Rest's residents will never be adopted out, but none ever have to worry about going back to a shelter. No matter their age or medical condition, all the dogs have a forever home at Bark-N-Rest.

"Any amount of time we have with them is a success, and a second chance to feel they matter and are loved."

If you'd like to learn more about Bark-N-Rest and its residents, please visit its website and Facebook page. In addition to monetary donations (including an option to sponsor a specific resident), Enriquez says that food, supplies and beds are always needed and welcomed.

All photos via Bark-N-Rest's Facebook page and courtesy of Dawn Enriquez.

About Crystal Gibson: A child-sized Canadian expat in France who is fluent in French and sarcasm. Owned by a neurotic Doxie mix, a Garfield look-alike, and two needy Sphynx cats. An aspiring writer and pet photographer with a love of coffee and distaste for French administration, she can be found blogging over at Crystal Goes to Europe.


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