It takes a special kind of person with a lot of compassion and heart to turn her home into a hospice for ailing animals with special needs.
Kim Hunter is that person.
Since 2005, she has been caring for disabled, ill, and senior Dachshunds pulled from high-kill shelters and puppy mills or as owner surrenders. Most of the dogs who find their way to Hunter’s Virginia home — aptly named Hotdoghill Sanctuary — are unlikely to ever be adopted.
And while Hunter will adopt out some of her dogs if they are healthy enough, the others who require hospice care until they pass never have to worry about being alone and scared. They all have a loving forever home with Hunter and her mother, who helps take care of the dogs while Hunter works full-time.
She founded Hotdoghill Sanctuary after seeing just how many senior and special needs dogs were passed up for adoption in shelters. These dogs can be expensive for rescues and foster families due to ongoing medical care, and Hunter thought that if she could start a sanctuary to take in these “unadoptable” dogs, it would help clear up space in shelters and in foster placements to allow more easily adoptable dogs to find forever homes.
The sanctuary, a 501(c)(3) rescue, specializes in senior Dachshunds, puppy-mill survivors, and severely disabled dogs who require lifelong care. Hunter is currently caring for 27 dogs out of her house and has been able to find new families for 41 dogs since starting the sanctuary. The dogs are never penned or caged and enjoy free reign of Hunter’s house and yard and life as a pack.
But Hunter must also make difficult decisions when it comes to the senior and ill animals she takes in, and she has been by the side of 51 dogs when it came time for them to cross over the Rainbow Bridge.
“We have tried to provide the best last chapter for these dogs, so that when it is time to go to the Bridge, they have known love, they have been owned, they had a name, and they had known the feel of a warm bed (mostly mine),” Hunter explains. “Each of our departed dogs were held in my arms as they passed, and each one broke our hearts, but we saw them all through to the end.”
Hunter knows that each dog she takes in may only have a few weeks or a few months left, but she strives to give them the best quality of life that she can, with proper vetting, good nutrition, hospice care, and, most important, love and attention.
“All of our dogs are special to us; they needed a place to go to commit to their care for the rest of their lives,” Hunter says. “These are not high-profile dogs with lots of publicity, or dogs that have made national news from abuse cases, but they are just as significant and worthy of the same love and care. They matter.”
The even if the sanctuary is currently home to a little Shih Tzu with grand mal seizures, a Pekingese, two Basset Hounds, a Poodle, and a Chihuahua, the majority of the residents at Hotdoghill are Dachshunds. Hunter has a passion for the breed and wants to educate owners about intervertebral disk disease (IVDD), a potentially debilitating condition that is particularly prevalent in Dachshunds.
Hunter always tries to provide surgical intervention for dogs at risk of paralysis from IVDD, and even if the surgery isn’t successful in keeping the dog mobile, it can drastically help alleviate the pain associated with the disease.
“IVDD is not a death sentence,” explains Hunter. “These dogs can be easily managed even with no bowel or bladder control. It takes about four weeks to get on a great schedule with these dogs; then you can focus on the way they thrive, even if paralyzed.”
But despite efforts to reassure people that dogs with medical issues can lead long and happy lives with proper care, Hunter has seen an increase in owner surrenders for dogs with IVDD, diabetes, and seizure disorders.
“Often these dogs are no more expensive, but just need a different type of care. Like a paralyzed dog might need help going to the bathroom — these are really easy adjustments to make to provide a dog with a great quality of life,” she says.
Each of the dogs who has come into Hunter’s life has been special to her, but one that stands out is a Dachshund named Abe.
Hunter explains that Abe was born at a breeder’s house, but unfortunately, minutes after his birth, the breeder accidentally stepped on his head, causing severe brain damage. Realizing that the disabled puppy could not be sold but wanting to give him a chance, the breeder asked Hunter to take him in.
Abe’s brain injury caused him to not tolerate being held or pet much, but over time, Hunter says the two slowly learned each other. He found comfort in the other dogs at the sanctuary, and loved to eat and nap in the sun. It took him a year to successfully navigate the one small step leading outside, but he finally got it (though Hunter says he never mastered coming back in).
At 13 years of age, Abe was diagnosed with polycythemia vera (a condition that causes the blood to thicken), and because of his issues with being handled, Hunter knew that the ongoing and rather intensive treatment for Abe’s disease would cause the dog more stress than anything else.
She held his tired body and showered him with love and affection as he passed to over the Rainbow Bridge, grateful for the 13 years they had together.
“I will never forget the dogs who have passed on; each one takes a piece of my heart. I think Abe took the biggest piece yet.”
The sanctuary relies on sponsorships, grants, and donations to continue to provide medical and hospice care for these deserving dogs. If you would like to help out, please consider a Paypal donation to email@example.com, or buy something off the sanctuary’s Amazon wishlist. For more information and ways to help, visit Hotdoghill Sanctuary’s Facebook page and its website.
All photos from Hotdoghill Sanctuary’s Facebook page unless otherwise specified.
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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 as @PinchMom over on Twitter.