10 min read

Senior Dog Who Lived Her Life Alone Gets To Spend Final Days With A Real Family

“She loves going to the beach. She gets so excited and runs around like a maniac.”

A 13-year-old chow-shepherd mix was wandering the streets of Brooklyn, New York, in October 2016, and was quickly taken to Brooklyn Animal Care Center (NYCACC).

Unfortunately, medical staff would soon discover the senior pup, named Kayla, was seriously ill.

dog standing on street
Kayla outside of Animal Haven | Erin O’Sullivan

Staffers with Animal Haven, a no-kill shelter in New York City, pulled Kayla from NYCACC after a couple of the shelter’s volunteers reached out. A veterinarian with Animal Haven gave the dog a full examination, and found oral cancer, MRSA (a type of antibiotic-resistant bacteria) and kidney disease. The vet estimated Kayla had about three to six months left to live, so Animal Haven teamed up with Foster Dogs, Inc.’s fospice program and found her a foster home to comfortably live out her remaining time.

A woman named Jillian Conigliaro had recently lost her beloved dog, Chloe Anne, to heart cancer at the age of 15. But when she saw Kayla at the shelter, she knew she wanted to help.

dog smiling while being pet
Stacey Axelrod

Though it had only been a short time since Chloe Anne had passed, when a representative with Foster Dogs, Inc. reached out to Conigliaro, she immediately signed up to help care for Kayla.

“I happened to be in Manhattan right by Animal Haven,” Conigliaro told The Dodo. “[My husband and I] went and met her, and we were like ‘Oh my God, that’s our dog.’”

woman laying with dog
Conigliaro and Kayla | Jillian Conigliaro

Kayla joined the Conigliaro family as a foster in November 2016. That day, she gained a mom, a dad, five human sisters, six canine siblings, one feline sibling and a rotating host of other foster friends.

dogs on the beach
Kayla (far left) with some of her new siblings | Jillian Conigliaro

“I think [Kayla] lived her whole life outside, alone — at least that’s what I imagine,” Conigliaro said. “I don’t think she had ever had the comfort of being indoors. She didn’t know what a bed was. She likes having her own space, and she loves standing outside in the rain.”

dog in rain coat
Kayla may like the rain, but her family has given her a fancy rain coat to protect her sensitive skin | Jillian Conigliaro

Once Kayla had adjusted to her new home and started medical treatment, the Conigliaros decided to create a bucket list for her. For the past seven years, Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park on Coney Island has hosted an animal-friendly day where pets can ride the towering Wonder Wheel for free with their owners, so the Conigliaros decided to take Kayla.

dogs and people in front of ferris wheel
The Conigliaro family in front of the Wonder Wheel with Kayla and two of their other dogs | Stacey Axelrod

“Kayla is a very stoic dog,” Conigliaro said. “She didn’t show any fear when we got on the Wonder Wheel, but she was very curious to look out over the park. She’s very interested in observing her surroundings.”

dog on ferris wheel
Stacey Axelrod

After her ride on the Wonder Wheel, Kayla enjoyed some of the other perks of Coney Island. She had a Nathan’s hot dog …

dog eating nathan's hot dog on sidewalk
Stacey Axelrod

Strutted down the boardwalk …

dog walking along boardwalk
Stacey Axelrod

And hung out on the beach — one of her all-time favorite activities.

dog with woman on beach
Stacey Axelrod

“[Kayla] loves going to the beach,” Conigliaro said of the generally mellow senior dog. “She gets so excited and runs around like a maniac.” Fortunately, the Conigliaros live close to a beach, so they can take Kayla and her other siblings frequently to run around on the sand.

dog on the beach
Stacey Axelrod

Though Kayla is an older lady, she does enjoy spending time outside of the family home in the yard and surrounding areas — she frequently wanders around the fields and streets, saying hello to neighbors. (Under the Conigliaros’ watchful eye, of course.)

“She will bark to be let out,” Conigliaro said. “She usually only stays out for about 20 to 30 minutes at a time, and then she will bark nonstop when she’s ready to come back inside.”

dog with woman on ferris wheel
Stacey Axelrod

Some of Kayla’s other favorite activities include snuggling with toys, laying in front of a fan, riding around in the car with her head hanging out the window and following Conigliaro from room to room like a velcro dog.

dog running in field
Jillian Conigliaro

In addition to the Coney Island adventure, Kayla has also visited several FDNY firehouses as part of her bucket list. “I wanted her to meet some FDNY firehouse dogs,” Conigliaro said. “We went to a few, and each one gave her a T-shirt and let her sit on a fire truck.”

dog in fireman's hat
Jillian Conigliaro

Conigliaro has a few more surprises in store for Kayla as well. She would like to take Kayla on Manhattan By Sail — a boat tour that sails around NYC. Conigliaro took Chloe Anne on the same tour before she passed away.

dog on beach
Stacey Axelrod

She also plans to have a 1-year anniversary party for Kayla as a fundraiser for other animals and as a fun way to celebrate her time in fospice — time that has already surpassed the three to six months the vet initially thought Kayla would live.

dog laying in front of fan
Jillian Conigliaro

In fact, Kayla’s health has gotten better during her time in fospice. Though she still has the oral cancer, Conigliaro said Kayla has an amazing appetite.

dog with bag of treats
Kayla trying to get into a bag of treats | Jillian Conigliaro

“She’s a picky eater and the mouth tumor can make it harder to eat, but she will not give up,” Conigliaro said. “She eats an unnatural amount of food and she’s a relentless beggar. She actually knows how to open the refrigerator and the treat cabinet.”

large dog with smaller dog in pink bandanas
<a href="https://www.instagram.com/chloekardoggian/?hl=en">Chloe Kardoggian</a> (front) and Kayla (back) at a rescue event | Stacey Axelrod

For a dog who may have never had a family in her 13 years of existence, Kayla is certainly making up for lost time with the best of everything. She even has tons of fans on Instagram who send her toys and anything else she could possibly want.

dog in pool with woman
Kayla enjoying hydrotherapy at Water4Dogs | Jillian Conigliaro

“There’s no way we could have given [Kayla] this quality of life without her Instagram followers,” Conigliaro said. Animal Haven has also been an amazing help in sponsoring Kayla’s medical treatment.

dog wearing socks
Kayla with gifts from some of her Instagram followers, like her super cute socks to help with traction | Jillian Conigliaro

“I didn’t know what to do with myself after Chloe Anne passed,” Conigliaro said. “Bringing Kayla into our home has been extremely heart-healing. We are fortunate to have more space and a lot to offer. I guess I have a thing for taking care of older dogs at the end of their life.” 

woman with dog
Jillian Conigliaro
You can continue following Kayla’s adventures on Instagram. To learn more about Foster Dogs, Inc.’s fospice program, visit its website — where donations are greatly appreciated to help more dogs like Kayla.