In Loving Memory of Matilda, a Cinderella story if there ever was one, and a promise to every dog or cat who longs for a Home for Life.

If only we had known of Matilda’s years of loneliness at the end of a chain, outside in all weather, having one litter of puppies after another... we would have intervened long ago. How could a dog suffer such maltreatment and neglect just a few miles away from Home for Life® sanctuary, a beacon of caring and kindness to animals. But we didn’t know how Matilda suffered until one of our employees found her one day on the way to work. How many dogs and cats spend lives of quiet desperation without notice or help? Animal rescue organizations don’t have to travel far to find animals in need. Often the one who needs our attention and help the most is right nearby.

Matilda's story is featured in our holiday mailing, 2020 

Matilda’s Story

About three years ago, one of our employees found a stray dog running at large not far from Home for Life.® The dog had no tags, collar, or other identification. She was filthy with matted fur, and looked frightened and starving. The Home for Life® employee coaxed the forlorn dog off the highway and into her car, and brought her to the sanctuary for, if nothing else, a meal and some water. 

Matilda upon arriving at Home for Life
Matilda the day our employee found her on her way to work

No one had ever seen this dog before. Over the years, people have thrown animals over our fence or tied them to our front gate. They’ve left their dogs or cats in boxes at our entrance or just let them loose near our property to face their fate, hoping we will find and catch them before they are struck by a car and killed. Given the lost dog’s condition, we believed someone had driven out “to the country” and abandoned her. However, some digging revealed that she had actually spent most of her life chained outside at a property just a few miles away from the sanctuary! She had had multiple litters of puppies in that time. She had reportedly gotten loose when the homeowners were raided and arrested for cockfighting a week prior. After a lot of heartache and tribulation, and even a legal battle, Home for Life® became Matilda’s official guardian. She was now part of the sanctuary family! She could finally enjoy the love, care, and companionship that she deserved.

Matilda was groomed and her filthy coat came off like a pelt

Everything we went through to protect her during this time was worth it. And it would have been no matter what happened to Matilda, whether she just became one of the happy dogs of Home for Life,® or as fate had planned for her, a new chapter that amounted to a true renaissance for this special dog. Matilda blossomed at Home for Life® sanctuary. She had friends, a clean environment, warm soft beds to rest on, and freedom of movement. She was spayed and her vaccinations updated. Matilda was so grateful to be groomed at last, and she regained her health and strength with a high-quality diet and veterinary care. All this would have been enough, but Matilda’s horizons were about to get wider. From living a lonely, hard life, chained outside, Matilda became one of Home for Life’s Peace Creatures® therapy dog team members.

 Matilda in her WonderWoman costume with  Home for Life volunteer Debra Peterfeso

Along with Home for Life® volunteer Debra, she was certified for pet therapy, helping the vulnerable, seriously ill children at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital. She also worked with other Home for Life® volunteers to help the lonely and fragile elderly in nursing homes and memory care centers. In the spring of 2018, Matilda even got to walk in the Home for Life® dog parade at our gala where our special guest was Dr. Jane Goodall! Matilda was such a hit that she made an encore appearance in the dog parade in 2019 at Home for Life’s® gala with special guest Ashley Judd!

Matilda was an integral part of our Home for Life’s Peace Creatures® initiative, providing
pet therapy to at-risk people of all ages, a program that was on track to reach over
8,000 kids and adults in 2020 before Covid-19 hit.

Matilda had a special affinity for the lonely and vulnerable elderly people who are a huge part of the Peace Creatures® pet therapy outreach. With her soft coat, tall stature and gentle demeanor, the patients and residents of the hospice, memory care and nursing home facilities gravitated toward Matilda and could easily pet her from their wheelchairs or hospital beds.

What does it mean to truly save an animal?

Matilda at  the Linden Nursing Home, Stillwater, MN at a Peace Creatures visit

Matilda found love, family, and loyalty at Home for Life,® and she reflected those gifts back into the wider community through her pet therapy services. When an animal comes to our care-for-life sanctuary, our commitment is for the long haul. We take in the hard cases who have faced intense or prolonged suffering and cannot risk one more rejection or major disappointment. They’re fragile and need love and security to heal in body and spirit. But with our care they do mend. And many, like Matilda, share their renewed joy with others through our Peace Creatures® programs. A true home for an animal, and truly being saved, means more than four walls around them. It took more than good intentions and mercy to help Matilda. It required a major commitment of our resources—time, patient loving care, and money—to give her a home for life.

Loving care, a place to belong, a home for life, for all
seasons of life

This summer, our groomer found another lump on Matilda’s chest. She had a tumor in the area removed a few months before and now there was a recurrence. As frequently happens with female dogs, left
unspayed, who have one litter of puppies after another, Matilda had developed mammary cancer. Although Matilda had been spayed by Home for Life® within weeks of her rescue, she was already more susceptible to developing cancer because of the maltreatment she suffered at her previous “home.” Now, two and a half years after becoming part of Home for Life®, she was fighting for her life. After all she had survived and all she had gone on to accomplish, we felt devastated by her diagnosis. It seemed so unfair. We removed the second tumor but x-ray scans showed inoperable metastases (spread of the tumors) to the lungs. Matilda was on borrowed time.

Matilda at nursing home - the inspiration for the illustration by British watercolorist Iain Welch, above

The oncologists at the University of Minnesota Veterinary Medical center thought that very intensive chemotherapy would not stop the cancer and might cause her a lot of suffering. We decided on a conservative, non-invasive course of care for Matilda to maximize her quality of life and give her as much pain-free time as possible. By the time we had received this grim news and the guarded prognosis, COVID had shut down all the outreach visits that Matilda participated in.

Matilda took the opportunity of the hiatus to rest. She was on a medicine called piroxicam to help with pain and for the secondary benefits it provides as a chemotherapy. For months, she did very well, although she slept more than normal. The cancer did not seem to advance aggressively, and she continued to eat well. She was able to walk, and could breathe normally, and was comfortable, which was all we could hope for.

A true and loving home, for all seasons of life

A care-for-life sanctuary like Home for Life® is a home for all seasons of the life of our precious cats and dogs. We make a huge commitment to each animal at our sanctuary—of time, money and resources—sometimes for 10 years and more. A sanctuary is not a transition chute nor a short term holding facility for animals at risk. Instead, a sanctuary is a safe and stable base to imagine an array of new possibilities for cats and dogs like Matilda who may have been so easily dismissed, overlooked and discarded.

As a sanctuary, from the time we first took Matilda in without question, to the ordeal we went through to protect her from being returned to her chained-up life, to her days as a cherished therapy dog, to the last chapter of her life when she needed safety, comfort, understanding, and finally help to ensure a gentle passing when the tumors spread again—this time to her spine—and she could no longer walk, Home for Life® was there for Matilda. She was never forsaken when it might have been easier because of time, expense, and hassle to do exactly that.

What we did for Matilda, we do for all the animals that are part of Home for Life®

The life we were able to give Matilda in her last 3 years would not be possible without our sanctuary. All that we accomplish starts with the belief that led to the founding of Home for Life® 23 years ago: Animals who need us are not a problem to be solved but an untapped treasure.  We believe in the significance of every life we care for, and that the life of each cat and dog counts. And it counts always, no matter what twists and turns may happen, for the life of the animal.

That perspective is transformative, a premise that creates miracles—from establishing and taking new ground for the most vulnerable cats and dogs, to creating a safer world for all animals by showing what’s possible, to reaching out to the community through our animals, like Matilda, who serve as ambassadors for our mission and conviction that all life is valuable.

Matilda  at the Masonic Children's Hospital with HFL volunteer Debra during a Peace Creatures visit

From a lonely and neglected dog who had lived life to that point outside on a chain, so close yet so far from the loving embrace and protection of our sanctuary, to a beloved member of Home for Life® and of our Peace Creatures® pet therapy programs, Matilda’s journey shows how Home for Life® opens a door to animals in need who have overcome a terrible start in life and who go on to not only thrive but also to pay it forward to the community who make their new life possible.

Matilda, we love you and miss you. It never mattered to us what you had suffered before we found you, so forlorn and alone. What you grew to be will live in our hearts forever. Your story is a promise to all the animals, whether near or far, who long for a Home for Life.

Above illustration by Ian Welch Art and Design

2020 Year-end and holiday card featuring Matilda