We're all familiar with hospices for people who are dying and need fulltime care to make them comfortable through their last days. But as The Early Show resident veterinarian Debbye Turner found out, the Angel's Gate Hospice is solely for the treatment and well-being of animals.
For Susan Marino, caring for the helpless and the hopeless is a labor of love.
"They're the reason I get up in the morning," she says.
Many of the animals that Marino takes in at the Long Island hospice in New York are so injured, sick or disfigured that previous owners were ready to put them to sleep.
"Ninety-nine percent of our population would have been euthanized," Marino says. "The fact that we can provide a space and time for them to grow and be a part of our family is what we have to stay focused on."
Many of the animals taken to Angel's Gate Hospice have liver disease, kidney disease, cancer and other terminal illnesses or severe disabilities.
Susan and her partner, Vic Labruna, started Angel's Gate 11 years ago with Humphrey, a paralyzed dog from their neighborhood. Since then, close to a thousand animals have come under their wings.
"Currently, we have 180 animal children," Marino points out. "They range in size from as small as a baby bird to our ponies, which are about 1,000 pounds."
Caring for all of her charges is a 24-hour-a-day job. Marino is usually up at 5:30 a.m. and in bed around midnight - unless she's awake all night with a sick animal.
She says, "No animal will ever die unless there's somebody with them."
In addition to the long hours, running Angel's Gate is also financially exhausting. A former registered nurse, Marino left a job making a $150,000 a year. Now she and Vic exist solely on donations.
"At this point, Vic and I have cashed in all our IRAs," Marino says. "We've cashed in all our savings. We've even cashed in all our children's money that we had for them. It's a commitment, but it's also a lifestyle for us. It's something we've chosen to do."
Marino's treatments are based on each animal's individual needs, and range from massage, to acupuncture and even hydrotherapy.
The hospice also has a pool for the animals, that Marino says helps to relax the animals.
Her specialized care has produced amazing results. Zack the cat was going to be euthanized because he was a fragile diabetic. Marino changed his diet and weaned him off his insulin. He's now been insulin-free for three years. With incredible results like that, it's clear to see where Marino finds her motivation. The work is hard, some of the cases are heartbreaking, but Marino's commitment never wavers.
Marino says, "You can look at these animals and say yes, they are disabled and they are not capable of doing dog-like or cat-like things. But they are very capable of being a very loving, caring part of our family."
In recognition of Marino's loveing care, this year she was given the humanitarian of the year award from the New York ASPCA.
If you're interested in volunteering or donating money to help Angel's Gate, visit AngelsGate.org.