Archive for October, 2011

Utilizing Animal Hospice Does Not Rule Out Euthanasia

October 25, 2011 1 comment

Implementing an animal hospice plan does not exclude euthanasia.

I found a huge misconception around animal hospice when I was recently asked to present on animal hospice at a Senior Dog Social.  The training facility had blocked out an hour every Saturday in the month to bring in presenters to interact with senior dogs and their people in a slower paced, senior friendly setting.  Topics ranged from games and life enrichment with senior dogs to nutrition and support for aging bodies.   Prior to my arrival, the guests hadn’t been told anything other than the topic for the week would be animal hospice.  They weren’t informed what they would get out of the session, what type of information to expect, nothing other than the doom and gloom topic of animal hospice.

Lets just say that this shifted my presentation game plan.  Who wants to go hear about animals dying?  Who wants to face their dearest buddy’s mortality?  I sure wouldn’t, I would be off finding something more fun and more about living to do with my dog that day.  The unfortunate thing is learning about hospice and palliative care is ALL about living and living well.  I’m going in, already prepared to really surprise people with beautiful news and information to support their pets as they age.

I started off the session asking the attendees about their thoughts and impressions regarding animal hospice.  What I expected to hear were concerns regarding monitoring comfort and measuring pain.  I expected questions regarding quality of life, perhaps concerns regarding transference (imposing our ideas onto our pets).  I was sure someone would bring up the general question, what is animal hospice.  What I heard instead was a clear, matter-of-fact statement from a woman that hospice was not for everyone or every situation.  OK.  I absolutely agree with that; I asked her to elaborate and explain.

The woman went on to tell the story of her most recently deceased dog.  She explained in great detail the caregiving and supportive care she provided once the terminal cancer diagnosis came.  She told us how she labored to find the best information, nutrition changes, modifications to the home, pain management and ultimately a well choreographed and honorable euthanasia at home.  She went on to talk about the ways the family enriched her dog’s life during the last few months, weeks and days of his life.  Careful thought and planning went into when and how to help him cross the rainbow bridge.  The woman’s body language changed as she shifted from recounting was was obviously a great memory and a time she was very proud of to an assertion of why animal hospice would not have been a great fit for her dog.

She believed animal hospice meant dying without the aid of euthanasia.  She thought her dog would suffer if allowed to live to a natural death, she was very sure of her support for her dog and the lack of suffering.  As things got more complicated and more difficult to assure comfort, they made the arrangements for euthanasia and memorializing her dear dog.

It was my great pleasure to clarify and congratulate her on a well managed hospice plan.  Animal hospice does not mean that euthanasia will or will not be a part of your family’s plan.  Animal hospice is a philosophy around how you care for, live with and love your pets.  For Animal RN, we don’t even assert a timeline on it.  We believe while we have a prognosis to give us an idea, while we can ascertain with our experience approximately how long a pet may have here with us, we do not know it was the last 6 months until that animal passes.  At Animal RN, we don’t focus on the dates and longevity, we focus on today and making sure today is a day without pain, without suffering.  Today should be a gift, filled with love and joy.

When supporting animal hospice, Animal RN includes education around natural death (death without chemical or medical assistance).  This does not exclude euthanasia for families.  As our pets age well, the chance they die on their own increases; Animal RN believes it is our responsibility to be prepared for that possibility, regardless of choice of natural death versus euthanasia.


Local Animal Hospice Supporter attends Inaugural IAAHPC Conference

October 17, 2011 Leave a comment

On October 9, the International Association for Animal Hospice and Palliative Care (IAAHPC) held its first annual conference in Ft. Worth, Texas. The conference was designed to educate pet care professionals on palliative care and animal hospice best practices while also allowing the attendees a chance to network to those working in the related field. Local in-home pet care provider and animal hospice supporter, Robyn Kesnow RVT, presented a segment on

the importance of the appropriate timing to offer hospice in veterinary settings and how to support families choosing this option, titled Recognizing the Hospice Patient.

Kesnow founded Animal RN, the first company to offer in-home animal nursery services ( Kesnow reported that the first IAAHPC conference “was an excellent source of information regarding industry trends and processes for supporting hospice while also providing a unique networking opportunity with peers and like-minded professionals from across the country.”

Industry experts presented on the practical tools needed to successfully operate an animal hospice service, including:

·         Individualized Hospice Care Planning

·         Building your successful Hospice Team

·         Understanding Anticipatory Grief

·         Managing Pain for Quality of Life

·         Dealing with Compassion Fatigue

IAAHPC is dedicated to promoting knowledge about and developing guidelines for comfort-oriented care to companion animals as they approach the end of life. For more information, visit The cost of membership is $75 or $40 for seniors and students and is open to all interested in supporting ethical animal hospice care and education.

Precious Time and a Perfect Day:

October 3, 2011 1 comment

One of the things I constantly find myself trying to describe as I work with very senior pets and their people is what I call precious time.  We are constantly looking at, debating and monitoring quality of life for our pets as they near the end of this journey, this life.  I often hear how families don’t want to “prolong life” their main concern is to not allow their pet to suffer.  Of course, we’re all on the same page here.  Suffering is not an option and one of the most valuable benefits to working with Animal RN is the peace of mind knowing that you have objective, educated and respectful support to monitor and help bring insight to what’s going on medically/ physically your pet during this time.  

It just so happens that by offering what we call palliative support, there is more time.  The purpose of the care is not to lengthen the time, but to offer comfort and quality to whatever time there is.  What I find indescribable is the precious time that comes during palliation.  I believe it comes from a variety of factors.  The animal is more comfortable, and can be present and enjoy his world and his environment and people.  The people are aware of the mortality of their furry family and also are able to be more present and more engaged in the relationship.  When these 2 beings find themselves together, present and enjoying the moment – this is precious time.  It doesn’t matter if it’s for minutes, hours, days or weeks; something happens and there becomes and understanding.  So many people describe to me the most prolific connections, the most clear and powerful goodbyes.  I wonder what their thinking as they tell me these tear jerking stories and I’m smiling and nodding.  I’m smiling because they are now a part of the club.  The only way to know this feeling, this connection is to have experienced it first hand.  This is why I fight for animal hospice.  This isn’t about euthanizing versus dying naturally; this is about living in a moment.  Perhaps one day, we will be able to find and embrace our pets and our relationship with them earlier in their lives.  It is yet another lesson we can learn from our furry friends.

Jon Katz, a well-known author has a new book out, since his own dog Orson died.  Please enjoy this excerpt from “Going Home” sharing the “perfect day” with his dog.

It is possible to take something beautiful and lasting out of the heart-wrenching experience of seeing the animal you love move inexorably toward death. Nobody can take the grief away, nor should anyone try, but our love for animals is nothing but a gift, and it keeps on giving, even when they go home.

A man named Harry, an Iraq war veteran and tennis coach from Minnesota, hit upon a simple and profound idea to transform this otherwise sad experience into a blessed one.

It was a gray morning when the vet told Harry that his dog Duke’s heart was failing and that it wouldn’t be long before he died. Harry was not surprised, but still, the news depressed him. Listening to the vet, Harry later told me, he’d gotten an idea, one he thought would pay tribute to his life with Duke and give him something to feel besides sadness and loss.

“Tomorrow, I’m going to give you a Perfect Day,” he said quietly to Duke as they left the vet’s office. He would take the day off from work and create a sweet memory with his dog. It would be a special day, filled with all the things Duke loved most, as close to perfect as Harry could make it. He would take his Canon PowerShot along to capture some images of the day, to preserve the memories.

Duke was a border collie/shepherd mix. He had always been a lively, energetic dog and would herd anything that moved. Walks, work, food, Frisbees, red balls—these were the things Duke loved, along with chasing balloons and popping them.

Harry went shopping for supplies, and when he came back Duke was napping on his dog bed. He went over, lay down next to the dog, and hugged him. “Pal,” he whispered, “tomorrow is for you, your Perfect Day.” He was embarrassed to tell his wife, Debbie, about the plan, but she sensed what was going on and gave the two of them the space they needed. It was her belief that the dog, more than anything else, helped Harry heal from the trauma of Iraq. He couldn’t look at Duke without smiling, and when he had first come home, he hadn’t smiled too often.

At eight the next morning, Harry got up. Duke was lying on his bed, which was next to Harry and Debbie’s. The dog rose a bit slowly, then followed Harry down the stairs and into the kitchen. Harry opened the refrigerator and took out a hamburger patty and two strips of bacon, cooked the night before. He put them on a plate and into the microwave.

Duke was riveted. When the plate came out—Harry touched it to make sure it was warm but not hot—he dumped the meat into Duke’s bowl, along with his heart pills. It was as if Duke couldn’t believe his eyes. He was almost never given people food. Looking up at Harry, as if asking permission, he waited until Harry nodded and said, “OK, boy,” before inhaling the food.

A feeling of sadness came over Harry as he thought about how Duke would soon be gone. He wandered into the living room and lay down on the couch. Duke came over and curled up next to him. Harry began to sob, softly, then more deeply and loudly; Duke gently licked his face.

After a few minutes, Harry rose to get dressed. Although he worried about straining the dog’s heart, he let Duke follow him up the stairs. On this day, Duke could do anything he wanted. No corrections. He sat on the bedroom floor and watched Harry put his clothes on. When Harry said “Sneakers,” Duke labored to get up onto his feet, walked over to the closet, and brought Harry his white running shoes. Harry had enjoyed training his dog to bring him his sneakers, and Duke seemed to love it too.

Harry went back downstairs, followed by Duke. He picked up a bag from the pantry and walked out into the yard. Inside the bag were two dozen high-bounce red balls. One at a time, he threw them and bounced them off the back fence. Duke tore after one gleefully, then another, catching some, narrowly missing others as they whizzed past his head.

When Duke started to pant, Harry stopped.

Next they went to the town pond. Harry sat by the water’s edge while Duke waded in, paddled around, swam back, shook himself off, then repeated the routine about a dozen times. Every few minutes Harry tossed the dog a liver treat. It practically rained the small and pungent treats. Once again, Duke looked as if he could hardly believe his good fortune.

They came back to the house and napped. After lunch, Harry took Duke to the vast state park outside of town. He picked a flat, gentle trail, and the two of them walked a couple of miles. Eventually, they came to a stone abutment with a beautiful view. Harry walked over to the edge and sat down. Duke clambered out and curled up beside him. It was a gorgeous afternoon, and the wind ruffled the dog’s hair. Duke held his nose up to the wind, picking up the scents of the earth.

God, I love this creature, Harry thought. I never feel this peaceful, this much at ease. It is something to remember, to honor.

They sat together for nearly an hour, enjoying a bond of complete understanding and affection. If only the world could stay like this, Harry thought, this simple, this good.

Harry knew that Duke was tired, so they took their time walking back, stopping frequently to rest. A few years earlier, Duke could have hiked all day, and sometimes they did that together. But not anymore.

When they got home, Harry cooked Duke some prime sirloin, then chopped it up. The dog was beside himself, looking up at Harry as he ate, expecting the food to be taken away. That evening, Harry put one of his favorite Clint Eastwood movies into the DVD player and Duke hopped up onto the couch, put his head in Harry’s lap, and went to sleep. When the movie was over, Harry carried the dog up the stairs and laid him down on his bed.

Several weeks after the Perfect Day, when Harry came home from work, Duke was not there by the door to greet him, and he knew he was gone. He went into the living room to find Duke dead. He knelt by his dog, closed his eyes, and said a prayer. Then he dug a deep hole in the backyard and buried Duke there, along with some bones, his collar, and some of his beloved red balls.

Of all the photos Harry took on the Perfect Day, the one he loved the best was of Duke sitting out on the stone ledge in the state park, taking in the sights and smells.

Now every morning before he goes to work, he flips open his cellphone and smiles at the picture of Duke, looking for all the world like a king surveying his territory.

Harry passed on the idea of the Perfect Day to friends and other dog owners struggling to come to terms with their own pets’ failing health. Many have since shared with him the stories of their dog’s Perfect Day. It makes him happy to think about Duke’s legacy—all those Perfect Days for all those other great dogs leaving our world behind.

Excerpt from Photography from Robyn Kessler Photography

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