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.
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
Kesnow founded Animal RN, the first company to offer in-home animal nursery services (www.animalrn.com). 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 www.IAAHPC.org. 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.