Volunteers Provide Peace of Mind for Hospice Patients and Their Pets

The hospice healthcare team could see their patient was suffering but wasn’t ready to let go. When they asked what was troubling her and if they could help she started to cry. The day before the patient had been told that the home she had arranged for her dog Magic after she died was no longer available.

“She told the hospice team that she couldn’t go without knowing that Magic would be OK,” said Dianne McGill, president and founder of Pet Peace of Mind, a national program designed to provide volunteer-driven pet care for hospice patients and their pets.

The hospice team reached out to its Pet Peace of Mind volunteer network and by the end of the day had found a home for Magic. A few hours after hearing this news, Magic’s owner passed away peacefully. Stories like this are not at all unusual.

“I know of countless patients who have said that their pet is their lifeline,” McGill said. “For many patients, keeping their pets near them during the end of life journey and finding homes for their beloved pets after they pass is one of the most important pieces of unfinished business.”

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Recognizing the Strong Bond between Hospice Patients and Their Pets

November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month and a wonderful time to recognize the amazing care being offered to hospice patients. Hospice and palliative care combine the highest level of quality medical care with the emotional and spiritual support that families need most when facing a serious illness or the end of life. As part of this support, many hospices also offer Pet Peace of Mind services.

Some patients are fortunate to have a broad support network and receive all the assistance they need. Unfortunately, as some families deal with grief and loss surrounding the patient’s illness, beloved pets may be overlooked or treated as an afterthought by family members who are unfamiliar with the patient’s bond with a pet.

In fact, McGill was inspired to launch the Pet Peace of Mind program following a call from a woman desperately trying to help her terminally ill friend find a home for her two cats.

“The woman loved these cats more than life itself and her son was threatening to have them euthanized,” said McGill who at the time worked for another national nonprofit.  “The caller couldn’t take the cats because of allergies, and she was heartbroken that her friend’s son would cause his mother’s death to be so unpleasant and painful.”

After two days of phone calls, McGill failed to find a group anywhere in the country that could help. She immediately got to work organizing volunteers to care for the cats so they could stay with the hospice patient and arranged a home for the cats after their owner passed away.

Volunteers Are Key to the Success of the Pet Peace of Mind Program

More than 150 Pet Peace of Mind hospice partners in 40 states help approximately 1,300 sick patients annually. In addition, they help place about 1,000 animals into new homes every year.

Pet Peace of Mind provides hospice partners with everything they need to get the program started. Individual hospices then recruit and train volunteers to provide pet care services for patients who are no longer able to care for their pets. Those services include dog walking, canine and feline waste clean-up, re-stocking pet food, transporting pets to veterinary or grooming appointments, arranging boarding when the patient must spend time in the hospital, and helping find new homes for pets after the patient’s death.

Some hospice partners maintain a network of foster families. These volunteers care for pets when a patient is hospitalized or until they find new homes after the death of a patient.

Pet Peace of Mind foster mom Barbara Carter is a longtime volunteer at Community Hospice in Jacksonville, FL. Her first foster was Brandy, an elderly blind pug who suffered from dementia and was successfully placed with a new family. Next came Riley, a cairn terrier. Carter’s husband fell in love with Riley so they adopted him. Their third foster was Mimi, a Shih-Tzu/terrier mix, who belonged to a family with two young children in hospice.

“We fostered Mimi a couple of different times,” Carter said. “Sometimes I would take her back to the family on the weekends and bring her home again during the week.”

When things got so difficult that the family could no longer care for Mimi, Carter adopted her.

“It was very difficult for the family to give her up but it helped that they knew me through fostering,” Carter said. “They knew that I would take good care of Mimi. She is the love of my life!”

barbaracarterwithmimiBarbara Carter, Pet Peace of Mind foster volunteer, adopted Mimi whose family had  to give her up when they were caring for two young children in hospice/Image courtesy of Barbara Carter

How to Help

  • The Pet Peace of Mind program is volunteer driven. The main office is happy to connect interested people with local program information.
  • As with all nonprofits, help is always needed to keep the program going. McGill said Pet Peace of Mind is currently training 40 hospice partners to launch programs. Another 200 hospices have expressed an interest in the program.
  • The program is always in need of veterinary consultants who serve as advocates for the pets and help promote the program in the local animal welfare community.

 If you are looking for help but you are not a patient of a hospice with a Pet Peace of Mind program, here are some ideas about places to look for resources such as low-cost veterinary care, assistance with pet food, fostering or adoption.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

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Beth M
Beth M2 months ago

This is a wonderful thing!

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