Pet Peace of Mind Keeps Hospice Patients and Pets Together

October 11, 2011 | By Amy Lieberman | Category: Heroes | 1 comment
Tags: charity, lifestyle & trends, heroes

Program offers patients the chance to stay close to beloved pets.

In 2006, Delana Taylor-McNac, a veterinarian and a hospice chaplain, worked with an elderly couple in Oklahoma who had recently been admitted into a hospice care facility -- without their dog, which they had to rehome with relatives out of state.

Taylor-McNac and the hospice staff watched as the man sunk into a deep depression over the loss of his dog. During one of her last visits with him, she saw him speaking out loud, to no one in particular, and petting an invisible dog at his side.

"It was a very powerful experience for me," Taylor-McNac told "And it was very traumatic because I knew we could have done something if we could have put the dog in a foster home and taken the dog to visit him on a very regular basis."

Taylor-McNac wound up quitting her job as a hospice chaplain shortly after this experience and started working with a local hospice non-profit organization on a new program, aimed at providing means for hospice patients to remain united with their pets.

The small initiative took off, and with the help of the Banfield Charitable Trust, launched as a national program in 2009, called Pet Peace of Mind.

Pet Peace of Mind now operates in 23 states and continues to expand in hospice programs, says Taylor-McNac, changing the notion of what some hospice patients need for a peaceful and comfortable ease into death, despite some skeptics who question the benefits of the program.

"It takes hospices several months to implement the program," Taylor-McNac explained. "We are working on a fundamental change in how hospice views pets. Hospice is about offering care to patients and to their families, and often for patients their pets are just like their family members."

Pet Peace of Mind gets participating hospices and patients started with $5,000; it also covers all costs for pet food, grooming and veterinary care, and will provide volunteers to help walk pets, or drive them to the vet, groomer or any other appointment.

"What it does is take the burden of ownership off the shoulders of hospice patients," said Taylor-McNac.

The program will also help make arrangements for a pet after his or her owner passes on, but that typically hasn't been an issue, as most patients have a plan for their pets.

The San Diego Hospice and Institute for Palliative Medicine first implemented Pet Peace of Mind in November 2010. Since then, it has served 19 patients and 22 pets, helping them remain united.

The impact of pets and patients being kept together is noticeably strong, says Kim Heinrichs, executive director of volunteer resources. Equally palpable is the effect of separation on the companion animals.

"The human-animal bond has great depth and can be very emotional, or even spiritual, so when a patient who is at the end of his or her life and is obviously very sick, the effect can be the pet is unintentionally neglected," she said.

"Our desire is to help avoid that and keep the relationship together."

Volunteers serve different roles for individual patients, Heinrichs says, helping people who both have the financial means to care for their pets and those who do not.

"Most of what we are requested to do is to provide food when patients are too sick to go out and get pet food on their own," Heinrichs said. "We also have a lot of requests for dog walking and transportation to the vet."

The program can also help provide a sense of dignity to some low-income patients, says Taylor-McNac.

She recalled a patient with a prison record who had "burned every bridge" when he became terminally ill. He lived in his mother's garage with his three kittens, who used to sit in his recliner chair with him and keep him warm during the winter.

"When we admitted him and offered to neuter the cats and give them vaccinations, this big ole guy started crying," she explained.

Pet Peace of Mind is hoping to gain more participating hospice programs in the near future. For more information, visit the Pet Peace of Mind website.

Does Pet Peace of Mind have a participating program in your area? Have you heard of similar initiatives near you? Tell us below!

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4 years ago

This is nice and although when my great grandma moved in to a nursing home she had no pets but there were cats there wandering the grounds for whomever to pet I wish she could have had a dog or cat of her own to stay in her room with her instead of being alone all the time I visited as much as I could but when I wasn't there she didn't have anyone to keep her company.

Good Point | Reply ›

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