A happier ending for dying pets and their owners
Heather Merrill cares deeply about her hospice patients, and after they die, she follows up with their families. On a recent day, she was at Amy Farber’s home in Cambridge, asking her how she felt about Ray’s death: “It’s been six weeks now, how are you doing?”
“I can’t imagine something so sad and difficult,” replied Farber. “But Ray was surrounded by love, and he lived out his days. I can’t imagine feeling more at peace, thanks to you guys.”
Ray was Farber’s beloved 17-year-old Labrador retriever.
New England Pet Hospice and Home Care helped Ray, who had grown incontinent, through his last months, sometimes providing overnight care, with a veterinary technician sleeping on the couch, so the family could get some sleep upstairs. In the morning, technician Nancy Whitlock would get Ray’s breakfast and meds. “Nancy was our midwife for Ray’s death,” says Farber.
Though hospices for humans have been around for decades, the pet hospice movement is relatively new and comes amid a recent proliferation in services for pets. According to the nonprofit International Association of Animal Hospice and Palliative Care, there are fewer than 10 animal services in the United States that conform to its guidelines, and New England Pet Hospice is one of them.
“The guidelines define animal hospice as a philosophy or program of care that addresses the physical, emotional, and social needs of animals in the advanced stages of a progressive, life-limiting illness or disability,” says Dr. Amir Shanan, who runs Compassionate Veterinarian Hospice in Chicago and is founder of the international association. The group has nearly 300 members, most of them veterinarians.
In the past two years, he says, the number of organizations claiming to offer animal hospice services has grown rapidly, and his association is developing a training program for vets and others in the evolving field.
‘People have huge feelings of loss, and some are flabbergasted because they are more overcome than with grief over human friends or relatives. . . . We assure them that this is all normal.’
Rev. Eliza Blanchard, spiritual adviser to New England Pet Hospice— A happier ending for dying pets and their owners: PetsOnBoard.com
New England Pet Hospice covers central and southeastern Massachusetts, Cape Cod and the Islands, southern New Hampshire, southern Maine, and all of Rhode Island. Merrill says it offers physical, medical, emotional, social, and spiritual support for sick and aging animals, most of them dogs and cats — all of it in the animals’ homes.
A happier ending for dying pets and their owners: PetsOnBoard.com DINA RUDICK/GLOBE STAFF:Photo