Bill Hodgins once got a traffic ticket after stopping in the middle of a Washington state highway because his cat was crying. When he went to reposition her, she jumped out of the window. The 95-year-old finished driving to Canada, picked up his niece and then returned to search for his cat until he found her.Hodgins would do anything for Kit Kat, said Pam Veelle, his neighbor and caregiver.”He knew no bounds when it came to finding his kitty and making sure she was safe,” Veelle said.When Hodgins entered hospice care, his greatest concern was what would happen to his cat. He wanted to make sure she went to a good home and wouldn’t have to live with dogs.
When he found out that Willamette Valley Hospice would make sure she found a new family, he felt complete relief, Veelle said.Through the Pet Peace of Mind Program, hospice pays for pet food, litter, flea treatment, routine veterinary appointments, vaccines, grooming, spays and neuters. Volunteers also help walk dogs, transport pets to appointments, empty litter boxes and find permanent homes for pets when their owners die.It’s part of the organization’s mission to provide holistic care. Jennifer Vanlue, the program’s administrator, said they like to alleviate the burden of pet ownership so that patients can focus on the companionship that pets provide, not the responsibilities they require.”Our goal is to take another stressor off people during a difficult time in their lives,” said Melissa Lindley, community outreach coordinator.Willamette Valley Hospice started participating in the national pet program in 2012 after getting requests for help with pets for years. The nonprofit can’t use hospice reimbursement funds from insurance companies to cover the costs of the program, so it relies on donations and the annual Walk-n-Wag event to cover costs, Lindley said.Smokey was adopted by Susan after his owner could no longer take care of him. Willamette Valley Hospice’s Pet Peace of Mind Program and Salem Dogs helped him find a new home. (Photo: Special to the Statesman Journal)The program costs between $6,000 and $7,000 a year. During the first six months of this year, 45 families took advantage of some aspect of the program, Vanlue said.Patients are usually referred to the program by a nurse or case manager. When hospice employees visit a patient’s home, they try to determine what’s most important to families and what help they need. That’s often their pets, Lindley said.Jodie Hedspeth said she was surprised by how easy it was to get help for her Chihuahua and tuxedo cat. When someone noticed her dog Drake had a cough, the program not only got him checked out by a veterinarian, but took him to a groomer to get him spruced up.”I just make a phone call, and here they come,” Hedspeth said.Animals are a big worry. Hedspeth said her family wants to take good care of them, but it became difficult as medical costs added up during her cancer treatments.When it’s time to find a pet a new home, Vanlue works with several local rescue groups to find someone who can foster the animal until its adoption. The program has been so successful because of the local community and the how passionate its rescue groups are, Vanlue said.The Willamette Humane Society took in Kit Kat after Hodgins died at the age of 97 last month. By the end of the week, she had been adopted by a Marion County family, Vanlue said.Knowing Kit Kat would be well cared for after he was gone made all the difference for Hodgins.”The program gave him the peace of mind that allowed him to leave,” Veelle said. “It was an answer to prayer.”Willamette Valley Hospice’s Pet Peace of Mind Program helped Smokey find a new home after a patient could no longer care for him. (Photo: Special to the Statesman Journal)