In-home hospice care can mean everything to those with ailing or elderly pets.
Having a vet who can come to a pet’s home during its final days – either for palliative care or euthanasia – saves pets the anxiety of trips to the vet and gives owners peace of mind.
There’s a growing demand for such services, with at least three local businesses devoted specifically to hospice or euthanasia care: Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice, Azure Holland Mobile Veterinary Services and Peaceful Passing Mobile Veterinary Services. (Peaceful Passing provides only euthanasia care, not veterinary hospice care.)
Lap of Love veterinarian Betsy King said that the length of time a pet requires hospice varies depending on the pet’s condition.
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“Some pets that have mobility issues or bad, degenerative joints, things like that, they may be in hospice care for months,” King said. “Others that have more advanced conditions like terminal cancer, they may only be in hospice for a week. Sometimes those are situations where the owner isn’t sure whether it’s time to say goodbye. They need our advice, they need to feel like they’ve done everything they possibly can to make them comfortable and have them with them in comfort for as long as possible.”
Julia Hamrick, a Peaceful Passing customer, said Dr. Jennifer Frey helped put her mind at ease about putting down her beloved Dachshunds Roly and Lilah.
“You always, even though you know it’s the right time, there’s always that tiny bit of, ‘Oh my God, could we have made him last a little longer?’” Hamrick said. “(Frey’s) presence is so calming and so peaceful that I was able to be clear that the time was right and it was the right thing to do.”
Dr. Dana Lewis of Lap of Love, said when determining an ailing pet’s needs, it’s an advantage to be able to see the pets’ homes.
“We can evaluate anything at home that might impact their quality of life,” Lewis said. “Like, say if they have arthritis and they have a lot of stairs in their home, or slippery floors or other pets that might be creating too much stress for that animal. We can make suggestions on how to do things in the home.”
Tough but rewarding work
Both Frey and Dr. Azure Holland, founder of Azure Holland Veterinary Services, said it’s difficult to stay emotionally stable in their jobs.
“I have to focus on the love,” Frey said. “There’s so much love in every appointment, every home that I visit. That’s what gets me through. It is emotionally stressful, especially when there’s children involved and they’re reading letters and cards. It breaks my heart, but I do realize every patient leaves a legacy. Honestly, I’m only serving the best of the best in the area who want what is best for their pet. I am honored to be in the presence of such a union, such a bond.”
Holland said helping her own family put their golden retriever to rest peacefully at home inspired her to start her business.
“Something I always think of is that none of the people who I have loved in my life ever said to me, ‘We want to die in the hospital,’ ” Holland said. “I really think that if we could have these honest conversations with our pets, they would feel very much the same way. I have two kitty cats, and for the most part, their whole world is our home and our house.”
‘Her house, her bed, all at peace’
Billy Fansler, whose dog, Lou, had cancer of the spleen and was euthanized by Betsy King of Lap of Love, said he and his girlfriend knew they wanted a peaceful and calm environment for Lou.
“We’re kind of private people, maybe we’re not super-social people, so when we’re in that emotional state, it’s tough to let a stranger into that environment,” Fansler said. “There’s always this little worry – I don’t want a stranger here taking away from this moment. (King) was just a total pro, she knew exactly what to say, she let us do our thing. That last moment, Lou’s last moments were just laying in the living room with her. I gave her Doritos, because she would always steal Doritos from me and I’d fuss at her. It was just this peaceful moment, and then Betsy left and Lou got to pass in her most favorite place – her house, her bed, all at peace and everything.”
Some more conventional veterinary offices in the area will try to offer in-home euthanasia services to their most loyal customers who are interested, but they often have to work around their tight schedules.
Barbara Geist, who had one of her cats euthanized at home by a conventional veterinarian and has had other pets euthanized at home by Lewis, said the difference between the two experiences was huge.
“It’s night and day,” Geist said. “He came in and gave Ben the shot and Ben died. Dana comes in and besides still interacting with your pet, she gives them a sedative. It takes about five, eight, 10 minutes to work. But that whole time she lets your kitty get sedated so they’re not awake and they don’t feel any pain when she gives them the drug. So for five or 10 minutes, you all sit together talking. I had my pets in my lap. When she’s sure that they’re sedated and they won’t feel anything, then she gives them the medication to put them to sleep. . . . With Dana, you’re sitting at home with a friend – I would call her a friend after all this time – and helping your pet to die comfortably.”
More info on pet hospice
Azure Holland Mobile Veterinary Service
Cost: Services start with a free phone consultation with one a veterinarian. In-home appointments start at $250.
Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice
Cost: $290 appointment fee
Cost: Free phone consultation. Appointments in the Northern Wake County area are $295, with rates increasing with distance.