Hospice Care Team, the coastal Texas provider of end-of-life medical support and care, is expanding its mission to include family members that sometimes are overlooked: the pets of hospice patients.
"Hospice Care Team has decided to participate in the Pet Peace of Mind program as so many of our patients are devoted to their pets," said administrator Joe Chapman. "We can now give the reassurance to our patients who worry about their pets that the care, love and needs will continue to be provided for their companion."
The Galveston County Daily news reports sometimes, pet owners simply need to be reassured that once the time comes when they can no longer care for their pet, someone will step in to provide that service.
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Sometimes, people spending their last days at home before death don't have the resources to care for their pets amid other personal and financial constraints.
And sometimes, a pet lover's ability to let go and die is impeded by lingering concerns over what will happen to a pet companion once they're gone.
In these and many other scenarios, hospice organizations in the past have had to do whatever they could, but not necessarily in a systematic way, hospice care providers said.
Ten years ago, Dianne McGill of Salem, Oregon, became concerned about this problem and took action, conceiving of and developing Pet Peace of Mind, a training and implementation program for home health care and hospice organizations around the country that were concerned about their patients' pet care problems and how those problems affected end of life.
"I was running a large national animal welfare board and we got a call from a woman who was trying to help her dying friend with some pet care issues," McGill said. "She said she'd called everyone she could think of and asked if we could help."
McGill quickly found through her research that there was no one serving critically ill patients and their pets. She decided to develop a program that would do just that.
Hospice Care Team, headquartered in Texas City since 1983, has long been aware of patients' pet care needs, but didn't have a system in place to offer help.
Brenda Kinder, director of nursing for a team, a pet lover herself, took the reins and led the organization's efforts to add Pet Peace of Mind to its programs.
One of Kinder's staff caregivers, Amanda Ray, had a special passion for pets and soon found herself participating in the program in a way that helped a patient and her husband as well as her own family.
"We were working with a family, the wife was our patient, and both she and her husband were very elderly," Ray said. "The husband was having a hard time being at his wife's bedside and caring for their dog."
Maggie, a golden retriever-yellow lab mix, loved to play and needed lots of attention. Ray, the single mother of Logen, almost 9, and Lainee, 2, had been looking for a dog for her young family.
"The wife was too far gone and the husband just cried; he needed somebody to take the dog," Ray said.
She and her children met Maggie and brought her home. A neighbor who trains therapy dogs tested her and is now training her.
Maggie's owner, the hospice patient, died and her husband moved away, Ray said.
"She fit my family perfectly," Ray said.
"We took her when they needed help. I've been talking to patients about this now because I really have a passion for pets and can see how this helps both patients and pets."
For too many patients, the need for either hospice staff or volunteers to help care for pets is urgent because of lack of resources and support, Ray said.
"It's really sad to say that for many, their families don't come to see them," Ray said. "Some don't have basic stuff they need, so it's hard to get the care they need for their pets."
For patients like these, Pet Peace of Mind can offer financial support for food and supplies, can provide trips to the vet, boarding or walkers, depending on how the program has been developed, officials said.
For some patients, a pet is a patient's closest family member, a companion whose welfare is the greatest cause of concern at the end of the pet owner's life.
Hospice Care Team signed on with Pet Peace of Mind earlier in the year and is just now determining what's needed for their program and how they will staff it.
"Primarily, so far, it's been us doing the pet care, but ultimately we want to engage volunteers," said Rebecca Deaton, public relations spokeswoman for Hospice Care Team.
Sometimes, patients are near death by the time they begin receiving hospice care and die before there's time to bring in a volunteer, officials said.
But other times, when a patient has received a terminal diagnosis and is beginning to receive hospice care with some time to plan, the need for volunteers is crucial, officials said.
"If we could enlist volunteers to work with more long-term patients, that would be ideal," Deaton said. "A client in Freeport has a couple of pets and is real concerned about what will happen to them after he passes.
"It's not that he needs help with them right now, but he will as things progress."
Pet Peace of Mind provides an organization the tools it needs to develop and implement pet care, covering details like how to stay compliant with regulations surrounding home health care, how to staff the program and how to report it, McGill said.
When a program is in place, the national organization provides personalized training online to staff and volunteers.
"It's not a brand-new idea, but Pet Peace of Mind solves a problem that all hospices face on an occasional basis," McGill said.
Appreciating the importance of the pet-patient bond is key, McGill said.
"I know of countless patients who have said their pet is their lifeline," she said.
"For many patients, keeping their pets near them during the end of their life journey and finding homes for their beloved pets after they pass is one of the most important pieces of unfinished business."