By Ella Bittel, Holistic Veterinarian
What IS hospice?
Human hospice arose because the medical field had largely failed to serve the multifaceted needs of dying patients and their loved ones. Doctors and nurses are trained to look for a cure, or at least partial recovery, in all cases, but these options are no longer a possibility with the terminally ill. When hospice began, it came as a great blessing to this special group of patients.
Hospice is a team-directed approach providing the highest level of physical, emotional and spiritual comfort care possible to the patient and family throughout the end-of-life process. It recognizes dying as a natural part of the cycle of life, rather than a failed medical event – a process that needn’t be feared or avoided. The focus is on “intensive caring,” instead of “intensive care,” and involves maintaining maximum comfort and quality of life without prolonging or hastening death. Hospice helps patients, family and friends make the best of a very precious, though challenging time — a time that will remain a meaningful memory for the survivors.
Tasks of the hospice team -
Those who have had experience with hospice commonly say of the team, “They were angels. We could not have done it without them.” Hospice can be indispensable, involving a multitude of helpful services.
With human hospice, the patient receives home visits by nurses specifically trained to provide symptom control, and the care-giving family has access to advice 24/7. If symptom control becomes more challenging and the home setting won’t allow for more complicated treatment, the patient may be brought into a palliative care unit with 24/7 nursing assistance. Often, the patient returns to his or her residence within a few days, with the new treatment approach in place. Even if the patient is admitted to a hospital for symptom control, the hospice team continues to provide services.
Hospice offers the entire family grief and spiritual support, if desired, and social workers help family members find the best solutions for their daily challenges, which often include logistical and financial issues. Volunteers often relieve caregivers, allowing them a chance to get much-needed rest. They might also help with light housework or errands, provide transportation to doctor visits, lend an open and compassionate ear, and stay at the bedside of the actively dying patient.
The needs of dog owners are remarkably similar to the above-mentioned when their companion pets are dying. But while some individuals and veterinary practices have taken great steps to offer end-of-life care to animals, services truly comparable to the ones widely available to humans are still largely to be invented. Just as medical doctors must be specifically trained to understand the distinctly different needs of the dying over those who are ill, but not close to dying, veterinarians need training to learn how to properly provide hospice care and help caregivers understand the changes unfolding in their dying animal. However, few have pursued such education. For now, those wishing to deliver hospice-like treatment to their companion pets are left mostly to their own devices to cobble together the services they need.
If you fall into this category, the best option is to find a veterinarian who will support your decision to allow your dog to die in its own time, and who will agree to offer the animal as much comfort and pain control as possible.
Ella Bittel, Holistic Veterinarian - Excerpt from the book Your Dog's Golden Years www.seniordogbooks.com
Spirits In Transition - Ella Bittel
The Nikki Hospice Foundation
Bright Haven Hospice Information
www.ethics.ubc.ca Ethical Decision Making Information
Senior Dog Books
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I have been on the Advisory Board of The Grey Muzzle Organization since 2009. This dedicated group of volunteers offers grants and resources to rescues and shelters that promote senior dog programs and adoption. Their efforts are national and they help senior dogs receive the care they need and the dignity they deserve. I encourage everyone to support this unique organization so they can expand their reach and help more of the grey muzzles out there.