Where do pets go when their owners are facing the end of life?
Update as of April 22, 2018:
After this article was initially published, the Pet Peace of Mind program reported an outpouring of support in the Treasure Valley. Program organizer Karen Jeffries said Idahoans donated more than $500 to the program, along with supplies like leashes, collars, bowls and even homemade dog treats.
Several people signed up as volunteers for the program, while others reached out hoping to set in place a plan for their own pets or take in a pet in need.
St. Luke's spokeswoman Anita Kissee said local restaurant Cucina de Paolo is creating a calendar of its well-known Betty the Washerwoman display with proceeds split between the Pet Peace of Mind program, the Idaho Humane Society and the Dog Rescue.
When a photo of Eli popped up in her email inbox last fall, Renee Charron was smitten.
“I love this dog,” the St. Luke’s Hospice social worker thought.
She didn’t realize that she had met the dog’s owners before — when she admitted their loved one into hospice care.
Eli was up for adoption through the Pet Peace of Mind program, a national organization that partners in the Treasure Valley with St. Luke’s Hospice. The program helps St. Luke’s hospice patients keep their pets in their final days, makes sure the pets are healthy and finds them new homes.
St. Luke’s Hospice joined the program in January 2016 and has since helped 85 patients and families. It runs on donations and the labor of 15 volunteers, who do everything from checking on patients to playing fetch with a dog whose owner can no longer throw a ball.
Furry members of the family
“We had all seen things happen where the patient was in their ending days, and they were so concerned about what was going to happen to their pet, and the family would say, ‘It’s OK, we’ll take care of it,’ and then the patient would die and the dog was off to the pound,” said Karen Jeffries, volunteer coordinator for St. Luke’s Hospice.
The program works with a veterinary partner, Intermountain Pet Hospital in Meridian, which gives free exams and deep discounts to Pet Peace of Mind animals.
Within a week or two of joining the program, a nurse told Jeffries about her patient whose dachshund was scratching himself raw. The woman loved the dog and her other dachshund. She had adopted the dogs with her husband, then her husband died not long after. Since then, the patient’s daughter said, the woman would talk to the dogs as though “talking to dad.”
“These dogs were him to her,” Jeffries said.
An Intermountain vet noted that animal infections can be passed on to a patient, so if the dog was going to stay in the home, he needed treatment. But the medication cost $80 a month.
The program helped pay for the medicine, and the dog was able to stay with the patient in her final days.
“It made such a difference in this lady’s attitude, because she said, ‘I feel so bad that Charlie doesn’t feel good,’” Jeffries said.
Eli joins the family
A young Pomeranian mix, Eli is full of energy, talkative (a bit of a barker) and loves attention. When one of Eli’s former family members went into hospice care, the family decided it would be best for everyone to find Eli a new home.
Charron wanted her family, with two young sons and another dog with separation anxiety, to be the match. So she reached out to the social worker assigned to Eli’s family and arranged a visit.
“I sat with the family and talked with them about living situations,” Charron said. “The next day or day after, I picked him up.”
Months later, Eli is a happy member of Charron’s family. He’s a good friend to their cane corso dog, whose separation anxiety has improved thanks to Eli’s companionship. Living at Charron’s home in Weiser, Eli has space to burn off his energy and gets plenty of attention from Charron and her kids.
“I don’t know what I did before I had him,” Charron said, adding that her 6-year-old son constantly tells her, “I love Eli.”
‘That’s all they have sometimes’
Charron also knows from working with hospice patients what a relief it can be to patients and their families to keep pets as long as possible, then have the assurance that a beloved cat or dog will end up with a loving family.
“That’s all they have sometimes is their companion,” Charron said.
Jeffries says one of her most memorable cases illustrates just how important pets are to the patients.
It was a man in his 80s who went into hospice with five dachshunds.
“The social worker said, ‘Oh, Karen, you’re going to have to rehome all five of these.’ The man is in 80s, can barely take care of himself let alone the dogs,” Jeffries recalls.
She got to work taking the dogs to the vet, getting them checkups and shots so they would be ready to adopt.
Jeffries got a call that spring, telling her to go to the hospital in Meridian. The patient was dying and wanted her to come out so he could give up the dogs.
“On his death bed, he signs his dogs over to me,” Jeffries said. “I said, ‘I promise I’ll give them all a good home.’”
It took awhile, but eventually each of the dogs went to a new family.
“That was a real labor of love,” she said. “He wouldn’t have rested peacefully if he didn’t know those dogs had gone somewhere.”
Want to donate or volunteer?
Adoption fee: $0
Services: Veterinary care, examinations, vaccinations, grooming, pet food, pet exercise
The program always needs: Pet carriers, animal clothes, leashes, other pet supplies