“We live in a death-avoidance society,” says Coleen Ellis, a consultant in pet death care business
elements (www.twoheartspetlosscenter.com). “But
it’s going to happen. There comes a point when there is nothing more that can
be done to cure an animal.”
Gain knowledge of
The veterinary-client relationship then can move into a new
phase. That need for palliative and hospice care is growing as more people see
their companion animals as part of the family.
Just as the veterinary industry is taking a page from human
medicine in its call for regular health checkups for animals, it is slowly
acknowledging the need for palliative and hospice care. “There have been two
international symposiums on the subject. The interest is growing among our
profession,” says Gail Bishop, B.S., clinical coordinator of the Argus
Institute at Colorado State University (http://csuvth.colostate.edu/diagnostic_and_support/argus/).
Offering it as a business service can seem daunting.
“Often vets are there from the time the pet is acquired
until the time the pet dies,” says Page Yaxley, DVM, DACVECC, of Michigan State
University Veterinary Teaching Hospital and founder of the Veterinary Hospice
Service there (cvm.msu.edu/hospital/services/veterinary-hospice-care).
“Most veterinarians are trained in treatment of disease, but few have knowledge
about hospice, or the option of hospice.” There has been little training on
grief or how to deal with communications.
The average veterinary student receives one hour of training
about end-of-life care in four years of training, says Yaxley. “Most schools
incorporate this hour into classes such as ethics or anesthesia, and
mostly focus on the American Veterinary Medical Association guidelines for
euthanasia and legal ramifications of the act itself.”
Yaxley finds that amazing since euthanasia is something that
veterinarians have the privilege of performing, and “the thing that separates
us from all other allied health professions.”
Bishop notes that CSU is one of the few school to
take on those issues. It offers grief education and end-of-life issues in the
third-year core curriculum. “We offer four hours and then again additional
education for our hospice volunteers,” she said.
Volunteer opportunities at some veterinary schools allow
students to help clients through their journey. Different groups are offering
programs and conferences.
The International Association of Animal Hospice and
Palliative Care (www.iaahpc.org) offered an
eight-hour RACE-approved program in 2011 and is planning a three-day conference
in the fall of 2012 in Colorado.
In January, it began monthly webinars for veterinary
professionals focusing on such topics as “Natural Death,” “Building the
Hospice,” “Pain Management,” and “Marketing Your Pet Hospice Service.”
The Nikki Hospice Foundation
for Pets, under the auspices of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical
Association, is organizing the Third International Symposium on Veterinary
Hospice Care (www.pethospice.org/TISVHC.htm).
It is set for July 20-22, 2012, at Wellman Hall at the University of California at Davis. CEUs will be offered to DVMs and VTs as well
as to MSWs, LCSWs and MFTs.
Have good quality control
Palliative and hospice care is not black and white but
unique to each individual situation, says Yaxley.
To that end, the IAAHPC has
established a task force that will publish Guidelines for Recommended Practices
in animal hospice and palliative care. The guidelines are expected to be
available in the summer of 2012.
“I would like hospice to become a recognized option between
the diagnosis of terminal or chronically debilitating/progressive illness
and the point of euthanasia,” says Yaxley.
Price it appropriately
Amir Shanan, DVM, of Compassionate
Veterinary Care (www.compassionatevet.com)
of Chicago, operates a full-service clinic and a palliative and hospice care
service for his clients and referrals. Shanan says that if you want palliative
and hospice care to be another offering of your veterinary hospital, the
main investment is in hiring, training and developing protocols. It also can be
offered as an exclusively mobile, in-home service separate from any veterinary
Can it make economic
sense? In that respect, it’s no different from any other veterinary service
requiring advanced skills, says Shanan. “As in every other sector, clients will
be happy to pay for services that fulfill their needs.”
Ellis warns that those veterinarians who decide to offer
this service may want to give from the heart. “But you have to price it
appropriately. Palliative and hospice care is not a philanthropic service.”
But in this economy?
Don’t rush to judgment. Ellis recalled one low-income client who paid for the
hospice care of her beloved pet on an installment plan. When it came to the
last payment, the client asked if she could continue to make payments so the
money could be used to help someone else in need benefit from pet hospice care.
Pet parent drives the process
Hospice also is not just about natural death. “It’s whatever
the pet parent wants,” says Ellis. Some people, after hospicing the pet, decide
that the time is right to allow their beloved pet to rest in peace. “They can
let you know they are now OK with the euthanasia experience. The pet parent
drives the process,” says Ellis.
Just as with many movements, this one has its early
adopters. Others are going to watch to see how it evolves. It may create a
market share shift, says Shanan.
“If you, my vet at Clinic A, are not offering hospice for my
beloved pet but Clinic B across town is, perhaps I should take my pet there.”
Resources are available
to help you add palliative and hospice care service
Maureen Blaney Flietner, a former newspaper journalist, is
a fulltime freelance writer, editor and designer. If there is a topic you would
like discussed or want to learn more about her services, contact her through
her website at www.mbfcommunications.com or email: Maureen@mbfcommunications.com.