Program offers 'peace of mind' to dying patients
By Samantha Joseph
STUART -- When John Joyce was dying, he and his wife, who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, still wanted to care for their 6-year-old dog, Lucky.
The young dog was a beloved family member, but its need for regular exercise, trips to the vet and visits to the groomer created additional stress for the couple.
That's when Treasure Coast Hospice employee Derek Love and others stepped in to help. Mr. Love and his colleagues fed, walked and cared for the dog and ensured it had all required vaccinations.
They offered the services as part of hospice's Pet Peace of Mind program, which allows patients at the end of their lives to remain with their pets.
Mr. Joyce died last Christmas, said Jennifer Ferrari, Treasure Coast Hospice Foundation resource manager, but his wife and pet were his constant companions.
"They all became favorites of ours, the dog included," said Betsy Richardson, coordinator of Pet Peace of Mind. "That's how you know you're making a big difference. We helped a couple who was still caring for their pet in a compassionate way."
Treasure Coast Hospice launched the program in 2011 with a $5,000 grant from the Banfield Charitable Trust. The program is one of about 50 across the nation.
It has since sent specially trained volunteers to assist at least 60 families across the region, providing volunteers and financial resources to help care for animals.
"When a patient enters hospice, their entire family and caregivers are affected by the process," Ms. Richardson said. "Very often if there is a pet in the household, that pet might not be getting the level of care it had been getting in the past, even though it is a very essential part of the family."
Often, patients live alone or have caretakers who are so focused on caring for their loved one that they inadvertently overlook pets, hospice staff said.
Hospice social workers also work with patients to help determine what will happen to the pets after these patients' deaths. Most patients wish to have friends or family members care for their pets. Other times, staff works with the local Humane Society to find immediate homes for the animals.
"It's one more thing that provides comfort in what is a very stressful period," Ms. Richardson said.
"It really is a wonderful program. It's an incredible feeling to help a family facing hospice and the death of a loved one."
The program is in need of volunteers to help care for and transport animals. Administrators also welcome donations.
For more information, call (772) 462-8986.