Belinda Walker’s mother had her two Havanese and Pomeranian dogs on her lap 24/7.
Walker remembers fondly how well the senior pups were cared for. When her mother died earlier this year, the two dogs were left in Walker’s care. Despite trying to incorporate Angel and Ella into her home, Walker said it was too much to manage as she already had other animals.
But thanks to a local program, Walker was able to find the pair a new loving home.
Pet Peace of Mind is a nationwide nonprofit that allows hospice patients to worry less about their pets’ care. The program partners with hospice and health care agencies — one of which is in Vancouver — to provide services, such as feeding, exercise, grooming and veterinary visits for end-of-life patients who are unable to take care of their beloved animals. And in the case of a patient dying, the program will find the pet a new family.
“As a family member, when you’re experiencing significant loss, it’s not only a very emotional time, you are often overwhelmed with the grieving process so it is very helpful to have a company that is empathetic and takes that burden away,” Walker said. “The program was a little miracle.”
Pets part of the family
The program was created in 2009 by Dianne McGill who, at the time, was working for a different health care organization. One day, she received a call that someone in end-of-life care needed help finding a new home for their pet.
After helping this patient, McGill realized there was a gap in the health care and pet industries in providing this type of care.
Over the last 14 years, the program has popped up across the United States — training hospice and health care workers and volunteers.
“There is a lot of anxiety for patients, particularly what is going to happen to their pets after they pass,” said Christy Bork, program manager for Pet Peace of Mind. “So, we train our partners so that we avoid pets ending up in the shelter system.”
The Pet Peace of Mind program is free to all clients, but it relies solely on donations.
The program landed in 2020 in Vancouver with two partners: Eden Hospice of Longview and Vancouver and PeaceHealth Southwest Hospice. But the COVID-19 pandemic put a wrench in PeaceHealth Southwest Hospice’s plans.
The first training for volunteers was set for March 19, 2020 and because of the COVID-19 pandemic the institute’s partnership with the Humane Society for Southwest Washington fell through. Anne Hansen, volunteer program coordinator for PeaceHealth Southwest Hospice, said it still hopes to restart the program with the help of partnerships and donations because the program is so valuable.
Sheryl Reeder, volunteer coordinator for Eden Hospice, said the program is vital for not only the mental health of the patient but also the animal.
From dogs and cats to lizards and horses, the program offers assistance for all pet types.
“We’ve re-homed an entire 5-gallon fish tank once,” Reeder said. “We’ve re-homed ducks, bunny rabbits, just about every kind of pet.”
Reeder said the program tries to work with the patient ahead of time on where their pet will go so they are part of the decision-making process.
But Reeder said the focus of the program is to keep people and their pets together for as long as possible. When a patient is in a care center for their end-of-life care, pets are able to come and stay with them.
She shared a story of a patient in Longview whose cat was able to visit for a few days. The cat stayed on the bed with the patient until the end.
“It really meant a lot to the patient and to that entire family. Because we know that pets are part of the family,” Reeder said.
Statistics show that nearly 50 percent of owner relinquishments at shelters are due to illness or the death of the pet’s owner.
“The value of programs that help keep pets and people connected during difficult times cannot be overstated,” said Sam Ellingson, director of communications and marketing for the Humane Society for Southwest Washington. “We know that pets provide many benefits to an individual’s emotional and physical well-being, and that’s even more important for seriously ill individuals. Programs like Pet Peace of Mind provide an essential service for both pets and people.”
To donate to Pet Peace of Mind or the local chapters, visit https://www.petpeaceofmind.org/donate-2.