The last stages of life can be a confusing and stressful time. At that point, many feel as if they have completely lost control, something Arkansas Hospice is trying to combat through its new Pet Peace of Mind program.
Arkansas Hospice partnered with the nonprofit Pet Peace of Mind program in hopes of easing some of the burden caused by the already difficult, and stressful situations, hospice patients sometimes experience. The program is geared toward helping patients and their families care for pets in the home as they approach the final stage of life.
Pets provide unconditional love, understanding and a sense of comfort at times when it’s needed the most. During a time when patients under hospice care, pets provide a sense of companionship and well-being. Unlike family and friends, pets have no expectations for the time spent with their owners. There is no need to pretend to feel well, and no forced conversation; pets just meet you right where you are.
“Our goal is to help patients and families stay together, and make sure that the pet gets everything they need during the transition,” said Arkansas Hospice Community
Liaison Amy Thomason.
The Pet Peace of Mind program is a nonprofit Hospice and palliative program, according to http://www.petpeaceofmind.com, that uses a fully equipped approach to help establish a program to train hospice employees and volunteers in caring for the pet’s needs. They focus on showing participating hospices how to deliver help where and when it’s needed, assist with funding and remain present for on going support.
Specially trained volunteers work with patients and their families to provide care for pets in the home. This can be anything from taking the family dog on a walk, feeding the cat or cleaning out a bird cage. Simple tasks can become the most tedious around this stage of life, so the program’s benefits are boundless.
Local animal shelters and Hot Springs Animal Services have also thrown their hats in the mix, and offered to help re-home the pets either at the patients request, or upon their passing. The re-homing process ensures peace of mind for the patient, knowing their pet will be cared for and loved.
“We’re really tickled to work with the animal shelters in the area. It will be instrumental in the success of our program,” said Thomason.
The idea of partnering with Pet Peace of Mind occurred to Program Director Kelli Hall and Thomason when they attended a hospice conference in 2010. They learned about the program’s existence and immediately knew they needed to bring this to Hot Springs.
“I cannot tell you how many times we’ve had a nurse going out to see a patient, and they have with them a few cans of cat food, or a bag of dog food. We’ve been doing this informally, but now we have a mechanism to put this into action,” said Thomason.
The program kicked off April 1, and three volunteers have completed their training. Hospice plans to start small, and only take on cases with dogs, cats and birds that live indoors. They have also collected donations, allowing them to open a pet food pantry.
The program relies heavily on volunteer participation; without it this would not be
possible. Each volunteer attends a set of training classes where they learn proper etiquette for entering a patients home, and how to deal with dogs that may be under a lot of stress.
“It’s amazing because, sure enough, we have people who have a heart for our mission, but are afraid they don’t know how to work with dying people, begin to come forward looking to help,” said Thomason.
In order to drum up support from the community, the area Hospice program hosted a “Mutt Mixer” at the Hot Springs Farmers & Artisans Market on April 29. Members of the community brought out their furry friends to participate in a day of fun, while alerting the community of the need for volunteers.
“It went great,” said Thomason. “We had several volunteers sign up, so hopefully we can really get this program off the ground and running.”
Volunteering is not limited to working directly with the patients and their pets; donations of food and unused pet supplies are greatly appreciated. All volunteers working directly with patients and pets must have a valid driver’s license, and be able to pass a standard background check.
To learn more about the Pet Peace of Mind program, and other volunteer opportunities with Arkansas Hospice, call 501-318-9992.