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What Makes a Palliative Pet?

14 Dec

What makes a palliative pet? Primarily personality and physical attributes. Not every dog or cat can become a palliative pet. Just as you would not ask an old Pekinese to herd cattle in the Australian outback nor should you expect a young Border Collie to engage in palliative care. There are exceptions to the rule of course but on the whole, personality is greatly influenced by breed and a palliative pet must have a specific personality type. Let’s look at what services a palliative pet provides to help clarify an animal’s suitability for the role.

Palliative care is an approach to health care and delivery of medical services for people who are living with a life-threatening illness. The focus of care is on achieving comfort and ensuring respect for the person nearing death and maximizing quality of life for the patient, family and loved ones. Palliative care does not seek to cure, instead the intent is to manage pain and other symptoms, provide social, psychological, cultural, emotional, spiritual and practical support. Further, the role is to support caregivers and provide support for bereavement.

In a private setting or hospital or hospice, the environment is generally calm, quiet and temperate. Persons nearing the end of life do not engage positively for any length of time with high energy hyperactive people or animals. In my experience, a palliative pet must be calm by nature, enjoy the company of people without exhibiting excessive vocalizations or physical reactions. How would I define excessive? A simple greeting should not include barking, whining, pawing, scratching, jumping up, mouthing, nipping or licking. While engaging with a patient, the animal should be calm, submissive and willingly accommodate petting and stroking.  The animal should not negatively react to gentle stroking or touching any part of its body.  Small dogs and cats often find themselves invited to join the patient on the bed and should be comfortable with that. In such a situation, it is not unusual for a palliative pet and the patient to fall asleep together.

A patient’s day is often unmarked by change and a visit from a palliative pet is often a well anticipated highlight. The pet visit provides an opportunity for the patient to engage socially, emotionally and often precipitates enjoyable discussions of childhood memories and life experiences with animals.

So a palliative pet should be healthy, safe, and not pose any type of risk to the people being visited.  They must be the appropriate size and age while possessing an appropriate attitude and aptitude for quiet interaction.  A palliative pet requires well developed interactive skills that positively engage their end of life clients.

As a pet owner, you may have tremendous confidence that your animal meets these behavioural criteria, yet in a hospital or hospice situation more may be asked of you.  It is often expected that an independent agency such as a veterinarian, the SPCA or a group dedicated to companion or service animals such as Pets and Friends or the Delta Society evaluate your animal for suitability.  Not only does this ensure the suitablility of your pet for the job in also ensures that liability insurance issues can be dealt with appropriately.  You should also be expected to provide documented evidence that your animal has received its full complement of vaccinations and that it is free of transmissible disease.

Please feel free to comment below!


Season’s Greetings

1 Dec

As we pass into December, thoughts turn to Christmas and decorations come out, a tree goes up and the efforts of volunteers over the past year are celebrated at the hospice.  This season for most of us is a happy time spent with family and friends.  It is a time to reflect on the year gone by and to lay plans for the coming one.

For some patients and their families in the hospice, this holiday season will be indelibly marked by sadness.  Future Christmases will be remembered as the time a loved one died and forever more will be absent from family celebrations.  Yet many residents in the hospice embrace the opportunity to focus on the happy vibe that runs through the medical staff.  There is a special energy at this time of year and it feels good for some patients to participate actively; to focus on living, not dying.

Abby, my therapy dog, was a Christmas puppy and I remember her arrival to our home eleven years go.  We had taken several visits out to the breeder’s farm and were able to meet her father , a red poodle and her mum, a grey cockapoo cross.  They were both very calm with good social skills and full of energy.  As a family, we agreed on which puppy we wanted and when the day came to pick her up and take her home, we were vibrating with excitement.  Many professionals counsel against adding a puppy to the family at Christmas time on the grounds that there is too much going on, too much activity, too many strangers and thus too little focus on ensuring the proper training and socialization of the puppy.  For us, the opposite was true.  As the children were home from school and I was on holiday from work, we had scads of time to focus on Abby and develop consistent rules, boundaries and limitations.  With everyone at home she was able to bond with her pack and when visitors came to the house, we were able to ensure the greetings were appropriate, controlled and positive.  With four pairs of eyes on her during her waking hours, house training went quickly with few lapses.  It was also so incredibly cute to see her peering out from under the Christmas tree as she explored her new world.

Christmas Eve that year had us all reflecting on her Christmas stocking.  We assigned to Abby the stocking her predecessor Lily, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, had used for the previous six years.  As is the case for too many Cavs, Lily died from the inherited heart defect so common in the breed.   So it was with a mix of sadness and joy that we set out Abby’s stocking for Santa’s attentions.

This season Abby will be wearing a Christmas bow to the hospice and will bring smiles, joy and love to all.  May your holiday season be filled with the same.