December 14, 2013

Palmyra hospice patient has less worry with pet program

New Hospice Volunteers of Somerset County program called Pet Peace of Mind helps patients take care of their pets.

By Doug Harlow
Staff Writer

Buddy the dog is Wealthy Shaw’s best friend.

click image to enlarge

Best friends: Wealthy Shaw, 75, sits with her great-granddaughter Mikayla Call, 3, and two dogs in her son’s kitchen in Palmyra on Friday. Shaw is in hospice care and receives extra help with care for her pets Buddy, a 9-year-old black Lab and Rusty, a pit bull mix.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

click image to enlarge

HOSPICE CARE: A new hospice program is helping Wealthy Shaw, 75, care for her best friend, Buddy, a 9-year-old black Lab.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

Peace of mind for hospice patients with pets

How Pet Peace of Mind assists with the pets of hospice patients.

• Transportation to and from veterinarian and grooming appointments

• Assistance with feeding and the purchase of pet food

• Dog walking and playtime

• Maintaining a clean environment for the patient

• Veterinary referrals

• Transportation to health care facilities to visit owners

• Temporary foster care and assistance in finding a “forever” home for the pet when the owner dies

From the Nathan Adelson Hospice, a participant in the Pet Peace of Mind program

Hospice Volunteers of Somerset County will offer a four-hour volunteer training session for Pet Peace of Mind from 1-5 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 22, at the hospice office, 41 Main St., Skowhegan. To sign up call interim director Nina Pleasants at 474-7775, ext. 2.

The nine-year-old Labrador retriever that Shaw took in as a stray eight years ago sleeps beside her bed and shadows her every move during the day.

He’s her protector, she said.

So when Shaw, 75, became ill and couldn’t look after the dog properly, Hospice Volunteers of Somerset County stepped in with a new program called Pet Peace of Mind, in which volunteers take care of Buddy when Shaw is away from home for any length of time.

As a Hospice patient, Shaw said she doesn’t have to worry about Buddy any more.

Shaw lives with her son, Dale Call, and his dog Rusty, a pit bull terrier mix, on a rural road about a mile off U.S. Route 2 in Palmyra. With hospice volunteers, both dogs are in good hands if anything goes wrong, she said.

“They see me, they ask me if my dogs are doing good,” Shaw said. “It’s a good thing. I don’t have to worry now. I’m so glad. It makes me feel good now.”

Nina Pleasants, interim executive director of Hospice Volunteers of Somerset County, said her group administers non-medical assistance to patients and their families in partnership with medical services at MaineGeneral Hospice and Hospice of Eastern Maine.

“We go in, we run errands, we help care givers and get people access to resources; we’ll cook a meal — whatever they need,” Pleasants said. “We work with somebody who is ill or restricted in movement or needs help. It’s end of life care, mostly. Pet Peace of Mind allows patients to complete their end of life journey without worrying about their pet’s current needs.”

Pet Peace of Mind was started at Hospice Volunteers of Somerset County as the first such program in Maine in October. The program began with a $5,000 grant from the Banfield Charitable Trust, a Portland, Ore. based group working to keep pets and people together, making sure pet owners will never have to surrender their pets.

The program model, developed by the trust, says that people bond with their pets in much the same way they bond with people. Program volunteers buy pet food and medicine if necessary, assist in veterinary visits, take the pets for walks, provide grooming and give them the love and attention they have come to expect from their owners.

As families deal with grief and loss during hospice care, the pets may be overlooked, forgotten or treated as an afterthought by family members unfamiliar with the patient’s bond with a pet, according to the Banfield website.

“Pets are treated and loved like family members and they comfort their owners much like a close friend or relative,” according to the Banfield mission statement. “It is no wonder then that during one of the most important and challenging life stages — the end-of-life journey — pets can play a critical role.”

Pleasants agrees, noting that the Somerset Hospice currently has two Pet Peace of Mind clients: Shaw in Palmyra and another woman in Fairfield.

She said volunteers impress upon the two women that the care they provide is not a reflection of their neglects of their pets — it is assistance for them and their best friends — their pets.

Kandyce Powell, executive director of Maine Hospice Council & Center for End-of-Life Care in Augusta, said the relationship between medical patients and their pets helps emotionally and physically.

She said studies show that the purring of a cat or the wag of a dog’s tail actually can lower blood pressure in a patient.

“The one thing that animals give us is unconditional love and we often don’t give that to each other,” Powell said. “Pets fill a gap in our lives and they become to some people like their children, like their best friend. Animals provide so much comfort to us.”

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