With pet hospice, vet helps ease difficult days for animals and their humans

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Hospice is often viewed as a humane way to see a loved one through the most fragile moments and many will tell you most beautiful end of life moment.

Believe it or not the practice is no longer unique to humans.

A burgeoning new industry is selling compassion for pets in a hospice environment.  You can let them go in your own home.

The business mixes medical, psychological and ethical decisions when it comes to some of our closest companions.

About 20 years ago, one Chicago man realized there was an enormous void in the veterinary marketplace. People faced with saying goodbye to their beloved pets were doing it in a cold and impersonal doctor's office. A vet himself, Dr. Amir Shanan said there must be a better way. So in 1995 he put an ad in the yellow pages.

And his phone began to ring.

Dr Shanan makes house calls to help people through the difficult final days for their pet.

The initial visit, an assessment of the pet, can cost $300. Phone calls and emails after that are free. Additional house calls can cost a family another $300, but they say the peace of mind they get is priceless.

Laurie Norris put down her dog Oliver last summer during kidney failure. Dr. Shanan was called in one week before they eventually put the dog down. Norris says she wouldn't trade that week at home with Oliver for anything.

“It was a week we crammed full of memories and beautiful times together,” she says.

Norris now helps lead grief counseling for Dr. Shanan's practice.  There are support groups for grieving pet owners.

His sense of calm and control and his wisdom during this vulnerable time are all key to Dr. Shanan's style and meeting his clients' needs.

Needs like Susan Razzano's last February when she said goodbye to Mason, her rescue cat of 15 years.

“Within the first 15 minutes of my first meeting with Dr. Shanan, I realized that first visit was more about me than about the cat,” she says. "I would say it was 75% about me and 25% about the cat.”

These days her gratitude comes in the form of running Dr. Shanan's foundation. She helps raise money to help others afford this pet luxury that Dr. Shanan only delivers to cats and dogs. He does it 24 hours a day. 7 days a week. That's why this vet, turned author and teacher is considered a pioneer in the industry and is often referred to as the "Godfather of Animal Hospice.”

The only thing he can't do in his role at your home is administer general anesthesia, perform surgery or do any imaging.

He admits, the vast majority of animals receiving hospice end with euthanasia. Still, having it happen at home feels so right to so many who struggle to make these difficult life and death decisions for their dogs and cats.

"The pain that they are experiencing is just the other side of the same coin as the love that they have shared with the animal,” he says. "As you hurt, remember that you are hurting because you loved and you were loved and that was such a wonderful gift in any person's life."


More information:

Dr. Amir Shanan, DVM - Compassionate Veterinary Hospice's website

The International Association for Animal Hospice and Palliative Care 

Compassion For Pets