Terminally ill pets and their grieving families find comfort in

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					Terminally ill pets and their grieving
families find comfort in hands of hospice
By Cheryl Anderson • Post-Crescent staff writer • May 2, 2010

Ten years ago when Brenda Herubin and husband Bob adopted Woody, a yellow
labrador/German shepherd mix puppy, Brenda thought she might have gotten more dog
than she bargained for.

And she was right.

“Wonderful, wonderful,” is how the Clintonville woman now describes Woody.
“Everyone says, oh my dog is so smart. But he does seem to be an intelligent animal. And
you know labs, they like to please. He’s been great.”

When the couple learned in December that Woody had liver cancer, they understandably
were devastated. They braced for the heartbreak to come.

Valarie Hajek Adams (right) director of Healing Heart Pet Hospice in Appleton, makes a
house call to Woody, owned by Brenda Herubin of Clintonville. Woody has liver cancer.
(Post-Crescent photo by Sharon Cekada)

Lisa Peters, emergency and critical care veterinarian at the Fox Valley Animal Referral
Center in Appleton, suggested hospice care for the terminally ill dog.
Enter Valarie Hajek Adams, a certified veterinary technician and founder of the
Appleton-based Healing Heart Pet Hospice.

“She is so respectful and warm, such a great listener and source of comfort,” Herubin
said. “Someone who I didn’t feel foolish to cry and talk about what he meant to me. …
And so she’s my safety net with (Woody).”
Pet hospice is based on human hospice, which began in the early 1970s as an alternative
for terminally ill patients dying in hospital intensive care units while undergoing heroic
but hopeless treatment. Hospice provides compassionate care to patients at the end of
their lives and also supports families in the bereavement process.

Nearly identical to its human counterpart, the purpose of veterinary hospice is to
maximize the quality of life for terminally ill or dying pets in their own home, to embrace
owners’ decisions concerning the remaining time they have left with their pet and to give
dying pets and the people who love them quality time together.

“It’s just a matter of respect,” said Hajek Adams, director of Healing Heart Pet Hospice
and president of the Healing Heart Foundation. “It is my job to support you in a
compassionate and loving way.”

A CVT since 1972, Hajek Adams has spent the last 14 years working in emergency and
critical care at the Fox Valley Animal Referral Center. The job was an eye-opener.

“We witnessed animals that we could cure and heal and they’d go home and animals that
perhaps were at the end-stage of a disease process and all people wanted to do was get
them home for a little while instead of (have them) dying in a hospital,” she said.

Extending palliative care to the owners of pets seemed a given to Hajek Adams, who
spent two years researching the topic and hooked up with others already practicing pet
hospice. People like Alice Villalobos, a well-known pioneer in the field of cancer care for
companion animals, founding member of the Veterinary Cancer Society and creator of
Pawspice end-of-life palliative care.

There also was the Colorado State University’s Argus Institute, which offers support to
people who are facing difficult decisions regarding their pet’s health, and Dr. Amir
Shanan, who has offered animal hospice for more than 15 years as owner of
Compassionate Veterinary Care of Chicago.

Hajek Adams and a colleague also attended ThedaCare hospice training through
ThedaCare at Home and found all the information concerning human hospice completely
transferable to pets.

Research completed, Hajek Adams recommended starting pet hospice at the referral
center, which fully supported the idea, but had just launched an ophthalmology
department and, from a business standpoint, had to decline.

One of the veterinarians there suggested starting a nonprofit organization and backed the
suggestion with a donation. Healing Hearts Foundation was launched with the premise it
would sponsor programs honoring the spirit of the human/animal bond. The first program
was the pet hospice, which began in May 2008. Also planned are a program on pet loss
and bereavement and another on medical and financial aid for veterinary hardship cases.
Healing Heart Pet Hospice, which leases space at Fox Valley Animal Referral Center, is
comprised of Hajek Adams and fellow CVT Christy Rach, Peters and Lisa Flood, also an
emergency and critical care veterinarian. Forming a doctor/client/patient relationship is
mandatory per Wisconsin law.

Once hospice is called, a CVT conducts an at-home assessment. The hospice care team
then meets to discuss the pet, medications and problems, and to form the best plan to
make the pets remaining days the best they can be. Cost is dependent on the intensity of
care required.

Guy and Karen Smith’s purebred big standard poodle Monte, who died a year ago this
week, was a prince among pups.

“You could live a hundred lifetimes and never find another one,” Guy Smith of Black
Creek said, recalling the time four years ago when the poodle protected Karen from two
charging pit bulls.

When Monte was diagnosed with cancer of the spleen at Fox Valley Animal Referral,
Karen ran into Hajek Adams, who she’d met years before at a horse rescue. She offered
her help.

The couple was told Monte could die in a day but for sure within weeks.
“We would have done anything for a day with him,” Smith said, still choking up.
Working with Hajek Adams and Rach, the Smiths did bring Monte home. He lived four
pain-free days.

“It was wonderful,” said Smith, adding that Monte was a part of the family and, for them,
had the same status as a child.

Like the Smiths, Herubin’s goal also is to help Woody live his best life now.
“(Healing Heart Pet Hospice) has the same philosophy that I do: quality of life,” she said.
“As long as he has quality of life and wants to be around let’s do everything we can to
keep him around. … It’s like every day is a gift.”

But there are a lot of misconceptions about pet hospice, Hajek Adams said. “We have a
camp that thinks this is just a way to prolong life at any cost. We have another camp that
says why don’t we just euthanize these animals.”

It also is a bit of a paradigm shift for those in veterinary care.

“This certainly is not for everybody but to give somebody the option is everything,”
Hajek Adams said. “It is my job to give you information. It is not my job to tell you what
to do. It is my job to give you all the tools to make a good decision as an advocate for
your pet.
“At the end what we have with our clients is they are still sad but the regrets are not there
because you have somebody walking with you, not ahead of you and not behind you but
with you to make these decisions.”

Smith has felt that comfort.

“The last few days we had Monte at home was as normal as it could be,” he said. “If we
would have taken another direction, we’d always have regrets and wonder if we did it

“A common misconception is that hospice emphasizes death, which is not the case,”
Hajek Adams said. “Hospice care is about finding hope.”

And it’s a dignified way to say goodbye to a beloved pet — a pet like Woody.
Most days, he’s perky and happy. But three times since December his tumor has bled into
his liver, and one of these times it won’t stop when it starts.

“That will be his end then,” Herubin said. “And (Hajek Adams) said it should be peaceful
and not painful. He’ll just get tired and feel kind of weak and just want to sleep.”

What is hospice care?
- Hospice is not a place, but a compassionate philosophy focusing on death as part of life.
- Palliative care is provided to the terminally ill or dying pet in the comfort of home to
maximize quality of life.
- Hospice care is not an intention to cure disease but intends to prevent the disease
process from causing further anxiety and stress on the pet and the family.
- Hospice is not an alternative to euthanasia, but provides a safe and loving environment
in which to say goodbye.

When to seek out veterinary hospice care
- When euthanasia is being given as an option
- When treatment is not elected
- When the prognosis is guarded or poor
- When treatment has been sought and the patient now is in terminal stages

Hospice info
For more information on Healing Heart Pet Hospice, call 920-993-9193 or 920-450-7805

Cheryl Anderson: 920-993-1000, ext. 249, or canderson@postcrescent.com

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