Paw-ty with a PUR­POSE

Area hospice in­tro­duces Pet Peace of Mind pro­gram

The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - Her Pets - By Grace Brown

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 to­peace­of­, 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 par­tic­i­pat--

ing 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 & Ar- ti­sans 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.

Harper White, 3, right, pets Sil­via, held by Har­riet Hawkins.

Heather Sower­butts, left, and Scott Red­ing with Mahi, an Ibizan hound.

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