Facing the End Together

Hospice care allows owners to provide comfort and pain relief for their terminally ill dogs.

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In 2009, Kim Clayton’s 14-year-old Golden Retriever mix, Dolly, was diagnosed with a cancerous nasal tumor. Traditional surgery, laser surgery and an experimental drug that was successful in Europe failed to cure the cancer. Clayton, who lives in Cullowhee, N.C., had exhausted all possible treatment options. "I had never put a dog down before, and I didn’t know how [to tell] it’s time.”

Clayton was most concerned about Dolly’s quality of life, so she opted to work closely with an experienced hospice veterinarian and brought Dolly to the clinic for weekly monitoring, pain medication and care of her surgical wound. Because Dolly loved to travel to the vet and was well enough to make the trip, she didn’t need a house call.

A hospice veterinarian and her staff monitored Dolly weekly, managing her pain. They taught Clayton how to care for Dolly’s wound, keep her comfortable and watch for signs of discomfort. At home, Clayton gave daily medications, watched Dolly constantly so she wouldn’t paw at her surgical site and endlessly adjusted her diet trying to find something she would eat until the only thing Dolly ate was fish. Through it all, Dolly was a trouper and enjoyed the extra attention. She lived a happy, pain-free life for several months, and was able to go on walks and play with other dogs.

Finally, in June of 2010, Clayton saw the signs her vet had talked at length with her about, such as restlessness, pacing, whining or other unusual behaviors, and knew Dolly was in pain. It was time to say goodbye. In a music-filled room surrounded by Clayton and several friends, Dolly was humanely euthanized while being petted by everyone she loved. "At that moment, she wasn’t in pain but at peace and almost smiling,” Clayton says.

This is the face of canine hospice care.

Hospice: a growing movement
Like people, today’s cats and dogs live longer because of advanced medical treatment that can fight illness and injury. But owners often face agonizing financial and emotional decisions when deciding how to treat their ailing animals. They must decide if their dogs should receive continued treatment, or if their plummeting quality of life calls for euthanasia to end their suffering.

 


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