Because most pet owners tend to outlive their pets, there comes a time in most pet-human relationships when time starts to run out for your beloved cat or dog. Until just a few years ago, this simply meant dread-filled days of watching your fur child deteriorate until it finally crossed the Rainbow Bridge, with or without your help. Today, there is an alternate route—and it’s one about which all of us should be aware. Just as hospice care options are becoming increasingly available to terminal human patients, a “new breed” of veterinarians has emerged to help support pets and their caregivers through those final days, weeks or months. While it is not yet considered an official veterinary specialty, Certified Hospice and Palliative Care Veterinarians provide an in-depth focus on comfort, peace, quality of life and alleviation of pain, as well as offering education and support to the pet's caregivers. In most cases, these veterinarians do their work in the pet’s home environment rather than the clinical atmosphere of a veterinary office.
Connecting With a Hospice Vet
This writer’s introduction to this new field came at, of all places, a wine tasting at her neighborhood liquor store. It was hard not to notice that the store owner was occasionally dabbing at tears as she poured the wine, and easy to understand why; her dog had passed a few days previously and clients were offering their sympathies. But the manager wasn’t just talking about her dog—she was also singing the praises of a wonderful vet who had provided an unheard-of level of support while the dog was declining, and who finally came to her home to ease the dog across the Bridge. Since my heart cat, Birdie (profiled several times in this magazine), was then suffering from kidney disease, I immediately asked for an introduction. That was how I came into contact with Dr. Rebecca Schoenberg of Autumn Care and Crossings.
A graduate of Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Schoenberg has been practicing small animal medicine in Massachusetts since 2001. She is proud to be a member of the first-ever graduating class of Certified Hospice and Palliative Care Veterinarians, a distinction she shares with fewer than 60 other veterinarians worldwide. She not only assisted me with Birdie’s passing, but provided us with some desperately-needed support when we later lost a kitten under tragic circumstances. She has very graciously agreed to be interviewed for Cat Talk in order to help breeders and exhibitors learn more about this fast-growing field.
I subsequently learned that, according to Dr. Schoenberg, most hospice vet clients locate their vets much as I did; through word-of-mouth referrals from friends or acquaintances. “Some referrals do come from other veterinarians, and this is becoming more frequent as more vets learn that hospice care is a resource that we can offer, but to be honest, most people hear about us from their friends or neighbors who have had veterinary hospice experiences of their own,” she says. “I do think that breeders could be an amazing resource—so many caregivers look to their breeders as a source of knowledge and support. Just letting people know that veterinary hospice is an option and that there's a path of care that focuses on comfort, education and support, would be an amazing contribution,” she adds. “Even if the clients are physically distanced, learning about veterinary hospice, in general, can give them the information they need to research and find a practitioner in their area.” One way to do that research is through the International Association for Animal Hospice and Palliative Care, which offers a provider directory on its web site at https:// iaahpc.org/.
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