From the Orlando Sentinel, Monday, May 7, 2012
by Eloisa Ruano Gonzalez www.orlandosentinel.com
Adriana and Joseph Luciano (Hospice patient) play with Niobe and Cha-Cha.
Niobe and Cha-Cha raced to the couch toward hospice volunteer Jim Hays during a visit to the Four Corners home of patient Joseph Luciano.
The pooches competed to get the volunteer's attention, barking and wildly wagging their tails. They darted off only after he rubbed behind their ears.
"They took to me right away," said Hays, 64. "I just visit with them and show them a little attention — and I bring treats. It's just part of the visit."
In Central Florida, hospice volunteers are stepping in more and more to care for the pets of dying patients — feeding and walking dogs, administering flea medication, driving pets to the groomer or veterinarian and more.
"Hospice is supposed to take care of the patient and the family," said Lisa Gray, volunteer department manager of Cornerstone Hospice and Palliative Care, which serves seven counties including Lake, Orange and Osceola. "For a lot of them, their family is their pet."
Cornerstone, which rolled out the pet-care program a few months ago in Lake, paid to board Luciano's dogs while the 85-year-old Navy veteran, his wife, Adriana, and Hays took a weekend trip to Pensacola. The hospice organization plans to offer the pet program to patients in Orange and Osceola counties within the next few weeks.
Adriana Luciano, 61, said she's still able to feed and walk the dogs — Niobe is a bichon frise and Cha-Cha a mixed breed — in between caring for her ailing husband. However, she said it's a relief to have Cornerstone in case she needs help with the dogs, who sleep with them in the bedroom.
"They're like children. We can't leave them alone for more than a few hours," she said.
Throughout the country, hospices are starting to recognize the therapeutic benefits of keeping the animal and owner together until the end, said Delana Taylor McNac, founder and manager of Pet Peace of Mind, a national organization that works with other hospices around the country. Nationwide, 50 hospices offer the program.
"It's catching on now that hospice is beginning to see a cultural change on the importance of pets," she said.
Cornerstone, which serves more than 700 patients and already has volunteers bring their pets into assisted-living facilities to visit hospice patients, is one of two nonprofits in the state to partner with Pet Peace of Mind. It received a grant to provide pet care, such as buying food for those who can't afford it.
Taylor McNac, a former hospice chaplain and veterinarian from Tulsa, Okla., estimated that 10 to 20 percent of hospice patients have pets. But only about half of them are receiving pet-care assistance. She said some patients have refused to go into hospice centers out of fear of giving up their pets.
"The pets provide them comfort when they're aging and going through the end-of-life journey. It's important to do whatever we can to keep them together," she said. At least three other hospices in Florida have applied to the Pet Peace of Mind program, she said.
Hospice of the Comforter, which serves about 500 patients a day in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties, doesn't have a formal pet program, but its volunteers have been caring for patients and their pets as long as the nonprofit has been around, volunteer services director Rose van der Berg said.
"Pets are another member of the family," she said. "We recognize that."
Feeding an animal or dropping it off at the vet is considered a "standard" task such as doing household chores and running errands. Occasionally, hospice volunteers help find the pet a new home once the owner dies.
"It gives them [patients] peace of mind to know that all those they love, including their pets, will be taken care," van der Berg said.
That's the spirit the South Lake Animal League brings as it helps Cornerstone Hospice provide a "safe haven" for orphaned animals until a home can be found to take them in, president Doreen Barker said.he league is looking for a permanent home for a cat in foster care and housing another cat at its no-kill animal shelter in Groveland, she said, "We will love and care for these pets until we find them a happy new home," Barker said.
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