Pets, No Longer Forgotten, As Final Days Approach for Their Owner
Click here for more information about Pet Peace of Mind, and hospice programs in Oklahoma that offer the service.
Hospice care aims to make the last days of one’s life as peaceful and painless as possible. At a handful of programs in Oklahoma, that includes taking care of pets. Pet Peace of Mind, in Ponca City, Stillwater and Tulsa, takes all kinds of animals to doctor’s appointments, helps feed them, even takes them on walks. It’s all so those reaching the end get to spend it with their longtime companions…
“I did have one experience,” says Neda Lutman, as she describes a special trip she would take as a volunteer with Hospice of Green Country.
“I would go pick up the dogs where they were boarding at a vet and take them to where she was and sit in her room for two hours and let her have the dogs on her lap, and it was real important to her.”
All of this, and it was worth it. Lutman says she felt like she was doing something good. It’s hard to say how the patient felt, but I don’t think its exaggerating to say those were the best two hours of each day.
This isn’t an uncommon experience either. Rita Temple has volunteered with the hospice since it started offering care for pets.
“The pets and the owner, they’re just so excited to see each other. And it’s just gratifying to see what the reaction is between the pet and the owner because they’re just both are really happen and know where they belong.”
My problem with this story is I’ve never had a pet. No barking was heard in the Allen household, there was no litter box in the corner, I never had to feed the fish.
So I asked Valerie Bloodgood to try to make up for my 22 years without a pet in a couple sentences. She runs the program at Judith Karman Hospice in Stillwater. She also has five roommates at home: two dogs and three cats.
“They don’t care how sick you are. They don’t care that you’re not able to do some of the things you’re able to do or that you don’t look the way you did due to an illness so that pet provides just I’m not even sure if I can describe it other than its just unconditional love.”
Now, I understood why Oklahoma State University alum Dr. Delena Taylor- McNac would launch Pet Peace of Mind in 2007. Tulsa’s Hospice of Green Country was the first to get the program, and it has quickly spread nationwide. The Banfield Charitable Trust provides initial funding, and checks in to keep things running smoothly.
“For some folks the way that life has turned out they may outlived their peers, they may have family and extended family that live in another state or even in another country. And as a result, pets tend to fill that void relationally for people,” said Taylor-McNac.
Volunteer Neda Lutmen is in that camp. She’s retired and has her husband, but beyond that, not much extended family around northeast Oklahoma. Lutmen turns to animals to fill the void. Same combination as Valerie Bloodgood, too: two dogs, three cats. As Bloodgood tells me, a pet can help slow things down.
“It gives them a sense of continuity with their life and when they’re able to have their dog or cat curl up with them, who wouldn’t like that?”
At such a turbulent time, achieving emotional peace is more than enough. Rita Temple says patients sometimes find that will to live in their pets. When asked if Pet Peace of Mind is actually lengthening people’s lives, Temple responds,
“Oh yes, oh yes. Definitely. Probably better than a lot of medicine they have.”
When the patient eventually passes on, pets aren’t forgotten. If a family member can’t or won’t take them in, Pet Peace of Mind will find a home for them.