Colorado State University’s pet hospice program currently has veterinary students available to help community members with pets who are terminally ill. The program, housed by the Argus Institute at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, provides services and consultation to community members free of charge within a 30 mile radius of the hospital. The program is expanding the number of student volunteers from 26 to 36 who are trained to offer hospice care to ill pets.
CSU pet hospice connects veterinary students with people whose dog or cat is terminally ill, yet still able to be cared for at home. While students cannot perform advanced care at a client’s home or euthanasia, they can assist with basic support and can be a liaison between the patient’s family and the attending veterinarian. Students help monitor the pet’s vital signs, pain level and level of comfort, eating and drinking habits and general quality of life. They work closely with the family’s veterinarian to help implement that veterinarian’s plan for the pet. They offer emotional support to the families as well.
Because the service is free and run by student volunteers, the hospice has had a limit of cases 10 at a time. With the expanded number of students at the end of the year, they can now care for up to 15 patients at one time. Veterinary students volunteer their time and regularly visit families with ill pets – from weekly to several times a week, if needed – at the pet’s home. The students who volunteer with the program are provided with specialized training similar to nurses who serve in human hospice programs.
“Through pet hospice, families are able to keep their pet comfortable and connected to the family at home during the pet’s last days,” said Gail Bishop, coordinator for the program. “Because only animals with terminal illnesses are accepted into the program, virtually all cases in pet hospice end in euthanasia when the pet’s illness has progressed to a point beyond a comfortable quality of life. In addition to providing basic care, hospice student volunteers educate pet owners about their pet’s deteriorating health and their own grief. They provide support before, during and after the pet’s euthanasia.”
Student volunteers spend time with the pet’s family. The students discuss the pet’s health and provide information about signs that indicate that the pet is in pain or needs additional medical assistance. They also educate pet owners on the progression of the illness and advocate for the patient in finding care options.
To qualify for pet hospice, the pet must be terminally ill with a life expectancy of three months or less; the pet can be made comfortable at home; the pet owner has a veterinarian who manages the case and will work with the CSU pet hospice volunteers; the client must be willing to work with the student volunteers in their home; the pet’s temperament must be amenable so that the students can work with the pet in a safe manner; and the client’s home must be within 30 minutes of the CSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital.
Since the inception of the program in 2003, CSU’s pet hospice has helped 90 patients and their families and worked with 22 local veterinary clinics. As a result of the program, more than 120 veterinary students have received training and experience. CSU has the only university based, veterinary student led program in the world.
The pet hospice program was developed by CSU’s Argus Institute to help veterinary students understand, empathize and connect to pet owners who are losing a pet while learning interpersonal and bedside manner skills for their future work as a veterinarian.
For more information about the pet hospice program, call (970) 219-7335 during regular weekday business hours or (970) 219-7336 after hours. Information also is available online at http://www.argusinstitute.colostate.edu/pethospice.htm.