Pet Hospice: Colorado Vet Offers End-Of-Life Care For Animals And Grief Support For Owners

Dr. Dan Parkinson of Durango, Colorado, offers hospice services for pets that parallel the end-of-life treatments that human hospice patients receive.

Dr. Dan, as he is best known, opened his clinic, Tender Heart Pet Hospice, in 2015, after helping local author and fellow Durangoean Ginger Jenks let her pet Rory go at the end of his brief hospice experience.

The vet explained that he spent years during his career making house calls to offer the same services to other pets and their families, but it was after Ginger and Rory that Dr. Dan made the full transition. He told The Durango Telegraph yesterday that not even retiring in 2013 could keep him away from pets or his hospice mission.

“People would stop me in City Market and thank me for house calls that I made years ago. This idea just kept bubbling up, and I finally had to say, ‘OK, I’m going to do it,” Dr. Dan said.

Dr. Dan admitted to the Telegraph that, while it does wound him to put the animals to sleep, he takes some comfort in knowing that, compared to the suffering that awaits terminally ill pets, he is giving them a good death, holding true to the translation of the word “euthanasia.”

Another contribution of Dr. Dan’s clinic is the education and support while the pets are receiving hospice services. He told the Telegraph that he walks the pet owners through everything they should expect and reassures them they are doing the right thing for their pets, especially being with them right up until the end. He agrees that it is a heart wrenching event for the owners, but he believes the owner’s presence at the end of the hospice treatments is what gives the pets peace.

“I think it’s the last nice thing that pets do for us. Even though it breaks our heart, there is an opportunity created to see that in this loss, it’s not all bad. We can be grateful for what we had with them and know that our lives have been touched. And in some way, maybe we’re just a little bit better – a little bit kinder, a little bit gentler,” he said.

The clinic delivers everything from office appointments to house calls, pain management to full hospice care services, and euthanasia to help pets pass on in comfort.

The hospice team also offers support group therapy once the animal is gone, and they help the pet owners with cremation arrangements and preparations. They feel it’s important to never belittle the grief of someone who has lost a pet.

Dr. Dan believes that each person is an expert in his or her own grief, especially after witnessing weeks of hospice services, and that the worst thing for a bereaved pet owner is for loved ones to tell them to stop crying and get another animal.

“Losing a pet can be one of the real heartbreaks in a person’s life,” he said.

The American Veterinary Medical Association, or AVMA, advises that, while the animal’s comfort is always considered first, there are factors which people should discuss with their vet when deciding if hospice care is right for their pets. The vet can determine the costs the services entail based on the specific hospice services and the estimated length of time those services will be provided.

Owners may need instruction on how to administer medications in the absence of the veterinary staff. Depending on the vet, he or she will either place the animal under constant supervision by the hospice clinic or organize a strict schedule of visits to the home to maintain the comfort of the pet.

Grieving pet owners should also seek counseling from a licensed therapist as well as the animal hospice team after the departure of a pet. Consult the AVMA website for more hospice information.

[Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images]