In Their Darkest Hour: Care for Dying Pets

The desire to lend comfort and healing to elders of failing health who are also scared and alone was - and continues to be - a prime motivator for me being a speech-language pathologist in a medical setting.

At no other time do our elders need us more than when the shade of death approaches. This holds just as true for our furry and feathered companions. Yet an untolled number of pets who once knew love are surrendered to shelters each year either because they are afflicted with disease, or their clocks are winding down and the humans to which they are bonded simply don’t want to deal.

Essentially, this is a death sentence for the pet.

Makes me wonder what philosophy these people hold toward the sick or elderly in their human family. What happens to them when rouge cells take root, synapses fail to fire and the mind wanders far from home? Are they discarded as easily as their pets were?

Now consider the kind of person who welcomes into their home a once-loved animal companion they know is soon to pass. Across the U.S., more and more groups and families who rescue are choosing to shine a light at the end of a dying pet’s darkening tunnel.

Inspired by a program run by the ASPCA for both dogs and cats, the rescue group, Foster Dogs NYC, created “Fospice” (Foster + Hospice). Since July 2013, this program has matched terminally-ill dogs with individuals and families wise and brave enough to know that one day of love can breathe life into everyone.

Dogs deemed not medically healthy enough for adoption by most shelters can be ensconced in the warmth, caring and medical attention they deserve - that any being who has served as a faithful companion deserves. “Fospice" parents receive a sponsorship package including a donation to the rescue group that fosters the pup, a dog bed from Harry Barker, a custom portrait by My Animal Art, a 6-month subscription to BarkBox, and a handmade orange “rescue leash” from Found My Animal.

Muttville in San Francisco covers palliative care costs and offers support and guidance for their special foster families. MaxFund in Denver offers a similar program for special-need dogs and cats. The foster families participating in these programs are generous beyond words.

Just like human babies, puppies and kittens are adorable. It is almost a no-brainer to love them . . . and therein lies the problem. Because, just like human babies, puppies and kittens become adolescents, then adults, then seniors. Sickness can and often does strike at any time along life’s fragile thread; a thread any one of us humans could be hanging from.

Both the decision to have children or not and whether or not to take in a companion animal should be nothing less than a “full-brainer.”

One does not have to enroll in the “Fospice” program to experience the inevitable. Whether it be the result of a sudden and rapidly progressing disease process or just plain old age, the dying process is inescapable. Part of the bargain one takes on when conceiving children or taking in pets, I believe, is to bear witness to every phase of their lives.

We may not know when, but everyone of fur and flesh has an expiration date.

Where will you be when your loyal companion’s date arrives?