What is hospice? It’s a challenging question, and one without a clear-cut answer. In the basic description of my web page, I know that I refer to hospice as a philosophy, and talk about terminal illness and aging, but that’s just scraping the surface of what hospice actually is.
Hospice is a scary term. People are used to it being connected to suffering, to the very end of life, and in some ways, to giving up hope. We think of hospice as what we offer our loved ones when there is nothing else we can do for them.
At the same time, what drew me to hospice was precisely the opposite. It was the chance to make a difference for people and animals who otherwise weren’t being helped. To take an animal who was in pain or distress and give them comfort and relief, especially if that animal is unable to make it in to a traditional veterinary office.
To take a person in distress or confusion, whose questions weren’t being answered and whose emotional needs weren’t being met, and give them understanding, support, and hope. Hope that, even if we can’t cure their pet’s disease, we can give them the best quality of life possible for as long as possible. And, most of all, to give that person the agency to be an active part in both their pet’s care and, when need be, the decision to let them pass.
I’ve had several people tell me that, while what I do sounds helpful, and while their pet is aging or ailing, that they just don’t think they need hospice because their pet isn’t dying yet. Hospice isn’t only about dying. It’s also about thriving in the face of age or illness, and it’s about finding the myriad of ways that we can improve quality of life for the animals we love and share our lives with. It’s about making things better before the end, as well as making that end peaceful and painless.
Hospice has many facets, and takes different shapes for different people and animals as it changes to meet their individual needs. It can be as simple as adding pain medication, yoga matts and support harnesses for an older dog with arthritis, or as complex as teaching the family of a pet with cancer how to give injections, change dressings around a feeding tube, and nurse them properly to prevent pressure sores. But ultimately, it all comes down to increasing options, educating family members, and giving support and guidance as we work together to make life better for the pets that we love, in whatever shape that takes.