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Pet Peace of Mind program frees hospice clients of worry about animal companions

Friday, May 3, 2013 - 7:08 am

For two days before David Johnson's longtime companion died of cancer a few years ago, the couple's dog, Opie, a West Highland terrier, refused to leave her side.

Now Johnson, 71, has terminal cancer, but a new program through Visiting Nurse will ensure that he has peace of mind about the care of his dog, which will be able to stay with him, even when Johnson can no longer care for him.

Johnson is the first person in the “Pet Peace of Mind" program, which provides volunteer pet care services for the patients who are unable to take care of their pets while receiving hospice care. According to an agency news release, “They assist with pet food, transporting the pet to veterinary appointments, cleanup of animal waste, walking and boarding and finical assistance if necessary.”

”The training of volunteers, paperwork, and preparations took awhile,” said Kristen Rajchel, of Visiting Nurse, adding, “but they are now up and running.”

Johnson is grateful. The last time he was in the hospital he had some friends watch the dog, and Opie ran away. Luckily they found him, but it had made Johnson worry about what would happen the next time he could not be home with his dog.

Thursday afternoon Opie was perched on Johnson's knee as Johnson tried to demonstrate how Opie could say, "I love you." Plush dog beds under the dining room table and in the living room showed Opie is just “ a little bit spoiled,” Johnson said.

Since the death of his partner, Opie has become his main companion. He's not a dog; he is a member of the family. Although Johnson no longer walks his dog around the neighborhood because of all the big dogs, the two go on outings together to the bank, the grocery store and car wash. Johnson said the man at the car wash forgot Opie's treat the other day until Opie reminded him with some terrier grumbling.

The agency was able to fund the program through a grant from Banfield Charitable Trust, which gives grants to “nonprofit organizations and nonprofit hospices to support their efforts to keep pets and people together.”

Visiting Nurse is a locally based, nonprofit provider of palliative home care and hospice services to patients in their own home, assisted living or the agency's Hospice Home.

Visiting Nurse is taking donations from anyone interested in helping them fund the program, or in becoming a volunteer. For more information go to www.vnfw.org.