By Arden Moore
Now, perhaps more than ever, pets are stepping up their A-game when it comes to unleashing compassion, laughter and safe companionship for many of us during this relentless pandemic.
In my home, I am enjoying a full circle of life with dogs and cats of all ages, from young Emma and Rusty to middle-aged Kona and Casey to our stately senior cat, Mikey.
I never take for granted a single day I get to spend with them. And, when it is time to say goodbye to them due to fading health, the farewells will take on added meaning. My memories with them will never disappear.
Last December, my former canine surfing star, Cleo, died at age 17. She was a terrier mix, about 12 pounds soaking wet, but fearless when it came to riding waves. Her surfboard now hangs above the door of my backyard office as a lasting way to celebrate her life.
With all the COVID-19 health restrictions, the safety protocol in veterinary clinics here and all over the country requires pet parents to pull into the parking lots, call the clinics and, with face masks on, hand over their pets to clinic staffers who usher them into exam rooms. You know the drill.
We wait in our vehicles for veterinarians to call us with the results and then wait for our pets to be returned to our vehicles.
That’s why I am glad to see a new field of veterinary medicine being recognized and embraced: pet hospice care and, yes, at-home euthanasia services. Credit a pair of University of Florida veterinary school graduates, Dr. Mary Gardner and Dr. Dani McVety, for leading this effort.
They co-founded Lap of Love in 2009 with one practice in Tampa and now have Lap of Love veterinary centers all over the United States, including one in Boynton Beach that serves all of Palm Beach County.
“Veterinary hospice provides pets comfort, pain relief, anxiety relief and the love they need during the final stage of their life,” says Gardner. “Hospice provides owners the tools to manage their pets not only medically and physically, but also emotionally. Most importantly, we help owners plan for the goodbye.”
The Lap of Love center that serves Palm Beach County is headed by veterinarians Tiffany Matheson, Blaine Brennock and Kimberly Moen. Due to the pandemic, they are exclusively doing at-home euthanasia because hospice appointments require longer periods of contact. So, they now offer formal phone consultations.
“We have a higher volume of calls now than before COVID,” says Moen. “We now need to take added safety precautions in homes, from wearing masks, checking temperatures, spraying down everything we use, disinfecting every square inch to washing our hands multiple times.
“I miss that extra human touch, like shaking hands or sharing hugs at the end. I miss that touch support, but I know we are here to support people and to make sure their pets are as comfortable as possible and that they transition with dignity.”
Moen knows this experience firsthand. She adopted her “heart” dog, Morena, as a pup and together they lived in Arizona, Colorado, California, St. Kitt and Florida for 14 years.
Her black Labrador retriever could “stand up to sassy dogs” and sported a contagious happy nature, but her body was weakening to the tolls of time.
“In February, I knew she was terminal, but I waited for a good day for her to make the transition,” says Moen, who also has a retriever mix named Boca. “I got her a rotisserie chicken and she ate all of it — including fat, seasoning and cartilage. She loved every minute. I gave her a sedative about halfway through the meal. It takes a few minutes to kick in.”
She continues, “Then I gave her a super comfortable overdose of anesthesia and hugged her. She was my heart dog.”
As Moen recommends to other pet parents, she created paw prints of Morena in clay that are displayed on her bookshelf. She plans one day to take Morena’s ashes out to the ocean, a place she loved.
“Morena would squeal with high-pitched delight in pools and in rivers and she would fetch balls in the ocean,” she says. “She was a very cool dog.”
Moen has done zoo internships, was a veterinary technician before becoming a veterinarian and practiced at small animal clinics before she joined Lap of Love three years ago to focus on pet hospice care and euthanasia.
“People don’t have to drive back from a clinic upset, because we come to them,” she says. “They get to mourn in the privacy of their homes. I get to be of service to people facing one of the hardest times of their lives and I am honored to be able to do so.”
HOW WILL I KNOW IT'S THE RIGHT TIME?
Lap of Love veterinarians say end of life depends on the pet. They offer this checklist to help pet parents know when it is the right time for euthanasia. The pet:
• Is no longer interested in food or water.
• Has chronic incontinence (accidents in the house) or is unable to go to the bathroom without falling down.
• Is no longer greeting you when you come home.
• Is no longer patrolling the yard or protecting his territory the way he used to.
• Is no longer grooming himself.
• No longer wags her tail or holds it down constantly.
• Isolates herself from the people or other pets in the home, particularly in places she usually does not go.
• Shows a decreased interest in playing.
• Is unable to stand or walk on his own.
• Shows a change in attitude (depression, aggression, confusion).
• Doesn’t want to do the things he loves.
• Has fewer good days than bad.
To learn more about Lap of Love’s services, visit www.lapoflove.com.
Arden Moore, founder of FourLeggedLife.com, is an animal behavior consultant, author, speaker and master certified pet first aid instructor. She hosts Oh Behave! weekly on PetLifeRadio.com. Learn more at www.ardenmoore.com.