posted July 15th, 2009 by
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Story and Photos by Pat Atkinson

Jack Black was only 10-months old and living under a house trailer with five other puppies and four adult dogs when the hospice staff first met the furry gang.

Jack’s owner, Lloyd, was a Vietnam vet with a gruff exterior and a tender heart. And he was on his end-of-life journey, softened and assisted by the caring people from Hospice of Green Country.

A relative of Lloyd’s had dropped off four adult Weimeraners, earlier purchased for breeding. Along came a black Labrador and soon there were six puppies.

“When we first admitted Lloyd to hospice, we discovered that he had 10 dogs running around and he was overwhelmed,” recalls Rev. Delana McNac, HGC’s director of spiritual care.

Lloyd and the dogs didn’t know how fortunate they were to be connected to Tulsa’s only non-profit hospice organization that also has a program to care for patients’ pets caught up in the end-of-life process.

Homes were found for three of the adult dogs and plans made to vaccinate the puppies. “But we were too late,” McNac says. On vaccination day, the puppies were all dying with distemper. Only puppy Jack and the adult Weimeraner survived.

“I knew then that Jack was special. He had pneumonia, but he still wagged his tail when I petted and talked to him … he had a quiet strength about him that spoke straight to my heart,” she recalls.

It’s that heart-to-heart bond that is the essence of Pet Peace of Mind, HGC’s unique program that enables hospice patients to keep their pets at home with them throughout their illnesses, ensuring that the deep human-animal bond does not become a casualty at a time when other losses are occurring.

The program provides a range of services for its clients’ pets such as transportation to and payment for vet care or grooming, and buying food, medication and kitty litter, flea and tick treatment, and pain and comfort care for elderly pets. It also helps patients with planning for animal placement after death.

Tulsa’s Pet Peace of Mind is going national now as a model for establishing similar programs in hospices around the country. Banfield Charitable Trust, based in Portland, Ore., contacted McNac a year ago when trust officials were looking for ways to support hospice patients and their pets. Its mission is fostering programs to keep pets and people together and Tulsa’s two-yearold program is a natural match for Banfield. McNac will be involved in reviewing grant requests and training hospice staffs nationwide.

McNac was a veterinarian before transitioning into her chaplaincy training, bringing with her to hospice a professional and personal awareness of the importance of the bond between people and their loving and faithful furry companions throughout life, especially at life’s end.

Assisted by the pet-loving staff at HGC, she established Pet Peace of Mind in July, 2007 funded from her own pocket, later from an anonymous donor and HGC.

McNac’s acquaintance with a “portly” Dachshund named Stretch sparked the idea for pet hospice care four years ago at a different hospice program. Stretch’s owner Harold and the little weenie dog were inseparable from the moment Stretch unexpectedly waddled through Harold‘s door and into his heart.

As Harold’s and his wife’s health deteriorated, his family decided to send the dog to live out of state and Harold’s health accelerated downhill. Grieving and isolated while sitting in a darkened room, he confided to McNac how he missed his little dog, worried about Stretch, was angry that the family took him away and afraid the relative might have taken Stretch to a shelter.

McNac recalls: “My last visit was one I will never forget. Harold laid on his bed, fully clothed, talking nonsensically to no one in particular, staring at the television. Beside him, where Stretch had always laid, Harold petted an invisible dog over and over again. He died later that night.”

She says she later founded Pet Peace of Mind because she believes, “We could have changed the end of Harold’s life if we had taken Stretch in, placed him in a foster home and brought him to visit Harold on a regular basis with hospice volunteers.” And the hospice staff would have helped Harold plan ahead for Stretch’s home life after Harold’s death.

As Pet Peace of Mind was being launched, little survivor Jack Black was one of the earliest pets aided by Hospice of Green Country’s program.

“He cheated death,” McNac says. After the death of Jack’s owner, McNac adopted the brave, black Labrador-Weimeraner cross. Jack often visits HGC’s offices, walking the hallways carrying toys, greeting and acknowledging staff members and volunteers.

“He cheers up everyone he meets and gives all of us motivation and inspiration,” she says.

Hospice of Green Country’s Pet Peace of Mind program has gone national.

Portland, Oregon-based Banfield Charitable Trust is offering start-up funding to nonprofit hospice programs across the country, based on a how-to manual written at Banfield’s request by Pet Peace of Mind founder Rev. Delana McNac, spiritual director at HGC and a former veterinarian.

Pet Peace of Mind in Tulsa, founded two years ago, has cared for 150 pets owned by approximately 50 hospice patients.

Banfield directors were looking for another way to continue the trust’s mission to fund or administer innovative programs keeping pets and families together.

“For many in hospice care, their physical condition leads to a decrease of previously enjoyed social opportunities and relationships. Their pets offer unconditional love and acceptance, comfort and companionship when it’s needed most – when friends and family aren’t seen as frequently, or when words are too hard to say,” the Banfield’s recent media announcement notes.

Banfield grants will include training by McNac and others to help hospices across the country offer pet care to patients physically or financially unable to provide essentials for their pets. Sometimes simple tasks like walking, feeding, grooming or a trip to the veterinarian are difficult. The program provides these services and more. The trust is associated with Banfield veterinary clinics based in PetSmart stores.

Grants foster Banfield’s goal of helping hospice patients “complete their end-of-life journey with the comfort and companionship of their pet, without worrying about their pet’s current or future needs.”

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