Pet hospice supports animals, their owners

Monroe NewsJuly 12, 2014 

— When her beloved dog was diagnosed with bone cancer, Kathy Jay was stunned.

The veterinarian asked whether she wanted to euthanize the animal that same day.

"I was numb," the Raisinville Township resident told the Monroe News ( http://bit.ly/1jhkjWS ). "I thought, 'I just can't deal with this.' " With her head spinning, Jay said she wasn't ready and neither was Doc, her 175-pound Great Dane.

Doc lived for several months after his diagnosis with the help of pet hospice and services provided by Four Paws Vet Wellness and Dr. Monica Turenne.

"He was a big dog and took up lots of room, but in my heart, when he was gone, there was a big void," Jay said. "Hospice was a way to give him good quality of life, not necessarily quantity."

Jay first noticed something was wrong with her dog's front paw in February. She thought it might be a sprain from the animal jumping in and out of the car.

Instead, 7-year-old Doc had a small tumor. Amputation was not an option for such a large breed.

"We knew there was no way he'd learn to maneuver on three legs," she said.

A few days after the diagnosis, Jay called the vet and asked whether there was an option besides euthanasia. The staff initially didn't seem to have one. Then one of the workers told her about Turenne, who operates a mobile pet practice based in Ann Arbor that travels as far south as Monroe.

"My dog was my whole world, and I just wasn't ready to give up," Jay said. "He rescued me when I had my two small strokes, and I needed to do what I could for him."

Jay's partner, Michael Shufelt of Monroe, also was attached to Doc. He would watch baseball games with the dog and take him to watch trains.

To Jay, though, Doc was like her child.

"If a child is sick, a parent will do what they can," she said. "For pet owners, we don't always have other places to turn to for support."

As part of hospice treatment, Doc received massages and Reiki treatments. Jay learned the types of medication to give, the foods to feed and how to keep Doc comfortable during his final months of life. His tumor became as large as a melon before he died.

"Some days, he would be sick and then other days, not sick at all," Jay explained. "Up until his last day, he still had the sparkle in his eyes."

When the dog wouldn't eat, Jay called the vet, who offered advice on ways to keep fluids in the animal's body.

"The entire time, Dr. Monica was always available to talk," she said. "She told me Doc would pass when he was ready, and that's what he did."

Doc died in May at home just hours before Turenne was scheduled to euthanize him.

Turenne said she works with dogs and cats, but pet hospice is not for everyone. She begins with a consultation and explains what hospice is for animals.

"Hospice requires people to be dedicated and present for their pet in a lot of ways," the vet explained. "The care is both physical and emotional. It's not just about pills."

People who work outside the home or leave their pets for long periods of time likely would not fit the hospice clientele, Turenne said.

"If they have a terminally ill pet, in some situations, hospice isn't feasible," she said. "We talk about the optimal choice for the animal."

Although Jay loved Doc deeply, she didn't want to keep him around just for her sake.

"I wanted to keep him around forever, but I knew that wasn't fair to him," she said.

The length a pet is under hospice care varies. Pets can live for just a few days or up to a year, depending on the circumstances.

Jay — who now has a new companion, 13-month-old Buddy, also a Great Dane — said she wants to bring awareness to the Monroe area about pet hospice. Next May, close to the anniversary of Doc's death, she plans to host a walk at Munson Park.

In the future, if she has a dog close to the end of its life, Jay said she would use pet hospice service again.

"I'd use it in a heartbeat," she said. "It was such a beacon of hope. We were truly lost in the storm, but we were able to see what was best for him."

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Information from: Monroe News, http://www.monroenews.com

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