By ELINE de BRUIJN
For 14 years, Boston the Chihuahua has beaten the odds: One of his brothers was stillborn and the other was killed by an owl.
The Fort Worth pooch has lived a good life, but now his owner, Amber Weiss, is preparing for life after her “Little Old Man” — and looking into hospice care for one of her most beloved pets.
“I feel so responsible for their exit from this planet when the time comes,” Weiss said. “It was a blessing to understand what it would be like.”
Two veterinarians have established a North Texas affiliate for Lap of Love, the country’s largest network of pet hospice and in-home euthanasia services. Drs. Joanna Harchut and Erica Fry help elderly or otherwise ailing pets live their remaining days more comfortably and pass away peacefully in their homes.
Hospice care and techniques are best used for pets with chronic conditions. Veterinarians consult with owners, showing them how to keep pets comfortable and manage their pain. They offer tips on exercise, massage techniques, nutrition and mental stimulation.
Boston is healthy for his age but does have some mobility issues, so Weiss called Harchut for a consultation. The vet gave Weiss some ideas on how to help Boston get around the house.
“She was so soothing and patient,” Weiss said.
Harchut said some pet owners just need reassurance when it’s time to say goodbye — even when their pets seem to sense it. At the final visit, some dogs will see Harchut and get up off the floor for the first time in days, she said.
“They know when I walk in ‘she’s here to help me,’ and a lot of times they get really relaxed and come in front of me to lay down,” Harchut said. “They’re ready before we are. They know.”
Pet hospice services aren’t new, and Lap of Love is just one of a handful operating in Dallas-Fort Worth.
And the company’s service isn’t for everyone, however: The cost for one hourlong hospice appointment is $285, plus a possible travel fee to certain areas.
“I feel thankful that they found us and that they’re able to do this,” Harchut said of her clients, “because I know a lot of people aren’t financially able to do so.”
But after a single visit with Harchut, Weiss can’t imagine the alternatives.
“When she left, I thought there’s no other way,” Weiss said.
Dr. Mary Gardner founded Lap of Love in 2010 after her 13-year-old Samoyed was attacked by another dog. Snow White spent three weeks in and out of the pet hospital. Snow White never recovered, and neither did Gardner.
The Florida-based company she started now has 81 vets working in 24 states to help give families what “every pet deserves: a peaceful goodbye,” Gardner said.
“If we can make that end-of-life experience better, maybe they’ll be open to loving again,” she said. “It seems too early until it’s too late.”
Harchut said she treats every pet as if it were her own. During euthanasia visits, each pet owner reacts differently, she said. Some give their dogs big chocolate cakes, and others have family gatherings to celebrate their pet’s life.
“It sounds funny, but it’s almost like a relief that [pet owners] get to see this peaceful process,” she said. “I feel relieved that they don’t have to watch their pet suffer anymore.”
Weiss expects Boston’s inevitable passing to be every bit as painful as the death of any other family member. But she feels more prepared now.
“Being able to look ahead and know I’m making the right steps now, it’s a relief,” she said.
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