By Vagney Bradley
People and their pets can build a strong bond together, and losing a pet can be difficult. When a pet becomes terminally ill, Last Wishes, Houston’s first pet hospice service, steps in to take care of a geriatric pet, from moment of diagnosis through death and aftercare.
Dr. Christie Cornelius is the owner and veterinarian of Last Wishes. She also co-owns Earthman Last Wishes, Texas’ first water-based cremation service for pets. Cornelius and her associate, Dr. Julia Spade, will become the first two veterinarians in the state of Texas to become certified in Veterinary Hospice and palliative care in October.
“I started imagining a better way to offer end of life services after a few years of general practice. I saw how difficult it was for pet owners to bring in their painful or otherwise ailing companions into an unfamiliar, sterile, noisy, scary environment for euthanasia,” Cornelius said.
“I started offering home services through a feline practice I was working for at the time and found it extremely rewarding to be able to provide a peaceful passing for a pet in their own environment, surrounded by loved ones. As the years went by, I convinced myself there was a real need and desire for this type of service in our community.”
In 2012, Cornelius branched out and started Last Wishes while working full time at another veterinary clinic.
Last Wishes has assisted more than 5,000 families with their pet’s care since November 2012. Earlier this year, the organization opened the first compassionate comfort care center for pets in Houston. The center features comfort rooms that are used for hospice and pain management consultations, therapeutic laser, acupuncture, and compassionate sedation-euthanasia.
Cornelius’ goal is to help educate the community about pet hospice, comfort care, pain management, and gentle water-based aftercare services for pets.
Some of the common conditions the organization works with includes, but are not limited to, cancer, heart disease, liver disease, osteoarthritis, organ failure, cardiovascular and neurological disease, and vestibular disease.
“Last Wishes is unique in that we want to make the most of the time that every pet has left with their family. Our doctors and staff don’t just focus on making euthanasia as comfortable as possible when it is ultimately needed,” Spade said. “Our expertise in multiple forms of hospice techniques allows us to consider what is truly beneficial for each case and help strengthen the bond between the pet and their family.”
The majority of services are done in the comfort of the family’s home and in the pet’s environment. Services at the center include consultations, acupuncture, laser, sedation-euthanasia, pet loss support groups, and aftercare. Last Wishes also provides pet loss support groups and continuing education.
“We have established a network of providers, such as our very own grief counselor, pet sitters, pet groomers, and volunteers set up to meet all of our patients and family’s needs when it comes to providing care for an ailing pet diagnosed with a terminal disease,” Cornelius said. “In addition, we sponsor twice monthly pet loss groups and host a private Facebook pet loss support page.”
Additionally, the organization assists disadvantaged families and individuals with their pet’s end of life care through the Last Wishes Fund, a non-profit organization funded by public donations.
Last Wishes provides provide a folder of pet loss/grief information for each family, a clay paw print memorial keepsake, and gentle transport of the pet for aftercare services from the client’s home.
“It is such an honor to be invited into the homes and lives of the families of Houston,” said Jennifer Rames, Last Wishes office manager. “While euthanasia is never easy, we feel honored to provide our services so that these precious furry family members can pass with dignity, in the place they feel safest and happiest, and surrounded by the people who love them the most.”
Cornelius and grief counselor, Marilyn Ladin, are developing a pet loss support program. The program offers in-person and online individual and group therapy.
“Our goal is to heal some long-broken hearts,” Cornelius said. “We also aspire to help other veterinarians and veterinary staff struggling with compassion fatigue, depression, and anxiety among other issues. Too many of our colleagues are causing their own deaths.”
This month Last Wishes plans to unveil of a public pet memorial gardens in Cypress. The garden will include four gardens and handmade stepping stones as a tribute to the pets the organization has helped. The memorial will also feature a special Rainbow Bridge. Families will have access to the garden on Sunday mornings as an opportunity to visit their pet in a peaceful and natural setting.
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