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Lower Mainland's first pet hospice will comfort animals in their final chapter

Veterinarian Shelley Horvat is opening the region
Veterinarian Shelley Horvat is opening the region's first pet hospice.
— image credit: Kelvin Gawley

An Abbotsford veterinarian is setting out to ease the pain brought on by dying pets – pain in sick dogs and cats and in the hearts of their owners saying goodbye.

Shelley Horvat, a vet at the Fraser Valley Animal Hospital (FVAH) on Ware Street, is establishing what she says is the Lower Mainland's first pet hospice.

The new initiative was prompted by Horvat's own experience seeing her beloved standard poodle, Jordan, enter the final chapter of her life.

Last year, Horvat knew she could rely on Jordan to be a good test subject for new ultrasound equipment.

"She was a really good dog because she would lie there," Horvat says.

The ultrasound equipment revealed a malignant tumour on the 13-year-old poodle's kidney.

Horvat considered surgery to remove the entire kidney but decided against it, knowing it could make things worse for the elderly dog.

Jordan was still a happy companion who bounced on her now-shorter walks with Horvat and nudged her for affection.

But her owner and doctor knew she would soon be in pain.

Horvat monitored Jordan's urine for signs of infection, gave her nutritional supplements, monitored her appetite and watched for signs of pain, giving her medication as it worsened.

Horvat knew she couldn't cure Jordan but she could ease her suffering and give her more time in the world, before euthanasia.

Eight months after the cancer was first discovered, it spread to Jordan's nervous system and she began to deteriorate rapidly. It was time for Horvat and Jordan to say goodbye to one another.

Horvat says pets, just like their human counterparts, don't want to leave the world when they get sick. They still enjoy walks, playing and the companionship with their people.

"When our animals have a disease, they're not ready to die but there does also come a time where they say 'I've had enough,' " Horvat says.

Horvat has given similar end-of-life care for other sick pets brought to FVAH but she and her colleagues will soon be able to give hospice care to many more terminally ill animals, as they move across the street to a bigger and better facility.

The Pawsitive Wellness Centre, currently under construction, will have a dedicated area called the Fraser Valley Animal Hospital's Comfort and Compassion Clinic. The hospice area will have its own entrance, so that those grieving the loss of their pet don't have to walk through the hustle and bustle of a busy vet clinic.

The FVAH hospice care program will include quality-of-life exams to make sure pets do not suffer; training for owners to give medication or even massage their pet therapeutically; nutrition counseling; house-call services; and even grief counsellors.

The clinic will have lighting designed to calm animals – particularly cats – and will play classical music, which Horvat says is proven to calm anxious animals.

Horvat is waiting on a city permit to build a small garden around the hospice clinic's entrance. On sunny days, Horvat hopes to euthanize cats and dogs in the garden, a peaceful environment for their families to say goodbye.

Inside the clinic will also be a comfortable room with couches, similar to a living room, where animals can be euthanized. The walls will be soundproofed to make the difficult moment more peaceful.

Horvat will also continue to offer at-home euthanasia.

She says hospice care is both about buying pets more time in the world and making that time more enjoyable for them.

Many people have deep emotional connections to their pets and Horvat says hospice care can make the goodbyes much easier.

"So it's peaceful for the pet, but also peaceful for the people," Horvat says.

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