Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Palliative care

There are several dogs at TAS right now who are not in great shape. There is an older Rottie girl who is too skinny and has a hard marble sized growth in one of her mammaries. There is the female Doberman who has difficulty breathing. There is Daisy who has a mouthful of rotten teeth and suffers from separation anxiety. There is a male Boston Terrier with a growth in its mouth. None of these dogs are being put into general adoption but instead will hopefully be placed with a rescue.

But what happens if they don't find placement? What happens to those too sick dogs? Right now there is only one option and that is euthanasia. The feeling is that it is better to euthanize a dog than to let it suffer through its illness, which can't be diagnosed and/or treated due to lack of funds, lying alone in a kennel for its few remaining weeks or months.

To euthanize or not based on a dog's health is a hard decision to make and I'm glad I don't have to do it but it is done all the time by the vets and by the staff.

That got me thinking about a palliative care, fostering program for those too sick dogs. Since they're going to be euthanized anyway, why not let them spend their last few days in the relative comfort and care of a home environment? It would basically be treated as end of life care. Once their illness got to a point where it caused too much discomfort, then the dog would be brought to a private vet or back to TAS for the euthanasia.

Then I started thinking about how such a program could be set up. It would be a tricky. There would have to be assurances that the dogs aren't just being forced to suffer prolonged pain. And would the fostering family have the funds and ability to provide medication to ease pain? There would also be the huge emotional impact on the foster parent when the dog finally gets ill enough and has to be euthanized. You'd almost want someone who didn't like dogs too much so they didn't get too emotionally attached. Or someone strong enough to handle a broken heart every month or so.

When I took Rocky out of TAS almost two years ago, he was sick and on the euth list. It was my intention to basically provide him a comfortable environment for a while and nurse him until his final days which everyone figured was maybe a month or two away. But then he recovered - and thank God he did because I realized within the first week that there was no way I was going to be able to calmly, emotionlessly bring him back into TAS to get him euthanized.

I guess that's my hope for palliative care: that the dog recovers. Given a better quality of life which the dog may never have had before - like a nurturing environment, a compassionate human companion, healthy food - the dog may actually recover at which point it can be returned for adoption, fostered until adoption or, as in many if not most cases, kept on as part of the family.


Caveat said...

BadRap had a post on compassion holds

It's a good idea, I think.

Fred said...

I just checked out the site. Compassion hold - that's exactly it. (Don't know about the dog bath is heaven suggestion, though, but hey, to each their own). I'll definitely pass this along to TAS. Thanks.

House of the Discarded said...

You touched on something very important to me that I've always wanted to do, Fred. Being a true lover of the senior dog or cat, I've rescued many senior cats (16-20 yrs old) from the shelter and loved them until the day they died. One of the cats I rescued was 20 years old! (Bless her little toothless heart!)

You're right - it does take a special heart to do this kind of work. I don't think you can do it without getting hurt. It's been my experience that the best way to go with this is to say, "I'm going to get hurt." You'll get your heartbroken - period.

In all honesty, I couldn't take the dog or cat back to the TAS to get euthanized. I could lovingly take him/her to the vet. But NEVER back to "that place".

Count me in - this scratches me right where I itch. :)

Cathrine said...

Fred, your hope does come true. Two I left behind were such dogs: one deaf old boy, 9-10, with epilepsy; one female, 13-14, who is in remission from cancer. The male was a street dog, the female an abandoned police or army dog.

We never expected they would be alive when I left. But finding themselves the special favourites of the staff, especially the guards, fed decently, watched over and cared for, both dogs perked right up and responded to the love with ferocious joy and intense loyalty to their guardians.

They are still there. The new Ambassador was moved enough by their stories that he allowed them to stay on, and has even, I am told, grown fond of them.

My personal hope is that they will both still be there when he goes, and I will have to ask the *next* Ambassador to allow them to stay, too...