HAMPTON, Va. (AP) — Beady-B lies on his bed in the living room, one eye warily watching the adults sitting around the nearby table.
The 13-year-old beagle seems to sense they’re discussing his declining health, but at the moment he’s content.
Melanie Cohen, a veterinarian with Lap of Love, instructs Kenny and Deana Pekarovich on how to check the dog’s gums — “make sure they’re pink and moist” — and to monitor his breathing. If his breathing becomes labored, “it could be a sign that he’s in pain or he’s anemic,” she says.
It’s Cohen’s first visit to the Pekarovich’s Hampton home. After this initial assessment, she’ll follow up with emails and phone calls. When the time comes to send Beady-B “across that rainbow bridge,” as Kenny calls it, she’ll return to the house for the procedure.
Lap of Love is a national network of veterinarians that provides in-home hospice care and euthanasia for aging and terminally ill pets. The organization is part of a growing trend in veterinary services, some offered by local animal hospitals that assist pet owners in these difficult final days.
“It’s an emerging field but not that new,” says Cohen, who lives in Chesapeake and has several Peninsula clients. “In the old days, vets used to make house calls.
“Pets are growing older and living longer, which means a lot of cancer diagnoses,” she says. “In addition to cancer, we see kidney failure, and in larger dogs we get mobility issues.”
At Godspeed Animal Care in Williamsburg, the five veterinarians on staff make consultation visits to homes within a 10-mile radius of the clinic.
“We go back and forth to the home,” says Kelly O’Connor, Godspeed’s hospital manager. “We can deliver food and medication and provide consultations.
“I’ve seen a marked increase in this service,” says O’Connor. “Pets are becoming more of a family member.”
Beady-B got his cancer diagnosis — a tumor in his abdomen — shortly after Christmas, and this particular form of the disease does not respond well to chemotherapy or surgery, says Cohen.
Paul Gustafson at Warwick Animal Hospital in Newport News, the Pekaroviches’ veterinarian, suggested they contact Lap of Love.
Founded in 2010 by two graduates of the University of Florida veterinary school, Lap of Love has grown to more than 50 veterinarians in 21 states. The organization focuses on providing end-of-life care to dogs, cats and other pets.
Cohen also attended Florida’s vet school and has worked with Lap of Love for three years. She grew up South Africa, came to this country and is now married to a U.S. Naval officer. She got interested in animal hospice care after seeing a family member go through hospice.
“At first I said I couldn’t do it, but it’s actually become more of a calling to me,” says Cohen.
“It’s a very difficult time, families feel anxious and helpless, so we try to make these last days a little bit easier on everybody. It’s such an honor to help these patients pass at home in a place where they’ve lived their whole lives.
Cohen starts with a consultation appointment where she evaluates the patient and the home environment and tailors a treatment plan. Meeting with the Pekaroviches, she discussed ways to monitor their dog’s vital signs and suggested possible medications and herbal supplements to make him more comfortable.
“The whole goal is to keep him happy and healthy,” Cohen tells them. “I want to give you guys all the tools.”
“I know when he’s in pain or when he’s sick,” Deana says. “We’ve put beds all over the house to keep him from jumping up.”
“You guys have a great home for him to navigate,” Cohen responds. “Between the pain medication, the diet and the exercise, you are doing all the right things.”
During a follow-up phone conversation, Kenny says, “It’s reassuring to know that we’re doing the right thing. You don’t know until you speak to the pros.”
Cohen also discusses the topic of euthanasia during her initial visit, something she likes to bring up early in the pet’s treatment. If a client wants to euthanize their pet at home, Cohen makes every effort to make herself available.
“The hardest question is, when the right time is?” she says. “Mother Nature is not always swift or kind, so a lot of patients will linger in an uncomfortable state.”
Her experience, she said, has been that “its better a week too soon than a day too late.
“A lot of my appointments say, I wish I had known about you guys sooner,” she says.
But for now, Beady-B is enjoying life. He still takes a daily walk in the park and never misses a meal.
“It’s about living in the now,” says Cohen. “These guys can teach us a lot they don’t sweat the small stuff and they love us unconditionally.”
Information from: Daily Press, http://www.dailypress.com/
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