Although it’s a topic that no animal lover wants to think about, at some point, all dogs must go to heaven. In the past, owners of terminally ill or ailing senior dogs had only two compassionate options: continue costly treatments to extend their dog’s golden years or have their pet put down prematurely at a veterinarian’s office. These days, however, pet owners have more options for end-of-life services, including pet hospice, which has become a growing trend in recent years.
The goal of pet hospice — sometimes called “pawspice” — is to make a dog more comfortable at the end of their life and to let them live out their last days surrounded by the people and things they love. For the vets who offer this service, that could mean dispensing pain or anxiety medication to the dog, providing the owner with a plan to care for the ailing animal themselves and possibly, when its time, the option to euthanize the pet at home.
In 2007, there were reportedly only about 30 vets nationwide who offered pet hospice services. Now, there are hundreds alone that belong to the International Association for Animal Hospice and Palliative Care, an organization founded in 2009 to help support hospice veterinarians and establish guidelines around end-of-life pet care.
The idea of hospice has also caught on with animal rescue organizations. In 2015, after learning that many senior and chronically sick dogs are dumped and euthanized at shelters, New Jersey resident Michele Allen started the non-profit Monkey’s House in order to take in and care for as many unadoptable and sick dogs as possible. Along with a team of volunteers, Allen cares for the dog’s medical needs and tries to make their last days as healthy and happy as possible.
“It’s extremely important to me that we not fail them in their final moments,” she told CNN. “I want them to have a very gentle passing, and I want them feeling as loved and supported as they can be.”
Similarly, a retired nurse set up the first dog hospice in the U.K. in 2018. As part of the Grey Muzzle Canine Hospice Project, Nicola Coyle treats each dog she adopts to a bucket list of kindnesses, including steak dinners, walks on the beach, ice cream, treats and, of course, plenty of love and attention.
These two organizations are hardly alone. Other animal rescues have incorporated “fospice” (foster hospice) into their work as non-profits as well.
Ultimately, whether paid for by a pet owner or done out of compassion by a volunteer, pet hospice gives dogs the opportunity to live out their lives in dignity without being put down prematurely or spending their final days alone in a cage. Considering all the love and joy that dogs give us, many people believe it’s the least that man’s best friend deserves.