In recent years, pet ownership has spiked in the U.S., sparking a growth of pet-related companies and services, from pet bakeries to doggie daycares to spas that offer massages, pedicures and stylish grooming.
According to the 2017-18 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, 68 percent of U.S. households own a pet, which equates to 84.6 million homes. By comparison, in the 1980s pet ownership was 15 to 20 percent lower.
Not all popular pet services are about pampering our furry friends, though. Some bring comfort at a difficult time. One quickly emerging field – in-home hospice care and euthanasia for older or terminally ill pets – is helping owners cope with the inevitability of losing their animals.
Dr. Jordy Merrifield, a veterinarian with Lap of Love, a mobile veterinary-hospice and euthanasia practice serving Ahwatukee and the East Valley, said the death of a pet is an incredibly difficult life event for pet owners.
“In many ways, the loss of a pet can be as traumatic as losing a friend or family member to a terminal illness,” Merrifield said.
Merrifield felt called to end-of-life care because of her own experiences with losing pets and human loved ones. Helping pets pass with dignity is a way for her to honor her grief and transform it into something meaningful.
The Lap of Love team offers several related services – including in-home consultations aimed at helping families decide whether or not it’s time to euthanize their pet; hospice care to decrease pain and palliate other symptoms, such as nausea or anxiety; and euthanasia to alleviate and prevent impending suffering.
“The absolute most important thing to owners is that their pet doesn’t suffer,” Merrifield said. “As a veterinarian, I believe in providing the best care for pets, but when treatment fails or is declined for any reason, it’s critical that families have palliative-care options. Going back and forth to the veterinarian’s office can be stressful for animals, especially those who are elderly or sick.”
Mobile veterinary services make it possible for a pet to receive care at home where they can stay in their own bed and be closely monitored by the ones who know them best.
The holidays can be a particularly challenging time, according to Merrifield.
“Every year, we see an increase in the number of pets getting sick and dying around this time,” she said. “As most families gather together to celebrate, some are forced to say goodbye to a best friend they’ve known for over a decade amidst the hustle and bustle of the season.”
For this reason, Merrifield offers appointments in the evening and on holidays.
Dr. Steven Hansen, president/CEO of the Arizona Humane Society, agrees that today’s pet owners are seeking more comfort and direction from professionals when a pet is gravely ill and approaching death.
“Knowing when to say goodbye to a beloved pet can be very difficult,” Hansen said. “I recommend that pet owners schedule a wellness check-up with their veterinarian in order to talk through their pet’s quality of life and in doing so, it will often bring clarity and allow them to follow their heart and do what is best for their pet.”
Lori Eastin, an East Valley resident, recently chose in-home hospice for her 13-year-old golden retriever, Trevor.
It started with a frantic phone call to Merrifield, whom Eastin affectionately refers to as “Dr. Jordy,” at 5 a.m.
“Dr. Jordy was amazing,” Eastin said. “She spent the time to answer all of my questions, and she addressed the need for quality of life and pain management in a very understandable manner. ... Dr. Jordy fully understood my relationship with Trevor and was supportive of my decisions. I am happy to say that he is still with us and is doing better. I’m not ready to say goodbye yet, and I don’t think he is either.”
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