Hospice helps grieving owners, students learn


Students recommend a course of action for the owner.

FORT COLLINS, COLO. — Colorado State University (CSU) now runs the only student-run pet hospice program in the country.

Euthanizing a pet can be one of the most difficult decisions an owner makes. Colorado State University's Argus Institute organized a hospice program using veterinary students who help comfort owners during a pet's final days.

For the past two years, the Argus Institute at CSU has organized a student group that works with local veterinarians to help owners with pets suffering from terminal illness.

The group comforts the owner by reassuring them that death is a part of life, and their pet can experience a comfortable, peaceful death by euthanasia if necessary.

"We work with veterinarians that would be willing to euthanize the pet at the owner's home," says Debra Stirling, co-team manager of the program.

Stirling, a third-year veterinary student, says some students form long-lasting bonds with many of the owners they help through end-of-life issues.

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The program was developed in part to help students supplement their clinical coursework with a dose of empathy for the human-animal bond.

Students monitor pets in their final days by taking note of the animal's vital signs and overall condition. Depending on the animal's status, the student will recommend a form of action to the owner.

"We spend about an hour at the home of each client, sometimes up to two hours," Stirling says. "The people we tend to deal with consider their pets as part of their family and have already been through regimens of treatment that is no longer helping."

The students assure owners that it is OK to be upset, and euthanasia is an act of kindness they can bestow upon their respective pets.

The hospice is offered free of charge to clients; it operates on grants from the Bohemian Foundation and donations. About 25 students volunteer at the center; they say all of the people they have worked with were grateful for their time, information and comfort they provided.

"We see a lot of pets that are dying from cancer since the university handles many cancer cases," Stirling adds. "Being involved in this process has helped me understand how to help and communicate with clients."

The hospice program receives exposure through the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association, the college and other local DVMs.

The program has been in operation for two years and expects to expand as its services become known more widely.

For more information about the pet hospice program, visit www.argusinstitute.colostate.edu.

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