Animal palliative & hospice care support: for vet practices
Established nearly two decades ago and rebranded in 2023, Telos Companion Animal Services, LLC, headed up by Lorrie Shaw, provides experienced in home animal palliative and hospice care support to families in the greater Ann Arbor area as an ancillary Certified Animal Hospice Practitioner (CAHP) or as part of a veterinary interdisciplinary team. In either case, Lorrie’s services and support are secured and contracted by the pet guardian and are always compensated directly by them. Each facet of her work is grounded in supporting the human-animal bond. Lorrie has trained as an end-of-life doula for humans, and has earned the following credentials in addition to CAHP:
•Certified Fear Free Professional
•Certified Pet Loss and Grief Companion
•Certified Professional Pet Sitter
•Certified in pet first aid/CPR
Lorrie has, to varying degrees of need, served over 50 families through their beloved pet’s final months, weeks, and yes, into end-of-life and after. And, even more families who’ve needed expert care and guidance with their senior and geriatric pets. From progressive or chronic diagnoses that are more commonly seen in these age groups, like osteoarthritis/DJD, IVDD, chronic renal disease, laryngeal paralysis/GOLPP, congestive heart failure, degenerative myleopathy, GI issues, to terminal diseases like cancer and everything in between, Lorrie has demonstrated the knowledge, skill and confidence in supporting families in a way that meets their needs. She is also very experienced in tending to pets who’ve been assessed with generalized anxiety, fear aggression and separation anxiety. All services and care are grounded in the veterinarian’s ongoing direction and support. Read more on ‘what people are saying’.
What is animal hospice?
There’s a lot of confusion as to what animal hospice is. Simply put, it is a philosophy or program of care that addresses the emotional, social and physical needs of their pets who are in advanced stages of progressive, life-limiting diagnosis, disability or age-related decline without a curative direction, but instead with comfort care. It also means tending to the psychosocial, emotional and spiritual needs of pet guardians as they prepare for the death of their beloved pet, and the grief that accompanies the process. As in human hospice, support and care is carried out by an interdisciplinary team (IDT), with the medical care of the pet supervised by a licensed veterinarian. An IDT ideally, is comprised of veterinary professionals including veterinarian who retains the role as medical director, vet techs and assistants, as well as complementary, alternative and rehabilitation therapy professionals, Certified Animal Hospice Practitioners, pet sitters, pharmacists, spiritual counselors, clergy and others. Most of all, veterinary hospice care is centered on supporting the human-animal bond.
Certified Animal Hospice Practitioners—who are they, and what role do they play in animal hospice?
Certified Animal Hospice Practitioners can play a vital part in the program of care and philosophy of animal hospice.
As graduates of Animal Hospice Group, we are trained to support families and pets from the time of diagnosis, when the burden of caregiving becomes such that support is needed, and when end-of-life is near.
Scope of practice ranges from hands-on care plus emotional, social and physical needs of the pet who is under the care of a licensed veterinarian, as well as the psychosocial, emotional, and spiritual needs and grief support of the pet’s circle of loved ones. Certified Animal Hospice Practitioners are not by definition licensed veterinary professionals (though it seems important to note that veterinary professionals can become certified as animal hospice practitioners), and are unable to make diagnoses, treat disease, change or create treatment or hospice comfort care medical plans, prescribe medications nor can they perform euthanasia. While not social workers or licensed therapists, Certified Animal Hospice Practitioners are helping professionals and are certified to provide ongoing grief support only as it relates to the death of a companion animal.
Certified Animal Hospice Practitioners are required to complete the Animal Hospice Group certification program, which includes a 6 month curriculum covering the history of hospice and the framework of animal hospice and palliative care, managing an animal’s well-being through to decline, disability and end of life as well as terminal diagnosis, practical patient issues and basic nursing care, quality of life for living and dying in the animal hospice patient, understanding the animal dying experience, end-of-life options and after death care, care for the caregivers, grief and honoring the life; several group meetings with other students and instructors throughout involving discussion, case study presentation with Q&A; a four hour exam, submission of essays detailing how to implement scope of practice in four separate case studies, an interview with an instructor, Internship and more.
Lorrie Shaw graduated with honors (achieving a 99% or higher on both the exam and essay portion) in April 2023, earning her credential as a Certified Animal Hospice Practitioner. This overlays her 20 years of experience in pet care, with the last 8 years focused on seniors, geriatrics and animal hospice.
And so, how does Lorrie fulfill her role as a Certified Animal Hospice Practitioner, and as importantly, how does she support veterinary practices, families and pets?
That depends on the family’s needs, the needs of the pet and to what degree the veterinary team is able to be involved.
It’s no secret that brick and mortar practices with one or more clinicians and mobile vet practices can have a veterinarian and veterinary technicians/nurses who are certified by Animal Hospice Group with the designation of Certified Animal Hospice Practitioner or via International Association for Animal Hospice & Palliative Care with the credential of Certified Hospice and Palliative Care Veterinarian or Certified Hospice and Palliative Care Technician. Some do not. Many practices, in any case, find it difficult to devote the time, staff and energy that is needed in supporting families as well as they would like as the pet moves through the tender time of life that is their final months, weeks, days, hours. Careful veterinary supervision is critical in ensuring quality hospice care, especially when family members or loved ones take upon themselves new responsibilities as the pet’s primary caregivers. Lorrie knows all too well, the need for experience, confidence, advanced communication skills, understanding diagnoses and their trajectories, animal behavior, best practices and commitment of time to make that quality hospice care happen. Her years of education and training, 8 years of working “in the trenches” and commitment helps bridge the gap between what families desire and need, and what veterinary practices are able to offer with their bandwidth of time, knowledge, comfort level with animal hospice and staffing. She is also highly experienced in facilitating communication between families and veterinary teams and liaising with primary and/or hospice veterinarians.
The benefits to families who work with Lorrie are obvious. And vet practices might wonder, ‘what’s in it for us?’ Plenty, as it turns out.
•Because Lorrie is experienced to hear and support your most distressed clients who inherently have greatest needs, when the family has her engaged, it lightens your practice’s load. Thus, the veterinary team’s morale is heightened, and empathetic distress (frequently referred to as compassion fatigue) is reduced.
•Better time leveraging for your practice while still having the increasing needs of animal hospice clients be served, something that can be hard to meet given the challenges that the pandemic has posed.
•Increased adherence to treatment/comfort care plans, since the patient's family has the support at home to carry them out
•Supporting families and pets on their home turf isn’t possible for brick and mortar veterinary practices, and for mobile practices with limited scheduling and staffing, it can be challenging. Some pets do not travel well or can’t due to their limited mobility, size, or the pet guardian’s physical limitations or access to transportation. Having a Certified Animal Hospice Practitioner with Lorrie’s experience connect with families at their home provides opportunities for communication, basic assessments (eyes and ears on the pet from a professional perspective), and hurdling barriers to enabling pet guardians and caregivers to better adhere to comfort care plans.
•Client access to solid emotional and grief support throughout: with years of credentialed experience in all aspects of the grief experience, Lorrie understands the needs of caregivers and family units. Working as a sounding board, she knows how to support them through all phases of decision-making during this tender time, and the associated decision fatigue. Additionally, expert support with anticipatory grief, issues surrounding end-of-life including opting for humane euthanasia when it's necessary, fresh grief, what is perceived in the rearview and in the rare cases when the help of a mental health professional would be best.
•Families of pets in your care will be deeply appreciative for your considerate referral.
•No need to hire additional team members or stretch existing team member's resources of time and energy--an expressed barrier to providing the kind of support to families that vet practices know is critical for animal hospice. Paving the way for families and your practice to better navigate the territory that is a pet's final months, weeks, days and hours is as simple as a family connecting with my practice by way of referral.
•Client retention: The evidence shows that when families have the support the really need to give their pet a comfortable and peaceful experience during their final months, weeks, days and hours, they’re much more likely to return to the veterinary practice who facilitated it. They're also keen on welcoming a new pet into the family sooner than later.
How it's done
Lorrie offers a multitude of services to families. She works with them to create a supportive plan (one that is centered around their veterinarian’s hospice and comfort care plan) that meets their individual needs and their pet’s changing needs, which increase over time. Here how:
•Overnight Stays: Families often report that the thought of traveling for any reason and leaving their medically fragile pet feels out of the question because of the level of care required to meet their pet’s needs. Lorrie is highly experienced and confident in caring for companion animals in hospice, no matter the diagnosis, or how complicated the daily regimen and comfort care plan, including medication is. Along with all aspects of a pet’s medical, physical, mental and emotional needs kept on track, coupled with having companionship overnight and during the daytime hours, families are assured that they need not worry about how things are going at home.
•Respite Care: As a seasoned professional, it’s not lost on Lorrie that caring for a cherished pet in hospice can be very demanding for families—emotionally, mentally and physically. And life otherwise, we know it doesn’t stop. Respite care provides families the support and relief they need for part of a day, over several days, or even for weeks.
•Medication administration: Lorrie understands the importance of administering medications in a timely manner to keep things on track for a pet’s comfort and well-being. As a Fear Free Certified Professional, she does so with thoughtfulness.
•Environmental assessment for senior and geriatric pets, as well as those in hospice: This includes advice on products, strategies and tools that can be helpful. A pet’s changing mobility or mentation can feel daunting, but addressing it need not be.
•Lending library of products and tools for established clients to aid in safety, comfort and mobility of pets: from assistive harnesses, pee pads, lambs wool bed pads, and cooling mats, families have the opportunity to borrow from Lorrie’s lending library for longer periods, dependent on need.
•Tending to pet’s basic hygiene
•Connecting families with resources
•Scheduled, regular check-ins to assess changing needs of the pet, and the humans.
•Coaching families on how to care for their pet: “the new normal” and changing needs can feel overwhelming. Lorrie not only has the baked-in expertise that comes with her knowledge and training to give families the support and ideas to adapt, but a knack for anticipating what might be helpful in the future. This can include recumbency care strategies (in an effort to avoid pressure sores and promote comfort), how assess a pet’s comfort, mental enrichment, how to address hygiene needs, encouraging flagging appetites in ways that’s in line with any dietary restrictions, ensuring that families understand how to administer medications correctly and safely, and more.
•Assisting with end-of-life and after death care: Whether a family elects for hospice supported natural death or humane euthanasia, they can count on Lorrie to be present to hold space, be fully present and assist with all that needs tending during that time. This includes being present for support during euthanasia appointments, and assisting with body care after death.
•Pet loss support: Having trained in a program in 2017 under Colleen Ellis and designed by grief expert Alan Wolfelt, as a Certified Pet Loss & Grief Companion, not to mention her additional education as a Certified Animal Hospice Practitioner, Lorrie uses her skill to help guardians and families navigate the emotional, mental and physical impact that comes with the anticipatory grief, fresh grief and the grief that’s had an opportunity to tag along for a while. This kind of support is individualized—no pet loss support groups here—and allows a griever to be heard without influence, judgment or shaming. This is especially important since what they’re experiencing is a normal reaction to a very difficult life situation. Grievers benefit from having an experienced ear along the way, or private sessions where space is held, just for them. Most pet guardians prefer this over the pet loss support groups or mental health practitioners they are frequently referred to. That improves the client’s ability to navigate decision making along the way, especially as the pet’s end-of-life draws closer. Veterinary practice teams who lack the training or time to offer grief support need not feel as if they are falling short when they have the option to refer grieving clients to Lorrie.
Due to the nature of the support needed, Lorrie is available to be scheduled for support and services 7 days per week, and is on call 24/7 for crisis and ongoing support for the hospice families who are actively in her care. Pet guardians schedule services tailored to their needs.
Services and support listed above—including being present for housecall vet, housecall rehab specialist or complementary and alternative services—are provided at the family’s home. Zoom appointments for support can be facilitated whenever sensible. Whenever the situation calls for it, Lorrie also accompanies families to veterinary appointments at brick and mortar practices or she can transport the hospice pet should their guardian not be available to attend. Primary and extended service areas include: Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Saline, Dexter, some neighborhoods in Pinckney and Chelsea.
Families have demonstrated that they want a better experience when it comes to their pet’s final months, weeks, days, hours—and with what comes after. Pets deserve that, too. And we know that when families feel supported, they are empowered and more engaged throughout the process.
“My work is about supporting families and their choices that are in line with their wishes, beliefs and values, and given what they’re moving through, there are a lot of decisions that need to be made. Honoring that helps to ensure that caregivers feel seen, heard and acknowledged in what they’re experiencing, and it maintains the human-animal bond, which is the ultimate goal.” —Lorrie Shaw, CAHP
All services and support are inclusive of life ending via humane euthanasia or hospice-supported natural death, handled by a licensed veterinarian.
Ready to simplify and enhance your practice’s ability to meet the needs of clients and their pets who are in a fragile time of life? Click here to schedule an in-person or Zoom meeting so that we can help make that happen.