Michigan gains it's first Certified Animal Hospice Practitioner
April 24, 2023
In April, Lorrie Shaw, CXO of Telos Companion Animal Services, LLC earned the distinction of Certified Animal Hospice Practitioner (CAHP) with honors, which punctuates the focus of work she’s immersed herself in for over 8 years as a pet care provider in and around Ann Arbor, Michigan.
This follows Shaw’s decision to rebrand her well-established business in January. With her vast experience and education in all aspects in pet care, she’s a professional that countless families and their veterinary teams are happy to have on board to help navigate times of life that are exceptionally challenging: a pet’s final months, weeks and days.
“My families often say that I’m the first person they call when they’re experiencing a crisis with their pets,” she notes.
“That level of trust, transparency and communication is crucial for them, right behind the experience I’ve cultivated over 20 years in the industry.”
That speaks to Shaw’s keen interest and expertise in the areas of caring for senior and geriatric pets, and those of any age who’ve developed a life-limiting diagnosis.
Through her long and storied career, she has always taken the opportunities that have come along to get curious about how to best serve and support the families and pets in her care. But around 2013, mostly driven by how ill-equipped the pet care industry had been with support and education to match the changes that have invariably unfolded in the industry most adjacent and important to it—veterinary medicine—she saw a need.
“Pets are living longer, and better, thanks to advances in vet medicine and understanding animal behavior. There’s a better grasp of our relationship to our pets, and their emotional lives, not to mention diagnostics and treatments that weren’t on the radar before. And with longer lifespans, age-related decline comes along for the journey.”
She adds, “I wanted to stay in the industry I’d been a part of for so long, but I was growing emotionally and physically weary of feeling like I was failing my families and their pets. And, not having access to attain the skills to best support pets and families in my care who were in need of the enhanced hands on care and emotional and spiritual support needed in a tender time of life. And so instead of throwing in towel—which I’d seriously considered—I got curious, dug deep and blazed my own trail.”
Alongside honing her skills, she also had a front row seat in hospicing her own pets, Gretchen and Silver in 2015 and 2016 respectively, and Shaw saw what was possible. And joining the International Association for Animal Hospice and Palliative Care proved to be a boon. She also had to cobble together other resources and education to bolster her now burgeoning practice.
“I learned a tremendous amount during that time and since, and I’m not stopping.”
She trained in human hospice. And in 2017, she earned certification as a pet loss and grief companion, which allows her to work in a professional capacity with families coping with the emotional toil with pets in end-of-life, as well as individuals seeking support in their journey through pet loss and grief. She's also a Fear Free Certified Professional.
Over the past few years, Shaw’s practice—known as Professional Pet Sitting up until January of this year—developed quite a following by pet guardians and area veterinarians. She’s served countless families and their pets as they’ve navigated through the toughest periods possible. And, she’s worked to provide education in hopes of giving families access to what they desire most if not being able to have their pet’s live forever: a better end-of-life experience with them. She’s achieved this through her interactions with families, her social media channels and her blog, Animals Unfolded.
Not surprisingly, up until recently at least, there hasn’t been credentialing in animal hospice and palliative care for professionals outside of the veterinary and social work fields. During the pandemic, Shaw got wind of a new organization that was aiming to change that. Animal Hospice Group launched their Certified Animal Hospice Practitioner program and birthed a beta class last year. Impressed with what she saw and with its founders, all of whom she was already familiar—Gail Pope of BrightHaven, AHELP’s Michelle Nichols, Amir Shanan, DVM and Nikki Hospice Foundation's Kathryn Marocchino, PhD—she enrolled after reviewing the curriculum. She graduated with honors in April after nearly six months of instruction, passing a four hour exam and submitting essays to be critiqued to test her knowledge.
She emphasizes, “...this training has been integral to rounding out my existing animal hospice and grief support education. And though our graduating class is small, I’m super excited to have the camaraderie of other professionals like myself who care so much about something that will support families and pets the way they’ve demonstrated they want and deserve.”
Although there is a breadth of pet care services that her business offers, her focus will remain on serving families and their pets well into the future by providing support through the pet’s journey to end of life and aftercare as an ancillary Certified Animal Hospice Practitioner or as a member of a veterinary interdisciplinary team (IDT). That can mean hands-on care of the pet, carrying out medication and comfort care plans, respite care, overnight stays, attending veterinary appointments, facilitating communication between vet teams and families, after death care and more. And whether families decide along with their veterinarian that humane euthanasia is the best choice, or if that professional is educated about and feels comfortable being at the helm should the family want to pursue animal hospice-supported natural death (AHND), Shaw is on board. Though in either case, a veterinarian must be a part of the plan.
“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 them. There are no right or wrong choices, only the best choices. Honoring that helps to ensure that caregivers feel seen, heard and acknowledged in what they’re experiencing, and maintains the human-animal bond, which is the ultimate goal.”
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