Many people consider pets to be part of the family.
For a terminally-ill person who needs hospice care, that pet remains a great concern and a critical need.
Dianne McGill recognized that need several years ago when she heard about such a person who had two beloved cats and no assistance for them.
“I recognized a gap in coverage and support,” says McGill, who was leading a national animal welfare organization at the time. She now lives in Marion County.
She started Pet Peace of Mind as a nonprofit organization that works with hospices to provide care and pet adoption. In 2014, she left her job to lead the organization full time.
“In some families, children are the most important, in others the spouse is the key family member that exists in their lives,” McGill says. “We honor the family connection, no matter what it looks like.”
Pet Peace of Mind keeps pets and their owners together through life’s transitions. It equips hospices with the ability to provide routine care for pets of hospice patients.
The hospice partners with local care providers and hospice volunteers to provide pet food, cat litter and daily care that includes feeding, exercise and pet sitting.
Other services may include trips to the vet, grooming and boarding. It also may include developing an adoption/foster care network for the pet after a patient has died.
Pet Peace of Mind provides a program model, plus all materials and systems to implement the program. This includes online training for coordinators, marketing and fundraising materials, modules for hospice volunteers and staff, plus ongoing support for the nonprofit.
McGill and her board members develop all materials and programs.
When a hospice qualifies and receives funding, it must be used for pet care services. It cannot be used for administrative costs or salaries.
“One of the most important pieces of business in a patient’s life is ensuring their pet has a new forever home and will not end up in a shelter,” McGill says.
Hospice members are now in 39 states, with approximately 40 new hospices being added every year. They report that approximately 1,500 pets find new homes every year. There are about 5,000 volunteers working nationally for the program, with 40 of those in the greater Portland area.
“We have 400 programs in the training pipeline,” McGill says. “It takes time because hospice workers are so, so busy.”
The training is personalized and one-on-one to be sure the hospice staff thoroughly understands how the program works.
“We don’t want a slip-up of even a second of anguish,” McGill says. “There are teary-eyed moments such as when someone a patient depended on to take his or her pet suddenly cannot, and the patient was so stressed she held on to life until the dog was adopted. We accomplished that in an hour, and (the patient) died that day.”
Pets have included more than dogs and cats. She has seen horses, lizards, snakes, birds, fish and even a tarantula.
“Dying wishes are emotional,” McGill says. “We are overcome when a patient is so clearly moved because we recognize the value of the human-animal bond.”
It’s a legacy of her own life.
“When I depart the planet, I want to know my life made a difference that will live on long after I am gone,” she says. “I will know I made a fundamental and profound difference in other people’s lives.”
McGill attributes the influence of her mother, Alvena Chapman, 96, describing her as “an extraordinary, compassionate woman. She always told us to give back, to leave something when you exit this world, to know it’s a little bit better.”