- This Week
DEATH ISSUE: Death is part of life at San Francisco's SPCA
10.29.13 - 4:03 pm | Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez |
Emma, who needs an amputation after a severe fracture, at the SF SPCA's "no kill" shelter.GUARDIAN PHOTO BY AMANDA RHOADES
When an animal is suffering, sometimes the answer is euthanasia. But for those with kidney disease, cancer, or other debilitating conditions, the SPCA's "Fospice" program is sometimes the answer. Fospice is the combination of two ideas: Foster care, and hospice. It's end of life care for homeless pets.
Alison Lane is the Fospice coordinator, overseeing 13 or so animals at any one time. "Most of these cats, and sometimes dogs, if they were in any other shelter, they'd be euthanized," Lane says. "They're hard to adopt out."
The foster owners are provided free food and vet care for the animals they nurse into death. Photos of the pets and their owners are on Lane's door — one cat watches fish float by on an iPad. The pets often last much longer in Fospice than they're expected to, she says.
"Amore is only three years old but has congenital heart failure. She's been out for three years now, the doctors were certain she only had three weeks to live," Lane says. "But we're not looking to extend their lives necessarily, we just want to make their quality of life better."
The SFPCA's hospice found homes for 1,045 cats and kittens and 115 puppies in 2012. But there are only a dozen or so animals in Fospice care. When one dog had to be euthanized just a few weeks ago, the staff held a "last day of life" party for her and the owner.
Laura Mullen, a foster technician, tells us it was healing for her and the staff.
"We had an Amber party, with balloons and flowers and she got hamburgers and all sorts of things. Amber had a good time, a good snack, and had her family around her. It ended on a happy note," she said.
Mullen needed it more than most because she usually assists Dr. Kuzminski when an animal is euthanized. She says kitten season is often the hardest. Between December and March, they see anywhere between 30-40 kittens a day. Mullen is a 12-year veteran of the SPCA, so when the less experienced techs can't handle it emotionally, she steps in to assist with euthanasia.
Dr. Kate Kuzminski is Director of Shelter Medicine at the SF SPCA.
First, they separate the animal into a room on its own. It's very important the other animals don't see the process, Mullen says. They sedate the animal, and touch its eyelids to make sure they are asleep. Then they administer the euthanizing fluid and watch it take its last breaths and check for a pulse with a stethoscope.
Kuzminski said when they euthanize an animal, they often email the volunteers, techs, and vets who spent the most time with them so they can say goodbye. Before she asks for a tech to help her ease an animal to its final sleep, she asks about how the person is feeling that day.
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