Hospice:

A lodging for travelers (especially one kept by a monastic order)

A program of medical and emotional care for the terminally ill

                                                  Wordnet.princeton.edu
 

 

Hospice has had a variety of meanings to different people, in different cultures and at various moments in history. By its simplest definition hospice today means an organized medical intervention on behalf of a patient nearing the end of life.

 

However it seems clear that as medical science and technologies evolve so will the meaning of ‘end of life’ and therefore by simple association, the definition of hospice.

 

From childhood we may recognize the difference between hospital and hospice even if we don’t recognize their common Latin derivative hospes, guest, host.  A hospital was a bright, sometimes even cheerful place where doctors and nurses cared for you as you recovered and hospice was where you went to die.

 

In fact JAMA the Journal of the American Medical Association as recently as 2006 defined hospice care as, “Focused on the dying process and helping individuals who are terminally ill (and their family and friends) pass through this process more comfortably.”  (Vol. 295 No. 6, February 8, 2006)

 

Still hospice can and often does mean much more than that.  Hospice care frequently transcends palliative care for the patient at end of life by extending the human bond to the family of the patient, friends and acquaintances and even animals may be incorporated into the care of hospice. Sometimes for months after the death of the patient, hospice professionals provide assistance for the survivors with grieving, loss of social support and a host of alternative services not traditionally associated with hospice. In this way hospice becomes part of the larger community as a whole and like any other organization with a focused societal mission hospice holds the potential to serve a community in a growing number of ways.

 

Similar organizations originally based on narrowly defined service and volunteerism such as Red Cross, S.P.C.A. and M.A.D.D have found that their organizations once activated can take on variety of roles reaching well beyond their initial concept.

 

But what has this to do with the human-animal bond and particularly with companion animals?

 

In March 2008 the first International Symposium on Veterinary Hospice Care was held on the campus at UC Davis. Organized by Nikki Hospice Foundation for Pets and Assisi International Animal Institute  the meeting’s stated goal was to begin to, “Explore veterinary hospice care, based on human hospice models.”

 

As those models manifest themselves more humans and their companion pets will find themselves encountering the growing sphere of influence of compassionate veterinary care.

 

Like the emerging field of Animal Law, Animal Hospice may begin to evolve in some spectacular and unexpected ways; homeless advocacy, care and shelter from domestic violence and working animal protections including retirement and minimum wage guarantees may all be reasonably applied to animals some day.

 

In 2008 American Humane announced its PAWS Program designed to encourage women's shelters to take in family pets along with the other victims of domestic abuse; PAWS stands for Pets and Women’s Shelters.

 

While some of these prospects may seem effusive, even Orwellian, in general equal rights and treatment under law must by extension of definition apply to all creatures not just man. As our society matures and we strive to improve the environment then certainly that effort must include a recognition that there is more to the human-animal bond; that some sense of caring for one another is not limited to one species any more than it is limited to one friend.