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Mercy Hospice Care finds families for pets of patients

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Shelly Birkelo
January 18, 2013

— Tears rolled down Jennel Harrington's cheeks as the dog licked her face.

The Janesville woman and the 14-year-old miniature American Eskimo dog, Tasha, hadn't seen each other since Harrington's mother and the dog's owner, Susan Fern, died from cancer in October.

Harrington questioned Tasha's adoptive mom, Sandi Paniagua, Janesville.

"Do you give her a bath or take her somewhere? Is she still on the same dog food?" Harrington asked.

After getting answers, she relaxed and hugged Tasha, who showed her appreciation and excitement by wagging her tail and panting.

"I'm OK because I know she's OK," Harrington said.

Tasha, Paniagua and her husband, Joe, were connected through Mercy Hospice Care's new Pet Peace of Mind program. It provides volunteer pet care for hospice patients who are unable to care for their pets and is based on a national program developed and funded by the Banfield Charitable Trust.

"We take dogs, cats, birds, fish or whatever the pet may be," said Nancy Bracken, director of Mercy Hospice Care & Home Health.

No other hospice care agency in Wisconsin offers it, Bracken said.

"Hospice is concerned with the patient and the family, and most of us who have pets consider them part of the family. Up until now, we were helpless to assist the family with what to do with the pet. Oftentimes, family can't always take the pet. This is a viable option, now, and it takes one more worry away from the family and the patient," she said.

The Pet Peace of Mind program has eight trained volunteers who will walk pets, clean up after them in the patient's yard, buy cat litter and pet food, Bracken said.

Other services include adoption placement, foster care, financial assistance for routine vet care and grooming, delivery of pets to veterinary and grooming appointments, temporary pet sitting and boarding, she said.

Harrington is grateful for the program because she was unable to take Tasha.

"I rent and already have a dog. There's no way I could have two dogs," she said.

Harrington also couldn't afford Tasha's medical care and thought she'd have to have the dog killed.

Pet Peace of Mind paid $600 for a vet to surgically remove 17 of Tasha's abscessed teeth, keep her overnight and give her IV pain medication, Bracken said.

"It was one less thing to worry about. Without it I don't know what we would have done," Harrington said.

Adopting Tasha has been a joy for the Paniaguas, who believe God sent her to them to fill the emptiness left after they lost their 16-year-old Lab, Abbey.

"We love animals," Sandi Paniagua said, "and just wanted to make what years Tasha has left good."

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