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Unsung pioneers in veterinary hospice

Thank you for publishing Dr. Natalie Mark’s excellent article “Fearless Through the End” in the February/March 2019 issue. Its emphasis on why and how veterinarians should learn to reduce anxiety and stress during hospice or euthanasia is indeed one of the most important aspects of proper communication with clients.

Nonetheless, I did want to bring to Dr. Marks’ attention that a number of important animal hospice professionals were not mentioned in her article, and I do feel that the record should be set straight. Although this in no way diminishes the accomplishments of Dr. Alice Villalobos, who began formally presenting her newly created “Pawspice” program in 2000, during a talk given at the 137th AVMA Convention in Salt Lake City, where she introduced her highly publicized Quality of Life scale, there are several others who must be credited, too.

Veterinary hospice itself dates to the late 1980s, which was documented extensively for the first time in my article “The History of Animal Hospice,” published in the May 2011 issue of Veterinary Clinics of North America (Elsevier). These pioneers are Dr. Eric Clough of New Hampshire and his wife, Jane; Dr. Guy Hancock of Florida; Dr. James Harris of California (now residing in Tasmania); and Bonnie Mader, founder of the nation’s first pet-loss support hotline, at the University of California, Davis, in 1989.

To provide more information on these groundbreaking veterinary hospice advocates, who initially worked independently and later joined forces, please allow me to quote directly from my article:

“Clough began introducing animal hospice into his practice, Merrimack Veterinary Associates in New Hampshire, on a gradual basis and by promoting it through a separate brochure that offered it as an ancillary service. Harris helped personal clients who were interested in animal hospice at his clinic in Oakland, California, although numbers were initially very small. Mader talked about hospice repeatedly at UC Davis, hoping to enlist the assistance and backing of the School of Veterinary Medicine.

“… In 1995, Hancock presented ‘The Hospice Concept for Animals’ at the 66th annual conference of the Florida Veterinary Medical Association in Tampa, Florida. In 1997, he delivered the talk ‘Hospice Concepts and Geriatric Animal Medicine’ at both the North American Veterinary Conference and at the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine’s 15th annual forum, both held in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. The same presentation was repeated in 1998 at the ACVIM’s 16th annual forum in San Diego, California. Hancock also served as moderator on a panel devoted to ‘Hospice Care for Animals’ at the AVMA’s 135th Annual Conference in New Orleans in 1999. (In 2002 and again in 2005, he taught ‘Hospice Concepts for Animals,’ a technician masterclass, at the North American Veterinary Conference in Orlando, Florida.)

“… In 1998, the Cloughs presented ‘Helping Clients Say Good-Bye: Hospice Care for Pets’ at the AVMA convention in Baltimore, Maryland, and directly inspired Ann McClenaghan, CVT, who became a staunch spokesperson for animal hospice among veterinary technicians and later presented her own work at the Second International Symposium on Veterinary Hospice Care, held at UC Davis in 2009.”

As someone who has been personally and professionally involved in animal hospice for almost 25 years, I would like to urge anyone who chooses to write about this field to acknowledge, recognize and publicly mention these often unsung but richly deserving individuals who gave impetus to an entire movement.

Dr. Marocchino is a fellow in thanatology, president and founder of The Nikki Hospice Foundation for Pets, co-founder of GRACE Animal Hospice Consortium and a professor at California State University, Maritime Academy.