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Terminally-Ill Cats And Dogs Get Tender, Loving Hospice Care In Their Final Days

MILPITAS (CBS SF) -- A Silicon Valley animal shelter is making the last days of an ailing pet into some of the most heartwarming and gratifying days for its caregiver. It's all thanks to the Humane Society Silicon Valley "Fospice" Program (a portmanteau word combining "Hospice" with "Foster") which allows terminally ill pets to receive all the medical care they need, and plenty of love as well.

Meet Megan Duke and Bramble. The purring cat's sweet disposition certainly belies her prickly name. Her owner, Megan, is a vet tech at the shelter and first met Bramble as a newborn in the Kitten Nursery where she volunteers. Newborns have to be bottle-fed every three hours to stay alive.

After two months of caring for them, it was finally time to spay and neuter Bramble and the kittens in her litter. That's when Megan realized Bramble had been born with congenital scoliosis and other neurological birth defects that would eventually claim her life. Megan said she was immediately drawn to the kitten.

"I have always cared for animals," said Megan. "I don't know exactly how to explain it, but ever since I was little, there's been something inside me that guides me to help. It's not something I can fight. It's just part of who I am."

Now, Megan is officially Bramble's 'fospice-mom' and she will take care of Bramble for the rest of the kitty's short life.

According to HSSV spokesperson Leanne Reis, Fospice parents have no problem dealing with the fact that their pet is not going to live for long.

"We're very up front with the public about what's going on with the animal and we tell people exactly what the prognosis is," explained Reis. "In general the people who step up to do this tend to be a self-selecting group who are very capable of dealing with that reality."

Reis said there are is no special requirements to become a Fospice parent. "It's about the same as for regular adoption, but with the added onus of being able to care for the animal if it needs additional care."

That means, for example, visits to the vet when needed. Of course, the cost of medical care is paid for by the shelter. And unlike adoption, there are no fees.

"If they're in Fospice, we take care of the animal's medical care," says Leanne. "If they adopt the animal outright, which has happened in the past, then they provide the medical care themselves. Fospice and adoption are two different things."

The Fospice program was born out of a need to find a compassionate solution for terminally ill strays and animals like Bramble who come into the shelter.

"Our ability to care for these animals has been based on the amazing foster parents like Megan who have stepped up to help."

But Reis says people who own a terminally ill pet should not bring them to the shelter.

"Any animal that has the option of staying with their family when they are ill will do best with the people they have always known and loved."

Right now HSSV has 2 animals placed with Fospice parents – a cat and a dog. Leanne says there are, however, plenty of healthy animals who need good homes.

"We do have regular pets, dogs particularly, that need foster homes including several that are recovering from medical procedures. None of these are terminally ill and all are expected to make a full recovery."

As for Megan, she knows she have to deal with the eventual loss of her beloved Bramble. That has to be heartbreaking. But would she do it again?

"I would absolutely do this again! Right now, Bramble has a good quality of life, and I am committed to making sure she enjoys her time here."

For more information about the Fospice program at Human Society Silicon Valley, and their Annual Holiday Adoption Program, go to their website, .  All during the month of December, all six shelters in Silicon Valley will offer adoptions of adult dogs and cats for just $12. That includes HSSV, Palo Alto Animal Services, San Jose Animal Care Center, Silicon Valley Animal Control Authority, Santa Clara County Animal Care & Control and Town Cats.

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