Grief Support

One Less Worry: Hospice Patients Get Pet Help


Who will care for your pet should you become ill? Who will walk, feed and groom it, take it to the vet and play with it, if you can't?

These are concerns for many patients who face any stage of illness, said Shannon Noble, volunteer coordinator at TrustBridge Health, which offers assistance for families facing illness.

"We are really excited to offer our Pet Peace of Mind program," said Noble, who applied for a grant and piloted the program last December. "Especially these days, when pets are part of the family. It gives patients peace of mind."

The program is designed to improve the quality of life for patients who want to keep their pets at home and to keep them together on the end-of-life journey, she said.

TrustBridge Health, which comprises Hospice of Palm Beach and Broward counties, Hospice by the Sea, Focus Care Home Health and Harbor Palliative Care, has about 30 volunteers for the new program and is looking for more.

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In addition to offering physical, emotional and spiritual care to those with terminal illnesses, the Pet Peace of Mind program provides financial assistance for those who meet the qualifications, check-ups, vaccinations, vet visits and food, if needed.

John Saunders, 58, a retired pharmaceutical executive from Jupiter, lost both his wife and father in the past two years.

"We were very appreciative to the hospice services in our own family," he said. "By volunteering, I saw a chance to give back. Pets have always been a part of my family and my life."

"Knowing someone is there if you need them is very comforting for a patient," Saunders said. "This organization has given so much to my family. I want these patients to know they're not alone."

One of the patients Saunders helps is Jacqueline Campisi, of Jupiter, a former optometrist from Connecticut.

Campisi and her husband Greg relocated to Florida after she was diagnosed with malignant bone cancer in 2008. With rods in her back, the cold weather was too much to bear.

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Hospice also provided her with pain medication, which she wasn't able to afford on her own, and introduced her to Saunders who came to help her with her Jack Russell terrier, Buster.

"Prior to meeting the hospice team, Buster got behind in his shots and appointments," said Campisi, who used another service before finding the TrustBridge's Pet Peace of Mind program. "When I had to go for testing and appointments or when Greg had to travel for business, Neta Jones of Clip 'N Dip Pet Boutique came to my aid. She fed and housed Buster. Without her help, I would have been forced to give him up. I was seriously ill and lost my desire to live."

She said, "John Saunders from TrustBridge and Neta helped me regain my confidence that I can make this work and Buster can remain by my side for just a while longer."

Remarkably upbeat and positive for somebody with a serious diagnosis, Campisi credits her positive attitude to a medical device called NuCalm, which helps her manage stress, boosts her immune system and allows her body to heal.

"This allows me to stay as upbeat as possible and has definitely improved my quality of life," she said. "And knowing that Buster has the best possible care as well also reduces my anxiety."

"I'm forever grateful to all the wonderful people at Trustbridge Health," Campisi said. "I'm deeply thankful to Dave Fielding, CEO of Trustbridge Health; Maura Taggart; Sherry Pelchen, nurse; Kim Jeluso, social worker; Shannon Noble; and John Saunders. They are all amazing."

TrustBridge Health is looking for volunteers with pet experience to visit patients. Call 561-227-5138.

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