By BRENNA GRITEMAN
A year ago, Danielle Schloemp found her dog in congestive heart failure and rushed him to the emergency veterinarian. She was sent home with a bag of pills and a six-week prognosis for her beloved pet, along with an overwhelming sense of shock.
A registered veterinary technician herself, Schloemp was able to navigate the dog’s five different prescriptions and the care required to keep the dog comfortable until its death. But it made her wonder how someone without a working knowledge of veterinary medicine would handle such a situation.
Out of this loss blossomed the idea to help other parents of ailing pets with whatever challenges they may be facing, be it understanding the diagnosis and medications to offering nail trims for a pet who can no longer be taken to the clinic, or nonjudgmental guidance regarding euthanasia. The resulting business, Just a Touch Animal Hospice & Palliative Care, is one of just a small handful of pet hospice offerings in Ohio and is constantly evolving, as each pet’s and each caregiver’s needs are different. In each instance, though, an emphasis is placed on “quality” over “quantity.”
“There’s such a disconnect from the time you receive a terminal diagnosis and when you get home with a bag of pills thinking, ‘now what?’” Schloemp says. She’s working with veterinary clinics in Findlay and the surrounding area in hopes of becoming that next step.
In an ideal scenario, a clinic would refer pet owners to Schloemp at the time a terminal diagnosis is given, so she can meet the owners in their home, present their options and allow them to choose a course of action. Not only does this assure the animal’s best quality of life is considered, but it helps educate the owner on what to expect in the coming weeks and allows them to begin working through their own emotions regarding the looming loss of their pet.
“There’s almost a social working aspect to this,” Schloemp says. “A lot of times we forget about the owner, and how difficult caregiving can be.”
It also helps to avoid the regret involved in canceling a scheduled euthanasia because the pet is having a good day, only to see the pet crash overnight. Even in her own experiences of loss, Schloemp will ask herself: “Why would you want your last day together to be a bad day?”
And the hospice experience doesn’t have to be a dark one.
Charles, a 10-year-old pointer mix, is a current hospice patient in Schloemp’s home. His ears perk up at a sharp whistle and he obediently comes when he’s called. A much-loved stuffed toy keeps him company in bed and he really, really loves belly rubs.
“He has been healthy as a horse — never been sick in his entire life,” says Schloemp, pointing to the visible tumor on the certified therapy dog’s rib. The pair have been together since the pup was just a year old, and a visit to the veterinarian last fall revealed an aggressive bone cancer and some heart issues.
“I would rather him have the most amazing, painless three months” instead of a series of cancer treatments and surgery, Schloemp says.
That’s an example of the type of decision she can help her clients make.
Schloemp has been a vet tech for nearly 12 years and has been a member of an animal surgical team and a college instructor, and has also worked in a general practice setting and in the pet food industry. She is a member of the International Association for Animal Hospice and Palliative Care and offers healing touch for animals. She is also planning to undergo nutrition certification courses, along with others related to senior pet care and cancer treatment. While she is not able by law to prescribe medications, she can administer them and works alongside veterinarians to relay information about the pet’s changing needs. When the time comes for a pet to pass on, she will schedule the visit with the clinic and can coordinate for cremation.
Ongoing support is offered through Schloemp’s monthly pet loss and discussion groups, held from 10:30-11:30 a.m. the last Saturday of each month at the Humane Society & SPCA of Hancock County. The free meetings have a self-care focus and welcome a variety of speakers, and those attending are encouraged to bring a donation to the shelter.
While her services have so far been limited to dogs and cats, Schloemp is open to caring for birds, small rodents and reptiles, “because everybody loves different animals.”
To contact Schloemp, email firstname.lastname@example.org, call 419-889-8716 or direct message her through her Facebook page, Just a Touch LLC: Animal Hospice & Palliative Care.