Jerry was an active middle aged man whose unregulated hypertension resulted in a series of severe strokes within a two year period. He eventually became bedbound and continued to decline. He was a nursing home resident who had spent a lot of time in and out of the hospital when we admitted him to hospice. His family came to see him when they could arrange a ride to the nursing home. Despite his condition, Jerry was able to make his wishes known, and he didn’t want to die in the hospital. Unfortunately, his condition made home care impossible for his family. Our staff visited him regularly according to his care plan and one of those visits coincided with a visit from his wife, brought to the nursing home by a hospice volunteer. When she heard about the Pet Peace of Mind program, she told the staff member that their 12 year old miniature poodle, Lucy, was really Jerry’s dog. Lucy had arrived at their home in Jerry’s shirt pocket when she was a tiny puppy and had been his constant companion over the years. Her favorite spot was beside him in the recliner, under his arm. Because of his frequent hospitalizations and her need for transportation, it hadn’t occurred to her to bring the dog for visits to the nursing home. Due to their financial situation, Lucy was in dire need of grooming and bathing services and she had fleas. When I followed up with Jerry’s wife about the pet program, I agreed to set up an appointment to have Lucy groomed and bathed. After checking with the nursing home about their visitation guidelines, I also arranged for her to have her vaccinations updated and obtained the facility’s permission for Lucy to visit Jerry. It was to be a surprise for them both.
The morning of the appointments arrived and I went to pick up Lucy from her home. I had just left the vet’s office and was on the way to drop her off at the groomer when a call came from the hospice. The case manager told me that Jerry’s condition had worsened overnight. Jerry had transitioned to “actively dying” and could no longer speak, but his eyes were opened and he could still hear. He was progressing rapidly and time was short before he became unresponsive altogether. I rushed to the groomer, permission form in hand, and informed them of the situation. They assured me that they would groom her first and rush the process so she could be ready within the hour.
I walked into Jerry’s room that morning with Lucy under my arm, shiny and clean, with a tiny red bow on her forehead. I had never met Jerry and he looked at me and then at Lucy, puzzled by our visit. I introduced myself and then introduced Lucy as his dog, the one he had brought home in his pocket as a tiny puppy. His drawn face slowly twisted into a smile as he raised a weak hand toward Lucy. She began to wag her tail furiously and licked his hand in recognition. I put her down on the hospital bed and she crawled carefully on her belly toward her beloved master. After they greeted one another again, she curled up under his arm in her favorite spot and settled in, contented to be by his side. Family members came and went, but Lucy stayed in place until I took her home two hours later. Jerry had progressed to unresponsiveness as predicted. He died peacefully later that night, having said goodbye to his family and to his faithful friend.