San Diego Pet Hospice Brings Comfort to Animals' Final Days

Families anticipating the death of a pet find comfort and grief counseling.

March 21, 2014, 1:29 PM
PHOTO: Into the Sunset pet hospice specializes in end-of-life care for your animal.
Into the Sunset pet hospice specializes in end-of-life care for your animal.
Dieter Spears/Getty Images

March 21, 2014— -- Saying goodbye to a beloved family animal is always painful. But a new and unique hospice seeks to at least minimize your pet's suffering in its final days.

Into the Sunset Pet Transition Center, which opened its doors on March 10 in San Diego, Calif., is the first hospice dedicated to end-of-life care for four-legged friends. Founded by Certified Pet Loss Provider Vivianne Villanueva and her husband, Dr. Sarit Dhupahe, a veterinary surgeon, the center offers palliative services previously only available to humans.

"The hospice movement for animals is relatively new and growing," Villanueva told ABC News. "Of equal importance is recognizing [the pet owner's] anxiety and anticipatory grief to help them during this difficult and emotional journey."

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The idea for the center was inspired by Villanueva and Dhupahe's personal experience four years ago, when their Labrador was diagnosed with cancer.

"In June 2010, Sarit and I found ourselves in the very place every pet owner dreads," writes Villanueva on Into the Sunset's website. "Our five year old Lab, Lily, was diagnosed with terminal lymphoma. Sadly, she only survived a year. Through this loss, we realized the need for end-of-life care, and emotional support for the family, were of great importance."

Local pet owners seem to agree.

"This is such an innovative and much needed service for our community," wrote one woman on Into the Sunset's Facebook page. "What a gift you are offering to SO many people," commented another.

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To appeal to a broad range of lifestyles and belief systems, the center offers a combination of Western and Eastern medicine and treatments, including veterinary acupuncture, homeopathy, post-op support products, high level pain management, grief companioning and medical daycare.

"Response [to Eastern treatments] depends on the pet, particular disease state as well how they present to us before treatments are started," said Villanueva. "For example, musculoskeletal diseases, neurologic disease, heart disease and endocrine disease seem to respond positively. Behavioral issues also respond very well to Eastern modalities."

How to know which line of treatment is right for Fido? Each animal that comes to the center undergoes a two-hour consultation with a veterinarian, veterinary nurse and family care coordinator to create a personalized plan for either at-home or center-based care. The consulting cost is $250-$300. But services vary per pet.

In addition to end-of-life care, families can also visit the center to consider specialized pet tributes, such as cremation services and celebration of life ceremonies. Those who wish to bring home a memorial might desire the commissioned bronze statues on offer or man-made diamonds made from pet ashes or fur.

One recent post on Into the Sunset's Facebook page shared an image of a blown glass urn shaped to resemble a cresting wave.

"One of the most beautiful urns we have ever seen," read the caption. "For those that love the ocean. Stunning."

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Into the Sunset also seeks to help pet owners during their grieving process and encourages them to be open about their emotions with friends and family.

"While the pet benefits substantially from hospice care, we are addressing the emotional needs of the family as well," said Villanueva. "We are preparing them for the eventual goodbye. This is the hardest decision as a pet parent."

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