Kaylyn Tomiaki is dying. But one of her biggest worries isn't for herself, it's about Candy, her black and white Pekingese. “I'm the type who has to get their life in order before they go”, said Tomiaki, 53, who has cancer and was given six months to live in November. “My number 1 concern is finding a home for Candy.” Tomiaki shares a small west Phoenix mobile home with Candy and receives at-home care from Hospice of the Valley. But they aren't the only ones concerned for her welfare. Two, maybe three times a night, she said, Candy comes in to check on her. “She comes up to the rail and kisses my hand to see if I'm all right, and then she goes back to her bed,” Tomiaki said of her 4- year –old pooch.
Tomiaki's focus on her pet is something Hospice of the Valley workers see on a regular basis. At least half of the 9,200 families the agency dealt with last year had pet placement issues. “I hear from our caregivers that patients linger longer than expected before they've made arrangements for their pets,” said Christine Tobin, director of public relations for the central Phoenix non-profit agency. ”But once their pets are taken care of, they're more comfortable letting go.” Finding the perfect home won't be easy. “I've had her since she was 6 weeks old and she's the only companion I've got, ”Tomiaki said. “I want to make sure she'll adapt to the other people so it won't be too hard on her. “ A couple who live near Tomiaki have shown an interest in taking Candy. Tomiaki is grateful she has been able to observe firsthand the care and kindness they show their own two dogs, and she has been allowing them to take Candy for short periods.
“I want to keep her with me as long as I'm able to care for her,” she said. “Dogs and even cats are so calming and they help you to concentrate on them, instead of yourself.” Hospice of the Valley caregivers help patients such as Tomiaki sort though the maze of possible homes for their pets, whether they're the more traditional dogs, cats and birds or ferrets, lizards and horses. “Our concept of care includes the family (of the patient), and animals are part of the family, “ said Pat pierce, a bereavement counselor who remembers finding a new home for a man's beloved tarantula. “We're there to talk to patients about their pets and help facilitate the disposition of the animals.”
Pierce always recommends that patients put their wishes in writing once they have decided on a course of action. And those opinions vary. If the animal is in poor health or old and adapting to a new home might be unduly difficult, some patients may decide on euthanasia. “We always suggest that they discuss this with their veterinarian first.” Pierce said. Often the pet is simply absorbed into the patient's family. “It can provide an interesting link to that person for the survivors, say a widow or widower, because they both had a bond with that person that can now be shared,” Pierce said. At other times, however, families are either too overwhelmed with the death, uninterested in the pet or ill-equipped to care for it The solution then is to take it to the nearest animal shelter. “We see a lot of this, “ said Julie Bank, spokeswoman for Maricopa County Animal Care and Control. “ And it's a very sad thing for us and the animals, who in many cases were beloved and wonderful family pets.” Close friends or acquaintances who have shown an interest in the pet sometimes make better prospects, she said.
There are also specialty animal rescue organizations that may be able to help. “ We only take in the number of animals that we can care for that are healthy and adoptable, “ said Betty Welton, president of the Arizona Animal Welfare League, which runs a no-kill shelter.
For people who want to make certain their pet will have a safe place to live out their life, Animals Benefit Club of Arizona Inc. runs a Continuing Care Program in addition to its no-kill shelter, which accepts animals on a limited basis. With an initial donation of $250 due at contract signing plus $2,000 per cat and $3,000 per dog upon the death of the owner, ABC will accept responsibility for the pet. “We will either obtain an appropriate permanent home for the pet or provide shelter, including any medical care required, “said Dee Kotinas, the shelter's president.
But finding a suitable home for your pet is not reserved just for the elderly or terminally ill. “We're dealing now with the family of a young man in his early 30s who was killed in a small plane crash 10 weeks ago, “Kotinas said. “He had two dogs that he dearly loved and the family can't cope with the dogs, so we're trying to work with them.”
By Linda Helser The Arizona Republic, Tuesday March 2, 2004.