The word “hospice” comes from the Latin “hospes” meaning, “to host a guest or stranger.” The concept can be traced back to the year 1099, when Crusaders founded a “hospice” in Jerusalem for Christian pilgrims and Muslims alike. A Papal bull (charter) issued in 1113 christened the founding Crusaders the Knights Hospitaller and charged them to defend the hospice and care for ailing pilgrims visiting the Holy Land.
Over time, “hospice” came to refer to places of hospitality for the sick, wounded, dying, and travelers and pilgrims.
The modern concept of hospice, which includes palliative care, was pioneered in the 1950s. Palliate comes from the Latin “palliare,” meaning “to cloak,” as in cloaking pain without curing the underlying medical condition.
Dame Cicely Saunders, a British physician, is credited with developing the modern hospice model. Saunders was inspired by David Tasma, a patient hospitalized with an inoperable cancer. They met in 1948 and envisioned a place better suited to prepare for death than a busy hospital ward.
When Tasma died, he bequeathed £500 to Saunders. In 1967, she used the funds to open St. Christopher’s Hospice and launch the modern hospice movement. Although the concept met with some resistance, it has since expanded rapidly around the world.
What, you might ask, has any of this to do with the local animal shelter?
More and more animal shelters are at the vanguard of the “no-kill” movement whose trajectory, I contend, has largely paralleled the modern hospice movement.
The human “hospice movement” and the animal “no-kill movement” were born in the late 1960s and early 1970s respectively and share a deep respect for the sanctity and dignity of life. It seems only natural, albeit in retrospect, that the two movements would at some point form a nexus.
Renowned English journalist Malcolm Muggeridge, perhaps without intending to, helped put these life-affirming movements into context when he said, “life, however low it flickers or fiercely burns, is still a divine flame which no man dare presume to put out; either life is always and in all circumstances sacred, or intrinsically of no account; it is inconceivable that it should be in some cases the one, and in some the other.”
My career has embodied a “no-kill” ethic, an ethic that respects all life as sacred and contends that homeless pets are not to be killed simply because of a lack of space, resources or out of convenience. This ethic leads to taking responsibility, rather than excusing problems and hiding consequences. Upon implementing the no-kill ethic in shelters I have managed I have witnessed drastic declines in killing and as much as a sustained 97 percent Live Release Rate – meaning 97 percent of the animals rescued (or impounded) are placed into loving homes; compared to a national shelter average of just 50 percent.
The animals who don’t fare so well in animal shelters are those who come in suffering from a disease, injury, or congenital or hereditary condition that is likely to adversely affect their health in the future. Animal shelters almost universally support euthanasia for these animals. It is for them that I advocate a hospice program.
If you love animals and can find it in your heart to open your home to provide short-term hospice care to these worthy animals, please volunteer in your local shelter’s hospice program – or join me in encouraging them to implement such a program if they don’t already have one. Hospice programs should provide the volunteer with all the medical care the animal will need, including euthanasia when the time comes. All you need to provide is food (which most shelters will help with), water, shelter and love. If interested, contact your local shelter today. If your local shelter needs help initiating a Hospice Program, have them contact me here.