Griffy was Dr. Katherine Goldberg’s ’04 companion for years. The Bernese Mountain dog provided comfort and companionship on long walks in a field outside of her apartment, especially on days when she questioned the wisdom of pursuing veterinary medicine! And, he celebrated her successful completion of the program by walking with her at graduation.
When Griffy needed someone to help him meet his final needs, Dr. Goldberg knew it would be one of the hardest things she’d ever do and that it needed to be as soothing for Griffy as possible. Together with friends, Dr. Goldberg and Griffy returned to the Varna field where they had walked so often, encircled Griffy’s neck with a ring of wildflowers, fed him hamburgers, and comforted him while the drugs induced his final sleep. In those last minutes, Griffy was comfortable, he was at ease in his surroundings, and he was with people who loved him.
As difficult as the experience was for Dr. Goldberg, it was one that she needed, that Griffy needed, and that was only possible because she was a veterinarian and could euthanize her beloved companion in an environment that had been especially created for him. This, she knew, was an opportunity that everyone should have … not just veterinarians. This revelation was the birth of Whole Animal Veterinary Hospice Services, where Dr. Goldberg provides compassionate care when and where it is most comfortable for both geriatric patients, and those who are at the end of their lives.
“My job is to honor the relationship between people and animals at the time when it is the most precious,” said Dr. Goldberg, who finds this role to be the most fulfilling, enriching, and satisfying veterinary experience she’s ever had. “People experience intense feelings and are often afraid to share them. All feelings – joy, sorrow, stress, fear, guilt, and worry – are ok. This is a poignant time of bonding, reflection, and selflessness. The unifying characteristic of my families is the determination to revolve their days, their schedules, their everything around the needs of their beloved companions. In the human world, we have support services for this. We have home health aides and nursing homes and hospice care givers. Little exists in the pet world, but the need is overwhelming. My service is an option; I am here to help.”
Dr. Goldberg started her business from the ground and worked her way through challenges and issues, as very few animal hospice care programs exist in the country. Skilled in veterinary emergency and critical care, she was very familiar with animals in crisis and all too familiar with animals suffering and sometimes dying without their families in sterile ICUs. She was also too familiar with a phrase that she would prefer not be in her vocabulary: “there’s nothing more that can be done.”
“Many times, I arrive at a location expecting to find an animal that is ready to leave this earth only to find a pet in need of pain management or palliative care,” said Dr. Goldberg. “This experience was really the birthplace of my geriatric practice; there may be many more good days ahead for a family with their pet. I can help support that with focused geriatric care. I am not at all against euthanasia. But even with a euthanasia experience, there is more that can – and often should – be done. We can create a beautiful and meaningful experience that will help people process their grief and bereavement and be as peaceful and soothing for the animal and human family members as possible. Some people find ritualizing the experience meaningful, others do not. It's not about what I would want; it's about what feels best for the family. A ‘good death’ is best defined by the people who know that animal best, and I am there to facilitate that. The issues associated with euthanasia create a rich emotional terrain that I try to help people navigate. It is not as simple as we may like to believe."
With her practice booked, Dr. Goldberg is now looking to the future and hopes to see more people professionally trained in her specialty.
“The last decade has seen a growing interest in veterinary hospice and palliative care,” said Dr. Goldberg, who is a trained volunteer with Hospicare & Palliative Care Services of Tompkins County and provided direct-care volunteer hours for human patients until her business became all-consuming. She is now on Hospicare's Ethics Committee. “We need to integrate end-of-life training into the veterinary curriculum.”
To learn more about Dr. Goldberg and her practice, which is the only veterinary practice in our region to partner with a licensed social worker, and one of very few in the country exclusively focused on geriatrics, hospice and palliative care, visit http://www.wholeanimalvet.com/.