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The Unconditional Love of Companion Animals

Allowing companion animals to join the end of life journey brings the solace of unconditional love.

Photo of Liz Fukushima
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A 2013 New York Times "The New Old Age" blog posting cites more than 2 dozen hospitals that allow individuals to bring their companion animals into the hospital.It specifically mentions two New York Area facilities that allow personal pets to say around the clock.

"On Long Island, North Shore University Hospital allows personal pets to stay with patients around the clock in its 10-bed palliative care unit, as does Hospice Inn, a freestanding 18-bed hospice facility that’s part of North Shore-LIJ Health System."

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

Our pets, not being burdened by our personal concepts and cultural constructs about death, can bring deep emotional comfort and guidance that the process we are going through is natural and not something to fear.

Tell us about your work experience:

I practice Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine, teach meditation, and am enrolled in a Clinical Bioethics Master's Degree Program.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Teresa Wagner

It is important for both the dying person and the animal to have time together near the person's death. Animals grieve too and this time to be together can mitigate grief for the animal and anxiety for a person who may not want to die before being with their beloved animal. Design spaces and policies so this closure can occur.

Photo of Liz Fukushima

Here is another example of transformative power of companion animals.  Not specific to end of life, but to transforming the atmosphere of an entire nursing home.

Photo of Mansi Parikh

Hey Liz, excellent observation. Have you thought about how we might make this a more normal sight across care facilities? What currently prevents most facilities from allowing companion animals? How do they differ from those that do allow animals?

Photo of Liz Fukushima

Hi Mansi,  Thanks for your question.  I'm not a specialist in this area, and posted the "inspiration" on behalf of a group.  From my personal observations, I suspect there are liability issues.  I was reading up a bit on the difference between facilities that allow certified therapy dogs and those that allow personal pets. From a policy viewpoint, it would seem easiest to start getting free standing hospices to become more open to this.  I was wondering about the hospital that allows 24/7 companionship, and what that would look like having a cat in the room.  Seems obvious that dogs are trained to "be take out", but I was wondering if you could put a cat litter box in your room!

Hopefully, this "inspiration" will spark an enthusiastic discussion!


Photo of Garrett Eng

Hi Liz, I too share this question. I wonder what kind of data out there supports both of our observations that therapy animals bring tremendous joy and comfort to patients. My sense also is that the elderly in particular often suffer from loneliness and boredom, so I wonder how we could ramp up visits from animals, whose guardians often work during the day. 

Photo of Liz Fukushima

Thanks for your comment, Garrett.  It highlights that there are two different models.  One is simply the comfort, joy, and connection that any animal can bring, i.e. visits by certified therapy animals. The other is the company of ones own pet. Perhaps some of this end-of-live visioning will help create more hospice type places, some of which might even have permanent resident pets.  I've traveled and lived in Ghana, India, Nepal and Vietnam, so I'm acutely aware of how "sterile" (i.e. alienating) health care facilities are here in the US.  But, once someone is going to die, why not relax things a bit and bring on the companion animals!