Palliative and end-of-life home care are growing and accepted parts of modern medicine for people.
But Toronto veterinarian Faith Banks is one of the few in her profession offering mobile palliative and hospice-like care for aging and terminally ill pets.
“Pet owners want to know what to expect as the future unfolds. They want to know they are doing all they can to make their pet comfortable. There is a market for what I do. After providing a pet with a good life, people want to provide them with a good death,” Banks said.
Over the years, after working in regular clinics since graduating from the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph in 1996, Banks became interested in pain control for pets.
As she pursued courses on pain management, her interests further expanded to include geriatrics, rehabilitation, and palliative and hospice care.
“I launched my business – a mobile practice, Midtown Mobile Veterinary Services [MMVS] – just under two years ago. I loved the idea of being a mobile vet, because I was then able to spend more time with each pet and its owner,” she said.
Banks visits clients in the comfort and privacy of their homes, with consultations lasting from one to two hours.
“When clients would come into the clinic and discuss different issues that they were experiencing, we would have maybe 15 or 20 minutes together, and I’d see how stressful it was for their pets,” Banks recalled.
There are very few veterinarians in Canada offering this kind of hospice service. In veterinary medicine, hospice care is utilized when the pet has several weeks or days to live. Banks’ pet loss grief counselling expertise also targets pet owners’ psychological well-being.
MMVS serves clients across the GTA. The demand is high. Banks visits six families a week, with fees that she says are only slightly more expensive than a trip to a regular clinic. A new veterinarian, Dr. Karen Stekel, recently joined MMVS.
Forty per cent of Banks’ in-home visits provide a quality of life consultation. Her “quality-of-life scale” is made up of 14 different categories, including assessing an animal’s appetite, its mobility, and its willingness to give and take love.
New clients receive a geriatric consultation that includes an in-depth conversation covering concerns, fears, needs and goals regarding the condition of a pet that’s nearing the end of its life and possible euthanasia.
In-home euthanasia allows the family to say goodbye the way they want in a less stressful and more familiar environment for their pet, she said.
“I have had people Skype in from as far away as Abu Dhabi to participate in the euthanasia. It is a very special ritual. It is all very calm and peaceful,” said Banks.
Other services MMVS provides are caregiver support, massage therapy and stretching, nutritional and fluid therapy, pre-euthanasia guidance and preparation, in-home euthanasia and after-care. The only services Banks doesn’t provide her patients are surgery and x-rays.
Banks told The CJN about her family’s recent loss of their 14-year-old Bernese mountain dog, Smudge.
“I practise what I preach. We had Smudge since she was seven weeks old. I had her on many different types of medications with little mats all over my house to help with mobility. We had a special harness that she used. All the things that I talk to my clients about I was experiencing with my own dog. I applied the quality-of-life scale on her about three different times. Finally, when it was her time, I did the euthanasia myself, outside in the sunshine in the snow, which is where she loved to be, and it was absolutely beautiful.”
If desired, Banks will make a clay imprint of an animal’s paw and leave it with the family. If the family chooses cremation, she later returns their pet’s remains.
Banks is growing the business through veterinarian referrals, word of mouth and social media.
“My rewards are huge. I feel honoured to be able to help people in this way. Sometimes I do it with a lump in my throat, sometimes with tears in my eyes, but always knowing that it is with pure love and kindness that we are ensuring our wonderful fur babies die a good death.”