‘Last Wishes’ provides a better way to do the thing nobody wants to do
by Marene Gustin
Photo by Kevin Falcon
You must read this story if you dread the thought of taking a four-legged loved one to an animal hospital, watching the pain and confusion in their eyes while you hold them on a cold steel table as the veterinarian gives the injection that reduces your beloved to lifelessness, and then trying to hide your blubbering from everyone in the waiting room as you leave.
Meet 37-year-old Dr. Christine Cornelius. An Iowa native, she graduated from Texas A&M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine before moving to Houston. She’s worked at a 24-hour animal emergency clinic, a cat-only hospital, and most recently at River Oaks Animal Hospital. She’s a member of various veterinary associations, including the American Association of Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians, the International Association for Animal Hospice and Palliative Care, and the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement.
And this month, she opens her own Houston practice called Last Wishes.
Last Wishes is a full-service business that offers at-home pet hospice care and euthanasia services. “I have had a lot of clinic experience, and I’ve euthanized one of my own pets at home,” Dr. Cornelius says, “and there is a world of difference.”
The vet currently has two rat terriers, Molly and Myley, and two cats, Satsu and Beignet.
“Three of them are in their teens,” she says, “so it’s getting sad to think that they are getting closer to the end. But when it’s their time, I want them to go quietly in their own home, surrounded by their things and their family. And that’s what I’m going to offer others.”
Some vets will make house calls for current clients, and the city now has a mobile vet clinic that will come to you, but Houston had no full-time home hospice and euthanasia veterinarian.
“I first started to think about this a year ago,” Dr. Cornelius says. “I didn’t even know if there was such a thing as a pet euthanasia specialty because there wasn’t one in Houston. But when I researched last year, I found about 45 vets in the country doing this, so I knew I could do it.”
Dr. Cornelius knows that it sounds a bit grim at first for a doctor to only focus on dying cats and dogs. Even her girlfriend was surprised at this specialty choice at first. “But she’s a paramedic and a former vet technician, so she understood and she’s completely supportive,” Dr. Cornelius says.
“I know this isn’t for everyone. Not every vet wants to do this all the time, but I’ve found that easing a pet’s suffering and helping the owners at the end is the most rewarding work I’ve ever done.”
Dr. Cornelius works out of her home and a specially equipped SUV. After an initial phone consultation, she sets an appointment. For hospice care, she is there for you and your pet for the final days or weeks, helping with medications, explaining the disease progression, offering comfort and grief support, and even helping to rearrange the home environment to make it more comfortable for ailing animals. She works with a team of veterinary nurses and pet bereavement specialists, and can even coordinate alternative therapies.
When the time comes, she uses sedation euthanasia, makes a paw print cast for the owners, and removes the body for cremation.
Last Wishes will also notify your regular vet of the passing and help with pet loss resources and information. There is also a website where clients can post pictures and memorials of their beloved pets.
“You see how people are with their pets today—they’re our children,” Dr. Cornelius says. “To be able to offer this service to someone in the comfort of their own home is really special. I’m not going to charge a lot of money—that’s not why I’m doing this.
“Allowing your companion to experience a peaceful transition is a gift. It is the ultimate way in which to honor the bond you have formed with your beloved pet. In no other situation is this bond stronger. I think every pet deserves to be as comfortable and pain-free as possible during their final moments.”
In-Home Pet Hospice & Euthanasia
713/452-0474 • petslastwishes.com
Marene Gustin is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.