Lacey's the one in the family we all turn to for comfort and cheer.

Because her strongest suit is keeping a secret, she's my favorite confidante. And I'll admit, with chagrin, to sometimes giving her preferential treatment and bending the rules a bit more about between-meal snacks.

With her luminous brown eyes that seem to look right inside you, she's a powerful member of our family. But logic tells us that she may not be with us many more years. In fact, if you rely on actuarial tables, she'll be the first one to go: Even though she's only 8 in people years, she's 56 in dog years.

Loss hits hard

The bond with a pet runs deep. When former President Clinton lost his black lab Buddy recently, it made big TV news. And a friend recently whispered at a party that she had to go back to work the day after the devastating loss of the family's golden retriever. She couldn't understand why time off work isn't given to grieve for a pet.

Losing a beloved pet is a big deal. When one becomes terminally ill, family members could use the calming support of a medical professional, but who makes house calls anymore?

Portland area veterinarian Nia Hansen does. In 1998, she started a house-call veterinary business, Home Is Where the Heart Is, for clients Ñ or clients' pets Ñ who are too old or too anxious to comfortably get to a clinic.

Hansen says she got the idea from a Portland client, Jane Gable, when Jane and Harold Gable's Persian cat, Baffi, had to be euthanized at the clinic where Hansen then worked.

When another of the Gables' Persian cats, Elliot, was diagnosed with kidney failure, Hansen set out for their home with her medical bag. Hansen treated Elliot at home as long as possible with fluids given subcutaneously, and the Gables learned to inject the fluids themselves.

'We called it his juice. He got so accustomed to it that he would go to his pillow when it was time for his injection,' Jane Gable recalls tearfully.

'Pets are our children'

When the fateful day was finally at hand, Hansen put Elliot, surrounded by a sea of family love, gently to sleep.

'Nia came in and explained what was going to happen,' Gable says. 'We both held Elliot. She wrapped him in a beautiful baby blanket and euthanized him. She then picked out a box, had him cremated and delivered his ashes to us.

'Our pets are our children,' she explains. 'They get very stressed going to a clinic. Home care offers dignity and respect to them, while minimizing all of our fears and anxieties.'

Hansen says, 'My patients become part of my family as well. Whenever I realize that one of them is terminal, it is very painful, and reminds me that one day I will also be facing the loss of one of my beloved family pet members.'

Although our own family anticipates many more years of vigor from Lacey, her graying muzzle and slight limp from hip arthritis are gentle reminders to keep Hansen's number close at hand.

The Dove Lewis Emergency Animal Hospital offers a free pet-loss support group; call 503-228-7282 for information.

Contact Diane Dennis-Crosland at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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