Veterinarian provides end-of-life care – for pets

Joanne Connolly, DVM, founder of Hayley’s Angels Veterinary Services, provides in-home care for geriatric and terminally ill pets.

“It hurts to lose a beloved pet, especially when we have to make the decision to let go. But that last act of friendship is the most loving and caring thing we can do when our (pet) is suffering and treatment is not possible,” said Connolly.

Her goal is to provide pets with comfort and dignity and relieve their human friends of the guilt that inevitably comes with the decision to euthanize a pet. 

Connolly helps humans through the decision-making process with a quality-of-life checklist for their pet.

“Animals are so loyal. Sometimes they hang in there for us despite their suffering,” she said. “We need to give them permission to go.”

When a pet’s time has come, Connolly works with clients to customize the experience in the home in a setting of their choice. Some clients choose an outdoor setting; others provide soothing music; many include the animal’s favorite food treat.

“We try to make it a celebration of the pet’s life,” said Connolly. The one thing she offers in all such occasions is “a hug.”

She coordinates aftercare as desired, including emotional support to the grieving household, humans and surviving pets alike.

“It’s OK to grieve at the loss of a pet,” said Connolly. “They give us so much. They give us unconditional love. They never judge us.” 

Observed Connolly, “Animals grieve, too. Sometimes it’s easier on the other pets in the household when they get a chance to say ‘goodbye’ as well. They can process that something has changed.”

And, it’s not just dogs and cats with which people bond. She’s provided end-of-life care to reptiles, goats and horses. One particularly touching experience for her was a man who developed an emotional attachment to a “wee budgie” bird that rode about on his shoulder much of the time. Originally intended as a pet for his wife, the bird had chosen him to befriend instead. Connolly recalls that the bird, named “Mr. Chicken,” lived for 29 years before being subdued by arthritis. It had been the man’s first experience with the loss of a pet. She reports as many men as women are likely to request her services.

A French Canadian by upbringing, Joanne Lefebvre Connolly is a graduate of the University of Montreal. She completed an internship in small- animal medicine, surgery and emergency services at Michigan Veterinary Specialists and practiced veterinary medicine in Connecticut and Arizona before relocating to Nassau County.

In her veterinary training and practice, she estimated she has witnessed the deaths of more than 10,000 animals. The loss became personal with the passing of her 14-year-old mixed-breed rescue dog, Hayley, in Arizona in 2007.

“She was the first pet my husband and I had shared together, so it was really hard on us,” recalled Connolly.

She and her singer/songwriter husband, Danny Connolly, settled on 3 acres off-island in Nassau County last year. They arrived with two cats, two dogs, a bunny and three chickens, all rescue animals. They have since added a horse, also a rescue, to their menagerie. Besides a mutual affection for animals, she and her husband share an interest in gardening.

She explained that her husband grew up on Long Island, N.Y., and was ready to relocate near the coast again.

“Also, I had decided I wanted to begin rescuing horses, and there wasn’t much grass in Arizona to feed them,“ joked Connolly.

She reported that local veterinarians have been supportive of her specialty practice, especially since she is available on weekends.

“It’s been a team effort. Most of the veterinarians I know are passionate about what they do. They want to save every animal, but it’s not possible. All of us would like to be available seven days a week, but we have to maintain balance in our own lives too,” acknowledged Connolly.

She juggles her work hours around times when veterinary clinics aren’t available, taking Tuesdays and Wednesdays as her personal days off.

When Jennifer Poteet contacted Connolly last fall about her geriatric Labrador retriever Raven, Poteet thought the dog’s time had come. The dog had to be lifted into a car to be transported to a vet. Poteet wondered how she would handle an emergency vet visit if it came when her husband was out of town on business. 

“Joanne was amazing,” said Poteet. Connolly advised the dog might have a bit more time left with the family – good news for Poteet. “She helped us with Raven for several more months ... 

She was kind and comforting, and we instantly become friends ... She came into our lives at a time of need and made us feel important, like Raven was the only (dog) she had to care for.”

Although it’s been nearly six months, the loss is still hard for Poteet to talk about.

As word about Connolly’s services has spread throughout the community, she has become busy enough that she rarely advertises her services. Although she does an occasional educational event, her spring schedule had not yet been finalized at the time of her interview with the News-Leader.

Connolly has written a book titled Animal Teachings, from Hayley’s Angels Methods, which is available on her business website, www.hayleysangels.com, and locally at VIP Dog Salon, 1426 Lime St. in Fernandina Beach. Also
on the website is her pet owners’ quality-of-life checklist for their pets. Because her services are provided in-home, she does not have an office. Phone and email consultations with individual pet owners and veterinarians are available. Call 200-1035.

 

News-Leader

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