Welcome to National Animal Hospice Month!

2022 dame cicely saunders human hospice margaret mead national animal hospice month november palliative care pet care pet hospice tracy brad Nov 02, 2022
Animal Hospice Group - Hospice and Palliative Care

Welcome to National Animal Hospice Month
By Tracy Brad
Director of Marketing & Communications, Animal Hospice Group

Celebrating Animal Hospice


Welcome to National Animal Hospice Month! Throughout November, we will be sharing articles about the history and practice of animal hospice and palliative care, including stories that are written from the perspectives of the patients themselves.

For almost a decade, those in the pet hospice field have celebrated National Animal Hospice Day during the beginning of November, but we feel that pet hospice deserves its own month of recognition. Animal hospice is rooted in the philosophy and practice of human hospice. The term “hospice” derives from the Latin hospitum, which translates as “hospitable, affording hospitality, or being received as a guest.”

Ancient and Modern

Photo: Margaret Mead, Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc.

While hospice was first officially recognized as a practice around the year 1065 CE, the concept has likely existed for thousands of years before that. When asked what she considered the first sign of civilization was, anthropologist Margaret Mead didn’t respond with art, or language, or hunting, or tool use. Mead’s response? A fractured femur that had been unearthed in an archaeological site. The 15,000-year-old bone, the longest in the human body, required time – at least six weeks – and care to heal properly. With the trauma of the injury itself, possible infections, and the inability to flee from the megafauna, it’s likely that an injury this extensive was often fatal. While concepts like infection weren’t understood 15,000 years ago, hospitable care was – and it’s likely that the caregivers of this injured person realized that the injury could be fatal. Investing that much time in a potentially “terminal” patient was worth that community’s time, though – because they saw the value in dignity, support, and loving care. While “behavior doesn’t fossilize,” and we can’t say for certain whether the caregivers thought the patient would survive from the injury (they did) or not, it could be argued that this hints at very ancient origins of hospice and palliative care. At the very least, it’s an interesting hypothesis!

Modern human hospice was founded by then-registered nurse Dame Cicely Saunders in 1967. Dame Saunders’ own chronic health issues inspired her to become a medical social worker. After providing hospice and palliative care for a Polish refugee, Saunders became a doctor so that she could further help terminally ill patients. Saunders educated the medical community about hospice care, and human hospice was founded on Saunders’ legacy of love, care, compassion, choices, and dignity during end-of-life and death.

Human hospice has a long history, but the concept of pet hospice just might, too. The 14,000-year-old remains of a 7-month-old puppy and two humans were unearthed in Bonn-Oberkassel, Germany, one-hundred years ago1. Recent examination of the remains reveals that the puppy contracted a serious disease at 19 weeks of age – but survived for another 9 weeks. The disease, canine distemper virus, has a high mortality rate and runs for three weeks. There was no way for the human caregivers to know if the puppy would survive, but she received enough care to live nine more weeks. Perhaps the caregivers thought she would survive, or perhaps they were providing hospice care.

Janssens, L., Giemsch, L., Schmitz, R., Street, M., Van Dongen, S., & Crombé, P. (2018). A new look at an old dog: Bonn-Oberkassel reconsidered, Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 92, Pp. 126-138, ISSN 0305-4403,

A Paradigm Shift in Pet Care

While the modern practice of pet hospice is relatively new, animal caregivers saw what Dame Saunders saw: a need for hospice and palliative care for pets as well as for people. In 2008, Animal Hospice Group co-founder Michelle Nichols was caring for her terminally ill dog, Brodie. Her mother, RN Carol Soukup, had provided hospice care for humans, and they asked themselves: Where were the animal hospice caregivers?

Nichols, along with Animal Hospice Group co-founders Dr. Amir Shanan, Gail Pope, and Dr. Kathryn Marocchino, saw that our pets, like our human family members, received diagnoses like canine cancer, renal failure, and canine cognitive dysfunction, but weren’t ready to die just yet. They knew that they wanted their animal family members to be treated with the same level of comfort, care, compassion, choice, and dignity that human hospice patients received. With over a century of combined experience in animal hospice and palliative care, the Animal Hospice Group was created in 2019, and the team decided that they wanted to share that knowledge with even more practitioners to enable them to provide pet hospice care, as well.

Photo/Bio: Michelle Nichols, AHG Founder

Photo/Bio: Dr. Amir Shanan, AHG Founder

Photo/Bio: Gail Pope, AHG Founder

Photo/Bio: Dr. Kathryn D. Marocchino, AHG Founder

For the past decade, animal hospice and palliative care have provided more pets and pet parents with guidance, support, options, and the reassurance that they are following the same kind of treatment plan that their human family members would receive. You might think it’s revolutionary to provide animal hospice, but we think it should become established practice – and we’re working to ensure that every animal family member has the same umbrella of care that our human family members do. And during National Animal Hospice Month, we believe that knowing about the concepts of pet hospice should become more conventional, too.

Pet hospice is a relatively new field, but it has a rich history founded in human hospice – and it just may even be older than we think, too. Margaret Mead was definitely onto something when she said that the 15,000-year-old fractured femur was the first sign of civilization, given the level of care this recovery required. The remains of the Bonn-Oberkassel puppy revealed an equal level of care. But beyond civilization, and culture, and love, and family, these finds may be the first indications of hospice, too. In Module 1, Lecture 1, "The Evolution of the Animal Hospice Movement," within the Animal Hospice Group Certification Program (click here to see Curriculum), Dr. Kathryn Marocchino discusses the relationship between human hospice and its animal counterpart.

Whether it’s a long-established part of our history or a more recent practice, we’re proud to be at the forefront of pet hospice, providing options, education, and support for those who are navigating their animal’s end-of-life.

To learn more about our certification program, click here to review our Curriculum.



Happy November! Also, we are spreading awareness this month about National Home Care, Hospice, and Palliative Care Month. Please show us all that you like this article by sharing, commenting, and/or giving this a "LIKE" on Facebook. Photo in post (header): Human hospice care.