Some people spend each day surrounded by questions. Others are destined to provide the answers. For Michelle Nichols, her passion for all furry and feathered friends, and her empathy for the people who open their hearts to them, motivated her to create two separate entities to serve fellow animal lovers during their time of need. The first, a business designed to respond to the needs of owners facing difficult decisions. The second, a non-profit organization to promote education and resources on hospice and palliative care.
In February 2009, Michelle and her family struggled to keep the promise they made to their “Brodie” through averting another panicked trip to the emergency clinic, as they knew it would be there he would likely die. Michelle’s mother and hospice nurse, Carol, would companion her family through that night and help them to see that Brodie was in no apparent distress. To allow him to end his journey with them there where he was comfortable could be a responsible and loving option. In Michelle’s lifetime of saying goodbye to seven dogs, two cats and three horses, as the sun was rising that morning she and her family gained a first-hand appreciation of the value in applying hospice philosophy to work with animals.
After more than a decade in healthcare providing counsel for families in crisis, Michelle expected to use her own personal insights to enhance animals’ quality of life and to emotionally support pet parents, and so launched Partners to the Bridge. For the first 4-6 months she mentored with a veterinarian clinically interested in the hospice approach and shadowed under two integrative veterinarians while volunteering in the Hospice Department at Evergreen Medical Center. At this early stage no one was seeking the assistance she knew would benefit animal lovers at this difficult time. It seemed that community awareness of palliative care and hospice should be her first step. Michelle and six co-founders set out to hold an educational workshop, and the enthusiasm it generated eventually became a local non-profit organization they called the Animal Hospice, End-of-Life, and Palliative Care Project, or AHELP Project.
Just three months before the AHELP Project’s inaugural workshop of September of 2010, Michelle would embark on the same emotional voyage as her clients when her family’s 10-year-old Boxer “Sora” was diagnosed with cancer. The lessons she learned from the journey she and her family shared with Sora added fuel to her passion to promote the national animal hospice movement. She became a founding member of the International Association of Animal Hospice and Palliative Care (www.IAAHPC.org) and remains active in their Education Committee. In October 2011 she was invited to speak at their first national conference, and proudly showcased the AHELP Project as a model program that could be adapted to any community in the US or even abroad.
In Partners to the Bridge, Michelle applies hospice philosophy to the animal world, to coordinate a team that will empower the family to make decisions that will enhance quality of life, and so that looking back in the journey they shared with their animal friend just contentment and pleasant memories will remain. Michelle lives in Bellevue, Washington with her husband of 15 years, her six-year-old daughter Zoe, their 8-year-old Boxer Rex, and an orange tabby cat named Mickey Max. In 2012 they will welcome a puppy into their home.
Michelle looks forward to hearing your questions to clarify the distinctions between these two entities; please drop a line to michelle@PartnerstotheBridge.com. Please visit www.AHELPProject.org to learn more about the AHELP Project. Through this organization, you may become part of our growing community of like-minded families and professionals from King and Snohomish counties who are interested in the unique caregiving involved with hospice and special needs in our beloved animals.
After 30 years in the nursing field, caring for the very young and the very old and all those in between, I really found my calling as a hospice nurse. I still recall myself as a 9 year old deciding that I wanted to be a nurse when "I grow up". I told myself I wanted to work in an area when I would be the most help to people. As a hospice nurse I have been privileged to be invited into an intimate setting as the family gathers as it would for a joyous birth. This too is a transitional time in the cycle of life. It is my hope to ease the anxiety and suffering associated with this passage, for both the patient and the extended family.
Life leads us down many paths, as I found myself supporting my own family as we all prepared for the passage of our beloved Brodie I saw the support needed for a non-medical family and saw the need for hospice support in the animal community. There are so many questions that need answering as well as emotional support and I look forward to being a part of this emerging field. I will consult with Michelle to discuss hospice philosophy and share my expertise in counseling families as your animal friend moves toward the Rainbow Bridge.