Mercy Pet Peace of Mind Program Helps Hospice Patients and Their Pets

    By Kathleen Berger, Executive Producer for Science and Technology

    Tracy Rumpf will never forget the day she met Max the Chihuahua, Tracy described him as appearing and acting very sad.

    “He had lost his owner who he had lived with since he was a puppy,” Tracy explained. “These animals have feelings just like we do, and he was grieving.”

    Max belonged to a patient with Mercy Hospice who had died. That’s when Tracy adopted him.

    “We adopted him when he was 13 and he passed away right before he was to turn 16,” said Tracy.

    Max was the perfect companion for Tracy because of her passion to help aging pets. Tracy Rumpf is the founder of Second Chance Ranch for dogs who need that second chance because of their age and health.

    “Second Chance Ranch is a senior home for senior dogs,” she said.

     Second Chance Ranch also tries to find the dogs new homes. Her mission aligns with a special program through Mercy Hospice, which is part of the Mercy Healthcare system. The program is called Mercy Pet Peace of Mind. The hospice team at Mercy is keeping dogs, cats and people together as long as they can through the end-of-life transition.

    “Hospice treats the entire family unit, and we believe that pets are family. And often something that weighs heavy on our hospice patients is what’s going to happen to their pet after they pass. So, we help with that,” explained Nancy Preheim, Mercy Pet Peace of Mind Coordinator. “We help them if there’s a financial need. We will help with food and grooming, veterinary care and boarding while they’re here. And then we also assure them if there’s not a place for their pet to go, we will find a loving forever home so they know that their pet will be taken care of after they’re gone.”

    For a hospice patient, the companionship of a pet can add comfort, unconditional love and give hope. So, Mercy Hospice became a Pet Peace of Mind partner in 2019. In 2022, Mercy Hospice turned the St. Louis program into an award-winning program receiving national recognition among Pet Peace of Mind partners.

    The true stories behind the recognition are at the heart of the work they do.

    “The patient got to a point where she was no longer able to care for this pet. We did find this dog a home about six months later found out the dog had unexpectedly passed. It was very sudden,” said Anne Giambalvo, clinical supervisor for Mercy Hospice-Lincoln. “I kind of heard through the medical grapevine a few days later that the original owner had passed. And when I was able to find out the date of passing, it turns out the dog and the owner died very quickly on the same day. And they had been separated for six months at this point. So, there was certainly that bond had lasted. Even though we couldn’t physically see it, it was still very much there. It’s almost like she called her dog home to her. It was unbelievable.”

    And there’s the cat on the lap story about a cat in need of a home after her owner, a Mercy hospice patient, died. The cat used to snuggle with the man by laying on his lap. Mercy Hospice found a new lap, belonging to man who deeply missed his cat that died.

    “He lost his cat that only sat on his lap,” said Preheim. “She (the cat) found a new lap, and it was the perfect one!”

    And there’s the story about Max. Tracy Rumpf said he deserved his second chance. She said he may not have been the perfect Chihuahua for some people, but Max was truly special to her.

    “He loved men more than he loved women. So, although I fed him and took care of him, I couldn’t always hold him. But he adored my two boys, who were still at home, and my husband. He could not get enough of them. “

    The stories and experiences shared between families who lost loved ones and need homes for pets are all about love and mercy.

    “I just saw his little eyes. I saw how sad he was and I realized how much he needed another family,” said Tracy. “The minute that I introduced him to my boys and he just lit up, I knew that he was gonna have a great life with us for whatever life he had left.”