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Pets are sheltered, fed, loved, groomed and provided with veterinary care.

When a person receives an end-of-life diagnosis, it creates numerous challenges for the loved ones they will leave behind. Not only must their family come to terms with the knowledge that they will lose someone dear to them, they must simultaneously contend with managing that person’s affairs and their estate.

If the terminally ill patient has pets, part of that process must also include making the difficult decision of how to care for those animals after their loved one has died. Local nonprofit Safe Place for Pets has made it its mission to simplify the process for terminally ill pet parents and their families.

“Safe Place provides security to those at the end of their lives or those dealing with a loved one’s recent death in aiding and rehoming pets,” says Executive Director Amalie Fellini, adding there are no other shelters in El Paso or Teller counties that focus specifically on caring for the pets of people with terminal illnesses.

Helping families find forever homes for these pets gives the patient peace of mind. Instead of the terminally ill patient spending their remaining time worrying about what will happen to their companion, they can focus on ensuring the best quality of life for themselves in their final days. It also relieves the burden on families living elsewhere who might experience terrible guilt if they cannot take the pet of a dying loved one into their own home. 

Safe Place doesn’t simply hand off pets to any available takers. The nonprofit uses a “Pre-Adopt” program, basically a  short trial period, to ensure the adopted pet and adoptive family are a good fit so the new placement truly is a forever home. This — and the detailed application process — adds another layer of security and comfort for those who must leave their pets behind. 

Asked what inspires her about Safe Place and its mission, Fellini says it’s seeing the relief in the eyes of a terminally ill patient when they realize their pet is going to be OK.

“These people have so much love for their animals and worry constantly about their well-being. Being able to tell someone that I will personally prioritize finding their most beloved pet a happy new home — it’s the best.”

The biggest challenge for the organization is making sure those who are terminally ill know about the services it offers. Fellini says that despite the organization’s nearly 25 years in the city, there are still so many people who simply do not know they have support available. While the nonprofit began to increase its visibility in the last year, the pandemic upended progress.

“The best thing the community can do to help would be reaching out to all your friends to ensure they know Safe Place for Pets is here and looking to assist our terminally ill community and their pets. I want to ease the mind of every terminally ill pet owner in El Paso and Teller counties by keeping all their pets happy and healthy.”