Woman calls for dedicated pet room at hospital after ‘stressful’ ordeal to bring cats to visit husband before his death

WINNIPEG — A Manitoba man’s traumatic ordeal has his family pushing for a new pet policy at Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Centre.

When Whitney Gaber ended up in hospital four hours from his home with a cancerous brain tumour, he had a special request: to see his two pet cats, Sophie and Abby, one last time.

But his family faced challenges making it happen.

When doctors diagnosed Gaber, he ended up in the hospital’s neurosurgery ward in Aug. 2018.

As Gaber’s health worsened, his wife Ava tried to arrange a pet visitation.

“They’re our pets and they got the nickname ‘the girls,” said Ava. “He kept telling me, ‘Ava, go home and get the girls.’

“It wasn’t so easy because Roblin, Manitoba’s 420 kilometres from Winnipeg and we weren’t sure if the hospital would allow us to have it, because of the ward he was in.”

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority has a policy in place for people who want to bring their own pets into a hospital.

The WRHA said in a statement decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.

“There are some circumstances where it would not be allowed, and if approved, there are limitations including areas of the hospital that are off limits to pets, and conditions that must be met such as providing proof the animal has been vaccinated,” the statement said.

Anderson Animal Hospital veterinarian Dr. Ron Worb examines pets before they go into personal care homes or hospitals to make sure they’re healthy and their vaccinations are up to date. He said pet visitations are becoming much more common.

“It brings a lot of pleasure to these patients and we’re having way more pet owners that are interested in having their pets evaluated so they’re able to go to these facilities,” said Worb.

Initially, Ava said the hospital discouraged her from bringing the cats to HSC.

She asked a second time after a neurosurgeon supported the idea.

“He just said, ‘Bring them,’” she explained.

To the family’s relief the hospital granted the visit, but Ava feels it happened under less than ideal circumstances –- in the foyer of the facility, surrounded by strangers.

“It was very distracting, very stressful,” she said. “Whitney in his (geriatric) chair, in his hospital pyjamas –- I just didn’t feel that it was very good for his dignity.”

The experience prompted Ava to send a letter to HSC and the Manitoba government calling for improvements.

“I suggested to them that they have a dedicated room just for pets,” she said.

So far, Shared Health hasn’t commented specifically on the idea.

Worb thinks it has merits but acknowledged getting pets into the room would require working out some logistical challenges.

“I think a lot of people just are fearful of pets and it would make them very anxious or uncomfortable, there are many people in the general population that would have allergies,” said Worb.

Ava’s grateful her husband got to see their cats one last time.

He died in Oct. 2018, less than two weeks after the visit.

She’s now hoping the family’s experience may help lead to changes, making it easier for other people to arrange a visit with their pets.