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Bideawee observes Pet Memorial Day

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Dozens gathered at Bideawee Memorial Park in Wantagh on Sunday to remember beloved animal companions in observance of the 37th annual International Pet Memorial Day. Speakers honored their trusted pets, whom Bideawee Director Leslie Granger described as “family members.” They did so with written tributes and musical offerings, with some coming from as far away as Jersey City to speak on the crucial importance that animals play in their lives.

Bideawee is the nation’s largest and oldest no-kill provider of shelter services, according to the organization’s president, Leslie Granger. Serving all of Nassau County, including Seaford and Wantagh, it arranged more than 2,000 pet adoptions last year. Founded in 1916, its cemetery is the final resting place of tens of thousands of animals, including such famous ones as former president Richard Nixon’s dog, Checkers, she said.

The afternoon, hosted by Bideawee Marketing Director Amy Bostoff, featured remarks by Janet Zimmerman, of Long Island Pet Loss Support Services, and Dr. Alexis Tischler, who is one of only three veterinarians in New York state — and the only one on Long Island — licensed to provide hospice services and palliative care for pets, through her “Comforted Companions” organization.

“Pet hospice care is a new specialty, and it’s more popular out West,” said Tischler, who was trained in Colorado. “But the impact of pet loss on a family is the same as the loss of any family member, and needs to be compassionately addressed.”

Based in Farmingdale, the organization seeks to ensure that terminally ill animals receive quality care, often in the home. “Cats are especially sensitive to the sounds and smells of veterinary offices,” Tischler said.

Care begins with a hospice evaluation, including a quality-of-life assessment, as well as the development of a hospice care plan for the pet. That care may include “pain management, symptomatic control through medications and fluids, environmental modifications and diet changes, as needed,” according to the organization’s website.

Comforted Companions also provides for any final arrangements that families might wish to make, including transportation and cremation, as well as grief counseling for both family members and other pets.

Bostoff then introduced the afternoon’s featured speaker, Jaime Hazan, a composer, photographer and motivational speaker, whose story emphasized how great an impact that a pet might have in its companion’s life.

Hazan was one of the first civilians to gain recognition in New York state as a 9/11 first responder. He spoke of his continuing difficulties in receiving appropriate medical care, both for cognitive disorders as a result of his work around the toxic rubble of “the pile,” and his continuing struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder. Throughout it all, he said it would be impossible to overstate the help that he receives in his recovery from his service dog and companion, Bernie.

While police officers and firefighters have had to wage their own battles to gain appropriate care for various post-9/11 physical and mental health issues, civilians like Hazan, who was a fully licensed emergency medical technician when he volunteered to help with recovery operations on Sept. 12, 2001, have had difficulty accessing treatment through worker’s compensation or other public or private medical insurers. Although they worked on the pile — Hazan appeared in photos clearly dating from the time — they had no official affiliation with any organization connected with ground zero operations and no status beyond a desire to be useful, he said. So state and private insurers have consistently refused to recognize their health issues as 9/11-related.

As far as the help he receives from Bernie, “he goes everywhere with me,” Hazan said of his companion, whom he received through Dogs 4 Warriors, a program that mainly provides service dogs to combat veterans. The Ohio-based charity is one of a growing number of organizations that are experimenting with the use of service dogs in the treatment of PTSD.

Hazan was initially turned down by the Warriors program, because he is not a veteran. But he believes the organization may have reconsidered, because he does substantial volunteer work among incarcerated veterans dealing with PTSD and PTSD-related problems.

Still, “when they called last year to say they had a dog for me, I didn’t really believe it,” he said.

“Bernie has completely changed my life,” Hazan said. “It’s not only the things he does for me, like picking up stuff I drop or carrying things,” he said. “He helps me connect with other people.”

Hazan still spends much of his time advocating on his own behalf and helping other civilians receive the care that he believes they are entitled. “Thousands of people worked in the area and were directly affected by the aftermath of the attacks,” he said. I want to help them receive all the care they need.”

The day’s events concluded with musical offerings from Bideawee’s official Memorial Day musician, Nicole Maas, as volunteers passed out packets of purple forget-me-not seeds.