IOWA CITY, Iowa - It was an incredibly difficult choice for Don Walsh, 74, of Wilton.
"I just felt like I was letting the dog down, it was hard to take good care of her," said Walsh, who was recently diagnosed with cancer.
Walsh called his 13-year-old dog, Emma, "the nicest dog you've ever seen." Shortly after the new year he gave her up to an animal lover in Iowa City with the help of Iowa City Hospice.
The service of finding a new home for animals is one of many offered to Iowa City Hospice patients. For several years the organization has participated in a national program called "Pet Peace of Mind."
Volunteers also walk the pets of patients they're helping, they have them groomed, even prepare animal treat bags for them.
"When your pet is well cared for, it has a huge impact on the well-being of our patients," said Sarah Neary, volunteer coordinator at Iowa City Hospice.
Neary said the goal is never to take a pet away, only if that is the wish of the patient. In many cases she said people seek comfort from their pets until their final breath.
"Who's going to lick your face no matter what you look like?" she said. "That animal is a source of unconditional love."
Neary often connects with her large database of animal lovers to find new homes for animals after people pass away.
"People want to know that their pet will be well cared for after they're gone," she said. "A lot of times people have family who can help, but that's not always the case."
Walsh, who once volunteered for Iowa City Hospice, said the program has offered him great peace of mind.
"I don't want to take her to the pound, that's where I got her," he said. "I got really lucky, she kind-of hit the jackpot."
Emma now lives in a more rural setting, not far from Interstate 80. Kim Bockenstedt, her current "owner," said Don is welcome to come see his dog anytime. If he gets too sick, Bockenstedt has pledged to take Emma to him.
For more information or to volunteer with the Pet Peace of Mind Program, visit iowacityhospice.org.