Advances in husbandry, nutrition, and veterinary medicine have allowed improvements in geriatric animal management and enhanced end-of-life care in zoos and aquaria. Managing animals at the end of their lives can involve physical and social challenges. Challenges may also exist with difficult decision-making and a diversity of staff and public opinion. Many facilities are seeking a better understanding of end-of-life care, while trying to improve communications regarding such care to staff and visitors.
In 2013, Disney’s Animals, Science and Environment team initiated a program to improve care for aging animals and promote staff discussion around this topic. The initial effort focused on presenting a geriatric animal care seminar for animal caretakers.1 From that seminar, multidisciplinary subcommittees were formed to tackle four key objectives: 1) create a resource center, 2) focus on geriatric animal training, 3) create a quality-of-life assessment toolkit, and 4) develop training on end-of-life care. A Sharepoint resource center now allows staff to access materials on subjects from quality-of-life assessment to grief management. A focus group with representatives from all husbandry teams was formed and holds quarterly forums to share best practices on care and training of geriatric animals. A quality-of-life assessment toolkit was developed and is now widely used to guide end-of-life discussions. Finally, a 4-hour training course was established, which focuses on assessing, communicating, and elevating the quality of life for aged animals; this course is now required training for all Disney animal care staff. These end-of-life care initiatives have resulted in improved communications, better decision-making processes, and ultimately advancement of end-of-life animal care at Disney.
The authors would like to thank the members of the geriatric seminar planning committee, the resource subcommittee, the animal training subcommittee, the toolkit subcommittee, and the cast training subcommittee for their hard work in advancing the Disney end-of-life care program. A special thanks to all the animals, science, and environment team members that have supported this initiative.
1. Nolan EC, Neiffer D, Terrell S, et al. Geriatric animal care and end of life decision-making in zoological institutions. Proc Am Assoc Zoo Vet; 2014.