Pet Care for Life and Beyond
Our dogs. Our hearts. We work our lives around them; to be sure we are home to feed them at just the right time, walk them and best of all just enjoy their company. How many times have you sighed, and been so happy that you can spend the day with your dog?
As humans, we watch as our pets go from puppyhood to adult, and if we are lucky, to seniors – loving them more along the way. It’s unfathomable to think that at some point, they will be gone. We close our eyes and change the subject in our heads. But, time doesn’t listen to us and time is unstoppable.
In as much as we know this, we often still do not plan. By not planning and thinking ahead while we are rational, we are doing a disservice to our pets. You wanted the very best life for your dog right? Helping them at the time when they really need it the most; will be your worst day, but that help will be the best thing you can do for your pet. Finding a way to make that day less traumatic for everyone should be your goal.
Nikki Stewart of Sugar’s Gift faced that day in 2013. Her 10 year old Yorkie was failing and ready to move on. While Nikki had had an inkling that Sugar would not be with her long, that morning it was abundantly clear that the time was nigh. Nikki needed to act quickly. Fortunately she was able to find help and a veterinarian came to her home to help Sugar to the Rainbow Bridge. Surrounded by love, in the comfort of her bed, with familiar sights and sounds, Sugar left this world knowing that she was treasured.
Since that day, Nikki has made it her mission to help others prepare and guide them through the process. Later in 2013, Nikki and her husband Ken founded Sugar’s Gift, the only nonprofit in the country to assist terminal pet patients on their path to the Rainbow Bridge. “The feeling of relief that I hear in our client’s voices is what sustains me” Nikki told us. “When we meet people, it is a time when they are feeling shattered. Losing a pet can be as stressful as losing a person. By giving them the ability to keep their pets at home for this process, they are able to keep the stress levels down, maintain their dignity and privately grieve. It’s better for everyone.” she explained.
We talked with Cheryl Brady, owner of VetCare Express, animal ambulance about this important stage of care. “It just makes sense to know what your resources are in advance. With a plan in place, some of the panic will fall away. When you are informed, you can be calmer but most importantly you can focus on your pet – spending the final, precious moments loving them. Sugar’s Gift gives pet owners this option”.
In a place like the Suncoast, with multiple dog parks, dog-friendly restaurants, spas and resorts it’s apropos that Sugar’s Gift should make its home here where pets are so valued by our population.
Sugar’s Gift has assisted several pets and their owners locally. Their hope is to reach and assist pets on a national basis for this much needed service. Funding is provided by donations to the 501 (c)-3 through Global Giving and other sources.
Nikki Stewart, co-founder of Sugar’s Gift, wanted to be a veterinarian from the time she could walk (maybe even before that). It may sound trite, but working with animals was Nikki’s true calling in life. It was a given that she would be a veterinarian. The only unknown was what type of practice she would own and specialize in. Would it be small animals, large animals, exotics or would she become a racetrack vet?
She grew up with an assortment of small and large animals at home and began working for a local veterinarian when she was 14 years old. She worked with that vet through her freshman year in college. She also worked at a local horse racetrack with the veterinarians at the detention barn, or test barn as it is sometimes called, every summer, through her college graduation. The test barn is where veterinarians run post-race tests on certain horses to make sure they are not carrying any illegal substances in their system.
Nikki attended Purdue University during her freshman year of college, majoring in Pre-Veterinary Medicine. She volunteered at the Purdue Veterinary School while attending her freshman year in order to learn more about her calling. So far, the “given” scenario was working out – yes, she would fulfill her calling and become a veterinarian, right?
Wrong! After she got home from her freshman year at Purdue, someone very close to her dissuadedher from fulfilling her destiny. Nikki was told, “You need to remember that one day you will be married, have a family, and you will be on call 24-hours a day. What kind of life is that for you? Your obligations as a wife and mother always come first.” Unfortunately, Nikki took those words to heart and, considering the source, decided she should push away her dreams, and not pursue that career. Instead, she became a CPA and has owned her own company since 1993. She loves what she chose for a career, but something was always missing.
Nikki’s love for animals and her need to help them never stopped. She and her husband, Ken (a fellow animal lover and co-founder of Sugar’s Gift), rescued their first animal in 2002 — Guido, the Jenday Conure (a small variety of parrot). Since Guido’s rescue, they have rescued a total of 5 Yorkshire Terriers, 3 of which they still have due to these Yorkies’ mental and physical limitations and prior abuse. Nikki and Ken have also rescued 2 more birds – MimiBird, a Sun Conure, and Virgil, a second Jenday Conure. Their rescues extended to exotics when they rescued a Green Iguana named Iggie, who lived on their lanai for 8 years. Iggie mastered a way of escaping from their lanai and (hopefully) is somewhere on the Stewarts’ 5 acres, or the 48 acres of preserve behind their property.
When her beloved Sugar passed away in 2013, Nikki and Ken saw the circumstances as a way to give back and help other animals who are in such pain, as their sweet Sugar was. Those other Little Angels will need the services of a non-profit organization to come to that pet’s home and help the Little Angel cross the Rainbow Bridge from home with comfort, dignity and peace. Giving Nikki the opportunity to work with, and help animals, and allowing her to realize her true calling in life, is Sugar’s Gift to Nikki. It is the best gift she has ever, or will ever, receive.