Pat Lalor’s family has been farming in Ireland for a very long time – since 1844 to be exact.

“It’s what we’re best at,” says Lalor, a slim 72-year-old organic oat farmer.

Children posing with puppies
One farmer had a litter of nine puppies and gave the money from their sale to the project. They called that donation Paws4Hospice.

Ireland is known for small-scale farming, with an average farm size of just about 80 acres according to the country’s national statistical office. So, it makes sense that when the Tullamore Lions Club in the Midlands region – also known as the “heart” of Ireland – wanted to embark on their biggest fundraiser yet, they would rely on farmers. David Baker, one of the farmers participating in the fundraiser and a member of Birr Lions Club, located in the Midlands,

offers another reason.

It’s about community

“Farmers in general around the world are very community aware and very community sympathetic,” says Baker.

Community is at the center of the project launched by Tullamore Lions Club in January. The idea is to have farmers raise hooved animals and then donate the money from the sale of the animals to the construction of a hospice building. While some home and limited in-patient hospital care are available for hospice patients in the Midlands, there is no separate hospice facility, or what is called Level 3 palliative care. In addition to providing medical treatment and pain management for dying patients, Level 3 care also helps patients and their families deal with dying. Lalor realized just how helpful trained palliative care professionals can be when his brother-in-law was dying locally – without the benefit of Level 3 care – a year and a half ago.

H4H First Calf 02 5418 WEB
Ireland is known for small-scale farming, with an average farm size of just about 80 acres.

Hospice helps with acceptance

“Worrying about whether you are dying or not can be worse than actually dying,” says Lalor, who is chairman of the project. “So, he had a really difficult time.”

By then Lalor was already aware that the 290,000 or so people who live in the four counties of Laois, Offaly, Longford, and Westmeath in the Midlands were living in the only region in Ireland to lack a hospice facility. The country’s Health Service Executive covers the cost of running the facilities, but it is up to local communities to fund their construction, a cost estimated to be about 15 million euros (US$17.7 million) in the Midlands.

“It (dying) is never easy,” says Lalor. “But at least hospice workers can fast forward the acceptance of it all and the bereavement process and so on and leave people in a much better position.”

Livestock is a natural way for farmers to help

The idea to have farmers raise animals to help fundraise is not new to Tullamore, says Lalor. What is new is including all four counties. It was to recognize the four counties, the four hooves of animals, the four animals with hooves the project covers – cows, pigs, horses, and sheep – and what the project is for, that they named it Hooves4Hospice.

There are several ways it works. A farmer can donate an animal to be raised by another farmer, raise an animal that has been donated, or raise their own animal. After 12 to 24 months the animal is sold, and the money is given to Hooves4Hospice.

Then there are more creative contributions like the farmer who had a litter of nine puppies and gave the money from their sale to the project. They called that donation Paws4Hospice.

Getting the word out

While farmers are the focus, anyone can buy an animal, the most popular of which are cattle. After seeing a poster for the project while on her weekly trip to the butcher one woman donated the 11 euro (US$13) change from a 20 euro (US$24) note to Hooves4Hospice.

In addition to signs, the club has also advertised on local media, usually free of charge. Club President Paul Cullen explained in an email that the purpose of the campaign is twofold: “To increase the awareness of the need for a hospice in our region and to raise funds for same.”

Just a month after the launch of Hooves4Hospice the district governor named Tullamore “Lions Club of the Year for 2019-2020.”

The project itself has no end date – and no monetary goal, because animal prices fluctuate. They started with 25,000 euros (US$30,000) of club funds which the Irish Hospice Foundation matched and now have over 100,000 euros (US$118,000) in monetary donations. By September, despite setbacks due to the pandemic, they had 360 of the 500 animals they set as a goal for 2020. One of those animals is a calf being raised by Baker.

Father, son, grandson

In addition to being a dairy farmer and a Lion, there is another reason Baker is helping out – his father. Val Baker became sick while on holiday in 1994 and when he returned to Ireland spent four weeks in hospital and two weeks in hospice in Dublin. His son, now 49, remembers the care Val was given and the way the family was accommodated, including being able to sleep in Val’s room for the last few days of his life. Baker would like to have a facility like that in the Midlands, which is one reason why he is willing to raise another calf once his current Hooves4Hospice calf is sold.

First, though, he has to find a name for the animal. After a few minutes thought and some chuckling, he settles on Jack, after his son.