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Actor commits suicide after Pit Bull is euthanized
Less than 24 hours after his dog was euthanized Tuesday, soap opera actor Nick Santino took his own life. The grief was too much to bear.
Santino once said of his adored Pit Bull mix, “I didn’t rescue Rocco. Rocco rescued me.” That idea is a common refrain among those who adopt shelter dogs, but for Santino, the pronouncement seems especially appropriate. Placed in an orphanage at the age of five months, Santino’s childhood proved a steady stream of unknowns and inconsistencies; he spent his years prior to age sixteen in a total of nine different foster homes.
For Santino, Rocco must’ve been a constant — perhaps the unfailing sense of family he’d never known with humans. But in 2010, management at Santino’s apartment building passed a strict anti-Pit Bull law. Already a resident, Rocco was grandfathered in, but Santino endured constant harassment from others in the building. After months of pressure, Santino made the gut-wrenching decision to put Rocco down.
I don’t have an answer as to why Santino didn’t move to another apartment —maybe he did look for alternative housing, I don’t know. I do know that finding a rental is complicated if you have animals, and a true challenge if you have a Pit Bull. One report described Santino as “down on his luck” — perhaps between that, the ongoing harassment, and horror at the idea of surrendering his dog to a shelter (if anyone gets a pass for not wanting to send a loved one back into a system with no guarantees, it’s Santino), he truly felt this was the best option.
But there’s no question the decision to euthanize Rocco ultimately cost Santino his own life. “Today I betrayed my best friend,” he said in his suicide note. “Rocco trusted me and I failed him. He didn’t deserve this.”
I wish I could’ve told Santino that I understand.
An animal shelter is one of the few environments in which caretakers routinely end the lives of those they were once tasked with saving. As a volunteer, I’ve been present for euthanasias that truly seemed to take place painlessly and quickly — and for others that were marked with seizures, struggles, and terror.
When I know it’s an animal’s time — that is, when I know his time is up — I try to make sure those last few minutes offer some joy. A final walk along his favorite route, a last session of fetch, an extended belly rub and a coveted treat. But there’s no getting around it: Eventually, I’ll be leading this animal to a room he’ll never leave. It doesn’t matter that I don’t touch the needle; the sense I’m somehow complicit in this ultimate betrayal leaves me shattered every time.
Just as with the 10,000 shelter animals who are put down each and every day, Rocco’s death was not relief for incurable suffering. Therefore, it was not a euthanasia in the true sense of the word: a “good death.” Rather, it was an act performed out of fear, a somber ramification of breed profiling gone awry.
Certainly humans did fail Rocco, but I would argue that it wasn’t Santino, the man who rescued this dog and gave him years of love and security. Instead, we all failed Rocco. As a population, we have failed to adequately disable those that abuse their animals or purposely “train” them to become vicious and distrustful. We have allowed stereotypes and fear mongering to end the lives of millions of innocent beings.
I do believe there are fates worse than death — months in some of this country’s animal shelters would qualify. (And while I know that No Kill advocates would argue,) I also believe there are fewer good homes than there are animals currently in need. We simply have too many dogs and cats. But the solution to overpopulation is not killing; it’s prevention. And the solution to fear is not breed discimination, it’s education.
Said James Steven Grant, one of Santino’s former neighbors, “Rocco was the sweetest dog in the world. Rocco wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
I think most of us know how deeply and emotionally linked certain songs can be for us, whether because the lyrics are particularly descriptive of what we were feeling at a certain time or because the song was simply playing at a profound moment in our lives. Last night, my husband and I went dancing to our favorite band, the Rockin’ Hollywoods, as a distraction from an otherwise emotionally heavy day (the first full day without our beloved Giles with us—see previous post).
For me, dancing provides both a physical and emotional release, so it seemed a healthy diversion for a few hours. However, midway through the band’s first set, I found myself choking back sobs right there on the dance floor, so hard was I hit by the Tokens’ “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”
In my mind’s eye, I kept seeing Giles’ handsome, lion-esque profile, so regal until his end. His having just been “put to sleep” gave a whole new meaning to that song for me. I doubt I’ll ever be able to hear it again without thinking of my darling, departed cat.
Giles would have been happy to have a famous song associated with him, I’m sure—he was not without a healthy ego, gorgeous boy that he was—but I can expect my future rumbas done to that song to be emotionally challenging for some time to come. (I squelched the flood during the show, luckily, and saved my breakdown for the car ride home.)
My lion sleeps forevermore.
It is with a heavy heart that I share today the news that I believe my almost-15-year-old cat, Giles, is readying himself to leave this plane of existence. In the past couple of days, he’s scarcely eaten anything and is starkly skeletal and weak. He doesn’t appear to be in actual pain and his sassy meow is still strong, but he has stopped coming upstairs to greet me and is, instead, remaining in his basement cubby hole apartment. It’s been a hard year on him with the arrival of our latest adopted Westie, Oliver, who has made Giles’ annihilation his life’s duty and necessitated our keeping them permanently separated.
I am using the advice I’ve given others about knowing when it’s time to let our pets cross over, namely, looking to see how many of the things our pets loved doing when they were well they are still capable of. I will be keeping a close eye on my sweet, handsome, eccentric boy and ask him with my whole heart to let me know his wishes.
Despite having a good relationship with death and knowing Giles will take the actual passing over in stride and be free of any pain or suffering, I nevertheless am already dealing with a heavy, aching heart at the thought of no longer have his loud, rather obnoxious, incessant sassing whenever he and I were together. It is both what makes me cry and what will eventually make me smile when I think of him.
You’ve been a much-beloved part of my life for 14 years, Giles. Thank you so much for choosing me as your human mom. I adore you and will love you always, sweet kitty cat.
Yesterday, I got to meet a wonderful veterinarian, Dr. Rebecca McComas, whose business is Minnesota Pets Gentle Euthanasia at Home. She is a warm and gentle person with the very best attitude toward death I’ve ever encountered
I asked her how she manages the sadness of her job and she said she understands how sad the people are who are personally losing a beloved friend, but, she said, “I LOVE my work! This is the most loving thing you can do for a pet that’s suffering.” She told me that when she’s surrounded by the animal’s human family and they’re all shedding tears for their loss, she doesn’t feel the need to cry herself because they’ve got that covered. Tears are the first stage of their honoring and saying goodbye to their pet, an indication of how much that animal had meant in their lives.
What is hardest for her to take is when the humans are all stoic and nobody’s crying at all. “That just kills me,” she said.
I shared with her the fact that I always, ALWAYS cry at a euthanasia, even when I’m accompanying someone whom I may never have met before and witness the passing of a pet who’s also unknown to me. “I’m crying somewhat out of empathy for the grief the people are feeling, but more than that, I’m crying because of the profound beauty I’m witnessing when the pet actually transitions out of this life and into the next so peacefully.” Apparently, this made Dr. McComas’s day because she finds it difficult to explain that part of the process to people.
“It really is beautiful!” she said, eyes glowing.
I know that whenever I’ve held my own sweet animal companions and watched them gently slip away, I always think, “That’s exactly how I want to go!” They better have legalized human euthanasia by the time I’m in need of that release from my body.
Below is a video made by Dr. McComas to explain her services. If you’re facing this painful decision, this is well worth watching.—Sid
I found some of the points made here quite compelling. Perhaps you will, too.—Sid
How Can Anyone Really Know It Is Time? by Dr. Julie Reck
As a veterinarion running a mobile vet practice dedicated to providing a compassionate home euthanasia service, I face this question at least 5 times a day and sometimes I internally ask myself this throughout the day. I recently published a book called “Facing Farewell” to help people find the answer to this question. In the book, pet owners learn how animals perceive life and death, how to measure quality of life, and the process of the euthanasia procedure. This is all very important information for anyone faced with making end of life decisions for their pet, but in this blog I would like to try to tackle this question on a more personal level.
The following is a statement I hear a lot from pet owners, “I am waiting for my pet to tell me it’s time.” Exactly how do we expect our pets to communicate that they are ready to go? For many of us, the development of a lack luster attitude would be a clear indication that our pet no longer finds enjoyment in life. Maybe he or she no longer wishes to eat, or they no longer come to greet you at the door when you arrive home. They may stop wagging their tail or they may lose interest in their toys. I have seen situations where a pet will demonstrate these changes in behavior, but it is important for pet parents to realize that this is NOT the normal outcome. I know many will hesitate to believe me on this, but our pets will often not develop a continuous lack luster attitude toward life that would provide most of us with the confidence to go forward with our decision. Surprised or perplexed? I completely understand, but let me explain:
When we form a human animal bond with our pets, their entire perspective on life shifts. The care, love, and attention we provide our pet causes them to view us as their “provider” or “God”. The sun rises and sets on us; they are always happy to see us and often want to be with us as much as possible. I see many pets in the end stages of cancer or suffering serious ailments of old age and, despite their discomfort and handicaps, they wtill “light up” when they see their owner. They will still wag their tail, they will still be excited when their owner comes home, and they may still use their very last bit of strength to pick up a ball to make their owner happy. Often I cannot medically explain their newfound strength and happiness when they are so critically ill. These moments of happiness and bursts of energy can make us doubt our end of life decisions for our pets. I have seen this many times and the pets I have helped have provided me with valuable wisdom and insight.
For many pets to lose all interest in life, the disease process they are experiencing will have to strip them of everything they ever were. This will often only happen at the very bitter end of their fight. As we face the responsibility of this decision, our goal is to protect them from the discomfort and humiliation of this bitter end. It is truly a gift to provide a peaceful and graceful exit from this world. I have learned to find comfort if a pet is still experiencing some joy on their last day. The pet may be able to enjoy wonderful food, have a fun car ride, or take a swim in the lake.
If you find yourself waiting for your pet to “tell you it is time”, then take a moment to reflect on the changes in your pet that you are waiting to witness. Facing this decision is one of life’s most difficult choices, but your pet will appreciate you strength, empathy and compassion. Dr. Julie Reck
For more assistance on end of life decision making for pets or to read more information on Dr. Reck’s helpful and informative book, “Facing Farewell” please go to http://www.facingfarewell.com
I know my book, “Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss,” has brought comfort to a great many grieving pet owners, and I do my best to perform my Animal Chaplaincy Services both online and in person to validate their feelings of and support them through their times of crisis. I just really wish we had a pet loss funeral home in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area like the one started by Coleen Ellis in the story below. Anyone out there thinking of starting one, please contact me right away!—Sid
NEW ORLEANS — Coleen Ellis knows not everyone understands what she does for a living.
But those who don’t understand her services don’t need them.
Ellis is the owner of Two Hearts Pet Loss Center in Greenwood, Indiana, and a pet grief expert who spoke at the National Funeral Directors Association convention in New Orleans this week.
“I wanted to give families options, instead of them walking out of a vet clinic with a leash and collar in hand,” she says. “I wanted them to be able to do whatever was right for them, just as we do on the human side.”
Jocelyne Monette, founder of the soon-to-open Greater Victoria Pet Memorial Centre and a former pet funeral director in Montreal, says a big part of her job is simply telling people it’s OK to mourn their pets.
“You have so much support for the loss of a human and nothing for the loss of a pet,” she says. “Pet loss is such a disenfranchised grief, and as a society we’ve forgotten how to grieve, let alone grieve for the loss of a pet.”
Ellis worked for 15 years in the traditional funeral industry and grew to love the rituals that helped families say goodbye. When her beloved 14-year-old terrier-schnauzer mix, Mico, died in 2003, she found a traditional funeral home that would cremate her, but Ellis says they asked her to enter through the back door and not to disturb a family that was grieving a “real death.”
“When I tell people that my dad died, people say, ‘Oh my goodness, I’m so sorry, it’s been five years and I’m sure you miss him,’” she says. “When I tell the wrong person it’s been seven years since Mico died and I still cry, they look at me and go, ‘Are you kidding me? It was a dog!’”
Believing other grieving “pet parents” would need the same comfort she’d sought out, Ellis founded the Pet Angel Memorial Chapel, which she says was the first stand-alone pet funeral home in the United States. She sold the business two years ago and now focuses on education and consulting for the growing handful of pet memorialization businesses in Canada and the U.S.
Monette’s business will open in Victoria in November, offering pickup of remains, visitation, private cremation and delivery of the ashes to a family so they can avoid the trauma of returning to the vet clinic. Prices range from $275 to $450.
A couple of years ago, she conducted a visitation for a cat in Montreal that was attended by 35 people, she says, with the beloved pet snuggled under a blanket in repose.
“Our relationships with our pets are very special and we have the right, like anybody else, to grieve with loss the way we need to,” Monette says.
Kevin Woronchak was also inspired to join the pet death-care industry by his own heartache, after his family lost a cat and two dogs in one horrible week in 2006. Recalling that “devastating” week still chokes him up.
He and his wife Joanna run Until We Meet Again Pet Memorial Center in Vancouver, lovingly wrapping pets in blankets and removing them in small moulded-plastic caskets, offering grief support groups and giving families a calm and soothing place to say goodbye.
Woronchak is a firefighter by day, and much like a human funeral director, he says it’s incredibly rewarding to be there for families in need, but sometimes the pain hits too close to home.
“A couple of months ago, I had a really rough week. A lot of my good friends lost their pets and then I went to a house-call and there on the floor in their living room was my Kayla who I’d lost,” he says of a dog who looked just like his beloved German shepherd. “I had such a hard time trying to provide comfort to the family, yet I was hurting, too.”
Ellis says many people worry what their friends will think if they have a visitation for their pet. Just as with human funeral rituals, she tells them the farewells are for sake of the living and not the dead — and if their friends laugh instead of supporting them in a moment of pain, she advises them to find new friends.
“So many people whisper the sentence to me, ‘Do you think pets go to heaven?’ They whisper it because they get embarrassed,” she says. “My comment is always, ‘Do you think they go?’ and then they whisper it back to me, ‘Yes.’”
October 1st, 2010 By Meredeth Barzen
At animal events all over the Twin Cities, four little white Westies are one woman’s calling card and true calling: Sid Korpi, animal chaplain, at your service. So what does an animal chaplain do, exactly? “Everyone who calls him or herself an animal chaplain may have an individual scope of services that differs from mine,” Sid says. “For instance, many offer animal communication and healing touch or Reiki. My focus is on the animal lovers themselves for the most part. I help people prepare for, cope with and move on after pet loss. I’m sort of a grief counselor for pet owners.”
And how does one become an animal chaplain? Well, for Sid, it came naturally: ”Animal chaplaincy is a new field of endeavor with no legal licensing requirements to allow people to perform blessings and the like,” she says. “I researched organizations offering so-called ‘certification’ in animal chaplaincy and found, in one instance, the whole requirement was to read five pet-loss books and write reports on them… oh, and pay them $300. I had already read 40 such books in researching and writing my own pet loss book, Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss, and I’d been volunteering for rescue organizations for years, so I decided I was amply qualified. I’ve also been a nonsectarian minister/wedding officiant (Nonconformist Nuptials) for nearly a decade, so writing and performing meaningful, spirit-based ceremonies and even eulogies comes naturally to me.”
The job comes with its rewards: “To have people say to me, ‘Your book helped me so much when I lost my dog/cat’ means the world to me. I’ve been able to help people get through their pain so they no longer say, ‘I’ll never have another pet. The pain of losing them is just too great.’ Instead, they recognize that if they allow themselves to grieve fully and move on to celebrating their pet’s life, they can honor their pet’s teachings about living in the moment and loving unconditionally by opening their hearts and their homes to a new animal companion when the time is right.”
But, as with anything that centers around the end of a beloved pet’s life, there are hard parts as well: “What I find most challenging is accompanying pet owners to their pet’s euthanasia appointments. Years ago, I’d never have dreamed I’d have the strength to do such a thing. Simultaneously, though, this is one of the most rewarding things, too. I am profoundly honored to be present at this momentous, peaceful transition, even as I cry my eyes out right alongside the owners. I figure the day I can face the death of any animal and witness their humans’ grief without that deeply affecting me is the day I should get out of the business,” she says.
If your pet is “transitioning,” be sure to check out Sid’s book on the subject, Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss.
Click here to read her guest blog on Sidewalk Dog. And if you know someone who has lost or is in the process of losing a pet, here are a few ideas for locally made gifts to let them know you care:
* Maggie’s Light pet candles from Nelli designs
* Pet reliquary jewelry by Lisa Havelin
* Memorial stones by Marc Clements of Follow the Muse
This is one of my articles posted through Examiner.com, where I am notably the Minnesota Pet Loss Examiner.—Sid
Animal lovers universally know how difficult it is to come to the decision to end a pet’s life in the first place, but to decide this and then have to bundle up an aged, ailing, or injured pet to transport him or her to the vet’s office can make things even tougher.
The longest miles you’ll ever travel are those between your house and your vet’s office when bringing your most beloved animal friend to be put to sleep. They may also be the most dangerous if you are alone and attempting to drive through torrents of tears. For many, in-home euthanasia provides a peaceful, undisruptive option to the often sterile surroundings of a veterinary clinic.
Though not universally available, such services are becoming more and more common as veterinarians respond to pet owners’ needs to provide the gentlest manner of euthanasia, allowing the animal to rest comfortably amid familiar surroundings with their loving humans and even fellow pets around them to say goodbye.
In the Twin Cities area, this service is often available seven days a week, including evenings, and same-day appointments can often be accommodated. You may first check with your regular vet as to whether he or she offers such services. For additional support at this difficult time, some people opt to call in an animal chaplain to be present at the euthanasia as well.
What can you expect from in-home euthanasia? Commonly, a vet will first give the animal a sedative to both calm him or her and ensure he or she will experience no pain. A razor may be used to remove fur from the leg where the drugs may be administered.
Then an injection of medication to stop the heart and breathing will be given, wherein the animal will simply appear to fall asleep within moments or, at most, just a few minutes. (It is advisable to have a sheet of plastic covered with old towels placed beneath the pet for when the bladder/bowels empty once he or she passes.)
Afterward, the vet may take an impression of your pet’s paw print in clay and/or shave some bits of his or her fur for you to keep as commemorative items. You will be allowed to spend as much time as you need to with your pet’s body.
Fees are often in the vicinity of $200–$400 for these house calls and may include the vet’s removal of the body followed by either group or individual cremation. In the latter instance, the ashes will be returned to the pet owner. Urns may also be available for purchase.
You may choose to have your pet buried in a pet cemetery in your area. Or, you may also opt to bury your pet yourself, provided it is legal for you to do so where you live.
Making end-of-life decisions for pets
As pet owners, we’ve all been faced with, or will eventually face, the agony of making end-of-life decisions for our pets. Sometimes it’s because of an illness, other times it may be due to the natural aging process, but whatever it is, it never makes the decision any easier to make.
While euthanasia for humans is still forbidden in Singapore, our pets’ lives are not bound by the same rules. So how do we decide what is better for our beloved pet?
Many pets suffer with chronic diseases, such as cancer, that can often be managed in such a way that life is prolonged, although the quality of life is greatly diminished. For most pet owners this issue greatly influences the decision concerning euthanasia. Certainly, quality of life is a personal judgment; you know your animal companion better than anyone else. And while your veterinarian can guide you with objective information about diseases, and even provide a personal perspective of a condition, the final decision about euthanasia rests with you.
What Ailing Pets Should Be Able To Do
If you are considering euthanasia, here are some guidelines to help you decide whether your pet would benefit. Pets with chronic or incurable diseases that are given proper medication and care should be able to:
- Eat, drink and sleep comfortably without shortness of breath
- Act interested in what’s going on around them
- Do mild exercise
- Have control of their urine and bowel movements, unless the disease affects one of these organ systems
- Appear comfortable and free of moderate to severe pain
Of course, whenever there is a chronic condition, some days will be better than others and one should learn to expect the natural “ups and downs” that attend most chronic disease conditions. You must determine what balance is acceptable for your own situation. Speak with your veterinarian if you have any questions or concerns regarding the diagnosis or treatment of your pet’s disease.
The Effects of Medication
If your pet is taking medication for a disease condition, ask your veterinarian if side effects of the medicine could be involved with any adverse symptoms such as lack of appetite, vomiting or diarrhea (but DON’T stop giving prescribed medication until you speak with your veterinarian). Sometimes it is the medicine, not the disease, that makes a pet appear more ill and adjusting the dose or changing the medicine can have a very positive effect.
The High Cost of Care
Of course, some diseases are very difficult, expensive or time-consuming to treat. The medical bills that may accumulate can influence your decision regarding euthanasia. These are practical decisions that must be made relative to your own financial and family situations. Though a lack of financial or personal resources for medical care may be a source of guilt to you, it is better to discuss the overall situation with your veterinarian rather than allow your pet to suffer without proper veterinary medical care.
The Hardest Decision
Euthanasia – often referred to as “putting a pet to sleep” or “putting an animal down” – literally means an “easy and painless death.” It is the deliberate act of ending life, and pet owners that must make this decision often feel anxiety or even guilt.
Before the procedure is done, the pet owner will be asked to sign a paper that is an “authorization for euthanasia” or similar document. Euthanasia usually is performed by a veterinarian and is a humane and virtually painless procedure.
Most pet owners are given the following options for witnessing the procedure. They may be present with the pet during the euthanasia. They may wish to see their pet after euthanasia. Or they may want to say goodbye to their pet before the euthanasia and not see their pet after the procedure.
Will It Hurt?
Note: The following is a description of a typical euthanasia. If you do not wish to read about this procedure, please close this document.
Euthanasia is very humane and virtually painless. First, you will be asked to sign a paper – an “authorization for euthanasia” (or similar document). Once you have decided upon your involvement n the euthanasia process, you will need to decide what you would like to have done with the remains. You can discuss your options with your veterinarian before the euthanasia procedure.
Euthanasia is usually performed by a veterinarian. The most typical procedure involves an intravenous injection of a barbiturate anesthetic given at a high concentration (overdose). In general, the euthanasia is rapid, usually within seconds, and very peaceful. Your pet will just go to sleep. On rare occasions there may be a brief vocalization or cry as consciousness is lost; this is not pain although you may misinterpreted it as such.
Within seconds of starting the injection the anesthetic overdose will cause the heart to slow and then stop, and any circulation in the body will cease. As the heart stops and the blood pressure decreases, the unconscious animal will stop breathing, circulation to the brain will cease and your pet will die peacefully.
Once your pet has died, you might observe involuntary muscle contractions or respiratory gasps about one or two minutes after the loss of consciousness and circulation. Again this is not evidence of pain or consciousness, but instead, it represents a physiologic response that occurs whenever the brain is deprived of circulation. The unconscious animal may also lose bladder or bowel control. Veterinarians often cover the pet immediately after injecting the euthanasia solution to partially shield the pet owner from these physiologic responses, which may still be disturbing.
After the Goodbye
Before the euthanasia, discuss what you want done with the body with your veterinarian. Again, this is a matter of personal taste and preference.
Burial at home. Many people who own their homes chose to bury their pet in their yards. Great care must be given to bury your pet deep enough – at least three feet – to deter predators. It is recommended to wrap your pet in plastic and place several large rocks on top of their remains before covering with earth. Many cities have ordinances against home burial so check with your local officials before laying your pet to rest.
Cemeteries. Similar to human burial, a casket and headstone are selected. Services are available with or without viewing of the remains. Ask your veterinarian or check your local telephone directory to find a nearby pet cemetery.
Cremation. Typically, cremation is available in most large cities. Some crematories will privately cremate your pet so you can save the ashes for scattering, burial or storing in an urn. Check with your veterinarian about contacting an animal crematory center.
Other options. There are a few nontraditional choices available regarding the handling of pet remains. Some people choose to consult a taxidermist and others may be interested in cryogenics, which involves freezing the remains. Research and many telephone calls may be necessary to find sources for these options.