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I recently received this thought-provoking query from a good friend of mine. I invite readers to weigh in with their opinions on the matter.—Sid

Hey Sid –

As a wise woman and an animal professional – would love to hear your take on the friendships that form between different species on our planet. The internet abounds with video documentation of such relationships and frankly, I’m just fascinated. Got one last week about an elephant and a dog.

And when the dog was sick and not able to play, the elephant was visibly depressed. It brought tears to my eyes! And now this one (attached) with a kitten and a fawn.


I can’t help but think there’s something greater or bigger than we as mere humans can conceive or understand. What are your thoughts?

Susan

*****

Hi Susan,

As for the cross-species friendships, I, too, find them heartwarming and touching. Just as when we read stories of human beings of differing races/religions/ages, etc. seeing beyond the bounds of how society defines them to become true friends, I think this occasionally happens among animals, too. Perhaps this is specifically to teach us humans a lesson about tolerance and love. Perhaps, too, these are two souls that have traveled together in the past and reconnected in this lifetime utilizing these particular animate bodies. The loving connection they’d once shared transcends the expected norms of their species. Sadly, it’s not something we can count on occurring among all animals (or even humans) at any point. But, it’s the very uniqueness of the occurrences that give them their poignancy and make us take notice.

That’s my best guess anyway. 🙂

Love,
Sid

Further attesting to the universality of the animal-human bond, here is an article written for a Singapore-based Pet Magazine. It offers some good things to consider as you face this painful decision.—Sid
26.08.10
Posted by Charmaine in Online Articles

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.

If there is one tiny bit of positiveness to come from the Gulf oil spill, it is that compassion for animals (both wildlife and domestic pets) seems to be on the rise. I was touched by the mission of the Sumralls, below. Every time someone creates an environment like theirs to support and sustain the bereaved animal lover, humanity’s collective soul improves just a little bit.—Sid

Pet funeral home opens on Mississippi Gulf Coast

NICOLE DOW, The Sun Herald
Published: 04:00 a.m., Monday, August 2, 2010

GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) — Linda and Glynn Sumrall care about pets. So much that they opened A Pet’s Memory, a pet funeral home and crematory in Gulfport, so owners would have such a facility after the loss of a pet.

“They can sit down and talk to someone where their loss isn’t trivialized,” Linda Sumrall said.

The Sumralls came up with the idea for the business after thinking about what they would do if they lost any of their pets. The family has three golden retrievers — 11-year-old Cindy, 5-year-old Maggie and Molly, who is 2-1/2.

“When we were planning, I thought of how we would want to be treated,” she said.

Linda’s husband, Glynn, said they treat each animal that comes in as if it was their own.

“We meet people on a really bad day and try to make it better,” he said.

The Sumralls started the pet crematory business at the end of June. Before that, Linda had a pet pooper scooper service.

“That shows how much I’m into pets,” she said.

Glynn still works with the U.S. Postal Service.

In 2008, the Sumralls started the Pet Oxygen Recovery Mask Program to supply fire stations throughout Hancock, Harrison, Jackson and Stone counties with reusable oxygen masks to aid pets after a fire.

Linda Sumrall said she started the program after watching the news and hearing a story about a house fire in Gulfport. The family and their dog was rescued, but the pet had taken in too much smoke into its lungs and died, she said.

That’s when she made some calls and discovered that local fire trucks weren’t equipped with oxygen masks to fit pets.

“I thought for sure that the cities would have them,” Sumrall said.

The family decided to raise money to supply the pet oxygen masks to the fire stations across the Coast by hosting car washes and collecting donations from individuals and businesses.

“We’ve donated 66 sets,” Sumrall said. She said they have 32 more to go to supply all 98 stations with a set.

The family is now accepting donations at their pet funeral home. After they finish raising money for the oxygen masks, Sumrall said future funds raised will be donated to the Humane Society.

Sumrall said it was no easy task going from the idea of their business venture to opening the facility.

“It’s taken 2-1/2 years to get this business open,” she said.

Picking the right location was a challenge. They had to have the right permits and certifications and be located in an area suitable to the city and surrounding businesses. A Pet’s Memory is now located on 28th Street in Gulfport. Sumrall said she wanted to have a facility that was dignified and respectable.

The crematory is located onsite where pet owners can arrange a private viewing. The equipment used is similar to what a local funeral home uses, Sumrall said.

Cremation costs are based upon the weight of the animal. Sumrall said the cost of a private cremation starts around $80 and can range to about $210 for heavier pets. A Pet’s Memory has cremated cats and dogs as well as more unusual pets such as a bearded dragon lizard, a guinea pig and a ferret.

The first pet the family cremated was formerly one of their own. Sam, a golden retriever from their dog Maggie’s litter, was killed by a car when he was 2 1/2 years old. His remains are in an urn at the pet funeral home.

A Pet’s Memory Pet Funeral Home and Crematory also sells caskets for families who prefer to bury their pets at home instead of cremating them.

At the funeral home, the Sumralls have set up a “last moment room” where families can say their final goodbyes to their pets.

“A lot of tears are shed,” Sumrall said. “Men have cried, too.”

Sumrall has been certified as a pet bereavement counselor by the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement. She said she has taken the equivalent of 10 college courses. She also lends her time as an online pet loss counselor for the organization.

“Grief is real, and grief hurts,” she said.

Sumrall said the service her business provides is something that was needed on the Mississippi Coast.

“I’m honored to do this,” she said.

___

Information from: The Sun Herald, http://www.sunherald.com

//

I went to the World Animal Day site and was totally floored by the hundreds of participating organizations from the world over! It really gives my heart a boost to know Americans are not the only people out there devoted to celebrating the human-animal bond. I am thinking of organizing an animal blessing event in Minneapolis this year. It will no doubt be very small scale, but it will be a start. More on this later…or, if someone reading this already knows of an organized event I can volunteer to speak at/perform a group blessing—I am an animal chaplain after all—in my area (or elsewhere if my travel expenses can be covered), I’d love to avoid reinventing the (hamster) wheel. 🙂

You can contact me directly at <goodgriefpetloss@gmail.com> with ideas and/or suggestions.

I’m personally quite pleased to see this topic gaining more attention and in a major publication like the NY Times. When last I looked, more than 200 people had commented on the article I’ve attached below. Perhaps someday we animal lovers won’t feel we have to go “underground” to do our grieving and our feelings will be more universally validated.

—Sid

Mourning the Death of a Pet

By TARA PARKER-POPE

catsAndy Manis for The New York Times

Years ago, I had an orange tabby cat named Dave who was more person than pet. Sometimes when my husband and I were visiting our neighbors in Houston, we would hear a knock at the door. “It’s probably Dave,” our friends would say, and sure enough, there he was on the step, waiting to be invited in with the rest of us.

When Dave died after being hit by a speeding car, I remember feeling a profound sense of loss and dreaded going to work the next day. “My cat died,” I told my editors, wiping my eyes with a tissue. Even as I explained, I knew I sounded silly to them.

I thought about Dave recently as I was reading an article on PsychCentral.com about the death of a pet. Leigh Pretnar Cousins writes about how she lost so much more than a pet when her 14-year-old silver cat, Luna, died.

I am stunned at how much I miss her and how empty the house feels without her soft round self asleep on the sofa. With her passing goes a chunk of my son Matt’s childhood. He was 10 years old when he selected her out of a box of kittens abandoned at the wildlife center….In Matt’s raising of and caring for Luna, I witnessed an enduring trait in my son: his extraordinary gift for nurturing.

Last year, researchers from the University of Hawaii’s animal science department conducted a study to determine the level of grief and stress that a pet owner experiences when a pet dies. Among 106 pet owners interviewed from a veterinary clinic, 52 percent had lost one or more pets from natural causes, while 37 percent had lost a pet to euthanasia. Although many pet owners experience significant grief when a pet dies, about 30 percent reported grief that lasted six months or longer. Severe grief that resulted in major life disruption was less common but was estimated as high as 12 percent of those studied.

It’s not only animal researchers who are taking note of the grief that occurs when a pet dies. The journal Perspectives in Psychiatric Care noted that the bond between people and their pets can affect both physical and mental health, and that the grief reaction that occurs after a pet’s death is “in many ways comparable to that of the loss of a family member.”

“Unfortunately, the loss of a pet is not recognized consistently by friends, acquaintances or colleagues as a significant or authentic occasion for bereavement,” the journal authors wrote.

When my cat died, the reaction was mixed. One person shrugged and said, “Well, I’m a dog person.” A well-meaning friend fumbled when he asked, “Are you over the cat thing yet?” The best response was from a man I worked with who adored his pet basset hounds. I received a sympathy card in the mail noting that a donation to the local animal shelter had been made in the memory of Dave.

To learn more, read the full PsychCentral post, “When a Beloved Pet Passes Away.” The Humane Society of the United States also offers advice on coping with grief after a pet dies. And please join the discussion below. How did you cope with the grief of losing a pet?

I received this message online from a fellow minister/animal chaplain and I really loved what she had to say about her church’s progressive support of pet owners. I’d love to hear from anyone who has incorporated animals into their church service/day-to-day spirituality, etc. It’s a burgeoning field with myriad definitions. My focus is helping people prepare for, cope with and move on after pet loss. Others infuse their chaplaincy with animal communication and/or energy healing. What do you think animal chaplains should do? Please feel free to add your comments. —Sid

Dear Sid,

I have been the pastor of the Marina United Methodist Church (my fifth congregation) for the past six years, and as a new ritual in this small congregation we had the first blessing of our pets service two years ago. We pray for our pets (also the departed ones) during our Sunday worship and we include them in our monthly newsletter in the prayer section, too.


I increasingly feel the need to create other blessings and rituals for our pets and their people exactly at a time of sickness or death and grief. Again, I can’t wait to read your book.


I have a 1-year-old cat, Bunny Muffin, the love of my life. She will be spayed tomorrow, and I think that there should be a ritual or blessing for occasions like that both for the pet and the pet parent.


I think that churches and pastors need to start to treat pet issues as family issues and acknowledge the milestones in the life of our pets.
I am leaving my church in June to work on—and hopefully finish—my Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) degree and am seriously considering  changing the current topic of my dissertation to pet-related issues.

Blessings and best wishes,

Aniko Olah

The following was a heartfelt poem my brother Doug Spagenski wrote to our sister Diane following the loss of her schnauzer Pebbles. (Scroll down for her full story “The Ultimate Sacrifice…”.)

Dear Diane,

I’m sorry to hear that God has chosen to take your Pebbles from here to there. With empathy, I pray God gives you more strength each passing day. They say time heals; well then, why does it hurt me so to write these words? I miss my [own dog] King as you too will miss Pebbles I’m sure. A best little friend has left you again with a void that only time can begin to heal, one day at a time, no bark or spark to lighten your day. I pray that peace will come your way. As you miss your loving little friend, I do believe we will see them again. I’m sorry, Diane, for I thought she was fine. No more seizures was a peace of mind. As you walk, she will be with you, and all the love you had shared, she’ll be sharing with you. So as I stop for now, I want to say I know she’s jumping and playing with all those we’ve lost up till today. (You’re a beautiful sis, and I can promise you this.) Pebbles, King and all our pets are running and playing together in a special place until we can join their bliss. So I close asking God, please be with my sis and grant her happiness today and always. Let her find the peace and contentment that surpasses all understanding from humankind. That’s a blessing from God that’s yours and mine. I love you, Diane.

Doug, King and family

PET LOSS…PREPARING FOR IT, COPING WITH IT, MOVING ON AFTER

FREE TELESEMINAR

When do you know when it is the right time to say good bye to your pet? How do you cope with the emotions of it all? What steps can you take to help with the pain of losing your special furry friend?

During this free teleseminar Animal Chaplain Sid Korpi and Animal Channeler Sue London will share tools and tips to help you through the entire process.

To learn more about Animal Chaplain Sid Korpi please visit http://www.goodgriefpetloss.com

Do you have questions you would like answered during this teleseminar? Please email them to sue@asksuelondon.com by Monday March 8th to have them answered during this live teleseminar.

Date: Tuesday March 16

Time: 8:00 pm Eastern / 7:00 pm Central

Dial-in number: (712) 432-0075

Access Code: 662484

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