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I got to speak on “Pet Loss and the Pet Professional” to full houses of veterinary professionals this past February (only just downloaded the pics from my hubby’s phone now, though). Sorry for the distance, but he was stuck in the back of the rooms.—Sid

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For pets euthanized at home, a ‘last dose of love’

By Bob Shaw

bshaw@pioneerpress.com Updated: 11/07/2011 12:08:35 AM CST

Sid Korpi shows off clay paw prints of her pets, two of which were euthanized at her Minneapolis home. (Pioneer Press: Richard Marshall)

Undated photo of Sid Korpi’s cat Giles, who was euthanized at home by Minnesota Pets in August. (Courtesy to Pioneer Press: Sid Korpi)

Sid Korpi is glad that death makes house calls. When her cat, Giles, approached the end of his life in August, Korpi called on a unique in-home euthanasia service. Called Minnesota Pets, the St. Paul business does euthanasia—and only euthanasia. It has no clinic to treat animals, just four veterinarians who make about 20 house calls a week, each one ending an animal’s life. Customers say their pets die more peacefully at home. Korpi said that instead of dying in a clinic, her cat died in her lap, surrounded by love, peace and candlelight.

“There was no stress from cramming him into a carrier. I didn’t want to have to drive him somewhere with tears streaming down my face,” she said.

The idea for the business first dawned on Dr. Rebecca McComas four years ago, as her two beagles aged. Being a vet, she always planned to euthanize them at home. “I would never consider doing it in a clinical setting,” McComas said. “Then I started talking to other vets, and they said they wouldn’t do that in a clinic, either.” So, she asked, why would anyone? She knew that other clinics performed in-home euthanasias but wanted to have the first Minnesota business to specialize in them.

But the business does more than stick needles into dying animals. The vets are expert grief counselors. They dispose of the body afterward. And they offer mementos of the pet, such as a clay imprint of a paw. The basic visit costs $225, up to $375 for cremating the body and Advertisement returning the ashes. McComas helps customers deal with a form of grief that is misunderstood—and underestimated. When someone’s mother dies, friends and family share the grief. Everyone understands it. But when a pet dies, it’s not the same. “A lot of clients report that the loss of an animal, for people with a primary bond, is worse than that of a mother, father, sister or friend,” said Lisa Havelin, a grief support specialist with Minnesota Pets. “It’s incomparable. It’s much worse.”

That’s because pets spend an enormous amount of time with their owners. “We get used to them. They go in the car with us. We are with them all day,” said Havelin. “We do not spend that much quality time with other people.” That makes the loss of a pet hard to explain to others. “It’s disenfranchised grief,” Havelin said. But can’t a person who loses a pet just get a replacement? “For some people who do not have a connection with the animal, they can say, ‘Fine, I will replace a black lab with another black lab,’ ” Havelin said. In other cases, the animal-human bond is very strong.

“It’s just like with people. You may have a lot of people in the course of your life, but some stand out,” Havelin said. “I have had animals my whole life, but two or three of them have been especially difficult to lose.”

Sid Korpi holds a clay mold with paw prints of her 15-year-old cat Giles, who was euthanized at her home in August. (Pioneer Press: Richard Marshall)

Linda and Allen Anderson of St. Louis Park realized last summer that their 19-year-old cat, Speedy, was no longer living up to his name. “He was falling down,” Linda Anderson said. The cat stopped eating and drinking, and death seemed imminent. But McComas said cats are very hardy – and can sometimes live for weeks without food. That means that an owner determined to let nature take its course will watch the cat deteriorate—painfully.

For the Andersons, euthanasia in a clinic seemed too cold, too impersonal. “Speedy hated vets,” Anderson said. McComas showed up at the house, dressed in surgical scrubs and carrying a bag with the equipment. Together, they talked about Speedy’s life. “She was very kind,” Anderson said. The experience was perfect, she said. “To be able to do that, with him on my lap and my husband there, to give him that last dose of love—it was a remarkable experience.”

Korpi is a Minneapolis author of the book “Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss,” and an expert on grieving over lost pets. So when her own cat, Giles, was near death in August, she liked the idea of a peaceful death at home. When the vet arrived, Korpi lit a candle and dimmed the lights in the room. “Giles came right up to her. He knew what was happening—and he was grateful,” Korpi said.

She has been through euthanasias of 16 of her other pets. “Every single time,” she said, “I say that when I go, I want to go like that.”

Bob Shaw can be reached at 651-228-5433. Follow him on twitter.com/BshawPP.

Dr.  Rebecca McComas of Minnesota Pets, who so compassionately aided our cat Giles in his passage to the Other Side a few days ago, sent me such a beautiful condolence card, I had to share her heartfelt message with you here.—Sid

Dear Sid and Anthony,

I just wanted you to know that you and Giles are in my thoughts and will be for some time. His was a beautiful, rich soul, and our world lost something wonderful yesterday. In my work, I am blessed to see pets in loving households, and in that way your situation is not different.  What was different was the way his story and his being touched me. Even though he was gravely ill, he was ever the gentleman—greeting a newcomer, helping me feel at home. I’m blessed to have met him. You were lucky to be with him for so long. Thank you for trusting me to help.

Rebecca

Dr. Rebecca McComas and friend

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

Dr. Rebecca McComas

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

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.

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It’s a topic I admit I hadn’t given much thought to, but reading about it, it only makes sense that animals need blood during medical emergencies or surgery just as humans do. I’ve often given blood myself and know it’s a simple, painless procedure that’s so very important to do. I’m going to check with my vet about my Westies donating on their next visit to his office.
This article explains the current expansion of dog blood banks.—Sid

Dog Blood Banks are Rising to Meet Demand

Jun 14, 2010 Valerie Modreski

The demand for canine transfusions and blood replacement has become so high that communities are establishing blood banks to reduce potential pet loss.

When a medical condition or emergency occurs with a dog, it may be in imminent need of blood. To meet this demand canine blood banks are opening, nationally, at a promising rate. Pet owners are donating their pet’s blood as they would their own, and recently established banks are reporting excellent numbers.

Canine Blood Bank Exposition

The concept of blood banking for pets has been around for years, but in recent years it has really taken off. Holly Carey, assistant administrator to the animal blood bank, and registered veterinary technician at LSU’s School of Veterinary Medicine, says the boom can be attributed in part because “there are diseases that we know about now that we may not have known about before.”

The LSU blood bank opened in 1992 and they have since turned into a 24 lour critical care and emergency center. Carey states that dog poisonings are on the rise and once a dog’s blood is tainted in that manner, he may need a complete transfusion. Casey also says “there are a lot of things out there that people didn’t know were toxic, like the Sago Palm”. Poisons have considerably increased their caseload, according to LSU vet techs and staff.

The Popularity of Pet Blood Banks

Before the recent influx of blood banks for dogs, various veterinary offices would have donors on hand. Dog owners would offer their pet’s blood to meet any emergency. Ann Schneider, medical director of the Eastern Veterinary Blood Bank in Severna, Maryland, says “Our blood bank is a little different”, as it is based strictly from a volunteer base. “People bring in their pets to donate blood on a regular basis.” But, she adds, “The need for blood donations grows every year.”

Most veterinary professionals attribute the demand to the fact that animal medicine has grown so much in recent years, and they are able to save dogs that used to have to be put down. When you save a dog’s life, there’s a greater chance that he is going to need blood.

The Future of Blood Banks for Dogs

As of now many of the large banks share their product with vets and animal hospitals in need. The Eastern Veterinary Blood Bank has created a stock supply and Schneider says, “People call us and we ship blood, we also have distribution centers.” These are clinics across the country that keep the EVBB’s blood on hand, ready for delivery in their local area.

The Bank’s staff do a great deal of traveling and admit it is nothing for them to travel hours when they know of a dog willing to donate. Then, the blood products are paid for by clients, or dog owners, and that’s how they are able to continue to offer this much needed service.

Of course, like human blood banks, they are always looking for donors and various incentives are offered at different facilities. These incentives can include free yearly blood work ups, heart worm prevention, various tests done on site and even free food. Sometimes they run drives and offer little giveaways like bandannas and name tags. Then once a dog has been in the volunteer program for a year he automatically becomes eligible to receive free blood for his life’s entirety.

As I went through my darkest, most painful passage in my life to date (see the article just after this for details on my “tsunami of loss”), I tried almost everything I could to relieve my pain. (And no, I don’t drink or do drugs, so there was nothing that could slide into negative escapism.) From exercise to talk therapy via a support group to Western medicine to acupuncture to hypnosis to reading books on spirituality to…well, you get the idea. And each was helpful in its own way. Put plainly, I was searching.

Among the things I tried was Bach Flower remedies. I am not a homeopath and have no official stance on their effectiveness, but I can speak here as a person who felt better after using them. (If you read my book, I advocate a healthy skepticism about all things, so I’m not “selling snake oil” here. Everyone is to decide for him-/herself as to what to believe.)

What I said about these flower essences at the time—and among other things, I took Willow to “help [me ]to forgive past injustices and move on when [I] feel resentful and bitter,” often necessary after a breakup—is that regardless of whether there is empirical evidence that the FDA will accept about such remedies, if you are taking the time to slow down and be mindful of what your aim is (in my case, seeking to forgive and move on) and envision something unseen moving through you to help you bring this about, it is highly unlikely to do you any harm and quite likely to do some good. I believe that the very act of taking small sips of water with these flower essences as you meditate on making your spirit lighter/freed of hurtful baggage and your life/psyche healthier in general is a good practice.

When I came across this article as it related specifically to pet loss, I knew I should share it with you. For further information, please visit the website of Elaine Garley at Animal Bridges. She incorporates Bach Flowers in her practice and knows a heck of a lot more about them than I. —Sid

Losing a pet is not only the loss of a dear friend, but also often the loss of a major source of unconditional love and affection. We get so attached to our pets that when they are no longer with us, the impact of their love and friendship still remain in our hearts. When we are unable to let go of the intense emotions around the loss of our pets and get stuck in thoughts of the past, unable to accept the present, then it is a good time for us to try flower remedies.

Bach Flower Remedies are 38 plant and flower based remedies developed by British physician Dr. Edward Bach in the 1930s that can help you to manage the emotional demands of life. Losing a loved one often begins a prolonged state of grief and despondency. There are specific Bach Flower remedies that can help with the emotions associated with grief and loss. Each remedy represents a particular emotional archetype, like fear, sadness, guilt, despondency, etc.

Recognizing exactly how you feel is the key to choosing the most appropriate Bach Flower Remedy. Sometimes this can be tricky, as our mental and emotional states can be a mixture of many emotions which might require a combination of corresponding flower remedies. The emotional states described below are ones common in pet owners after the loss of pet.

There are some remedies that are also safe to give to any co-pets, since they too are probably experiencing grief – Rescue Remedy, which is a blend of essences and Walnut. If you’re having a hard time pinpointing which of your emotions should be addressed first, ask a friend to help you sort through them.

Here are few commonly prescribed remedies for healing and loss, and their key-indicators:

STAR OF BETHLEHEM: For recovering from SHOCK, if the loss was sudden and unexpected. Also helps animals who have suffered traumas or abuse.

WALNUT: If you’re having a hard time ADAPTING to the loss, walnut works as a “LINK-BREAKER” to help you to let go and release your pet. Walnut is also safe for your other pets who may be grieving.

PINE: For getting over the ‘GUILTY FEELING’, if you are struggling with euthanasia, or having had to make a very difficult decision to let your pet go.

GORSE: For the feeling of HOPELESSNESS especially when you feel discouragement, darkness and resignation. Gorse brings deep and abiding faith and hope; equanimity and light-filled optimism.

SWEET CHESTNUT: In extreme cases of LOSS OF HOPE where nothing rejuvenates the mind and darkness overshadows ones life. Brings deep courage and faith in life.

HONEY SUCKLE: When our mind escapes the present, CLINGS TO THE PAST, and longs for what was. Helps one to learn from the past while releasing it.

WHITE CHESTNUT: If particular THOUGHTS / DREAMS of your lost pet repeat frequently, almost making you feel imprisoned. This will bring inner calm and a quiet, clear mind.

ASPEN: For any unexpected surges of ANXIETY that you may be feeling about the health of your other pets, in spite of their good health. Brings trust and confidence to deal with unknowns.

How to take them:

You can add 3-4 drops of the corresponding remedy to a glass of water. Sip frequently until the emotional state resolves to a more manageable intensity. In the case of a combination of dominant emotions, add 2 drops of each applicable essence.

Dr. Amit Karkare practices as a Homoeopath and Veterinary Bach Flower Therapist – also serving as a Grief Counselor. Know more about his services at: http://www.dramitkarkare.com/pet_care.html.

Author: Amit Karkare
Article Source: EzineArticles.com
Digital Camera News

I awoke this morning to see a large black bird atop my neighbor’s roof, stark against the new snow that covered the house. Immediately, the lyrics from a song by Sting, “The Lazarus Heart,” came to mind. In it, he speaks of his mother’s impending death, using the following image:

Birds on the roof of my mother’s house
I’ve no stones that chase them away.
Birds on the roof of my mother’s house,
Will sit on my roof someday.

This image is especially poignant to me this morning because, yesterday, I had to look into sweet Pebbles’ eyes (she was my sister Diane’s schnauzer) as she closed them for the final time. For well over a month, she had been having increasingly frequent grand mal seizures and mini strokes due, her vet believes, to a brain tumor.

It only makes sense to release a beloved animal companion from pain, fear and certain death when you witness his or her obvious debilitation. Trouble was, the day her euthanasia was scheduled to take place, I walked into my sister’s house to see 12-year-old Pebbles running, jumping, wagging her tail and happy as a puppy!

My sister was, quite naturally, beside herself with second-guessing. She sobbed, “How can I do this to my baby when she looks like this?!”

The vet had watched Pebbles’ symptoms progress and had told Diane quite honestly that, despite medical intervention, they would only get worse, and probably quite soon. She had already agonized over waking at night to Pebbles’ violent seizing, her heart breaking during the day as her darling girl was falling down, walking in endless circles, or just ’s having to  permanently tilt her head remained to remain upright. Diane knew what the vet had told her was true, and it was on this that she based her most painful of all decisions.

But surely this wasn’t the same dog we were seeing before us today!

If I thought Diane were making the decision to put Pebbles to sleep prematurely, I’d have told her so. What I knew in my gut was happening was “The Arby’s Effect” (see my book’s chapter by that name for a full recounting/explanation of this phenomenon). In short, Pebbles and we were being blessed by her final rallying. Humans and animals alike often have these moments of clarity, coherence, apparently spontaneous healing—only to have it followed by a swift decline and death shortly thereafter. My dad, my mom, my stepdad, my dog Tuppence and my cat Genevieve all exhibited this before they died.

I told Diane we were to be thankful for this blessing of a final memory of Pebbles as she was in her prime rather than during a grand mal. We shouldn’t cling to false hope and keep her alive long enough to fully deteriorate before our eyes. Sure, we’d be certain the decision to let her go had been right, but waiting for that, in this case, would have been totally self-serving. As it was, my sister showed astounding strength, courage and selfless love in letting Pebbles go when she did. (And she claims she’s a wimp!)

Pebbles licked away our tears and did her best to show she was OK with her upcoming transition. When her mama had said her heart-wrenching goodbyes and left the examining room, I stayed behind with this beautiful little girl who’d brought so much laughter and love into both our lives. I’m so very glad I did, too, because I was able to tell my sister, “Pebbles was ready. She wasn’t afraid; she didn’t struggle, flinch, or cry out as she got her shot.” I’d kneeled in front of her and held her head in my hands and looked into her eyes, showering her with love and prayers that our mother (“Gamma Lu,” who art in heaven with all our past pets) would lovingly gather up Pebbles in her arms. Those sweet eyes gently closed and she went on to her next life.

Alone in the room with Pebbles afterward, I sent her on with blessings and thanks (and oh, lordy, such tears) and I asked her to send us signs that she was all right.

My visit from the rooftop bird was my first sign. “The Lazarus Heart” song goes on to say, “Everyday another miracle. Only death will keep us apart.”

And that separation, in the grand scheme of things, will last only a twinkling of an eye. It’s just that in this life, it feels like we’re alternately living in slow motion, prolonging the pain of loss, and fast-forwarding through the wonderful times, making them seem all too fleeting.

I need to work on reversing that process.

Thank you, Pebbles, for opening my eyes to that need. We’ll always love you, sweet dog.

Pebbles

In submitting an article on pet loss  for The Daily Tail blog, I made the e-acquaintance of fellow blogger, Dr. Nancy Kay, DVM, author of Speaking for Spot. She kindly shared with me some of the responses she’d received from her NPR Fresh Air with Terry Gross interviews. I’ve excerpted a particularly pointed one, with her permission, wherein she respectfully addresses the viewpoints of the decidedly non-animal-loving faction of the audience, while making a perfect case for those of us who do cherish our fellow creatures. Reading this can be useful for those of us experiencing pet loss and encountering that all-too-common lack of empathy from people around us for our experience.

Differing Perspectives on the Same Observations

Sunday, September 13th, 2009 by Nancy Kay, DVM

I’ve received many wonderful emails in response to my interviews on Fresh Air with Terry Gross. The stories I’ve heard about peoples’ pets run the gamut from delightful to heart wrenching. Many listeners described crying while driving—I certainly hope Terry and I were not responsible for creating any collisions!

I’ve also received emails from a handful of folks who were put off by the Fresh Air interviews. The content of Anne’s comments (printed below with her permission) is representative of what these disgruntled listeners had to say:

“I’m annoyed at how dogs have become soooo important over the past 10 years or so. They’re just pets! Just animals. Clearly all this elevation of dogs is a by-product of a society in trouble. Never would I have imagined that dogs would be referred to as ‘family members’ or ‘surrogate children.’ NEVER!! Back in the day, the dog was just the ‘family dog,’ not ‘the dog family member.’ It was like, ‘Yeah, there’s the dog, so what?’ No thought was given to brushing its teeth, worrying about dog cancer, or feeling guilty if we went on vacation and left the dog at home with a neighbor to look after it. I recently read a book about an African village, and the hard life they have, and the poverty. I found it so shameful that they live like that, while America’s dogs are often dressed in designer clothes, waited on hand and foot, given the best medical care, the best food, cooed over, etc. What the hell has happened to Americans? We’ve gone nutty! Dogs are just dogs, driven by selfish instinct to look after their own interests.”

As easy as it would be to ignore such “fan mail,” I truly believe that Anne’s comments are worthy of consideration. Given what I do for a living, I have certainly grappled with what I believe Anne is questioning. Is it reasonable to invest so much, emotionally and financially, in our pets when there is so much human suffering in the world? After all, the amount of money spent on one of our four-legged family members during the course of a year would represent a fortune to someone who is impoverished. Wouldn’t “shut in” senior citizens relish the affection and attention we lavish upon our pets?

While I agree with Anne’s observations—yes, many people consider their pets to be “family members” and yes, there is a great deal of human suffering in the world—I disagree with her notion that doting on our pets detracts from our willingness and ability to give of ourselves to others. I contend that the opposite is true. Many studies have documented that the human-animal bond positively impacts peoples’ psychological well-being. People whose “emotional bellies” are full rather than empty are more inspired and capable of giving their time, energy, and financial resources to others in need. One need not be a scientist to know that pets bestow a unique brand of sweetness and joy upon our lives; they keep us grounded even when insanity abounds. As I state in the introduction of Speaking for Spot, “Today the human-animal bond is stronger than ever. Perhaps, the more tumultuous the world around us, the tighter we cling to our beloved pets. They soothe us with their predictability and unconditional love, and they consistently give in excess of what they receive.”

Loving our pets does not make them more important than humans, nor does it “replace” our ability to tend to the needy. Rather, opening our homes and our hearts to animals makes our own humanity more accessible. Temple Grandin got it just right when she titled her newest book, Animals Make Us Human. Our love of animals doesn’t fill up our hearts—it makes our hearts grow bigger.

Wishing you and your four-legged family members good health,

Dr. Nancy Kay

Specialist, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”—helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, as well as a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health.

 

Dr. Nancy Kay and friend

DR. NANCY KAY holds a veterinary degree from Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine, is a staff internist at VCA Animal Care Center, a 24-hour emergency/specialty care center in Rohnert Park, Calif., and  founded and helps facilitate the VCA Animal Care Center Client Support Group.

Dr. Kay was selected by the American Animal Hospital Association to receive the 2009 Hill’s Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award. This award is given annually to a veterinarian or nonveterinarian who has advanced animal welfare through extraordinary service or by furthering humane principles, education, and understanding.

 

 

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