Archive for the ‘Human-Animal Bond’ Category

SERVICE DOGS AND EMOTIONAL SUPPORT ANIMALS

Monday, September 25th, 2017

By Dr. Jean Dodds at Hemopet in Garden Grove, CA

Service Dogs and Emotional Support Animals

Depending on where you live, many businesses are now increasingly pet-friendly such as clothing stores, hotels, pet supply stores, photography studios, etc. For people who use and need service dogs for medical purposes or assistance, this can be a blessing and sometimes a problem. Compounding the problem is the definition of what is considered to be a service animal.

According to the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) website, “A service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability.” [The new ADA regulations also contain a specific provision which covers miniature horses.]

Under the ADA, service dogs allow people with medical conditions or disabilities to function and participate in society such as going to movie theatres, the grocery store, work, restaurants, etc. A service dog may pull a wheelchair. Another example is that a service dog can help a person with epilepsy by detecting and then keeping the person safe during a seizure. Of course, many of us frequently see guide dogs for people with visual impairments.

Businesses and other entities do have rights that protect them if a particular service animal behaves in a way that poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others or is not under the control of the handler.

Additionally, businesses can ask two specific questions about service animals – that do not violate or interfere with the civil rights of people with disabilities – and are then protected from litigation. The ADA website states:

  1. Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
  2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?

Staff are not allowed to request any documentation for the dog’s training, require that the dog demonstrate his/her task, or inquire about the nature of the person’s disability.

Some states have regulations to protect people with disabilities that do not infringe on their civil rights. Colorado passed a law last year that imposes fines on people who misrepresent ordinary dogs as those specifically trained for the purpose of assisting someone with disabilities. California takes the law further. Service dogs must be registered with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, which provides standardized identification tags. Anyone in California who falsely claims an animal to be a service animal can be charged with a misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for six months or a fine up to $1000 or both.

Fair Housing Act

Depending on the title within the ADA law, ADA is overseen by the Department of Justice (DOJ) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) – which is managed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) – defines assistance animals, “An assistance animal is nota pet. It is an animal that works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified symptoms or effects of a person’s disability.” The FHA states, “Persons with disabilities may request a reasonable accommodation for any assistance animal, including an emotional support animal.”

So, FHA is more all-encompassing to ensure fair housing for everyone. It covers people with disabilities who need a service dog to perform tasks and people who need animals (any type) for emotional support. It overrides “no pets policies” by landlords.

FHA provisions are also built in in case the animal may be considered a danger to others or property. Property owners – if the disability is not apparent – can ask for documentation from a physician, psychiatrist, social worker, or other mental health professional that the animal provides emotional support that alleviates one or more of the identified symptoms or effects of an existing disability. The law does protect civil rights because landlords cannot ask for medical records or the nature of the disability.

Psychiatric Service Dogs

Before we move on, we wanted to touch upon Psychiatric Service Dogs (PSD), as approximately 15 states have statutory definitions of either disability or service dogs that are intentionally worded to exclude PSDs. If a person with a disability and a fully trained PSD qualifies under the ADA, they would still have regular protections under the ADA, but no additional ones provided by the state. These dogs are performing a specific task, such as:

  • Providing safety checks for, or calming, individuals with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
  • Sensing an anxiety attack and taking a specific action to help avoid the attack or lessen its impact.
  • Reminding a person with mental illness to take medications.
  • Preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors, such as self-mutilation.

It is certainly sad that psychiatric disorders are considered “murky” or go unrecognized in this day and age.

Air Carrier Access Act

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) was enacted to protect the civil rights and health of people with disabilities who use service animals, people with Emotional Support Animals (ESAs), and people with PSDs to be able to bring the animal into the cabin. This law falls under the aegis of the Department of Transportation.

For service animals, airlines can do the following:

  • Request the credible verbal assurances of a qualified individual with a disability using the animal.
  • Look for physical indicators such as the presence of a harness or tags.
  • Observe the behavior of the animal.

For ESA and PSD, airlines can request specific documentation and/or 48-hours advance notice that cannot be older than one year. It must state a mental or emotional disability that is recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and a need for an ESA or PSD for air travel or at a destination. It must be written by a licensed mental health professional who provides care to the person, dated, with type of professional, and jurisdiction or state in which the license was issued.

Airlines are never required to accept snakes, reptiles, ferrets, rodents, and spiders. Additionally, they can refuse an animal if it is not properly behaved. However, an animal cannot be refused if it just makes the crew or other passengers uncomfortable.

Conclusion

Some people sadly take advantage of the ADA, FHA and ACAA.

Regarding ADA, three loopholes appear to exist in the federal law:

  1. The ADA does not require that service animals be certified or licensed. Certification could be considered a barrier to entry and therefore discriminatory.
  2. A service dog does not have to be professionally trained, but can be personally trained. A professional training requirement may be considered a barrier to entry.
  3. Some state and local laws define service animal more broadly than the ADA.
  4. We have to remember that “trained for a specific task” is not the same as well-behaved – and this is where the ADA standards can fall apart.

As noted above, businesses have certain rights. However, businesses are reluctant to deny access to misbehaving service animals or ask if the animal is a service dog because they may pose their questions poorly. Then, they could be prosecuted for violating civil rights. People with disabilities who use well-behaved and trained service dogs are becoming rightfully angry and upset when people are taking advantage of the law.

In addition to the life-saving, emotional and functioning assistance service dogs provide, we need to remember the cost and number of years it took to get the dog to be specially trained. For instance, the full cost to breed, raise and train a service dog to help a child within the autism spectrum can be over $20,000. A guide dog for a person with a visual impairment is around $50,000.

Today, people with well-behaved and trained service dogs are pointing to people with ESAs or PSDs for making life more difficult for them outside of the home and on public transport and planes. In fact, the Advocates’ Service Animal Proposal wants to limit the rights of people with ESAs on planes. But, it is not a problem created by responsible people with legitimate ESAs or PSDs. It is only people who take advantage of the laws, as they are harming the civil rights and protections others desperately need.

W. Jean Dodds, DVM
Hemopet / NutriScan
11561 Salinaz Avenue
Garden Grove, CA 92843

 

References

“Advocates’ Service Animal Proposal.” (n.d.): n. pag. United States Department of Transportation, 21 July 2016. Web. 18 June 2017. https://www.transportation.gov/sites/dot.gov/files/docs/P4.SA%20Advocates%20Proposal%20072116.pdf.

“Air Travel with Service Animals.” (n.d.): 189-92. United States Department of Transportation. Web. 18 June 2017. https://www.transportation.gov/sites/dot.gov/files/docs/AirTravel_with_ServiceAnimals-TriFold.pdf.

“Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA.” United States Department of Justice, 20 Jan. 2015. Web. 18 June 2017. https://www.ada.gov/regs2010/service_animal_qa.html.

“Service Animals and Assistance Animals for People with Disabilities in Housing and HUD-Funded Programs.” (n.d.): n. pag. United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, 25 Apr. 2013. Web. 18 June 2017. https://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/documents/huddoc?id=servanimals_ntcfheo2013-01.pdf.

“Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals.” ADA National Network, 27 June 2017. Web. 18 June 2017. https://adata.org/publication/service-animals-booklet.

“States Specifically excluding PSDs from State Definition of Service Dog.” Service Dog Central, n.d. Web. 18 June 2017. http://www.servicedogcentral.org/content/node/464. 

When Supervising Dogs and Kids Doesn’t Work

Monday, August 28th, 2017

From a Blog by Robin Bennett

Why Supervising Dogs and Kids Doesn’t Work

It’s sound advice given frequently:  Supervise your dogs and kids while they are together. Breeders warn parents, “Don’t leave the dog alone with children, no matter how friendly the breed.” Veterinarians advise, “Never leave a dog and a child in the same room together.” Dog trainers explain, “All dogs can bite so supervise your dog when you have children over.”  Everyone knows the drill.  So why doesn’t it work?  Why are there an estimated 800,000 Americans seeking medical attention for dog bites each year, with over half of these injuries to children ages 5-9?

Note the good intentions of the kids.
Note the closed mouth and half-moon eye of the dog.
Intervene.

The bites are not a result of negligent parents leaving Fido to care for the baby while mom does household chores, oblivious to the needs of her children.  In fact, I’ve consulted on hundreds of dog bite cases and 95% of the time the parent was standing within 3 feet of the child watching both child and dog when the child was bitten. Parents are supervising. The problem is not lack of supervision. The problem is no one has taught parents what they should be watching.

Parents generally have not received any education on what constitutes good dog body language and what constitutes an emergency between the dog and the child.  Parents generally have no understanding of the predictable series of canine body cues that would indicate a dog might bite.  And complicating matters further, most parents get confused by the good intentions of the child and fail to see when a dog is exhibiting signs of stress. The good new is all of this is easy to learn! We can all get better at this.

Here is a simple list to help you improve your supervision skills:

  • Watch for loose canine body language. Good dog body language is loose, relaxed, and wiggly.  Look for curves in your dog’s body when he is around a child.  Stiffening and freezing in a dog are not good. If you see your dog tighten his body, or if he moves from panting to holding his breath (he stops panting), you should intervene.  These are early signs that your dog is not comfortable.
  • Watch for inappropriate human behavior. Intervene if your child climbs on or attempts to ride your dog. Intervene if your child pulls the ears, yanks the tail, lifts the jowls or otherwise pokes and prods the dog. Don’t marvel that your dog has the patience of Job if he is willing to tolerate these antics. And please don’t videotape it for YouTube! Be thankful your dog has good bite inhibition and intervene before it’s too late.
  • Watch for these three really easy to see stress signals in your dog.  All of them indicate you should intervene and separate the child and dog:
    • Yawning outside the context of waking up
    • Half-moon eye – this means you can see the whites on the outer edges of your dog’s eyes.
    • Lip licking outside the context of eating food
  • Watch for avoidance behaviors. If your dog moves away from a child, intervene to prevent the child from following the dog.  A dog that chooses to move away is making a great choice.  He’s saying, “I don’t really want to be bothered, so I’ll go away.”  However, when you fail to support his great choice and allow your child to continue to follow him, it’s likely the dog’s next choice will be, “Since I can’t get away, I’ll growl or snap at this kid to get the child to move away.”  Please don’t cause your dog to make that choice.
  • Listen for growling. I can’t believe how many times I’ve heard parents say, “Oh, he growled all the time but we never thought he would bite.”  Dog behavior, including aggression, is on a continuum. For dogs, growling is an early warning sign of aggression. Heed it.  If growling doesn’t work, the dog may escalate to snapping or biting. Growling is a clue that you should intervene between the dog and the child.

To pet owners, particularly those who also have children, thank you for supervising your dog! As a dog trainer and mother of two, I know that juggling kids and dogs is no easy feat.  It takes patience, understanding, and a great deal of supervision. I hope these tips will help you get better at supervising.

AHF treats homeless pets at Santa Ana River Trail for free

Monday, July 31st, 2017
PUBLISHED: July 30, 2017 at 7:17 pm | UPDATED: July 31, 2017 at 7:50 am

 

 

ANAHEIM   Michael Diehl has had Osiris since the pit bull was just a pup.  Diehl, 46, suffers from sudden seizures and Osiris helps keep him safe, alerting him before they happen, he said.  “He means everything to me,” he said. “He protects me from everything.”  

As one of hundreds living on the riverbed of the Santa Ana River Trail, Diehl was among 60 people and their pets who took advantage of free veterinary services offered on Sunday, July 30.

The services were offered by two groups, the Healthcare Emergency Animal Rescue Team out of Yorba Linda run by veterinarians Debra and Dr. Todd Kopit, and  Dr. Mark Malo, vice president of the  Animal Health Foundation, a nonprofit that is a charitable wing of the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association.

The veterinarians did wellness checks, vaccinations, de-worming and parasite treatment.

“We launched this program because we know there are many services for homeless people but not for their pets, ” said Malo, who also works at the Garden Grove Dog and Cat Hospital. “These people are dedicated to their animals. They would go without their own meals to feed them.”

Angel Nole, 32, brought his dog Bandit, a Dalmatian pit bull-mix, for shots and flea control. He also brought Robin, a six-week-old pup for his first puppy shots.

“It helps out a lot,” said Nole said, adding that he can’t afford any veterinary care.

TJ and Chance Ivey were thankful for the opportunity to get their pit bull-Labrador-mix Daisy checked out.

Daisy has helped make life bearable for the couple, they said.

“She brightens everybody’s day,” TJ Ivey said. “If they’re disgusted with life, she walks up to them and it’s a blessing.”

Kacey is Retiring!

Tuesday, April 18th, 2017

Thank you Kacey and John for being a great Pet Therapy Team and bringing smiles to so many people since 2009.

Kacey was born in January, 2008 and was adoped by the Smead family from the San Clemente shelter.  Kasey loves to fetch toys and chasing sea gulls at the beach. Kacey has 2 yorkie brothers and a papillon sister (who is in charge!).

John and Kacey started their therapy team journey in 2009.  They have been visited assisted living homes, CHOC and most, recently, the Juvenile Drug Court group sessions with adolescent boys.  John was so committed to the latter that he went back to school for his PhD to be able to participate!

How Dogs Help People Get Along Better

Monday, April 3rd, 2017

From the Greater Good Science Center, UC Berkley

By Jill Suttie | March 6, 2017 |

A new study suggests that when dogs are around, groups are closer, more cooperative, and more trusting.

My dog, Casey, is one of my favorite beings on the planet. Not only is he extremely cute, his presence calms me, makes me happy, and helps me to meet new people…especially when I take a walk with him.

My husband and I often joke that if everyone had a dog like Casey, there simply wouldn’t be any wars—the assumption being that everyone would just get along if he were around. Now, a new study suggests that we might be onto something.

Casey the dogCasey the dog

Researchers at Central Michigan University gave small groups tasks to do with or without a companion dog in the room. In the first experiment, groups generated a 15-second ad and slogan for a fictional project—a task requiring cooperation. In the second experiment, groups played a modified version of the prisoner’s dilemma game, in which individual members decide whether to cooperate with one another or to look out only for themselves. All of these interactions were videotaped.

Afterwards, participants reported on how satisfied they felt with the group and how much they trusted group members. In addition, independent raters analyzed the video recordings, looking for displays of cooperation, verbal and physical signs of bonding or closeness, and expressions of vulnerability that indicated trust.

Regardless of the task, groups with a dog showed more verbal and physical signs of closeness than groups without a dog. Also, raters observed more signs of cooperation during the first task, and group members reported that they trusted each other more during the second task, if a dog was in the room.

These results suggest that there is something about the presence of a dog that increases kind and helpful behavior in groups.

“When people work in teams, the presence of a dog seems to act as a social lubricant,” says lead author Steve Colarelli. “Dogs seem to be beneficial to the social interactions of teams.”

Why would that be? Could it be that dogs make us feel good, which then impacts our social behavior?

To test that idea, the researchers asked independent raters to watch 40-second videos of the groups edited from the first study—with the sound off and no evidence of the dog in the room—and to note how often they saw indicators of positive emotions (like enthusiasm, energy, and attentiveness). The raters noticed many more good feelings in groups with a companion dog in the room than in groups with no dog, lending some support for their theory.

Although the dogs didn’t seem to impact performance on the group tasks during this short experiment, Colarelli believes that the observed social and emotional benefits could have impacts on group performance over time.

“In a situation where people are working together for a long period of time, and how well the team gets along—do they speak together, have rapport, act cooperatively, help one another—could influence the outcome of the team, then I suspect a dog would have a positive impact,” he says.

Of course, not everyone likes dogs, and some people may even be allergic. Colarelli says that we shouldn’t just start bringing dogs into every workplace—there would be a lot of factors to consider.

But his work adds to a body of research that suggests that dogs impact social interactions and personal well-being. Past studies have shown that people accompanied by dogs tend to elicit more helpful responses from others and that dogs in the workplace can reduce stress. Though most of this kind of research has been done on individuals or pairs, Colarelli’s study shows the positive impacts of dogs may extend to groups.

While the study is relatively preliminary, Colarelli believes that his results tie into another area of research finding positive effects when people are exposed to natural elements—which he thinks could include dogs and other animals—on wellness in the workplace.

Perhaps it’s time I consider letting Casey come to our next staff meeting…for everyone’s sake.

Man Dies Suddenly, Then His Grieving Horse Smells His Casket And Breaks Down At The Funeral

Saturday, January 7th, 2017

horse-mourningTo watch the stirring video, click here

Wagner Lima, a 34-year-old Paraguayan cowboy, died on New Year’s Day 2017 in a motorcycle accident in Brazil. Everyone who knew Wagner knew what his dear horse Sereno meant to him, and vice versa.

Wagner and Sereno were best friends for many years.

Wagner’s brother Wando instantly knew that Sereno should be at the funeral, right alongside his human friends and family members.

“This horse was everything to him,” Wando told Globo News. “It was as if the horse knew what was happening and wanted to say goodbye.”

Wando led an emotional march to his brother’s final resting place in the city of Cajazeiras, Brazil. Sereno marched with them, but no one in the procession expected just how the grieving horse would react when he got close enough to Wagner’s casket to pinpoint Wagner’s scent.

Wando says he will now be taking care of Sereno in his brother’s honor.

Watch the video below to see what happened during this tear-jerking moment. No wonder this story is going viral so quickly!

Horses are truly incredible creatures.

 

 

With Help From Angel Fund, Lillie Tries to Get Back on Her Feet

Thursday, November 24th, 2016

 

aAnn Champion, a production designer in film and television, has “always had animals and the one promise I always make them is, if their lives are at stake and they can continue on with quality of life, I’m not going to arbitrarily end their lives because I don’t have money.”

That promise was put to a severe test last summer.  Her Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, then about 9½ years old and a picture of health, suddenly and inexplicably lost the use of her legs.

“Lillie had always been very fit,” Ann said, “so it was devastating to find her collapsed on the floor beside her bed when I went to get her to go for our walk [one August day]. She was completely alert and could raise her head and wag her tail, but even though she was trying to move all four legs she could not get them underneath her to stand up.”

Lillie weighed 110 pounds, “almost as much as I do,” Ann said.  So it was almost impossible to move her.  But Ann managed to get her in her car, with help from a neighbor, for a trip to an emergency hospital. The doctor did x-rays and blood tests that showed nothing wrong. He recommended taking her to a neurologist at a specialty hospital.

The neurologist recommended putting Lillie on steroids to reduce inflammation in the discs in her neck, which she thought were causing the problem.  That sounded better to Ann than the other option – expensive surgery.  “It would be a reasonable course of treatment and we could expect a good outcome,” the  neurologist told her.

Quickly, Lillie was doing better.  After a few days, the hospital wanted to send Lillie home to recover with outpatient physical therapy.  “That created a whole new set of problems,” Ann said. “She was a very big girl and there was no way to get in or out of our Studio City home without having to negotiate steps. While there was a lot I was capable of doing to help her to continue to improve, I could not lift her.”

So Ann found a rehabilitation hospital. Lillie was fitted with a harness that made it easier to help her. The doctor at the rehab hospital said that he expected a full recovery.  “The only negative in all this truly blessed and positive news was that it would take time – and time was money that I didn’t have.”

Ann had maxed out her Care Credit card and she applied for a higher limit. She also asked about Angel Fund and applied for help.  She recalled visiting Lillie and taking her for a walk in the corridor with the help of the special harness a few days later.

“She was doing really well.  I didn’t have to support her front end at all and she was placing her hind feet correctly and she was pulling me through the corridor.  And I was thinking: ‘Yes! A couple more weeks of this and we’re gonna be home and walking up the hill.’  Then Lillie started doing less well, running a fever  . . . and she started back sliding.”

The rehab hospital wanted Lillie to have a checkup so Ann took her to a nearby hospital, which found nothing wrong besides the disc problem.  Ann decided to take her to the veterinarian in Pasadena who had treated Lillie in the past. He found liver problems, including a lesion.  “So that was it,” she said, “there was nothing more that could be done. It was such a shock. Several vets had said: ‘You should have a full recovery’ or ‘You should expect a good outcome.’  Nobody said, ‘well, she may not make it.’ So I made this huge leap of faith and took on this enormous financial commitment.  I‘m going to be paying for the rest of my life.”

Expenses for Lillie’s care totaled more than $9,000, including euthanasia and aquamation.  She used her Care Credit to pay the balance owed to the rehab hospital – less $500 provided by Angel Fund.  She also tried to raise money through an online website but after Lillie had to be put down that did not work.  “I was very grateful for the help I got from Angel Fund.  In this kind of situation, everything is a help.  It’s a wonderful program.  It was a godsend.”

Ann is struggling financially because working in the film and television industry is erratic at best.

Ann had given a home to a Swissy named Rozie before Lillie came into her life.  She had lived with Rozie for six years after acquiring her at age six.  So she had expected to have more time with Lillie, who had come into her life at four and a half years old.

Greater Swiss Mountain Dogs “are, without a doubt, the most wonderful dogs you can imagine in terms of their disposition,” she said.  “They are beautiful and they are just absolutely incredible. But as much as I love the breed, I will never have another.  They are so wonderful and you love them so much and their life span is so short.  When they die, they just rip your heart out.”

Meet New Pet Partner Team Diane and Benny

Thursday, October 20th, 2016

benny-head

Hi! My name is Benny and I am a Golden Retriever. Everyone says I am a happy and fun loving boy! I enjoy playing with my toys, going on adventures, meeting new friends and swimming. I am really smart and can do some tricks. My birthday is January 6th. I will come running if you call my name because I can’t wait to meet you!!

 

The death of pet can hurt as much as the loss of a relative

Sunday, September 25th, 2016

The Washington Post published an article in 2012 which will resonate with any person who has lost a special pet.

Copy and Paste this link in your browser OR read below:  http://wpo.st/Itp-2

It’s been four months, and yet if somebody asks me about that day, my voice will crack. By “that day,” I mean the day I came home from work to find my Doberman, Red, splayed out on my bedroom floor, his head to one side, his body lifeless but still warm. It’s an image I can’t seem to shake, as much as I try.

I’m no stranger to death. I was a mess of anger and confusion when my father, suffering the aftermath of a stroke, took his last gasps one day in 1995, his children gathered around his hospital bed. And three years later, the death of my sweet, beloved sister Bonny after a withering battle with brain cancer was nothing short of heartbreaking. Yet somehow, and much to my distress, the death of my dog seems even harder. I haven’t felt grief quite like this since, well, the death of my previous dog five years ago.

How could the death of a canine possibly hurt as much as that of a family member? As the sadness lingers, part of my grieving process has been to try to understand the differences.

Researchers have long known that the animal-human bond is strong: A 1988 study in the Journal of Mental Health Counseling asked a group of dog owners to place symbols for their family members and pets in a circle representing each dog owner’s life. (The distance between the subject and the other symbols corresponds to the relative, real-life closeness of those relationships.) The subjects tended to put the dog closer than the average family member, and about as close as the closest family member; in 38 percent of the cases, the dog was closest of all.

Research comparing grief over the death of pets to that over the death of friends and family members has come up with different answers. A 2002 article in the journal Society & Animals that reviewed multiple studies found that the death of a companion animal can be “just as devastating as the loss of a human significant other,” not quite as severe, “far more intense” or, well, just about the same.

Sandra Barker, the director of the Center for Human-Animal Interaction at Virginia Commonwealth University, who co-authored the 1988 diagram study, counsels grieving pet owners and teaches veterinary students the importance of understanding the process. Studies aside, her own experience has taught her that the intensity and longevity of the grief vary widely. Like me, her clients sometimes begin the process with a sense of surprise and even shame that they’re grieving more for their pet than for a sibling or parent.
“But when they realize that the difference is the pet gave them constant companionship, and there was total dependency, then they start to realize that’s why they’re grieving so intensely,” she said.

Rearranging my life
It’s true that I spent so much time taking care of Red, and Gromit before him, that when each one died it didn’t merely leave a hole in my single-person household; it was as if someone had rearranged my life, excising without my permission many of the rituals that had governed it.

Over the course of 13 years, for instance, the same thing would happen with Gromit every morning. I would sit on my bed to put on my shoes, and he would drape himself across my lap. I would scratch his butt and he would reward me with a big sloppy kiss. Recently, I did the math: Accounting for the times I was traveling without him, this interaction happened more than 4,000 times.

So it makes sense that when he died, it was months before I could touch my shoelaces without expecting to also touch him. And I had no idea what to do with my mornings without my pooch to require that small gesture of me.

About nine months after Gromit died, once I knew I didn’t want to replace him but just wanted to consider getting another dog, I signed up as an occasional foster parent at a no-kill shelter in Dupont Circle. My first assignment, Red, was a living, breathing refutation of the portrayal of Dobermans as vicious guard dogs in such movies as “Hugo” and the animated classic “Up.” The first time he ambled over to me when I was sitting on the couch in my apartment and lay his head across my lap so I could stroke his snout, I knew I’d adopt him.

And for the two months I lived in that apartment after he died, the couch never seemed so empty, nor the place so quiet.

Keeping it simple
My relationships with Red, Gromit and Consuela (the cat who has survived them both) have been, for lack of a better word, simple. Or at least simpler than that with my sister — but especially simpler than that with my father, with whom I had constant conflicts over religion and sexuality, and whose love and support seemed to always have strings attached.
Barker echoes the idea that the unconditional, nonjudgmental love offered up by animals — “they’re just happy you’re there” — can make it especially hard to lose them. Were these losses more difficult because I was living alone? Some studies suggest that just as pets can ease loneliness, especially among single people, it can be harder for us when they’re gone.

And then there is the suddenness factor. Former president Bill Clinton told Newsweek in 2002 that the death of his dog, Buddy, who was hit by a car, was “by far the worst thing” that Clinton had experienced after leaving the White House. Barker says that not having time to prepare for the pet’s death “usually makes it more intense” and that something like an accident can add a layer of traumatic stress, especially if the owner witnesses it.

She might as well have been talking about me. Gromit’s battle with cancer at age 13 was short, but at least I spent the last few weeks of his life preparing for it. I held him when the vet put him down, and it was horrible, but I knew he was as comfortable as possible — and that having me there was part of his comfort.

At age 7, Red had been otherwise healthy when he started wheezing one day last October. The vet thought he had allergies and advised me to return if he didn’t get better within a couple of weeks. Two weeks later, a chest X-ray showed a mild pneumonia, and the vet sent Red and me home with antibiotics that she hoped Red would respond to within a few days. I gave him a dose at about 1 p.m. and went to work; when I returned that evening, he was dead.

‘I’m sorry’
It’s too painful to describe the extent of my immediate reaction, or really the reactions that unfolded over the following days, weeks and even months. But I will say that when Gromit was dying, I kept repeating the words, “Thank you.” In Red’s case, too late for him to hear, I kept repeating, “I’m sorry.”

The fact that our pets are so dependent on us makes it all too easy to second-guess our decisions and descend into a pit of guilt. Shouldn’t I have known? Did I do everything I could? If I had just . . . what? Taken him to the vet sooner? Insisted he be hospitalized? What if I had been home? I might not have been able to save him, but at least in his last moments he would have known I was with him, and maybe that would have made it a little easier for him if not for me.

In “The Year of Magical Thinking,” Joan Didion refers to grief as passive and mourning as active. Sure enough, when I talked to Kathy Reiter, who leads monthly pet-loss support groups in Alexandria and Fairfax County, she eventually (in true therapist style) turned the conversation to my experience, asking what I’d done — actively — to help myself with this process. It occurred to me that I needed to sit around and cry a little less and to grieve, publicly, a little more.

That’s easier said than done. A few weeks after Red died, some friends from the dog park suggested we have a get-together in his memory. I was grateful for the suggestion, but as I came in and exchanged hugs, I felt a bit sheepish when I pulled out the box of Red’s ashes and a recent photo and set them up on the table. Maybe it was my imagination, but I got the feeling that even friends who had gathered for just this purpose would rather say just a quick “I’m sorry; how are you doing?” than truly acknowledge the elephant — or the Doberman — in the room. It wasn’t until a couple of hours and several drinks later that we finally told a few stories about him.
More than just a dog
Thankfully, many of my closest friends, family members and co-workers have been wonderfully sympathetic, and for that I’m grateful. Others have seemed reluctant to talk about my grief, and I suspect that it’s because they’re trying to stay in denial about the prospect of losing their own animal or trying not to remember the death of a previous one. My least-favorite reaction comes from those who are aiming to be supportive but regularly ask me when I’m going to adopt another dog, a reaction that seems tantamount to saying, “Get over it already. He was just a dog. Isn’t one as good as another?”

That can lead to what psychologists refer to as disenfranchised grief.

“Simply stated, many people (including pet owners) feel that grief over the death of a pet is not worthy of as much acknowledgment as the death of a person,” researchers wrote in a 2003 article in the journal Professional Psychology: Research and Practice. “Unfortunately, this tends to inhibit people from grieving fully when a pet dies.”

Two months after Red died, I’ve had a change of scenery, moving to my sister Rebekah’s home in southern Maine to work on book projects for a year. Here, my sister and brother-in-law’s gregarious chocolate Lab, Maya, helps keep me company and reminds me that eventually, probably sometime next year, I’ll be ready to adopt again. Meanwhile, Red’s ashes sit in a beautiful carved wooden box on a shelf in my bedroom, right in front of a beautiful drawing that a colleague’s son made for me after Red died. Those artifacts have helped, but I’ve needed something more.

My sources for this article noticed the answer before I did: I’m a writer, and I need to process my grief by writing, so that’s what I’m doing. Reiter admitted that her own work helping others who have lost animals was partly as a tribute to her cat, Prince, who died at the ripe old age of 23, but also as a way to validate and work through her own grief. By writing about Red, she said, “you are doing what I did: It’s self-serving, but it’s a tribute, and it’s a catharsis for you. You want to capture the memories, so you don’t forget.”
There’s one more task ahead of me. Five years ago I buried Gromit’s ashes in the woods outside Rebekah’s house, along with his collar, a note, a photo of us together and one of his favorite things: a bagel. The headstone says, “Thank you.” Red’s box, meanwhile, went up on the shelf when I got here in January, partly because the ground was frozen solid.

The days are getting longer, though. The ground has thawed. I’ve been looking at headstones and, more important, composing the words that will go on Red’s.

Yonan, the Post’s Food and Travel editor, is on book leave. Follow him on Twitter @joeyonan.

 

Tarzan Recovers From Encounter With Car, Thanks to Angel Fund

Friday, April 8th, 2016

 

On an August morning in 2014, Robin – a writer and editor who lives in West Los Angeles – heard a cat crying in her courtyard.  “He was yelping and he was really upset. He just kept crying and crying,” she said, “and his mouth looked swollen.”

Robin, who asked that her last name not be used, recognized Tarzan, a friendly cat who lived outdoors in the neighborhood after his owner died. eH “At first I thought he had an abscessed tooth. I could see he was in pain. . . . So I took him inside and started researching veterinarians on the internet.”

Robin took Tarzan to the Westchester Veterinary Center and Cat Clinic. “When I got there, I explained that I was not Tarzan’s owner and that I was just a concerned animal lover. The staff . . . was really friendly and concerned about the cat,” she said.

A staff veterinarian said Tarzan’s jaw was shattered and that he needed surgery. She said that he probably had been hit by a car.

“I sat inside the exam room with Tarzan and I was massaging him and talking to him and the [clinic] staff was talking about what to do.  Someone came in after a while and said that I could apply to Angel Fund for Tarzan’s surgery. I said I was willing to chip in $150. Angel Fund and the clinic paid the rest.”

Robin and Tarzan Feb 2016Dr. Henry Yoo, owner of the clinic, did the surgery. “He did an amazing job with Tarzan,” Robin said. “There were a couple of months of feeding him with a turkey baster and going to the clinic regularly for follow-up appointments. The people at the clinic were always friendly and helpful.”

The time she spent caring for Tarzan had an impact on Robin.  “After a couple of months,” she said, “I got very close to him. And I didn’t want him going back outside. It’s healthier for cats indoors [where they’re unlikely to pick up diseases] and there are no cat fights.  And I certainly didn’t want him to get hit by a car again. So I just had to adopt him.”

And, she said, “without Angel Fund, who knows what would have happened to him. He might have been put down. I really think that the clinic and Angel Fund saved his life.”

Today, she said, you can’t tell he had surgery. “He’s a special cat. He eats normally and has a good appetite. He has a lot of energy. He’s very clean and he was always really friendly. One day I woke up and he was lying there beside me.” She thinks Tarzan is “teen or pre-teen” in age.

Are she and Tarzan living happily ever after? “He is.  I am.”

Are you doing it together. “Exactly.”