Animal Health Foundation Blog
Archive for the ‘Pet Loss and Bereavement’ Category
The Washington Post published an article in 2012 which will resonate with any person who has lost a special pet.
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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.
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.
The Pet Quality of Life Survey is designed to help owners by providing objective criteria they can use to decide if treating cancer is the right choice. Veterinarian Maria Iliopoulou developed the survey for dog owners but has plans to revise it so cat owners can use it too. Business Insider (9/19)
More than 73 million U.S. households own a pet and altogether they spend $53 billion per year to care for them.
More than half of that budget goes toward medical treatment, with money spent on supplies and OTC medications rising by more than 7% in 2012.
But where do you draw the line between keeping Fido healthy and compromising your finances to give him a few more months of playtime?
“It’s a very difficult situation [for both patients and veterinarians],” said Dr. Kristen Frank, an internist with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “I’ve had pet owners who don’t necessarily have $15,000 to spend to treat a terminal illness, but they’ve done it anyway through borrowing money or credit cards.”
Emergency treatments can range from $1,500 to $4,000 for dogs, according to Frank, with cancer treatment sometimes costing twice as much or more.
Sometimes, the decision to forego medical care has more to do with the emotional cost of watching a beloved pet go than the potential financial burden.
“Recently I saw a woman who specifically said that her other cat passed way from cancer and she did everything including chemo and she said she did not want to go through that again,” Frank said.
Unlike hospitals for humans, vets don’t typically have the same flexibility to work with pet owners who can’t afford treatments. Pet insurance can be handy, but it often comes with maximum coverage limits, steep deductibles, and pre-existing conditions clauses.
“Payment plans are also hard to come by,” Frank said. “The financial aspect of veterinary care is toughest thing our people have to deal with on a daily basis …We all wish we could provide free care but unfortunately it’s just not possible.”
But how does a pet owner decide whether to pay for treatment or let their pet go?
There is no one-size-fit-all answer, but a Michigan State University research may have found a simple way to help pet owners through such difficult times.
“Pets are like surrogate children,” said Maria Iliopoulou. “In some cases, when a human bond evolves, it makes the decision more difficult.”
Iliopoulou, who owns a small menagerie of pets herself, set out in 2009 to create a “Quality of Life Survey for Canine Cancer Patients” that dog owners can use to look at medical treatment with an unbiased eye.
Before each visit, Iliopoulou suggests dog owners complete the survey, which asks basic questions to help them track major quality of life indicators for canines — play behavior, signs of illness, and overall happiness.
“What we were trying to do with the research was to isolate the emotions to help people make the best decisions for their pet and for themselves,” she said. “It helps the owner to pay attention to specific observable changes and transfer this info to the veterinarian.”
So far, the survey is applicable only to dogs, but Iliopoulou plans on continuing her research in order to create similar tools for a range of animals, like cats, birds, etc.
CLICK HERE to view the survey.
In an effort to assist other pet owners struggling with end-of-life issues regarding their animals, Tina Ferner developed a package of information designed provide guidance for decisions during a pet’s final days. Ferner consulted with veterinarian Alice Villalobos, a founding member of Veterinary Cancer Society who developed an end-of-life assessment for owners. “The scale offers some objectivity while remaining sensitive to the caregiver’s wishes,” Dr. Villalobos writes on her website. “It will relieve guilt feelings and engender the support of the veterinary team to actively help in the care and decision-making for end of life.” The Blade (Toledo, Ohio) (7/8)
She provided him with hospice care, including pain management, and she had a going-away party for him before she had her veterinarian euthanize him in her home.
“My main goal for him was to find the highest level of comfort for as long as possible, and when that was no longer possible, I wanted him to have a peaceful, painless passing,” Ms. Ferner said. “He was a good friend, and we shared a very strong bond. He deserved all of this.”
End-of-life decisions for pets are difficult to think about, but there are options. Pets suffering from a terminal illness or a combination of age-related illnesses can be euthanized at a veterinary clinic or at home. Their remains can be cremated, or their bodies can be returned to owners for home burial.
Owners who stay with their pets during the procedure can comfort the pet, but some find it too difficult and prefer that the vet does it without their presence.
Clifford was diagnosed with osteosarcoma at the end of December. He was 9 years old when he was euthanized on Feb. 11, barely six weeks after the diagnosis.
“I searched for resources to help us with end of life care and there was nothing I could find locally,” said the Holland resident.
She put together “Resources For End of Life Care,” a guide that she plans to offer to clients at Canine Karma, the Holland dog-training facility she co-owns. She hopes to find local veterinarians to offer the guide to clients.
Ms. Ferner held a party to celebrate Clifford’s life on Jan. 27. She invited those who knew him to “come for a short pat or stay for the whole time.”
His quality of life continued to decline, and on Feb. 10, Ms. Ferner and her husband, Michael Plewa, decided to end his suffering. On Feb. 11, her veterinarian, Dr. Sue Savage, came to her home and euthanized the “big red dog” who had converted her from a “cat person” to a “dog person.”
Dr. Savage gave Clifford a drug to relax him before administering the euthanasia drug. Ms. Ferner and Mr. Plewa comforted Clifford during the process, including singing to him.
“Being his guardian and advocate and protector, he needed me to find the strength to allow him a peaceful passing,” Ms. Ferner said.
During her work with terminally ill humans, Ms. Ferner developed the Integrative Medicine Program at Mercy Cancer Centers that provides massage, yoga, guided imagery, and relaxation techniques for cancer survivors and their families.
Canine Karma has hired a licensed social worker and plans to offer grief counseling, support groups, and consultations for pet owners facing end-of-life decisions.
“If we can do it for people, we can do it for dogs,” she said.
When researching options for easing Clifford’s suffering, Ms. Ferner consulted with Dr. Alice Villalobos, a veterinarian who practices in Hermosa Beach, Calif., by phone.
Dr. Villalobos is a pioneer in the field of cancer care for companion animals and a founding member of the Veterinary Cancer Society. She has developed a quality-of-life scale for cats and dogs to help owners decide when it is time to euthanize.
The word euthanasia comes from the Greek, with “eu” meaning easy or good plus “thanatos,” meaning death. Euthanasia is literally the “easy or good death.”
Its intention is to end suffering and to do so in a peaceful, kind, and loving manner, Ms. Ferner said.
“It becomes the final act of love,” she said.
A quality-of-life scale may help everyone, especially those who are in denial about their pet’s illness, to face difficult issues, writes Dr. Villalobos in an article on her web site, pawspice.com.
Caretakers can use the scale to ask themselves if they are able to provide enough help to maintain an ailing pet properly, she writes.
“If we can create or restore a satisfactory level for our ailing companion animals, then we are justified in preserving the life of the ill pet during its steady decline toward death,” Dr. Villalobos writes.
The scale is designed to provide an easy guideline for assessment of the pet so that family members can maintain a rewarding relationship and nurture the human-animal bond.
“The scale offers some objectivity while remaining sensitive to the caregiver’s wishes,” she said. “It will relieve guilt feelings and engender the support of the veterinary team to actively help in the care and decision-making for end of life.”
Things to consider on the scale include hurt, hunger, hydration, hygiene, happiness, mobility, and more good days than bad. Adequate pain control and breathing ability are of top concern. If the pet can’t breathe properly, nothing else matters, according to the scale.
When bad days outnumber the good, quality of life might be too compromised. When a healthy human-animal bond is no longer possible, the caregivers must be made aware that the end is near.
The decision for euthanasia needs to be made if the pet is suffering, Dr. Villalobos writes.The complete scale for both dogs and cats can be found at: https://tinyurl.com/qualityoflifescale.
Ms. Ferner said she hopes to pass on what she learned during Clifford’s end-of-life care and euthanasia.
“I hope all of this heartache and research can help others,” she said.
Contact Tanya Irwin at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6066, or on Twitter @TanyaIrwin.
Chase the golden retriever entertained fans of the Trenton Thunder, a New York Yankees affiliate in New Jersey, for years before his death from lymphoma on Monday. The team and fans threw Chase a retirement and birthday party last week, and last month he was honored at Yankee Stadium. Chase is succeeded by one of his offspring, Derby, who’ll carry on the family tradition of retrieving bats, carrying water bottles to umpires and catching discs in the outfield. The team posted a tribute to Chase on its website.
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — He doggedly did his work, this pinstriped pooch who faithfully served minor leaguers of the New York Yankees while providing big league entertainment.
Chase, the bat-retrieving golden retriever for the Double-A Trenton Thunder who made highlight reels all across baseball for a decade, has died at 13.
“Chase was there a long time. He put a lot of smiles on people’s faces,” Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain, who played in Trenton, said Tuesday night.
“You know it’s going to be sad, but his lineage is carried on. You know it’s something that people are going to miss, but it was fun to be around Chase,” he said.
Chase lived just long enough to be thrown a retirement party by the Thunder last Friday night — featuring Chase bobbleheads, no less. The team said he died Monday.
Chase had been diagnosed in February with a form of lymphoma and had arthritis.
The Thunder’s website Tuesday featured a photo of their late mascot with a bat in his mouth and the caption, “In Loving Memory, Chase That Golden Thunder.”
His bat-retrieving legacy will live on with his son Derby, who continues to be part of the Thunder’s home game entertainment. Another son, Ollie, performs with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.
Chase made his debut with the Thunder in 2002. He would trot out in the bottom of the first inning to the batter’s box to pick up bats with his mouth and bring them back to the dugout. He also carried a woven basket with bottles of chilled water to the umpires and entertained fans by running down flying discs in the outfield.
At Friday’s celebration, which coincided with his birthday party, fans were encouraged to bring their dogs to the game.
Last month, he was also honored on the field at Yankee Stadium. Chamberlain petted Chase before the game and infielder David Adams came over to greet his old friend.
Adams recalled Chase retrieving his bat, doing it without leaving teeth marks in the wood.
“He’s not chomping at the bit,” Adams said then. “Or at the bat, either.”
Dogs of all shapes and sizes were at Trenton’s game Friday night against Reading, sitting in the stands with their owners. As fans filed in, Chase lounged on the grass outside the Thunder’s dugout on the first-base side.
A tribute to Chase’s career was shown on the video board. Chase was in position near the bench when Eduardo Nunez — who has since rejoined the Yankees — led off for Trenton in the bottom of the first inning. After the at-bat, Chase trotted out, picked up Nunez’s bat and returned to the dugout to a big cheer from the crowd.
Advances in veterinary medicine and pets’ status as family members in many households mean people are willing to go to great lengths to treat illnesses in their animals and prolong their lives, but some observers say the trends raise important and tough questions about resources and the difficulty many people have with facing end-of-life issues — for their pets and themselves. “Death is part of the cycle of life, and we have to accept that,” said veterinarian Phillip Nelson, dean of the College of Veterinary
Medicine at Western University of Health Sciences. The New York Times (tiered subscription model) (3/25)
I COULDN’T begin to add up the number of times my husband and I have had the Talk. We know illness and death are two of life’s certainties. And we’ve taken care of the issue when it comes to ourselves. We’ve signed medical directives saying we want no extraordinary measures taken to extend our lives if we become incapacitated to the point that we’re a burden, emotionally and financially, to our families.
Luckily our two 14-year-old cats, 8-year-old Border collie and 3-year-old Labrador retriever are all in fairly good health. We haven’t had to make decisions about whether to spend thousands of dollars, possibly tens of thousands, to save or extend their lives. But those decisions are coming, and despite our efforts to have the Talk, we have no idea what we’ll be willing to do to keep them around as long as possible.
That so many more technological advances are available now than there were 10 years ago means pet owners have more ethical and financial choices to make. “In the last 30 years there’s been an increase in specialty veterinary medicine,” said our veterinarian, Dr. Woody Walker of La Cañada Pet Clinic, north of Los Angeles. “And the technology is amazing. Whatever we can do in people, we can do in pets.”
Pet owners, who represent 68 percent of United States households, spent a collective $53 billion on pets last year, according to the American Pet Products Association. That’s for everything from medicines and operations to toys and food.
No one has a figure for how much people spend on end-of-life care for their pets. But it’s safe to assume that the number mirrors ours; for humans, 90 percent of medical spending occurs in the last 10 percent of life. The choices involved in keeping pets alive can be as numerous, expensive and emotionally thorny as they are with people.
Lisa Sobieri of Greenwich, Conn., knows the choices all too well. The 49-year-old married mother of two lost two dogs to kidney disease in the last three years. The first, Kiefer, an American Eskimo, died just before turning 15, only after the family had spent several thousand dollars on chemotherapy for bladder cancer and then other drugs to keep him comfortable as his kidneys failed.
“I guess when you go into it you don’t really know how much you’re going to spend,” she said. “So it keeps kind of adding up, and you don’t really know. We were thinking, O.K., there is a limit, but when it’s $500 here or $1,000 there, you don’t really see it adding up that fast.”
After Kiefer died, the family got Perry, a 6-month-old golden retriever. When Ms. Sobieri took the dog to the vet to have him neutered, a routine blood test showed Perry had a genetic kidney disease. “I actually didn’t believe them,” she recalled. “I said, ‘No, you’re looking at my other dog’s file by mistake.’ ” Unfortunately, they weren’t. The vet sent Ms. Sobieri to a veterinary oncologist who said Perry probably would not live more than three years.
“I was thinking, Well, we’re such great dog owners that we’re going to defy that, give him all the medications and diet, experimental treatments, and he’s going to live longer,” Ms. Sobieri said. The family decided against a kidney transplant, which would have cost a minimum of $25,000 just for the operation, an amount she said would have taken money away from the children’s college fund. There was also no guarantee it would work. But they still spent, by Ms. Sobieri’s estimates, tens of thousands of dollars to keep Perry comfortable for the duration of his life, with pet insurance picking up the rest.
Many pet owners struggle with whether to buy pet insurance, because it has a mixed track record. Consumer Reports, in its August 2011 issue, said the insurance was “rarely worth the price.” Pre-existing conditions are usually excluded from coverage; routine care, like annual checkups, is sometimes not included in plans; and premiums can rise significantly as the pet ages.
The Sobieris, though, said their insurance, provided by Embrace, was invaluable and made their decision-making just a little easier. Still, Ms. Sobieri said, “We did some pretty good damage on the credit card toward the end.”
The puppy lived only an additional 18 months. And Ms. Sobieri said she now wondered if the money would have been better spent as a contribution to research to find a cure for the disease, even though they cherished the extra year and a half they had with Perry.
Veterinarian Julianne Miller writes that seeing the pain of pet owners who must euthanize a pet because they can’t afford emergency medical care is the toughest part of her job. Dr. Miller points out that good medical care inevitably carries a cost, and veterinarians can’t render services for free, so owners should be mentally and financially prepared for a pet before they commit to ownership. One way owners can be prepared is to purchase pet insurance, Dr. Miller writes. The Arizona Daily Sun (Flagstaff)
As I think about my life as a veterinarian here is Flagstaff, first and foremost, I feel incredibly lucky to be part of such a diverse and wonderful profession in which I get to meet terrific people who love animals. It is also fulfilling to be able to support the local animal charities.
The hardest part of my job is watching the emotional suffering of pet owners as they try to deal with an emergency with their pet. My clinic deals with a large number of animal emergencies and these are highly charged, emotional situations that no owner can possibly be mentally prepared for.
The hardest part of my job is watching the emotional suffering of pet owners as they try to deal with an emergency with their pet. My clinic deals with a large number of animal emergencies and these are highly charged, emotional situations that no owner can possibly be mentally prepared for.
It is the financial toll, however, of these situations that are the most devastating for most owners. Speaking for the profession, most of us did not enter this field to make money but rather to fulfill some deeper need to help and treat animals. Unfortunately, medical care is not free and we must charge for our services, and in an emergency situation, this can be devastating.
If I could give all pet owners one piece of advice it would be that when they adopt a pet they need to be mentally and monetarily prepared for the possibility of an emergency medical situation with their pet. This could mean getting pet insurance or putting money in their budget every month for pet expenses.
Emergencies never happen when you are expecting them and to have to euthanize a pet because of financial reasons is devastating. Trying to emotionally support an owner through this horrible decision is the worst part of my job.
Veterinary care is not free and good veterinary care is not cheap. Make sure you’re prepared for emergency care by budgeting or purchasing pet insurance now and not regretting it later when you need it. Contact your veterinarian to find out more about pet insurance.
Veterinarian Linda Randall notes that at-home euthanasia of pets has steadily increased in recent years, and about 25% of the euthanasia procedures she performs are carried out at the owner’s home. Dr. Randall creates a quiet, soothing environment and gives the pet a sedative before the euthanasia injection. “It’s very painless and very peaceful,” Dr. Randall said. “We wish more people would do it at home.” However, it’s not for everyone, Dr. Randall says, because the cost is roughly twice that of in-office euthanasia and some people do not want their home associated with the pet’s death. The Medina County Gazette (Ohio) (1/16)
When Hotshot, a 12-year-old Labrador, became seriously ill in 2007, his owners realized they had a dilemma to face: Was it time?
“When he stopped eating, we decided he had had enough,” Robin Walker said.
But instead of putting Hotshot down at a clinic, Walker and her husband, Douglas, chose another way.
When the day came, Hotshot excitedly greeted their guest, Dr. Linda Randall, like it was any other day.
Randall, a veterinarian from Cloverleaf Animal Hospital in Westfield Township, came inside their home and set up a comfortable environment — blankets and soothing music. She gave Hotshot a sedative. Once it set in, she injected him with an anesthesia.
Within 90 seconds, Hotshot had fallen asleep for the last time.
Walker said the decision was tough to make, but she couldn’t see it happening any other way.
“I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again,” Walker said. “It was good for us, and it was good for the dog.”
Randall said Walker isn’t the only one who approves.
Although euthanizing pets is commonplace, Randall said opting to have it done at home is a growing trend.
“In the past couple years, we’ve seen in-home pet euthanasia upswing 50 percent,” Randall said.
Randall said her clinic, at 7777 Greenwich Road, euthanizes 100 to 150 pets per year, and a quarter of them are done at home.
While she always has offered home euthanasia, she believed it was becoming more common because pets are seen more and more as members of the family.
And just like end-of-life discussions about human family members, pets are subject to similar talks and practices, she said.
Home euthanasia can be calming for the animal because it avoids the anxiety of a trip to a foreign environment, Randall said.
“It’s very painless and very peaceful,” she said. “We wish more people would do it at home.”
Randal practices what she preaches: Her own pets were euthanized at home.
She said there are a couple downsides to the procedure.
Some families might not want to have a pet euthanized where they live, she said, much like some people don’t want to live in the home where a loved one died.
The cost also may deter some families.
Euthanizing a pet at the clinic usually costs between $50 and $150, she said, depending on the animal’s size.
“It’s about twice as expensive to euthanize at home,” she said. “We shut down shop while I’m out on call, and it takes longer than an in-house appointment.”
On average, the clinic euthanizes two animals per week.
She said it’s a tough job because she often gets to know the pets and the owners.
“It takes its toll,” Randall said. “It’s hard, but I have to separate myself a little bit. If I thought of every animal like my own, I’d be depressed all the time.”
To contact Randall at Cloverleaf Animal Hospital, call (330) 948-2002.
Contact reporter Nick Glunt at (330) 721-4048 or email@example.com.
Veterinary at-home hospice services provide end-of-life care for ill pets, improving quality of life for animals and potentially extending life, albeit only for a few days in some cases. Hospice care must be administered by a veterinarian who works in conjunction with the pet’s regular veterinarian to provide palliative treatment such as pain management and catheter placement. San Francisco Chronicle
Shea Cox has spent her 11-year career as a veterinarian fighting to save animals’ lives.
Now, as a provider of pet hospice, she shepherds her patients through death, tending to their needs and those of their guardians, relieving animals’ pain so they can live out their final days surrounded by loved ones, not in the sterile confines of a veterinary clinic.
Modeled on human hospice, the growing field of pet hospice offers palliative care to animals in their homes. It ushers in a profound shift in how people care for dying and elderly pets, providing an option that falls between aggressive medical intervention and immediate euthanasia.
For pet owners, in-home care gives solace as they make painful end-of-life decisions.
Jeff Aoki of Oakland was in Colorado for his father’s funeral when he got a call that would only deepen his grief. His yellow Labrador, Sunny, had cancer that had spread throughout her body.
“I was devastated,” Aoki said. “Sunny was my rock, my best friend and constant companion.”
Aoki and his fiance, Sandy Wong, arranged for Sunny to receive pet hospice care from Cox. The care, which included a urinary catheter (a tumor had made it impossible for her to urinate), gave her a few extra days at home.
Aoki flew home, and for several days the couple showered Sunny with love, trips to the beach and park – and filet mignon.
When it was time to say goodbye, Cox put her to sleep in their backyard. “It was a sad, sad time but this made it so much easier,” Aoki said.
Cox – who was a human hospice nurse before becoming a vet – got the inspiration for her newly launched Bridge Veterinary Services while working as an ER/critical care vet at Pet Emergency Treatment and Specialty Referral Center, a Berkeley animal hospital.
“Working in that setting, I kept seeing nothing about making a plan if a patient had an incurable disease,” she said. “The choice was between either being in the hospital to get better or having to euthanize. It seemed like a disconnect; there had to be a way to offer something in between.”
With almost two-thirds of American households owning pets, it’s not surprising that attitudes toward animals’ final days have evolved from the rural past, when they were unceremoniously put down. The overwhelming majority of pet owners consider their companion animals to be family members, according to a 2011 Harris poll. At the same time, more and more people have witnessed their loved ones using human hospice.
“We’ve decided as a culture to support human passing as compassionately as we’re able to, with hospice and palliative care,” said Oakland resident Erika Macs. As a hospital chaplain, she is intimately familiar with end-of-life issues. “It’s a natural progression that we would extend that to the animals in our lives that we’re caretakers for.”
When her 17-year-old cat, Mittens, became critically ill last year, Macs turned to Dr. Anthony Smith, a Hercules vet whose Rainbow Bridge Vet Services has offered hospice and home euthanasia for a dozen years.
“Dr. Smith was able to bring both a medical model and a sense of respectful, compassionate presence,” Macs said.
“The beauty of human hospice is it gives time to have (final) conversations,” Macs said. “With pets, it also gives time to say goodbye. The better the closure, the more quickly a person is able to heal and move on.”
Pet hospice must be provided by a veterinarian because it involves medical assessments and pain medicines. Pet hospice vets coordinate with the animal’s regular vet. As in human hospice, if pets get better, they can transition back to regular medical treatment.
The costs pencil out to be more than regular check-ups but much less than invasive medical intervention. Bridge Veterinary Services, for instance, charges $250 for an initial appointment that includes a two- or three-hour at-home assessment and such initial care as inserting IV tubes or catheters.
D.O. McComb & Sons’ Tribute Center in Indiana includes services for deceased pets such as burial, cremation and a private room for viewing by owners, reflecting pets’ modern status in many homes as family members.
Memorials to pets prove it’s more than puppy love
An unusual item appeared in the newspaper the other day. It was an obituary – for a dog.
The death notice identified the dog’s owner and even included calling hours at D.O. McComb & Sons new Tribute Center on West Main Street near Lindenwood Cemetery.
While the obituary was, as far as I can recall, a first for the newspaper, the concept of special treatment for a deceased pet is nothing new.
People have been falling in love with their pets since long before Rin Tin Tin, Lassie or Old Yeller came along, sometimes with good reason. A pet will never tell you you’re ugly or overweight, and it will never ask you where you’ve been when you come home late. It will just be delighted to see you.
While your kids may prove to be crushing disappointments, a pet generally doesn’t have the wherewithal to ruin the family name, get busted for selling drugs or sell your jewelry while you’re out of town.
Truth be told, for many people, a pet is the most loyal – even the only truly loyal – creature in their lives.
That has become evident to the people at D.O. McComb. A lot of people want a respectful exit for their pets, so when the funeral home opened the Tribute Center in October it included something unusual: a separate crematorium for pets, and a separate room, now called Emma’s Room, where a deceased pet can be briefly laid out and the owner can enter and say hello and offer one last goodbye before cremation, Dave McComb says.
It’s just a sign of the times, he said. Pets have become more important as members of the traditional family move to far-flung places. Kids leave. Wives leave. But pets remain as faithful companions and, McComb said, their status has become elevated.
Other animals, such as service dogs and police dogs, have earned a higher status in the minds of many. Maybe they don’t rate a funeral, but a thoughtful sendoff is soothing for the owners.
McComb’s can either cremate a pet and put its ashes in an urn, or arrange a burial in a portion of Riverview Cemetery that has been set aside for pets.
The funeral home hasn’t promoted the service yet, but at a Tribute Center open house, the concept drew a lot of attention and was well received, McComb said.
“We’ve had requests for even services for a while now,” McComb said.
While you won’t find preachers conducting funerals (don’t all dogs go to heaven anyway?) there can be services where an owner or friend might even eulogize an animal and friends or family members can show up and offer condolences.
“What we’ve learned is that people fall into two categories: pet owners and pet parents.”
To the pet parent, a pet becomes just as important as any other member of the family, somebody they will always remember.
The cost of a pet cremation? It varies depending on the size of the animal, which can obviously vary wildly, but the pet crematorium can handle animals up to 300 pounds.