Is it Time?

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Gary and MM

One of the most difficult tasks in my career as a veterinarian is helping an owner decide when it is time to say goodbye to a beloved pet. I decided to share my own experience in this matter in hopes of helping others facing this decision.

Christmas 2007 – I wanted a dog. I really, really wanted a dog. Not just any dog, but MY own dog. I started asking my veterinarian what he thought about different breeds. He suggested that a greyhound of all breeds might be a good choice. Over the next couple of months, I went to every “Meet & Greet” that I could. I lived in Fayetteville, Arkansas at the time. Greyhound Pets of America located in Springfield, MO had a few of these events in Fayetteville, and I attended as many as I could.

May 2008 – My graduation present from my parents was the adoption fee for a retired racing greyhound. I was so excited. I contacted the GPA-Springfield, and irony of ironies…a greyhound had just appeared wandering the streets of Fayetteville. His racing name was Gary, and there was no record of his previous owners. He was emaciated with horrible diarrhea. My veterinarian back in Little Rock helped me get him back to good health.

August 2008 to 2015– My greyhound and I packed up and moved to Missouri for my first year of veterinary school. Over the next 7 years, Gary was my companion as I persevered through difficult classes, got married, completed my clinical, and got my first job as a veterinarian. He greeted us at the door when we brought home our first (biological) child. He lovingly greeted the numerous foster children we’ve taken in over the years as well. He was a gentle and kind dog, and comforted many scared, lonely children.

As all living things must…Gary got old. He stopped enjoying long walks in the park, and instead limped if we walked more than a block. He started losing weight. He forgot his house training. He started getting lost at night – unable to rest in his bed to pace the halls endlessly. I tried a number of things to make him comfortable. Whenever our baby cried, Gary walked to a room to be by himself. Sometimes he slept through greetings. He stopped sleeping in our bedroom. He paced the halls repeatedly. At the same time, he was always so happy when I grabbed his leash. He ate well…some of the time! He still came up to adults for gentle pets. Sometimes he even bounded around the yard like the retired racer he was.

Was it time? He still had good days, with a few bad days mixed in. Maybe I could try a different pain management strategy? Maybe a supplement to help brain function? I’ve heard scientist say that dogs don’t feel embarrassment, but in my opinion…that’s not quite right. Gary was sometimes very embarrassed by his accidents.

In the end, I decided that it was time to euthanize Gary. Here’s the truth. I can do a lot…a whole lot of good. I can help arthritic animals move comfortably. I can aid as organ function starts to decline. I can make animals feel so much better. But I can’t turn back the clock. When a pet reaches Gary’s age, there is sure to be a steady decline. I wanted to put Gary down while he was still Gary. I didn’t want him to have even one day when he didn’t enjoy being a dog.

Are you going through this difficult time? There’s never a right answer to when it’s the “right time.” It’s always a very difficult decision. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

Is my pet …
• Enjoying life?
• Eating/drinking?
• Urinating/defecating normally?
• Suffering or experiencing pain?
• Breathing well?
• Tired more often? Or even withdrawn from daily activity?
• Doing the things my pet loves to do?

Do I still love my pet? Or am I starting to resent him?
Has my family accepted it’s time to say goodbye?
Are there any reasonable, humane treatments that can improve my pet’s quality of life?
Am I able to keep my pet’s and my family’s living environment clean and sanitary?
In Gary’s case, he was just starting to lose enjoyment in life, but still mostly enjoyed it. He didn’t eat consistently. He was having accidents every day. His arthritis was starting to cause muscle loss. He was starting to withdraw from us. With his numerous accidents, my husband and I were struggling to keep the house clean. I had tried a number of treatments, but we were reaching a point that there wasn’t much more I could do for my dog. It was time.

June 18, 2015 –I looked out to see my dog stumble in the yard. His back legs were so weak. I decided that today was the day to say goodbye to my beloved friend. Over my lunch break, I made a house call to my own house. We scratched Gary behind the ears, and loved on him. I had him lay down in his bed. A technician gently restrained him with a big hug, while I gave him an injection. He was asleep in seconds, and passed away within a minute. It was very peaceful. Rest in peace, my dear friend.

Goodbye Gary
If you are struggling with this decision, we are able to help. Schedule an appointment to talk about what we can do to make your pet comfortable, or just to talk through this difficult decision. Our number is 573-875-3647. All of our veterinarians and team members understand what a challenging decision this is, and we want to help as much as we can.

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Pregnant with Pets: Preparing Your Pet

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-Dr. Katie

Dr. Katie and Dogs

Dr. Katie and her dogs are preparing for a new arrival.  Photo credit of Tiger Paw Photography.  Used with permission.

So for the last 10 years, Fido has been your only “child,” but now it’s time to make room for a new addition of the non-furry type. So what should you do?

My husband and I are now expecting our first baby (a little girl by the way), we are working on preparing our dogs for a new family member. My pets have been featured numerous times in a number of blogs, but here’s an update with my current pet population.

Gary – Gary is a 13 (almost) year old greyhound I adopted to be my companion through veterinary school. He’s very old, and gets a little nervous with new things and loud noises (if they are loud enough for him to actually hear).

Ruby – Ruby is a 25 pound mutt I found abandoned with a litter of puppies 5 years ago. She’s now spayed and used to getting almost all the attention in my house. If she’s not by the food bowl, she’s probably in my lap.

Stevie – Stevie is my blind cat. She’s very easy going, and doesn’t get into too much trouble. She’s been great with children visitors in the past.

The chinchillas – I currently have 2 chinchillas living at home. They are sweet chinchillas, but will still nip at little fingers if they mistake them for treats.
So what changes are going on in my house?
Well one thing is for sure: I’m not considering getting any more animals at the moment. 1 new addition at time is a wise decision.

The routine.
My dogs are on a very well established routine. Working together, Chase and I plan on continuing our pets’ routine. My dogs are immediately let out to potty in the backyard when they wake up, followed by breakfast, and then let out again at noon. When I get home from work, I immediately let them out and then feed dinner. On days with perfect weather and if I get home before the sun sets, I like to take them on a brief walk. My greyhound is so old now that he doesn’t enjoy anything but the shortest of walks. He also can’t tolerate heat or cold. Since most pets thrive on routine, we will work to keep up this routine once baby Darr arrives.
No Free Lunch
In the past, my dogs have received their meals and attention for free. We are working on changing this. Now when it’s time for breakfast, my dogs have to sit (or lay down) before I’ll put food in the bowl. They have to wait for me to give them permission to run for the bowls (“Ok! Breakfast/Dinner time”). Before receiving attention, they have to sit (or lay down politely). We’ve also started working on “get in your bed” as a command for the dogs to go lay in their beds. You could use a room or a crate for this command as well.
Who gets the sofa?
In the past my dogs have had free reign of the sofa no matter who was sitting there. Now if a human being (no matter how tiny) is present, we want our dogs to wait until invited. We are doing this by establishing a command like “up” when we want them on the couch with us. If they get up uninvited, we give the command “down” and gently guide the pet to the floor.

No crazy-dog episodes in the house.
Occasionally, Ruby gets a wild hair and runs through the house like a wild dog. We used to laugh and encourage her. Now, she gets moved outside for her crazy-dog runs! A crazy-dog run could knock over a toddler.

Not time to pamper the dog
We are not pampering the dog before the baby arrives. After all, I don’t want my dogs to expect more attention. I’m actually limiting the attention I give my dogs now, because I want them to be used to more attention being given to the baby. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not neglecting my pets, but I am trying to get them used to receiving less attention.

I’ll probably write a few more blogs on this subject, but for now that’s a glimpse of what we are doing to prepare for baby Darr. One of the biggest points I want to stress is…there is no substitute for training your dog. Chase and I are also licensed foster parents (for human children). Before we ever welcomed the first child into our house, we took an obedience class for our dog. Both of us attended the class. It’s important for all family members who handle a dog to take the class. Choose a class that welcomes children (if you have them) and focuses on positive reinforcement. The other point that I want to stress is NEVER LEAVE A DOG UNATTENDED WITH A CHILD!! Even the best behaved, sweetest, most patient dog has its limits.

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