The Survivors – Life After Gary

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I recently blogged about the loss of my greyhound, Gary (http://www.myzooanimalhospital.com/is-it-time). While the decision to euthanize is always a difficult one, the emotional challenge doesn’t end in the veterinary office once the procedure is finished. The survivors must continue with life and learn to move on.

 

It had been a long day at work. Over the course of the day, I had performed surgeries, taken radiographs, diagnosed and treated a number of pets. Unfortunately, I also performed a few euthanasias as well. As I arrived home, and opened the door, I was greeted by my little dog, “Ruby.” She is always so happy to see me when I get home. I looked up briefly to find Gary before I remembered he was no longer with me. Little moments like this happen to all pet owners who have recently lost a pet. When a pet isn’t where they used to be, you feel a little tug at your heartstrings – a little pang of grief. This is a normal feeling. I took a deep breath, and went to find my daughter. I picked her up and moved her to a blanket spread out on the floor. We laughed together as I made silly faces and tickled her belly. I looked around at my floors and thought “She’ll be crawling soon. I’m happy my carpets will be cleaner now.” Gary had so many accidents in the house; I struggled to keep the carpets clean. I stopped inviting company to my house months ago because I was embarrassed by my old dog’s accidents. Although I missed Gary, I also felt a measure of bittersweet relief. At times, the mixture of happiness and grief resulted in a feeling of guilt. Did I do enough to try to help him? Am I wrong to feel relieved that he has passed? Feeling guilty is a normal part of grieving.

 

That evening, I felt too tired to prepare dinner, so my husband and I called some friends from church to go out for dinner. At the restaurant, they offered their condolences for our loss. We are grateful to have support from friends who understood how important Gary was to us and ultimately supported our decision to say goodbye. If you are feeling upset about the loss of your pet, engaging in activities that you enjoy can help. In our case, we treated ourselves to a nice dinner with close friends. After dinner, as the sun started to set, my husband and I got our baby ready in the stroller for a nice evening stroll. Ruby excitedly bounced around our feet with her tail in full wiggle mode. “Sit!” She paused for just barely long enough to attach her leash, and we headed out for a walk. As we turned to walk around the block, I remembered this was the point where Gary would always start to limp, and a wave of melancholy passed over me. I reminded myself that his arthritic hips would no longer slow him down, and I felt a sense of peace. I reached down to love on Ruby, and she licked my hand. The next day, I decided to take Ruby into work with me so I could fully examine her and check on her weight loss progress. I want to keep Ruby around for as long as possible and preventative healthcare is the key. Every moment with my pet is a treasure and a blessing.

 

Remember to embrace every moment with your pet; their lives are so much shorter than  our own. Despite this brevity, pets’ enrich the lives of their owners.

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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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Pet Cremation

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Here at My Zoo Animal Hospital, we care about pets and their families.  We know that pets are wonderful companions.  A couple of weeks ago, we posted about grieving the loss of a pet (http://www.myzooanimalhospital.com/grieving-the-loss-of-a-pet).  It’s normal to grieve the loss of a pet that has passed, and part of working through that process is deciding how to handle a beloved pet’s remains.     Today we wanted talk about one option that allows owners to take their pet’s remains home or scatter in the pet’s favorite places.   Here at My Zoo, we offer private cremation through our on-site crematorium.   Here are some commonly asked questions about our cremation services:

 

What sort of cremation services do we offer?

We offer private cremation with or without remains or group cremation without remains.  Ashes from group cremations are spread in a team member’s flower garden.

 

Why do we offer cremation? 

We know how important pets are to their owners.  Some people consider their pet part of the family.  We wanted to offer a service that allows families to honor their deceased pets in a lasting memorial.

 

How do we ensure the ashes you receive are your pet’s remains? 

Our well trained and dedicated team treats your pet’s remains with utmost respect.   A labeling system is used to ensure the integrity of our pet’s remains.  The entire process takes 1 to 2 business days.

 

What is the cremation process?

Cremation is the process of using extreme heat to reduce the remains into mineral components (ashes).  The ashes are then processed and packaged in a temporary pet urn, labeled with your pet’s identification.

 

What can you do with the ashes?

Many owners take the remains home to create a pet memorial within the home.  Many different urns are available for pets online and in pet stores.   If you would like for us to transfer your pet’s remains to permanent urn, we will be happy to transfer the ashes for you.   Other families spread their pet’s ashes in the pet’s favorite locations or in gardens.

 

Do we cremate pets that received veterinary care from other hospitals?

Absolutely!  We’re committed to providing quality services to all animals.  If you would like for us to cremate your pet, please call us at 573-875-3647 (573-875-DOGS) for rates and more information.  We will be happy to pick up remains from your home or veterinarian.

 

We understand that the loss of a pet is a very difficult time.  We hope that we can provide support and services that will help you during this difficult time.  Please let us know how we can help you.

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Grieving the Loss of a Pet

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This picture is from Dr. Katie’s childhood with her dog,  Corky.  He passed away from lymphoma (a type of cancer of the lymph nodes) while she was still in high school.

Here at My Zoo Animal Hospital, we understand what an important role pets play in families.  They are beloved pets and non-judgmental companions.   They provide hours of entertainment with the silly things they do, hours of snuggling on warm laps, and hours of companionship.  Unfortunately most our pets have a significantly shorter lifespan than humans.   This means that if you have pets, you will probably experience the loss of a pet.

 

Grief is a natural response to the loss of a pet.  Sometimes the need to grieve for this loss is not understood by others.  Others may not appreciate the companionship your pet provided or the bond shared.  You should not feel ashamed by your grief, and you should allow yourself to process and experience this grief.  Loving your pet is a wonderful thing.  If your usual support group (ie, friends and family) is not supportive, we recommend you reach out to other pet lovers during this time.

 

In most people, grieving is a process that encompasses many different “stages”:  shock/denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.   Of course, the grieving experience encompasses many more emotions than these 5, and not everyone experiences grief the same way.  However they provide a framework for understanding some of the grieving process.

  •   Shock/Denial – Initially it may be hard to accept what has happened.  This is especially true if your pet’s death was sudden or unexpected.   At this point you may find yourself waiting for your pet to walk through the door or take up his or her usual residence at your feet.  You might not want to move food bowls or water bowls and leave them as they were while your pet was alive.
  • Anger – Anger is a normal part of grieving.  Anger can be directed at close friends and family, caregivers of your pet, or even at the memory of your pet.
  • Bargaining – During the grieving process, you may find yourself thinking “If I did such and such, would it have saved my pet?” Some people even try to bargain with higher powers.  For example “God, if you give me back my pet, I’ll walk him every day and only buy the best food.”
  • Depression – After some of the other feelings/stages have been exhausted, sadness remains.  You may feel hopeless and loose interest in your normal activities.  You may feel exhausted.  Children may direct this outward by acting out.
  • Acceptance – Acceptance of a loss does not mean forgetting.  Oftentimes, we carry memories of the loss for the rest of our lives.   Acceptance means you learn to process, acknowledge, and accept the loss.   During this stage, you begin to create a new life – one without your pet.

 

Here are some tips with regards to grieving:

  • Don’t be ashamed – It’s ok to feel the pain and grief after losing a pet.  You don’t have to be ashamed that you are sad because your pet has passed away.
  • Communicate – Talk to others about how you’re feeling.  Seek professional therapy with a licensed professional.  Find a way to communicate and express your feelings – art, pet memorials, talking, therapy, etc.   One way we try to help owners is by making a donation in honor of a beloved pet to the Missouri Veterinary Medical Association.  You can view memorials on their website (http://mopetmemorial.com/) and you can add descriptions and pictures of beloved pets.
  • Don’t dwell on the “what ifs” – If your pet passed away naturally or you made the decision to have a veterinarian euthanize your pet, don’t dwell on what ifs.  Forgive yourself for all the “should have,” “would have,” “could have” thoughts.    Accept that you did the best thing you could for your pet and your family.   Also forgive yourself for any embarrassment you might feel because of your grieving.  We understand that pets play an important role in the family.  It’s normal and acceptable to grieve their loss.
  • Take care of yourself – even though it’s hard, life continues.  To help you get through the grieving process, take care of your body.  Eat well and exercise. Exercise releases endorphins and can help you feel better.  Even if it’s just a stroll in the park with a friend or by yourself, exercise can help you feel better.
  • Get help – Here at My Zoo we love animals, and we understand what an important role they play in our lives.  However, we are not licensed counselors or psychologists.  We recommend seeking help from a licensed professional and support groups.  You should not be ashamed if you need support while grieving a pet.
  • Children grieve too – Children also are very attached to family pets, and the loss of the pet can be very difficult for them.  Let your child communicate openly about how she or he feels.  Explain that their compassion and love of an animal is a great strength.  Talk about concerns with your child.  Your child may be afraid of other loved ones dying, and your child may need reassuring.  Children often struggle with verbal communication, so it may be helpful to provide another outlet for sad feelings.  For example, you may help your child create a memorial (clay paw, painting, etc) to the pet.   Consider holding a small memorial service for your pet and allow your child to participate.   This can let your child openly express feelings about the loss.   Allowing a child to grieve for the lost pet is important before you think about a replacement pet.
  • Cremation – Here at My Zoo Animal Hospital we offer private, individual cremation for your pet.   If you decide to have your pet cremated here, we treat your pet’s remains with the respect we would give our own pets, and we can assure you that the remains are your pet’s!   Cremation can provide a way for you to set up a memorial in your home and honor your pet’s life.

 

We understand that loss of a pet is very traumatic and difficult.  Here at My Zoo Animal Hospital, we aim to help you in whatever capacity we can.   We love providing care for your pet during his or her life, and we also want to help you when a pet passes.  Feel free to post pictures of your pets on our Facebook, post pictures/memorials on our lobby photo-board, ask about cremation services, and drop by to talk about your pet.   If you need professional counseling, we recommend seeking help from a licensed professional.  There’s no shame in loving a pet and grieving their loss.

 

Other resources:

  • http://www.petmemorial.net/  This website has a selection of pet memorial stones.  We have an example 11-12″ stone in our entryway.
  • Pet grief counseling (Hot Line) (888) 478-7574.

 

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