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End-of-life care is not a topic to avoid

posted May 11th, 2015 by
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With five senior pets in my home (they are all 10 years and up!), end of life care is something that is very much front of mind. One dog has a heart tumor and has had heart surgery among a variety of other procedures. Another dog just started taking medication for arthritis. My three kitties are faring better at the moment but are the oldest animals in the house.

So, some recent articles that popped up in my Facebook feed on euthanasia for pets caught my eye. It’s a topic I really don’t want to think about, unfortunately it is one that will need to be addressed whether I stick my head in the sand or not.

I took a deep breath and clicked on the first link. “A Vet’s View of Home Euthanasia for Pets” actually provided some relief and presented an option I hadn’t considered because I hadn’t spent much time considering any options at all.

The idea of keeping my babies in the surroundings they are most comfortable and familiar surrounded by the family who loves them was comforting to me and would hopefully be a comfort to them. It would mean at a time they were most likely in pain, they would not have to take an uncomfortable car ride to a place that already causes them anxiety.

At my latest vet visit, I made sure to ask if this was a service that could be provided. I was relieved to hear that it absolutely is something that I can plan on for my babies when the time comes.

The second article that I noticed flipped the tables. A woman who died last November requested in her will that her healthy dog be put down, cremated and buried with her.

Currently, it appears that the euthanasia has been put on hold. But here was yet another topic that I had avoided instead of facing. What would happen to my animals if I died before they did?

While I would never consider having a healthy put euthanized just because I had died, what would happen to them if I didn’t make a plan? Would they potentially end up in a shelter and put down because of their old age? My love of animals came from my parents, who have a small menagerie of their own. If godparents for pets are a thing, I need to secure some.

Both articles have given me some things to think about and I definitely have some planning to do when it comes to end-of-life plans for my pets and myself. Not pleasant, but it is something that is important to prepare for.

Have you made decisions about how you will handle your pet’s last day? Or made plans for your pets in your will? Let me know in the comments below.

– Lauren Cavagnolo, [email protected]

Whose problem is it anyway?

posted August 26th, 2014 by
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The above meme recently popped up in my Facebook newsfeed. And while I agree with the heart of what this is getting at, I feel the way it is phrased puts all of the responsibility on shelters and none on pet owners and citizens of the community.

It is absolutely sad that perfectly good animals are put down everyday. But what would happen if Tulsa Animal Welfare and other shelters that euthanize suddenly stopped this practice?

There is only a finite amount of space at TAW. To fill it with homeless animals beyond capacity would be inhumane. There is also only a finite amount of money in our city’s budget to care for these animals. Pet food, cat litter and staff to care for them adds up quickly.

So for a shelter to cease its practice of humane euthanasia, it would have to cap the number of animals it could accept and would have to turn animals away. This is a common reality for most no-kill rescue groups. Space is limited and there are only so many willing to foster pets.

So then what would happen? Would people just stop surrendering their pets because all of the shelters are full? Maybe.

Or maybe they would dump them somewhere, turning them out on the street. Is death by starvation or being run over by a car really a better alternative to humane euthanasia?

It’s tragic that as a community, we put down so many innocent animals. It’s also tragic that as a community, we are ok with pointing fingers at the shelter.

It is time to start focusing on WHY we have such an overpopulation of pets in our area. Holding pet owners accountable for spaying and neutering their pets would be a good place to start.

- Lauren Cavagnolo, [email protected]

Journey to The Last Goodbye

posted May 15th, 2011 by
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By Pat Atkinson

I’ve taken this journey three times with homeless kittens who found their way to my home and heart, each of them a close friend for almost 19 years. And, it will happen again soon as sweet tuxedo kitty, Missy, becomes more fragile every day, approaching 18 years and the end of her life.

Missy is an independent lady who showed up in the backyard on a dark and stormy night 18 years ago. At the storm’s height, I flipped on the outside light and glimpsed a black and white flash streaking under a bush.

After soaking in the pouring rain, armed with a can of tuna fish, and a half hour of coaxing, a shivering and dripping Missy surrendered to my extended hand. I toweled off both of us, made her a soft bed and the next morning she delivered a family of five kittens. Missy wasn’t much of a mama cat, but gray and white 2-year-old Chauncy was a great Mr. Mom Cat to her kittens, cuddling and cleaning them while Missy went bird watching – alot. The babies all found homes, but Mom fell in love with Chauncy, so she chose to stay.

Almost three years ago, Chauncy joined my cats Razzle and Henry already at the Rainbow Bridge. I still miss the sweet, silly cat who never met a stranger – human or kitten. Of my pet family, Missy is likely next to share our Last Goodbye. This independent little cat is staying much closer to me these days, making up for a lifetime of missed lap-sitting and ear-scratches. Each of my longtime loving cat friends passed relatively peacefully from old age sickness and pain to life’s ending.

But it was far from peaceful for me as I wrestled with knowing when to let them go, resisted the final decision and Last Goodbye, and, afterwards, wondered if I had freed them of suffering and enabled their death at the “right” time. All of us who live with pets accept that we will likely outlive them and in exchange for their loyalty, love, and laughs, we provide them with care, compassion, and safety during their living and their dying. Knowing how and when to let go of a dying pet is one of life’s saddest, most confusing and turbulent times.
The idea of writing about “the Last Goodbye” began in January with an article by Francis Battista, co-founder of Best Friends Animal Society in Utah, “Saying Goodbye to the Love of My Life,” his German Shepherd Roxie.

He writes: “I love Roxie and watching her fade is hard. I try to remember my own advice: It’s part of the pact we make with our animal friends. They give us their unconditional love and loyalty, and we protect them as best we can from the hardships of the world throughout their lives and see them out the back door of life as peacefully, painlessly and lovingly as possible.” His insight helped me understand and accept my role in my pets’ death.

Letting go of a pet is different for each of us, but listening to others who have found their way through these rocky passages helps us be aware of the many ways of thinking about, feeling, completing, and accepting the “Last Goodbye.” Here are some personal memories and professional guidance that may open doors for you to hard choices and peaceful decisions, when the time comes.

The Bond Runs Deep
Veterinarian, counselor and minister, Delana Taylor McNac is associated with hospice care for people and a program dedicated to keeping hospice patients and their pets together, Pet Peace of Mind.
“One of the most difficult decisions we make as pet owners is to allow our beloved pets to die. The power we have to consent to euthanasia makes this decision even more difficult,” she says.

“Unfortunately, many pet owners avoid thinking about the death of their pet until they are forced to make a decision about euthanasia, often with little to no forethought. We would like for our pets to have a peaceful, painfree death in their sleep, but the truth is that many of us will have to consider euthanasia.” Best Friends’ Battista, as he watches dog Roxie approach death, writes: “I keep reminding myself that the opportunity to prevent her from suffering is a privilege, as painful as it might be…

It’s never easy and something that you never get used to, but in all these years (seeing many animal friends at Best Friends go to the Rainbow Bridge), my only regrets were waiting too long to say goodbye… waiting until their distress and anxiety overwhelmed their appreciation of being loved and protected. “I don’t want that to happen to Roxie, but I don’t want to rush her out the door either, so I watch and I wait.”

Watch for Signs , Have a Plan
Tulsa veterinarian Heather Owen, of the Veterinary Wellness Center and Animal Acupuncture, counsels many families preparing for the end of life of an ill pet. “Our pets give us so much and never ask us to let them go. Our job is to give them love, loyalty and death with dignity, so we must watch for clues from our terminal pets. “Those 4 signs are eating, drinking, urinating and defecating – these basic functions need to be met when evaluating quality of life for a terminal patient,” she says. “If you have a terminal dog who is not eating, then try offering a variety of meats, vegetables, go to McDonald’s and get him a hamburger, if that’s what he loves. This can be part of trying everything,” Dr. Owen says.

She notes differences among breeds.
“Some dogs live for eating, like Cockers and Labs. If they stop eating, you know you have tried everything. But, loyal Shelties will go forever not eating and not complaining.

“The key is knowing your dog or cat
… what do they do that brings quality to their day and your’s…is it sitting in your lap, being petted, playing ball? Some dogs don’t make it obvious when they stop doing the things they love … maybe it’s something subtle like coming to the table to beg for food. We need to watch for these changes.” On the issue of guilt and euthanasia, Dr. Owen says the people most upset are “trying to do everything possible,” but that trying to spend your way out of guilt is usually not a remedy. “Listen to your dog and get a consultation with a veterinarian to get answers, explore different choices.
Talk about reality and get a plan together preparing for the end.” Minister McNac advises pet parents to put themselves in the place of their aging or ill pet and consider the quality of their daily lives and degree of pain. Talk to your vet, she says, about choices of letting the pet die a natural death and what may happen, euthanasia at home or the pet hospital, and how to keep an ill or elderly pet comfortable.
“Talking to another pet owner about how they made their decision regarding euthanasia will give you a different perspective about the grief they experienced,” she says. Another approach to monitoring quality of life is a widely-used scale for non-emergency, sick animals. It is a rating system of 1 to 10 in six areas: Hurt, hunger, hydration, happiness, mobility and more good days than bad.

When life is coming to a close, the passage to the Rainbow Bridge differs for all, but the hope is for a peaceful, pain-free, comfortable passing.Battista writes of German Shepherd Roxie: “When the time comes, we will surround her with love and give her a bowl of her absolutely favorite food. Food is an important element of my departure ceremony so it’s important that Roxie will still have enough of an appetite to enjoy a rare treat. While she is eating, we will stroke her and whisper to her in loving voices that she will be delivered from cancer, myelopathy and old age. We will cry and Roxie will be free.” Veterinarian Owen says, “Euthanasia is a wonderful gift that we can give back to our furry friends. It can be almost a happy moment because our pets don’t have to starve to death like people do or hurt to death like people do. We can help them with death and dignity.
“Most go peacefully, know no pain, no suffering and are not afraid. It is a gradual passing over, passing on.” She described a 15-year-old German Shepherd whose back limbs were weak, could not get up or down easily, was in pain. Owen successfully treated her pain and weakness for several years with acupuncture and other complementary therapies. But on her last day, the family said they knew that she was ready to die. “She went to sleep with her head in the hands of her Mom, who brought along a picture of the other dog they had recently lost, her favorite blanket, a big comforter.
We held her, whispered to her, and she gave us a last look that said, ‘thank you’ and then she passed.”

Grieving Pets Left Behind
Owen recalls another dog whose end of life was accompanied by the family’s five other dogs and six humans who had cared for her for many years. “Pets grieve like people and they need to know when another dog has passed. In this case, after she passed quietly, the other dogs approached and sniffed her from head to toe, then curled up beside her. It was a peaceful, tearful time.” She advises helping remaining pets know that their animal friend has died by taking a towel or blanket — something the animal was on or near at the time of passing — or a snip of hair to let the others sniff. “It lets them know that it’s OK and they accept closure more quickly. Animals know the scent of one that has passed.” McNac says that pet owners find grieving a deeply painful experience, but “it is a normal aspect of the bond with your pet. Because the loss is real, it is like losing a part of ourselves.” Talking with others about your sorrow before the actual loss of the pet can help lessen the overwhelming nature of the loss when the time arrives, she says.

There are options regarding your pet friend following death.
If you want something you can see or hold, a paw print can be made of your pet’s real paw, using Model Magic by Crayola. A cookie cutter in the shape of a heart or circle will shape the model’s outline and paw print. A snip of hair is also a reminder. There are companies in Tulsa which offer burial at their sites or cremation. If this is your choice, let your veterinarian know and ask about making arrangements for your pet’s remains. City ordinances prohibit the burial of pets on personal property, but it is legal outside city limits. Professional pet memorial services have cemeteries or a special place where the pet’s cremains can be scattered. Plan ahead so that you do not wonder what happened to your pet’s body after death.

A final note from Minister McNac:
When it comes to dying, “our senior pets depend on us more than any other time in their lives. They approach death fearlessly, adjusting to old age, loss of function, loss of hearing and sight. “They trust us to speak for them now in ways they never have before, to give back when they cannot care for themselves, to keep them safe and comfortable. Reward their trust by examining possiblites and choosing well