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Saying Goodbye

May 5, 2012

The following article focusing on the emotions of losing a family pet was written by Diana Arnold, who kindly offered to share this piece with our clients. The article was published in Feline Focus, the newsletter of the Feline Control Council of Victoria Inc, of which Diana has been a member since 1962 and a judge since 1964.

Companion animals have assumed an elevated status in the lives of so many people. There is an intrinsic bond between animal owners and their pets which can often be stronger and more enduring than many human relationships. Our pets are a part of our family, and often become our surrogate children. Thus the subject of a pet's impending death is something none of us wants to think about, and it doesn't get any easier as the time inevitably approaches.

For children, a beloved pet's passing is often their first experience with significant loss. The powerful feelings of sadness and aloneness that frequently occur after the death of a pet can be difficult for a young person to process. For adults, the grief can seem almost unbearable. Many of us don't anticipate how devastating it can be to lose a non-human family member. Pet owners are often embarrassed by how overwhelmed they feel at their loss – especially in the presence of people who've never shared a special connection with an animal. If you or someone you know is mourning the death of a pet, understand that whatever you are feeling, to whatever degree, is normal and expected. These painful feelings are not meant to be avoided – acknowledging and allowing them is the only healthy way to progress through your grief. Ultimately you will come to accept your loss and find the strength to move on from it.

Denial is a stage many owners travel through after their pet has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Denial is your mind’s way of temporarily protecting you from information that is simply too painful to accept at the moment you hear it. In the short term, denial can help you steel yourself to gradually acknowledge the fact your beloved animal is reaching the end of his life. However, if denial persists, it can rob you of the ability to prepare emotionally for the inevitable. Taken to extremes, denial can prevent you from seeking medical help for your sick pet. It can also prompt you to prolong the suffering of a dying animal, which is not something you want to look back on with regret for the rest of your own life.

Since animals can't tell us when they hurt, it's up to each of us as guardians of our pets to be observant and proactive in ensuring their quality of life is as comfortable as possible as they near the end. You also need to be informed about the options of surgery, extended treatment, no treatment, end of life palliative care, or euthanasia for aged pets or those with cancer and other terminal diseases. The final chapter in a beloved pet's life is just as meaningful as the rest of its life, and the dying process can be experienced with dignity and acceptance. The most important thing you can give your aged pet is security, loving care and understanding.

A crisis is not a good time to meet a new vet. Hopefully you and your vet already have established a good professional relationship and he/she has already built up a history on your cat/dog while it is still healthy. If visiting a vet for the first time, he/she will conduct a physical exam and certain tests. He will talk to family members about the prognosis, then put together a care plan that might include prescriptions, physical therapy or other treatments. The goal is to make the pet patient physically comfortable and pain-free to ensure the best quality of life during its remaining days.

For some pets, pain management may only last for a few days prior to death or euthanasia; others may enjoy several more months of good quality life. Serious illness impacts profoundly not only on the patient, but on the owner and family as well. Vets take a compassionate and positive approach to terminal illness and work with owners to support the emotions of family members while providing treatment for their animal friends.

Naturally you want to keep your companion with you for as long as possible. As difficult as it is to think about losing your furry family friend, you would not want to subject it to prolonged pain or discomfort, so it is important to be realistic and compassionate when facing end of life issues.

When life becomes a burden, the greatest thing you can do for the one who has given you so much pleasure and companionship during its lifetime is to fulfil your last obligation to end its suffering. A lethal injection is quick, painless and stress free. To help an animal end its life in comfort and with dignity, veterinarians can provide euthanasia services in your home.

Do not leave your old friend to die with strangers because you ‘can’t bear to watch’. Hold him in your arms, talk to him, comfort and reassure him while the merciful needle is given and he peacefully goes to sleep forever. This has the advantage of upsetting both of you far less than a trip to the surgery, and can save you the embarrassment of crying your eyes out in front of a waiting room full of strangers. Your vet can arrange for disposal of the body. You may prefer cremation, or burial in the home garden marked by a special plant or plaque; but the best place to preserve your best friend is always in your heart.

Our beloved pets are only lent to us for a relatively short time, and hopefully they will enjoy a long and happy life, but we must face the fact that death is a normal part of life, and eventually the time will come when accident, old age, or terminal illness will oblige us to make the difficult and heartbreaking decision to end their suffering. Certain very special animals enrich our lives, and while we will never forget them, often the acquisition of a new furperson can help to ease the pain of separation and grief.

- © Diana F Arnold 2012

International All Breeds Judge with the Feline Control Council of Victoria Inc

Adapted with permission from an article by Dr Karen Becker DVM online at http//healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/default.aspx

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