Pet Funerals, Cemeteries and the After Life - Articles Archive

By JESSICA PIERCE
Published: September 22, 2012


ODY died peacefully last year, Nov. 29. He was 14 and a half. Truth be told, Ody didn’t just die. I killed him. I paid a vet to come to my house and inject a chemical solution into a vein in Ody’s back leg.

People ask me how I knew it was time. There was no watershed, but a slow accumulation of miseries. Ody had been in serious decline for six months. Partial paralysis of his laryngeal muscles made it hard for him to breathe, and he would begin to pant at the slightest exertion. His once deep tenor bark had transformed into a raspy Darth Vader croak. The signals from his addled brain often failed to reach his body, so when I walked him he left a Hansel and Gretel trail of pee and poop behind him. His muscles atrophied, and his walk was crab-like and unsteady. He grew increasingly uninterested in food and people, his two great passions. Worst of all, he began falling more and more frequently and was unable to get up by himself.

Toward the end, I would wake in the night to scuffling sounds. I’d search the house and find Ody trapped behind the piano or tangled up in the exercise equipment. It was on the fourth such night that my husband said: “It’s time. We can’t do this to Ody anymore.”

Euthanasia is deeply entrenched in the culture of pet keeping in America, and for the vast majority of companion animals, death will be orchestrated by a human caretaker, the time and date chosen in advance and not, as it were, decided by “nature” or some higher power. Yet despite its ubiquity, we rarely question its moral appropriateness.

Euthanasia is typically thought of as a choice between suffering and death — and, indeed, it can offer relief from unyielding pain. But death is too often prescribed as a de facto treatment for suffering when much less aggressive possibilities exist. We can ease our animals into the valley of death, rather than abruptly shoving them off the cliff.

Pain is the barometer most often used to assess whether an animal should be euthanized, and one of the most important improvements we can make in caring for our pets is to provide them with better palliative care. Untreated or undertreated pain is epidemic among companion animals. Kevin Stafford, an authority on veterinary ethics, estimates that 10 million dogs in the United States suffer from osteoarthritis but that only a small fraction get treatment. Of those dogs that do, he says, many are treated ineffectually or are given too little pain medicine for too short a time. The only treatment many arthritic dogs receive is euthanasia.

Effective and affordable pain treatments for animals are available; many human pain drugs were developed using animals. We can also lessen the pain for ailing pets with structural alterations to our homes, like ramps.

Why, then, are so many animals in pain? The reasons are largely cultural. Some veterinarians, particularly older ones, have been taught that animals don’t feel pain (the same convenient skepticism under which the animal research juggernaut labors). Few vets specialize in palliative care, and treating pain effectively takes a tenacity that harried and underpaid vets may find difficult to muster on a daily basis. And pet owners can be inattentive, even lazy.

To be sure, animal pain can be tricky to recognize and treat. Cats and rabbits are notorious for their so-called stoicism, but dogs, too, may not display pain in ways we easily see. As with humans, responses to pain vary. Effective pain management often requires trial and error with various types of drugs, as well as the use of non-drug therapies like weight management, controlled exercise, physical therapy, massage, acupuncture and nutritional supplements.

Pain must be understood broadly, as it is in human medicine, to include psychological suffering. Ody’s physical ailments were mostly caused by neurological decline. The fact that he wasn’t obviously in physical pain made the decision to euthanize a difficult one, because I was left to make an imperfect judgment about his overall well-being.

Quality-of-life assessments have long been used within human end-of-life care, and similar tools for assessing our animals are increasingly available, well-refined and imminently useful. One nice example is the veterinarian Alice Villalobos’s “Pawspice” program, which directs pet owners to assess their pet on a 1-to-10 scale on seven measures — hurt, hunger, hydration, hygiene, happiness, mobility and “more good days than bad” — with the lowest number being the worst. During Ody’s final decline, I would force myself to think through this assessment. It was hard to be honest. Ody’s score just kept getting lower. But the exercise at least offered a measure of objective

One of the most troublesome moral challenges involves money. We could say that money shouldn’t matter when an animal’s life is in the balance, but this is neither realistic nor fair to pet owners. We might feel a justified repugnance toward the financially well-positioned pet owner who refuses to cough up the money for an antibiotic or inexpensive pain medicine. But the question of money can be gut-wrenching, as when prolonged care for an ill animal is balanced against college education for a child. Luckily, basic palliative care is not particularly expensive, and the emerging field of animal hospice will allow more owners to give respite to their dying animals without going broke.

AT animal hospice, the therapeutic agenda is not abandoned, but its goals shift, sometimes subtly, from cure to compassionate care and comfort. We put aside the desire to fix — the stem-cell treatments, joint replacements, X-rays and biopsies, and the other marvels of modern veterinary medicine — and focus instead on managing pain and allowing death to unfold in its own time. When things get really ugly, we retain the option — still largely unavailable for our human loved ones — of a gentle release.

Unfortunately, the love we feel for our animals can inure us to their suffering. We may wait for our animal to “tell us she is ready,” but our love can make it hard to hear her cries. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing Ody, so I sugarcoated his suffering. I focused on care-giving, feeling vindicated when he showed his typical interest in hot dogs and processed cheese. When, prodded by my husband, I finally called the euthanasia vet, I asked her to come the following day. I need one more day with Ody, to say goodbye, I thought. After realizing that this extra day was for me, not for Ody, I called back, and when I was able to control my voice, I asked her to come as soon as she could.

When the vet arrived at our house that night to perform the procedure, Ody was crouched under the piano, peering out at the family and friends gathered to say farewell. Normally he was drawn to people, but not this night. I watched him turn and stumble off. I followed him onto the flagstone patio, where he stood still, his back legs with their awkward bent. It was a bitterly cold night. I sat next to him and wrapped my arms around his chest and buried my face in the soft red fur of his neck. I didn’t want this moment to end. A few minutes later, my husband opened the door and called, “The vet’s ready.” I sat for another long moment with Ody and then got up and moved toward the door, beckoning him after me. He stood still, looking into the dark. I got behind him and gently touched his back, urging him on.


Jessica Pierce is a bioethicist and the author of “The Last Walk: Reflections on Our Pets at the End of Their Lives.”
A version of this op-ed appeared in print on September 23, 2012, on page SR10 of the New York edition with the headline: Deciding When a Pet Has Suffered Enough.

How to know when it is time to say goodbye?

This decision is the hardest part of owning a pet, our pets and companions have put their trust in us, and we must decide when enough is enough. I believe there are several important questions to ask yourself:

Is the pet still eating and drinking?
Can the pet walk enough to get up and go to the toilet by itself?
Is the pet still happy to see you?
Have you had your pet examined by a vet?
If all reasonable vet care has been given to the pet and there is nothing else you can do to relieve the suffering it may then be time to consider euthanasia.

People find this decision very difficult and spend a lot of time agonizing about it. Usually as the deterioration in the pet’s condition happens slowly and there is no clear reason or time to take the pet down to the vet. It is always good to talk to your vet about the condition of your pet as there maybe simple solutions to your pet’s problems. The vets’ job is to help you make this decision and then support you in this decision. Sometimes economic reasoning must come into the decision making, you could spend a lot more money but this may only extend the life of the pet for a small amount of time. Some people would put themselves into a lot of debt to pay for the treatment of their pets. This always humbles me as a vet that people would go without so much to save their pet. But sometimes people have to be realistic and see that the best solution is euthanasia, this can be quite painful to realize if you had more money you would go ahead with the treatment.

This is a difficult decision to make and you must balance the economic reality to the needs of the pet, your pet would not want you to suffer for it sake. When you know it is time for euthanasia you need to stay focused on that decision and do all the right things to make sure it is a good euthanasia.

By Michael O’Donoghue BVSc  People and Pets

 


 

Dr. Alice Villalobos, the veterinarian who started Pawspice, a quality of life program for terminal pets, has published a scoring system for life quality called The HHHHHMM scale.  The letters stand for: Hurt, Hunger, Hydration, Hygiene, Happiness, Mobility, and More Good Days than Bad.

Quality of Life Scale: The HHHHHMM Scale
Pet caregivers can use this Quality of Life Scale to determine the success of pawspice care. Score patients using a scale of 1 to 10.
Score Criterion
1-10 HURT – Adequate pain control, including breathing ability, is first and foremost on the scale. Is the pet’s pain successfully managed? Is oxygen necessary?
1-10 HUNGER – Is the pet eating enough? Does hand feeding help? Does the patient require a feeding tube?
1-10 HYDRATION – Is the patient dehydrated? For patients not drinking enough, use subcutaneous fluids once or twice daily to supplement fluid intake.
1-10 HYGIENE – The patient should be brushed and cleaned, particularly after elimination. Avoid pressure scores and keep all wounds clean.
1-10 HAPPINESS – Does the pet express joy and interest? Is the pet responsive to things around him or her (family, toys, etc.)? Is the pet depressed, lonely, anxious, bored or afraid? Can the pet’s bed be close to the family activities and not be isolated?
1-10 MOBILITY – Can the patient get up without assistance? Does the pet need human or mechanical help (e.g., a cart)? Does the pet feel like going for a walk? Is the pet having seizures or stumbling? (Some caregivers feel euthanasia is preferable to amputation, yet an animal who has limited mobility but is still alert and responsive can have a good quality of life as long as caregivers are committed to helping the pet.)
1-10 MORE GOOD DAYS THAN BAD – When bad days outnumber good days, quality of life might be compromised. When a healthy human-animal bond is no longer possible, the caregiver must be made aware the end is near. The decision needs to be made if the pet is suffering. If death comes peacefully and painlessly, that is okay.
*TOTAL *A total over 35 points represents acceptable life quality

Adapted by Villalobos, A.E., Quality of Life Scale Helps Make Final Call, VPN, 09/2004, for Canine and Feline Geriatric Oncology Honoring the Human-Animal Bond, by Blackwell Publishing, Table 10.1, released 2006

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Pet Loss: Good-bye Dear Jake

It is good to be back in Michigan!  In December Peter and I  loaded Jake, our 15 yr old Lab/Shepard mix, in  the car and drove to our new winter home: Tucson, AZ.

We were concerned about Jake’s comfort and ability to make the trip, but he tolerated it well and seemed revived soaking up the sun in our new yard.

It was hard to watch him lose the strength to get in the car, the ability to manage stairs, the comfort of being around other animals.  As his senses faded his anxiety escalated.

Our vet helped us assess his  condition and needs.  We had hoped he could make it back to Michigan, but by April we knew it was time to euthanize him.

We have had other pets euthanized–it is never an easy decision.

The reason I decided to write about Jake’s death here is this:  Reactions to the loss of a beloved pet is  as multi-faceted as any other loss.  Everyone is entitled to view their animals, and the loss of them, however they want.   I caution you though to not make assumptions about what that loss is like for others.

Some of the comments people made when Jake died offended me.  Really, really offended me.  Some of them were made by the professionals who were assisting us with the process, some by friends.

Here are some examples:

—Referring to Jake as my “child”.  NO…he was my loved and valued pet.  He did not come close to being in the same category as my child.
–Questioning our decision to euthanize–some thought we waited too long, others thought we were too hasty.  It is not their business, unless their opinion has been requested.
Telling us their personal stories of pet loss (often the re-telling  proved traumatic for the person and they would then need comforting).  In the midst of trying to make the right decision no one needs to have things complicated by a tearful story.

Pet loss, like other grief, is a personal journey.  Let the person take the lead in conversations.  Listen.  Listen well.

We were lucky to have many, many people do just that.  Let us guide the conversations.

I especially want to thank Dr. Lee Fike (Tucson) http://www.leefike.com/ : Thank you for your compassion, wisdom, guidance and  patience. Your  method  of euthanizing in stages allowed us the opportunity to see Jake at peace to be able say good-bye in our home, as we listened to music that comforted us. Thanks also to our dear friend Helen Costa (Ann Arbor) who was always just an email away, willing to answer questions and help us explore options. And, many others who said just the right thing, at the right time.

Today we will spread Jake’s ashes in Michigan and celebrate his awesome, sweet spirit.

I am glad he is home.

Posted by Klara Lynn Dannar at 7:44 AM
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Euthanasia. The word itself makes all our stomachs drop. It is a gift to pets and a curse to owners – having the power to decide is something we are not comfortable with. However, when going through the euthanasia process with your own pets, you are in a position to make numerous decisions that can change the course of the overall process.

As a Registered Veterinary Technician, I witness euthanasias on a daily basis. Let me share from personal experience the 5 things I wish every pet owner knew.

1. It’s ok to cry.
People apologize to me all the time for crying over their pets. Whether it’s time to say goodbye, or you are simply having a hard time watching us draw blood on your dog, I wish you knew that I GET IT. Many of us who work in animal medicine (myself very much included) are totally neurotic, hypersensitive, and obsessive when it comes to our own pets.

I may seem calm and collected while working with your cat, but that’s because it’s my job and I can’t afford to be any other way if I’m going to be good at it. You best believe that the second my dog so much as sneezes, I go into a total state of panic, lose all common sense, and forget everything I learned in tech school.

Maine Coon Cat

So, when you are crying over the pet that you have loved for years, I assure you, I have nothing but respect for you. I respect how much you care. I respect your ability to make such difficult decisions. I respect your bravery. And please know that no matter how demonstrative you may be with your emotions, you are still keeping it together more than I would be in your shoes.

2. Be there, if you can.
I am lucky to work in a hospital where the vast majority of pet owners stay with their pets for the euthanasia process. However, this is not always the case. I urge you to stay with your pets, if you can, for multiple reasons. First, for my sake. One of the absolute most difficult things I do as a Veterinary Technician is take on the role of comforting and loving a pet as they pass on when their human is not there to do so.

It is an incredible weight to try to act on your behalf, and it is emotionally exhausting in a way that I cannot even begin to describe. When you stay with your fur baby, I can focus on my own job, instead of doing both of ours.

Dog

 

Second, for your pet’s sake. The vet can be a very scary place for animals – they don’t understand what all these noises and smells are, or why these strangers are poking and prodding them. Do you want them to experience that fear alone? And have it be their very last memory? Your pet doesn’t know what we are doing or why – they only know that you are there, that you said it’s ok, that you love them.

I remember being a child, and how scary going to the doctor was, but how much more confident I felt with my mom there reassuring me. I imagine that is exactly how pets feel. If you can find the strength to be there, please do so. Please let your love, your touch, your presence be the last thing your pet experiences.

3. Keep the collar on.
One of the saddest things I witness during the euthanasia process is when humans take their pet’s collar off when they are still very much awake. To many pets, taking their collar off can have negative associations. For example, I know my own dog panics when I remove her collar as she knows it’s bath time! I want your pet to be as comfortable as possible, and that means not making any major changes immediately prior to euthanizing.

Pets are much smarter than we give them credit for, and they pick up on the smallest of cues. The unknown is scary to your pet, so even if they don’t know what the cues mean, the idea that something is new and strange and out of the ordinary is enough to cause them some sense of anxiety. So, keep the collar on until your pet has passed. Let them go in the state that they always were.

4. Make it a celebration.
Bring treats. Tell stories. Laugh and cry at the same time. Surround yourselves with all his/her favorite toys and beds and blankets. It’s ok to cry, and it’s also ok to celebrate! I love when people tell me they took their dog to the beach or napped in the sun with their cat right before coming in to the hospital. This is going to be one of the hardest days of your life, but it doesn’t have to be for your pet. I promise that the more you celebrate your pet’s life, no matter how long or short, the easier it will be to continue to live your own once this is all said and done.

Lost Man With His Dog

It is ok to cry in front of your pet, to tell them how much you will miss them, to let them see you be absolutely beside yourself. I’m sure your pet has seen you at your worst before – I know mine has. But remember to celebrate, no matter how miserable you are. I promise it will make it easier for both you and your pet. What’s more, It will allow you to reflect on the euthanasia experience with positivity – you will remember that you celebrated and you will feel good about having done so.

5. Prepare.
I want this moment to be entirely about you and your pet. In order for that to be the case, several things must happen. First, you must understand the euthanasia process. If possible, talk to your vet or tech prior to coming into the hospital, or prior to starting the process – ask them to walk you through the steps of euthanasia so that you know exactly what to expect. Ask as many questions as you need to in order to feel comfortable with the process (or at least, as comfortable as you can be). Know what you’re walking into, so that your focus can be entirely on your pet.

This is going to be one of the hardest days of your life, but it doesn’t have to be for your pet.
Second, take care of business ahead of time when possible. Sign any required paperwork. Pay the bill. Decide on aftercare. Even go so far as to prepare your next meal ahead of time, arrange a ride, rent a movie, invite friends over – whatever you think might help you cope when you return home from the hospital without your pet. The less you have to deal with during and after euthanasia, the better. I want you to be able to focus entirely on your pet during the euthanasia, and then entirely on yourself afterwards. Let’s do whatever we can to make that possible.

Every euthanasia is different. Some are planned, some are sudden. Some may happen in your home, some in the hospital. Regardless, they are always difficult – to prepare for, to cope with, to experience. I hope these five things will help you to plan ahead and to make the process as beautiful as it can be for both you and your pet.

by Kelsey Beth Carpenter RVT
January 18, 2016


image1 (1)Kelsey Beth Carpenter is a Registered Veterinary Technician, singer/songwriter, and creator of the Instagram series #ThingsHeardAtAnAnimalHospital. She holds a degree from UCLA and is a Lead Technician at an emergency hospital in the San Francisco Bay Area. Kelsey writes articles and original songs about veterinary medicine – to check out her other works, visit www.facebook.com/kelseybethcarpenter.