Our 14 year old dog, Abbey, died last month. The day after she died, my 4 year old daughter Meredith was crying and talking about how much she missed Abbey.. She asked if we could write a letter to God so that when Abbey got to heaven, God would recognize her. I told her that I thought we could so she dictated these words:

 

Dear God,

Will you please take care of my dog? She died yesterday and is with you inheaven. I miss her very much. I am happy that you let me have her as my dog even though she got sick.

I hope you will play with her. She likes to play with balls and to swim. I am sending a picture of her so when you see her You will know that she is my dog. I really miss her.

Love, Meredith

 

We put the letter in an envelope with a picture of Abbey and Meredith and addressed it to God/Heaven. We put our return address on it. Then Meredith pasted several stamps on the front of the envelope because she said it would take lots of stamps to get the letter all the way to Heaven. That afternoon she dropped it into the letter box at the post office. A few days later, she asked if God had gotten the letter yet. I told her that I thought He had.

 

Yesterday, there was a package wrapped in gold paper on our front porch addressed, ‘To Meredith’ in an unfamiliar hand. Meredith opened it. Inside was a book by Mr. Rogers called, ‘When a Pet Dies.’ Taped to the inside front cover was the letter we had written to God in its opened envelope. On the opposite page was the picture of Abbey & Meredith and this note:

 

 

Dear Meredith,

Abbey arrived safely in Heaven.

Having the picture was a big help. I recognized Abbey right away.

Abbey isn’t sick anymore. Her spirit is here with me just like it stays in your heart. Abbey loved being your dog. Since we don’t need our bodies in heaven, I don’t have any pockets to keep your picture in, so I am sending it back to you in this little book for you to keep and have something to remember Abbey by.

Thank you for the beautiful letter and thank your mother for helping you write it and sending it to me. What a wonderful mother you have. I picked her especially for you.

I send my blessings every day and remember that I love you very much.

By the way, I’m easy to find, I am wherever there is love.

 

Love,

God

By JESSICA PIERCE

Published: September 22, 2012

Lyons, Colo.

Shawn Kuruneru

 

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 caregiving, 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.

Related Link:
One Sick Dog, One Steep Bill

Is it ethical to spend $25,000 at the vet? Is it O.K. to have a pet if you can’t afford such treatments?

 

 

A Reader’s Review:   “You can’t read this story without a tissue. This is a touching story about a boy Riley who wants to make his retriever Jasper’s last day very special. Together the family celebrates what a great companion Jasper has been by visiting many of the places that have been special to him. I would read this story along with my child. Although sad, it is a sweet story of a family’s love and respect for a dog they certainly viewed as a member of the family.”

You can purchase a copy from this link  http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/jaspers-day-marjorie-blain-parker/1006326945

Book Review: Kate, The Ghost Dog: Coping With The Death Of A Pet – by Wayne Wilson

My review originally posted on Feathered Quill Reviews

Aleta is a bright, free-spirited, young girl who lives with her parents and younger brother. She has two great friends she loves spending her time with, and even has aspirations on becoming a veterinarian someday. On a most terrible day, Aleta returns home to discover that the family dog, Kate, has died. Although Aleta does understand that animals can’t possibly live forever, she is completely devastated over the loss of the dog, and doesn’t want to accept the truth at first. As the days pass, Aleta goes through her own grief process that includes isolation so she doesn’t have to talk about it, to anger and even pretending that Kate’s ghost has returned to the family. Her pain also spills into school as she breaks down and cries in class, and Aleta doesn’t want to participate in a memorial for Kate, nor does she want to play with her two best friends. Thankfully, with the help of her family, uncle, and close friends, Aleta is able to overcome her grief and turn her raw feelings into positive memories of Kate.

Author Wayne Wilson, coupled with illustrator Soud, present an admirable story on grief and pet loss for children that not only perfectly identifies many of the emotions children can experience during such an event, but also points out the equally valuable ways in which the healing process can, and does, occur. This story is eloquently written, flows well, and keeps the reader’s attention throughout, while the illustrations are gently sprinkled amongst key points in the story, rather than having them included on every page, which is often seen in more simple picture books. The book stresses the importance of building on family support, and creating positive memories of times spent with a beloved pet, which can be equally transformed into human loss too. Kate, the Ghost Dog also includes a summarization of helpful tips on how to cope with pet loss that can be a useful tool for not only children, but also adults.

Quill says: Kate, the Ghost Dog is a positive book that respectfully discusses the grief process for children, and is a beneficial tool for both parents and schools alike.

For more information on Kate, the Ghost Dog, please visit the author’s website WayneLWilson.net

Other Resources

The Asso­ci­a­tion For Pet Loss and Bereavement (APLB)  has an excellent website that we recommend: www.aplb.org


Counselors in the USA

Chicago VMA
630-325-1600

Cornell University
607-253-3932

University of Illinois
217-244-CARE (2273)

Michigan State University
517-432-2696

P&G Pet Care, Pet Loss Support Hotline
888-332-7738

The Ohio State University
614-292-1823

Tufts University
508-839-7966

Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine
540-231-8038

Washington State University
509-335-5704  or 866-266-8635

Karen Litzinger, Licensed Professional Counselor, was inspired to create this CD following the deaths of her two dogs within four months. It takes you on a healing journey with words of wisdom, comforting affirmations, an inspirational reading, a guided meditation, and soothing harp music. The CD is 49 minutes with an accompanying 20-page booklet insert that provides insight, healing strategies and practical resources. The gentle, grounded words in this CD
Heal Your Heart Pet Loss CD 

are like a dear friend comforting you during your time of grief.  For you in your time of need or as a caring gift for a friend.

webassets/Karen.jpg
Karen, Pepper and Zep
Just as I found comfort in listening to a special music CD as I grieved for Pepper, I hope that some part of this CD will help in the healing process for you or the person to whom you give the CD.  I was further motivated on my journey to create this CD when my 13 year old dog, Zep, died just four months after Pepper.  The loss of my dogs is what inspired me to dedicate this CD to my beloved dog children, Pepper and Zep.

Karen Litzinger’s Journey with Animals: My inspiration for the Healing Hearts pet loss CD came while driving home from the veterinarian with the cremains of my 15 year old dog, Pepper, who I had since a puppy from a local rescue league.  Originally I wanted to create something that a vet could give grieving clients right after the euthanasia procedure to supplement the personal support and follow-up sympathy card.  I created a pet loss booklet for veterinarians, but the CD is what I hope will serve those experience pet loss grief in a more profound way.

 

Cold Noses at the Pearly Gates is an incredibly well researched book offering true and lasting peace for individuals coping with pet loss. The author’s concern for his readers is made evident throughout the book. He wants you to know you are not alone and that the Word of God offers you hope in your grief and salvation through Jesus Christ. I would recommend it to all animal lovers. — Terry Wilson, Faith Writer’s Book Reviewer, February 2007

I read this fabulous book. It is brilliantly written, sensitive, heartwarming and uplifting. It will bring you hope and comfort. — Susan Peterson, Hollywood Producer

Thank you for your book and for the gracious inscription. — White House, First Lady Laura Bush letter of April 9, 2004

44 of 44 people found the following review helpful:
5.0 out of 5 stars Getting Help with the Grief, October 8, 2001
By
“pattiel”
This review is from: The Loss of a Pet : New Revised and Expanded Edition (Paperback)
Three weeks ago, we lost our 8-year old Boxer, Taylor, to Lymphosarcoma. We took her to the very best Oncologists(several of them), spent thousands of dollars in trying to keep her with us for as long as possible, but in the end we knew it was time for us to let go.

Not having children, the pain of losing such a loving animal was beyond my expectation of grief. When I researched the list of books on pet loss, I was looking for facts on how to deal with this agony and pain. Dr. Sife’s introduction and chapters on this subject matter was a validation that what me and my husband were feeling and going through were normal.

Dr. Sife’s case histories throughout the book were very helpful in applying what other people have experienced and what we were going through.

For anyone who has recently lost a pet and is looking for some insight on the feelings they are experiencing, I highly recommend this book. He is very factual. If you are looking for a spiritual or religious aspect, this is not the book. Although Dr. Sife does touch on this subject in a chapter, the basis for the book is the psychological aspects of losing a member of your family.

The leading organisation in the world for pet loss is the Association for pet loss and bereavement or APLB The APLB is a nonprofit association of concerned volunteers who are experienced and knowledgeable in the tender subject of pet death. Our chatrooms are free and available to anyone bereaving for a beloved pet. Membership is not required for this

The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement (APLB) has five weekly pet bereavement chatrooms each week, and one anticipatory bereavement chatroom twice each month.  Visit their website: www.aplb.org Their Friday chatroom is at 8:PM (NYC time) which is late Saturday mornings in Eastern Australia.

  National Support Hotlines and Resources American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)—24 hours 1-877-GRIEF-10 (1-877-474-3310) This is a direct line to ASPCA’s psychologist and grief counselor, Dr. Stephanie LaFarge, PhD. www.aspca.org Chicago VMA 630-325-1600

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine 607-253-3932 www.vet.cornell.edu/public/petloss/ Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine 1-888-478-7574 (toll-free) www.vetmed.iastate.edu/animal_owners/petloss/default.html

Michigan State University 517-432-2696

Ohio State University 614-292-1823 email: petloss@osu.edu

Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine 508-839-7966 www.tufts.edu/vet/petloss/

University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine Pet Loss Support 352-392-2235, ext. 5268

University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine 877-394-CARE (toll-free) 217-244-CARE (local) www.cvm.uiuc.edu/CARE/

Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine 540-231-8038

Washington State University 509-335-5704 http://www.vetmed.wsu.edu/PLHL/ Pet Loss and Bereavement Resources on the Web

American Veterinary Medical Association www.avma.org/careforanimals/

Argus Institute – Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital http://www.argusinstitute.colostate.edu/

Pet Loss Support www.animalclergy.com www.aplb.org www.pet-loss.net www.petvets.com/petloss www.selfhealingexpressions.com

The Animal Rescue Site www.theanimalrescuesite.com/home

The Delta Society—the Human-Animal Health Connection www.deltasociety.org Candle Lighting Ceremony www.griefonline.com

Pet Loss Support – grief counseling For a comprehensive list of counselors in the USA the Asso­ci­a­tion For Pet Loss and Bereave­ment (APLB)  has an excel­lent website that we recommend: www.aplb.org

Chicago VMA 630-325-1600

Cornell University 607-253-3932

University of Illinois 217-244-CARE (2273) or 877-394-CARE

Michigan State University 517-432-2696

P&G Pet CaremPet Loss Support Hotline 888-332-7738

The Ohio State University 614-292-1823

Tufts University 508-839-7966

Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine 540-231-8038

Washington State University 509-335-5704  or 866-266-8635