Last July, the doctor delivered news no pet owner ever wants to hear. Seven-year-old Tank’s cancer had spread. He likely had just two months to live.
So Diane Cosgrove, 37, set out to give her beloved Rottweiler as many memorable experiences as she could, making a bucket list that included going to a baseball game, getting Shake Shack treats and a pet-store shopping spree.
“I did everything to make his last month and a half special,” says Cosgrove, who lives in Pompton Plains, NJ.
The 2007 Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman movie “The Bucket List” brought the notion of a “things to do before you die” checklist into the mainstream, but the concept is no longer just for baby boomers. It’s also for pooches and pet owners, who are granting Fido’s every woof in his final days. A mutt’s dying wishes are even the plot of a current Subaru commercial.
“We’re afraid of death. The bucket list is just a way . . . of managing,” says Dr. Stephanie LaFarge, senior director of counseling services at the ASPCA. “Now that pets are part of the family, it’s natural that we extend this practice to them.”
When Lauren Fern Watt, 26, learned her 6-year-old English mastiff Gizelle had bone cancer last year, making an ambitious bucket list for the dog helped her to process her illness. The dog’s final adventures included canoeing, road trips and dockside ice-cream eating.
“It seemed like a good way to celebrate my dog’s life, rather than cry over it,” she says.
Last January, after Gizelle passed away, Watt, a freelance travel writer who lives in the East Village, put together a photo essay for Yahoo about the dog’s bucket list. It was so popular, it resulted in a book deal. “Gizelle’s Bucket List” is due out next fall from Simon & Schuster.
Sarah Westcott, a Brooklyn dog trainer, practically moved the sun and the stars when Charleston, her 5-year-old Labrador, was diagnosed with inoperable fibrosarcoma in the summer of 2008.
She and her boyfriend trucked in 600 pounds of crushed ice and dumped it on her grandmother’s lawn in Bensonhurst to give the snow-loving dog a final romp in fresh powder. Mini pints of Guinness, unlimited cheese and one last Hamptons jaunt rounded out Charleston’s adventures before he died three weeks later.
“It was good to know that I had done everything I could have for him,” says Westcott.
Vets say that bucket lists are fine, so long as the dying dog’s best interests are kept in mind.
“It should be something that the pet, not the human, is going to enjoy,” says Sonja Olson, a veterinarian with BluePearl Veterinary Partners. “Stressing an animal out can stress their immune system further. Talk about it with your veterinarian. It might need to be dialed back.”
In the end, Cosgrove had to modify Tank’s bucket list. Three items — going to the beach, riding in a convertible and eating at a restaurant — remained when he was euthanized in August.
But he did make it to a New Jersey Jackals baseball game.
“He wasn’t feeling that great,” remembers Cosgrove, “but for the couple hours he was there, he was really perky and alert and enjoyed being outside.”
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