01/4/18

Reconciling science, belief and experience

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Making Rounds With Oscar

By Veenu Sandal

Bibi had always been strong and robust and even when she sustained injuries in dog fights, she would bounce back to her normal spirited self very quickly. Her unexpected, untimely death on the 26th of this month, just a day after Christmas caught everybody unawares. Everybody—except Tutu, one of my gentlest dogs often called the Dalai Lama by many people.  On the 22nd, four days before Bibi died, Tutu had given her the “once-over”, sniffing her from head to tail and he obviously sniffed death because thereafter he detached himself from Bibi and behaved as if she didn’t exist, something he’s done each time he’s sensed death. I’d witnessed Tutu’s verdict but subconsciously in an act of self-denial, chose to ignore it. If one factors in Tutu’s “once-over”, Bibi’s death was not really untimely.

Incidentally, out of all the dogs with me at present, Tutu is the only one who can sense death several days in advance, an ability, gift, prescience, call it what you will,  he seems to have inherited from his parents. Across the world, there are innumerable documented instances of dogs unerringly sensing death not only amongst themselves but amongst humans and other animals too. Cats too have the power to discern the approach of death well in advance.

Geriatrician David Dosa has written a book, Making Rounds With Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat. Oscar, said to have “predicted” more than 100 deaths, is internationally famous, having featured on Discovery Channel and other prestigious platforms.  According to Wikipedia, “Oscar is a therapy cat living in the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island, U.S. since 2005… Oscar appears able to predict the impending death of terminally ill patients by choosing to nap next to people a few hours before they die. Hypotheses for this ability include that Oscar is picking up on the lack of movement in such patients or that he can smell biochemicals released by dying cells…”

Do animals also know when they themselves are going to die? Jennifer Coates, a house call veterinarian specialising in end-of-life care, wrote a few months ago, “From elephants who grieve for the loss of a herd member to whales who won’t leave their dead babies behind, many species react to death in much the same way that people do. But are animals able to understand that they are going to die themselves? That is a different, more existential question…”

Coates has witnessed several instances when it seems as if a pet has chosen the “right” time to die. She wrote, “I believe my own dog, Duncan, may have had a sense that his end was near…”. Several of my dogs and cats have been aware in advance of their own deaths too. 

Sensing death is not confined to dogs and cats. Karen Briggs, an equine expert who has authored six books, reveals that “… much of the information horses receive about their world is gained through their sense of smell… While we are vision-oriented,… horses rely far more on chemical messages in the air…Many trainers over the centuries have agreed that horses also seem to be able to recognise the smell of death, sometimes reacting suspiciously to a spot where another horse has died, sometimes for months or years after the animal perished…”

In a blog in the Huffington Post, Georgianne Nienaber  has written about horses from a paranormal perspective. “None of it makes much ‘scientific’ or even theological sense, but the special energy of the horse is an undeniable fact. Call it what you will: soul, energy or electrical waves that can be measured by machines, something powerful and healing resides within ‘Suŋkawakaŋ’ the horse…How do we explain stories told by the Dakota 38 Memorial Riders about ghost horses seen in the tree lines along the 330-mile route from the South Dakota Lower Brule Indian Reservation to Mankato, Minnesota during the winter storms of December? The annual ride remembers the hanging of 38 Dakota American Indians by order of Abraham Lincoln in 1862. It is not commemoration, it is remembrance, and the spirit horses watch over the riders on this dangerous journey of witness…”

Birds too can sense death, their own and that of others. My aunt had a very close bond with her pet geese and fed them their first meal of the day with her own hands. That fateful day, they refused to eat and were strangely quiet. Had they all picked up some infection, she wondered. She went back to the house to call the vet and had barely walked through the doorway when she collapsed and died. Her geese had picked up not an infection, but the intimation of death.  

The UK Telegraph carried fascinating findings in the USA on golden-winged warblers—tiny, delicate birds weighing just nine grams, or about as much as a palmful of coins, which showed that yet somehow they knew a massive storm system… was on its way one to two days in advance, and fled. According to ecologist Henry Streby, “When the birds flew off, the storm was still hundreds of miles away, so there would have been few detectable changes in atmospheric pressure, temperature and wind speed. The warblers in our study flew at least 1,500 kilometres total to avoid a severe weather system…” Scientists think that this sixth sense that birds possess has to do with their ability to hear sounds that humans cannot. Birds and some other animals have been shown to hear infrasounds, which are acoustic waves that occur at frequencies below 20 hertz.

With so much evidence about extra-sensory perception and other world connections  in dogs, cats, horses, birds and other animals, how is it that we humans, supposedly the most advanced species, lag so far behind, particularly in sensing death? There are Freudian theories, Jungian therories and the like, categorical scientific findings and theories like “They can see and hear things that humans cannot”.  And yet there are many recorded instances of humans who sensed death. So is it that most times we humans are so immersed in materialistic pursuits that we fail to detect other world signals? Or is it that we subconsciously choose to remain in self denial, like my own self denial when Tutu “declared” that Bibi’s time was up? In Nienaber’s  words, “Science, belief, and experience can be reconciled… A question answered with a question requires meditation and connection with what is unseen and unknown…”

Complete Article HERE!

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12/16/17

Things I Wish I Had Known When My Dog Died

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On Jan. 4, 11 years and 26 days after I walked out of an animal shelter in New Jersey with a little white and brown dog attached to the end of a brand-new leash, she died. On this day, an undiagnosed tumor pressed down on Emily’s brain and told her that she needed to escape, which made her usually soft, cuddly and often napping body go wild, endangering herself and me. The humane thing to do was put her down.

I don’t think anything could have prepared me for that moment, or the searing grief that followed. But if I could go back in time to console myself, I would tell myself these six things:

Most people will say the wrong thing. They will talk about dogs they knew and loved and put down, too, or, if they haven’t walked through this long, lonely tunnel yet, about how they can’t possibly imagine losing their very alive pet, which reminds you that yours is dead. They will also ask how old she was, and when you say 15, they will say, “Well, it was a good long life,” as if the ending of it would be less painful because of how long you were together.

They may tell you other dog death stories, too, like the one about the dog who was so excited to be home from vacation that he bolted out of the car and was immediately run over while the whole family watched — stories that imply it could have been worse. They will shove shelter listings for other Jack Russell terriers at you, as if another dog could slip into that perfect little spot left by your beloved one-of-a-kind pet.

Guilt overwhelms. I still tell myself that I killed Emily, despite the veterinarian telling me, after her body had been taken away, while I gripped both a counter and a vet tech to keep from collapsing, that all four of her paws had been bloodied as she had clawed at the floor, the door and the ground during her manic and desperate attempt to get away from my home. There is guilt, too, over the relief of no longer having to take care of a dog who was on multiple medications and who had arthritis, two defective heart valves and pulmonary hypertension.

You will become unmoored. I adopted Emily soon after I became a freelance writer, and I wrote three books with her by my side. She was the metronome to my life. With her gone, I floated through a space she no longer occupied but haunted with every little white hair found on my blankets, on the floor, in my shoes. Once, in the first week following her death, I came up from the basement and looked at the spot where she would usually be waiting. I called for her with the foolish notion that she’d appear at the top of the stairs. But of course, no: just another sledgehammer reminder that she was really gone.

Grief is exhausting. Last fall, I ran two marathons and an ultramarathon. After Emily died, I couldn’t drag myself through three miles, not to mention find the energy to get out of bed, put on clothes that were not my pajamas and shower at regular intervals. I pushed off assignments because the idea of putting my fingers to the keyboard was inconceivable when Emily wasn’t sleeping on her bed in the corner of my office. These were wretched, grief-stained days, surrounded by a deafening silence.

I went back into therapy after she died and was told I was depressed, which wasn’t surprising, as I had started to slip into bed at 8:30 p.m. and not get up until half a day later. Losing a companion and your routine all at once, especially if you’re single like me, could throw anyone into a tailspin.

It will get better. You won’t want to hear it, or believe it, because the pain is so suffocating. It does ease, though, almost without you noticing it.

But still, it slaps back. This may happen at predictable moments, such as when you decide to sell her crate, and sometimes not. Soon after Emily died, I got on a plane and went to Florida to bake out the pain with all-day poolside sessions punctuated by midday drinks. It worked, somewhat, but on my last night there, my face cracked open at the World of Disney store when I saw a mug with the character Stitch that said “brave” on one side and “loyal” on the other. Only the cashier noticed that I paid with tears and snot running down my face. I then ran out of the store to stare at a lake.

These days, I get up, I brush my teeth, I write, I run. I smile now and laugh sometimes. The pain still catches me, though, and I can now more clearly see why: I loved that dog, and in giving a scared, abused, imperfect Emily a home, she loved me back, and together our lives both bloomed. The loss of that joy is why the pain is so acute — and why, at some point in the maybe not so distant future, I’ll go back to that animal shelter with a brand-new leash, and do it all over again.

Complete Article HERE!

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11/11/17

Toronto vet helps pets to pass in comforts of home

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Home is a pet’s safe space and favourite place. This is where they lived and this is where they should be allowed to die, writes in-hospice veterinarian Faith Banks.

At first, they open the door to their home and greet me with “you have the worst job in the world”, followed by “how do you do this?”

They are pet owners and they are referring to the fact I am a hospice veterinarian. I am at their home because I am a mobile hospice veterinarian. I am at their home to help them say goodbye to their most loved companion, their family dog or cat.

When I enter their home, people often apologize for the dirty dishes still in the sink or the mess on the floor. I am blind to their clutter and I never judge them on the cleanliness of their home. What I do notice are the blankets and pillow on the couch.

You see, when an older pet is no longer able to make it upstairs to the owner’s bed, the owner’s bed gets moved to the family room couch. These are some of the final precious moments owners have with their pet and they don’t want to miss out on any of it by sleeping apart for their last few weeks or days together. It is a slumber of true love.

Goodbye at home is a gift

Being able to say goodbye at home is a gift people can provide to their beloved aging pets. Veterinary Aid in Dying, euthanasia or putting a pet to sleep are all terms for the final act of love pet parents are often called on to do for a pet that is suffering. This suffering may be physical and/or emotional and can deeply affect the owner as well.

From the Greek translation, euthanasia literally means “good death”. Our pets are most deserving of a good death, especially after the unconditional love and dedication they showered upon us during our memorable lives together.

When I began my in-home hospice and palliative care service, my goal was to ensure everyone had the opportunity to allow their pet to pass with dignity and love.

Comfort and privacy

Today, along with three other compassionate veterinarians, we are able to provide this service to pets and their owners in the comfort and privacy of their homes. Being able to provide this personal and meaningful service is an honour and responsibility I don’t take lightly.

Home is where the heart is and home is where the dog is. This is their safe space, their favourite place. This is where they lived and this is where they should be allowed to die.

Euthanasia at home, performed by a skilled veterinarian, ensures our pets are not stressed, are not in pain and have a peaceful, love-filled passing. Something they no doubt deserve, and something we all hope for ourselves.

So now, by the time I leave, “you have the worst job in the world” changes to “what an emotionally rewarding job you have” and “how do you do this?” changes to “thank you for doing this”.

Complete Article HERE!

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11/7/17

How to Help Your Kids Cope With the Loss of the Family Pet

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Pets are part of the family, so it makes sense that losing one is tough on everyone, including our children. A pet’s death may be the first time they’ve ever experienced a real loss, and as a parent, it can be difficult to know how to start a conversation about life, death, and grieving in a way they can understand, but that won’t heighten their sadness.

Last week, we put our 12-year-old dog to sleep five weeks after he was diagnosed with lymphoma. It was a brief but rapidly debilitating illness, and I wondered if my kids would understand that a dog who was quite healthy only two months ago was now gone. Surprisingly, they took it much better than I did. My 3-year-old gave me a hug, then told me, “I don’t know why you’re crying, Mom. Gus was sick, and now he’s in heaven with grandma’s dog. He’s not sad he died. He’s still happy.”

After briefly wondering if my child was a pet psychic, I realized that his logic was pretty sound. While my son would miss our dog, he knew our pup had been suffering, and he was prepared for the death. He had processed the loss faster and more easily than I did precisely because he was a kid. If you’re dealing with the loss of a family pet, here’s how to help your children process their feelings.

  1. Make sure your child understands what death means. Gently make sure that your child understands that their pet’s death means the animal will never be physically present again. Don’t be alarmed if it takes awhile — even years depending on their age — for your child to understand that means that your pet can no longer breathe, feel, or ever be alive again. If the death was sudden or unexpected, explaining why or how your pet died might be important to help your child understand the permanence of the loss. Of course, consider your child’s age and ability to understand and only give them developmentally appropriate information.
  2. Be honest. Telling your child about the death openly and truthfully lets your child know that it’s not bad to talk about death or sad feelings, an important lesson as they will have to process many other losses throughout their lives.
  3. Follow your child’s lead. Sometimes children are better than adults at accepting loss, especially when they’ve known for some time that their pet had a limited life span or was ill. Don’t attempt to make your child’s grief mirror your own, but do validate any emotions that come up as your child goes through the mourning process, and be ready to talk when they have questions. Age-appropriate books like Sally Goes to Heaven and I’ll Always Love You can also help with communication.
  4. Don’t be surprised if your child grieves in doses. Children often spend a little time grieving, then return to playing or another distraction. This normal, necessary behavior prevents them from becoming overwhelmed and makes the early days of grief more bearable for them.
  5. Say a formal goodbye. Consider having a small memorial service where you can all say goodbye, discuss favorite memories, and thank your pet for being part of the family, even if the service is just in your backyard or around the kitchen table.
  6. Find a way to memorialize your pet appropriately. We often don’t realize how constant our pets were in our lives until they’re gone. By making a photo album, turning a collar into a Christmas ornament, or commissioning personalized art work through Etsy, your whole family will have a positive remembrance of your beloved pet for a lifetime.

Complete Article HERE!

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10/19/17

How to help your kids say goodbye to a beloved pet

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Tips on how to guide little hearts through their grief to help them deal with their loss and recover from it

By Jennifer Walker

Saying goodbye to a pet is an inevitable experience many families will experience.

And telling the truth to children and allowing them to grieve is crucial in helping them deal with their loss, as well as recover from it.

“I think it is important to tell children the truth but depending on their age and developmental level, the information you communicate will differ,” said Kyle Newstadt, individual and family therapist and director of Integrate Health Services. “Regardless, they should know the truth and if you know the pet is sick or death is on the horizon, it is important to communicate that with children.”

According to Ms. Newstadt, books can be helpful to introduce the topic to a child with the family without any other distractions. She said parents could explain to their children that the animal has been to the doctor for medicine and that they’re waiting to see if it helps the situation.

“Don’t hide the truth and say the animal is sleeping or he ran away; it’s abstract and kids wont understand that,” said Ms. Newstadt. “Stick to the truth and avoid unknown language, explain death but leave it up to the child and what they’re asking — children can surprise us.”

A toddler is unlikely to understand death but those words should be used, she added.

“Parents could explain that medicine was given to dog and it will help him close his eyes and he will die peacefully,” said Ms. Newstadt. “Wait for them to ask “what does death mean?’ and, depending on religious beliefs, that would be a good time to talk about that.”

According to the local therapist, it is important to allow your child to express their feelings and deal with grief. A pet memorial would be a crucial part of the process for a child and the entire family, she said.

“Ask the child and give them choices in ways they would want to memorialize their pet and maybe each child can think of something they want to do; a burial outside, pictures in places around the house, creating a scrapbook, or a special ceremony to talk about the memories they had with their pet is important and helps them deal with grief,” she said. “This will open lines of communication which is so important when a child suffers from the death of a pet.”

According to Durham Region registered vet technician Sarah Macdonald, it is required of veterinarian clinics to dispose of a pet’s body once it passes away. A large majority of clinics also offer cremation, she said.

According to Ms. Macdonald and Ontario.ca, homeowners are permitted to bury their pets on their own property. For those living in an apartment, Ms. Macdonald recommends cremation.

The ashes can be kept in a special urn inside the pet owner’s home or be scattered in a special location for a ceremony or as part of a memorial, she said.

For those looking for more ways to memorialize their pets with keepsakes, funerals, cremation ceremonies, and more, Ms. Macdonald recommends Gateway Pet Memorial, specializing in pet aftercare throughout North America.

Parents should be focusing on positive coping strategies by modelling self-expression, letting the child know that it is OK and normal to have these feelings of sadness and that it is important to express, said Ms. Newstadt.

“Children experience grief in different ways from adults; there is no right or wrong way,” she added. “They may appear to be coping well and weeks later experience sadness. Meet the child where they’re at.”

According to Ms. Newstadt, parents shouldn’t approach the conversation until the child is expressing sadness.

“It’s OK if the child isn’t demonstrating that they’re sad, there is no right or wrong way to experience grief,” she said. “It is typical for a child to ask questions or to say they’re feeling sad and then engage in play, it’s a developmentally appropriate way of grieving.”

Complete Article HERE!

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09/28/17

Don’t Neglect the Softer Side of Your Estate Plan

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Document and share your wishes for end-of-life care, the care of your pets, the disposition of your tangible assets, and more.

By Christine Benz

As my family’s “first responder” and resident financial person, I served as power of attorney for my parents, as well as executor and trustee for both.

Their estate-planning documents attended to a lot of crucial issues: the distribution of their assets, the trusts that were to be set up upon each of their deaths, and their attitudes toward life-sustaining care.

Yet having gone through the process of seeing my parents through their last years and settling their estates, I’m struck by the number of “softer” decisions these documents didn’t cover–important topics like their attitudes toward receiving care in their home or in a facility, or whether they’d prefer to die at home or if a hospital was OK. Did I need to split up all of the physical assets equally among the children, or were they OK with me letting more stuff go to family members with a greater need for them?

Implicit in making someone an executor, trustee, or guardian, or delegating powers of attorney, is a statement that that you trust that person’s judgment to do what is best in various situations, including some of those outlined above. But I think it’s worthwhile to think through some of the softer, nonfinancial issues that could arise in your later years. Some of these issues, such as providing for the care of pets or getting specific about the disposition of your physical property, can be addressed with legally binding estate-planning documents. Other issues, such as how you’d like your loved ones to balance your care with their own quality of life, are best discussed with your loved ones and/or documented in writing on your own. (If you decide to leave physical or electronic documents that spell out your wishes on some of these matters, be sure to let your loved ones know how gain access to them.)

Attitudes Toward Guardianship
If you have minor children and have designated guardians to care for them if something should happen to you, you of course need to inform the guardians and make sure they’re OK with the responsibility. In addition, take the next step and communicate to your designated guardians about your priorities and values as a parent–your attitudes toward their education, spirituality, and financial matters, for example. And even if your children are grown–or getting there–it’s worthwhile to talk to close friends or family members about how you hope they’ll interact with your kids if you’re no longer around. After my sister lost a dear friend to cancer, for example, she and a group of other close friends serve as surrogate “moms” to their late friend’s daughter, now in her mid-20s. There’s no substitute for an actual mom, of course but it’s a relationship they all cherish, and they’re happy they discussed it with their friend before she passed away.

Attitudes Toward Life During Dementia
Given the increased incidence of dementia in the developed world, an outgrowth of longer life expectancies, it’s worth thinking through and communicating to your loved ones your attitudes toward your care and quality of life if you develop dementia. Would you prioritize in-home care above all else, or would care delivered in a facility be agreeable if it improved your spouse’s quality of life? Would you want your spouse or other loved ones to try to care for you themselves for as long as possible, or would you rather they delegated those responsibilities to paid caregivers, assuming the family finances could support it? How would you like your loved ones to balance your quality of life with their own? How would you like them to balance your health and safety with your own quality of life? How important would it be to you to receive daily visits from your spouse and other loved ones, even it meant that those obligations would detract from their ability to travel or pursue other activities? Would you prefer to keep your decline as private as possible, or would you rather be out in public interacting with people no matter what? There’s no “right” answer to any of these questions, but talking through them can help your loved ones be at peace with the decisions they could eventually make.

Attitudes Toward End-of-Life Care
I first became aware of The Conversation Project, designed by to help people discuss their own thoughts on end-of-life care, on NPR. In the segment, two adult daughters used “The Conversation” template to interview their elderly dad about the decisions they might eventually make on his behalf. Their father had drafted an advance directive that specified, rather strictly, that he didn’t want any life-sustaining care if he had no chance for a good quality of life. But one of the daughters asked whether it would be OK if they took a bit more time with the decision to let him go if it provided them with a sense of peace. Without skipping a beat, the dad said, “Oh, of course. Absolutely.” That conversation drove home the importance of adding nuance to the end-of-life discussion, above and beyond what could be provided by living wills or advance directives. You can read more about The Conversation Project and download a conversation starter kit here, but don’t feel bound by it. If there are important end-of-life issues that it doesn’t address, feel free to expand the discussion with your loved ones and/or commit them to writing.

Attitudes Toward Funerals, Burials, Etc.
Many people make plans for any funerals/memorials and the disposition of their bodies well in advance; the right approach to these issues may be predetermined by culture or religion. But for other people, attitudes toward these matters aren’t obvious at all, so it’s useful to spell out your wishes in advance, either verbally, in writing, or both. (My mother initially insisted that my dad would be buried rather than cremated, but even she was convinced that cremation was the right thing after we found three written statements from him about his desire to be cremated.) Maybe your wishes are simply to have your loved ones say goodbye in whatever way gives them the most peace at that time; in that case, tell them that or write that down.

Attitudes Toward Care of Pets
It’s a cliche to say that pets are like family members, but for many people, that’s absolutely the case. The good news is that you can actually lay the groundwork for continuing care for your pet as part of your estate plan. The gold standard, albeit one that entails costs to set up, is a pet trust; through such a trust, you detail which pets are covered, who you’d like to care for them and how, and leave an amount of money to cover the pet’s ongoing care. Alternatively, you can use a will to specify a caretaker for your pet and leave additional assets to that person to care for the pet; the downside of this arrangement is that the person who inherits those assets isn’t legally bound to use the money for the pet’s care. At a minimum, develop at least a verbally communicated plan for caretaking for your pet if you’re unable to do so–either on a short- or long-term basis. This fact sheet provides helpful tips to ensure for your pets’ continuous well-being.

Attitudes about Disposition of Personal Possessions
Are there specific physical assets you’d like to earmark for children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or friends? If so, your estate-planning attorney can help you codify the disposition of those assets in your will so there’s no confusion. Also let your loved ones know if there are physical assets that you’d like to stay within the family (again, your will is the best way to do this). Importantly, you should also let them know what you don’t feel strongly about them selling or otherwise disposing of when you’re gone. Do you want your executor to take pains to divide the assets equally among your heirs so that everyone receives tangible property of similar value? The topic of dividing up tangible property among family members is a complicated one, to put it mildly; the more you say about your wishes in advance, the better off everyone will be in the end.

Complete Article HERE!

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