World’s first animal hospice in remote Scotland where good old dogs go to die

Alexis Fleming, author of new book No Life Too Small, lives with a brood of more than 100 dying animals. She opened the Maggie Fleming Animal Hospice in honour of her dog Maggie

Alexis gives animals peace and happiness in their final days

By Susan Griffin Millie Reeves

In a remote part of Scotland, Alexis Fleming and her motley crew of dogs, sheep, pigs, and birds, are enjoying the good life.

Aside from the expected chaos of a 100-plus animals on site, it’s a place of tranquillity, contentment and happiness, and that’s despite the fact that death looms large in these parts.

Fleming runs the world’s first animal hospice, a place where animals, many of whom have experienced brutality at the hands of previous owners, can live out their last days in peace and in Fleming’s words, ‘have a good death’.

“If we accept life then we have to accept death. It’s one inevitability, and it can actually be a really beautiful thing. It’s going to happen, and we’ve all got it inside of us to make someone’s death a lovely thing. It’s a gift to be able to do that, so that it can be faced with dignity and acceptance,” says Fleming, 40, who opened the Maggie Fleming Animal Hospice in honour of her beloved dog, Maggie.

Alexis with Maggie in 2010
Alexis with Maggie in 2010

In her new book, No Life Too Small, Fleming recalls how the pair first met after she came across an online ad by accident.

The photograph of a brindle bullmastiff ‘small and skinny’, and ‘hauntingly sad’ caught her attention but it was the accompanying wording that sealed their fate.

Bought for breeding, 10 out of 12 of the puppies had died, so ‘it’ was of no use and the girlfriend was beating ‘it’ up – ‘10 months old. £100’, the ad stated.

Fleming wasn’t in a position to care for a dog, but she couldn’t turn her back.

“I had to turn my whole life around but it’s just what I had to do. It was never a debate,” says Fleming, who provided Maggie with a safe and happy home, and likewise Maggie supported her new owner as she battled a chronic illness.

So, it broke Fleming’s heart when Maggie died of lung cancer on a vet’s operating table seven years later.

Digger was also in Alexis' care
Digger was also in Alexis’ care

Although Maggie was ill, it was unexpected and Fleming was beside herself that she wasn’t there at the end, but then the idea of opening a hospice occurred to her.

“It was a ridiculous idea really because I’d been very ill and going through such horrible grief at losing Maggie, but the thought was there, and was always going to niggle until I did something about it.”

The hospice opened in 2016 and Fleming has welcomed a host of old, terminally ill and abandoned characters through its doors over the past few years, including lots of canine pals such as George, Osha, Annie, Bran, B and Digger.

“I’ve never known a dog to wag a tail at me and be lying about it. Dogs are very emotional and pick up on your feelings, so, if you have happy dogs around you, you know you’re hitting the target. It’s a lovely thing because they are dependent on us, and knowing you’re making someone really happy makes me satisfied and happy,” says Fleming.

“It’s a very deep but simple relationship. I’ve got the same relationship with sheep. They very much get into your heart and your soul. I can’t imagine life without any of them.”

Baggins the Great Dane knew when it was time to go
Baggins the Great Dane knew when it was time to go

Baggins, a Great Dane, is one of the most recent residents to have passed away.

Before arriving at the hospice, he’d been left on his own in a garden without shelter, and almost starved to death.

“He was a kleptomaniac, spent his days winding folk up, knocking them over and thieving and thinking he’s the most hilarious guy in the world. He had an absolutely brilliant time here, but one day he looked at me and said I’m done, and I said ‘okay pal’. The vet came and he left really peacefully.

“I’m devastated, I miss him so much and always will but I’m so happy for him because it was a beautiful death, and it’s possible for that to happen,’ says Fleming, who has learnt to accept what she can and can’t control so it doesn’t become overwhelming.

“Some of the animals have been through traumatic situations, but there’s nothing I can do about their past, it’s all about what I can do for them now.”

It’s not just dogs who enjoy Alexis’ care

And although people often presume she wouldn’t want to get too close to her residents to prevent greater heartbreak, the opposite is true.

“You’ve got to know someone really well to know when they’re saying ‘I’m done’ and then face that,” explains Fleming, who makes a deal with every new arrival.

“I say to them, ‘There will come a point where you don’t want to be here anymore, you’re fed up and had enough. Tell me and I promise I’ll listen’, and then we don’t think about it again. That’s the way I find that helps me and them the most. We know that day will come, and I’ve made a promise and I can’t break it but until that point, we just enjoy it. It’s just about enjoying it while they’re here.”

Alexis' new book

Although friends and family stop by to help, Fleming runs the hospice primarily by herself, which often means 20-hour days, but despite the exhaustion, she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“A friend of mine said it doesn’t matter where you go here, there’s a happy face smiling at you and it’s true. It has been a real slog at times, and there have been times when I’ve wanted to chuck it all in and stamped my feet and thrown Hobnobs in the pond but it’s an amazing way to live being surrounded by happy folk. I mean, it’s not perfect, folk die and it’s traumatic and horrific at times but overall, we’re all really content and it’s just a great way to live.”

Complete Article HERE!

Love, loss and pandemic puppies

Stephan Pastis’s tribute to his dog, Edee.

By Bonnie Jean Feldkamp

My daughter got Bella at her dad’s house shortly after the divorce. My ex even called the sweet yellow lab “the divorce dog.” Visits with dad also meant time with Bella, which was great when my daughter was 8 years old, but the teen years brought work, band practice and a social life. Visitation with dad became more sporadic. Then, my ex asked if we would dog sit. Bella was a senior dog by then, and we were all smitten. We asked if we could just keep her. He said yes.

Bella and I bonded in a way I hadn’t anticipated. I worked from home, and she was my constant companion. My daughter grew up and moved to an apartment of her own, but Bella stayed with me.

COVID-19 brought with it a puppy boom as people sought comfort and companionship during quarantine and isolation — but for me, Bella was there. We took walks in the woods and played in the yard with my son. Our circle got smaller as the pandemic began to rage. Schools closed, my husband was furloughed, and then, just as everything shut down, we had to say goodbye to Bella. That stacking of hardships is known as collective — or cumulative — grief, and I wasn’t sure I could take it.

One day in April, I woke up to find that Bella couldn’t even raise her head from her bed. Something was seriously wrong. I debated on rushing her to an emergency veterinarian but knew, due to COVID, I would have to watch her disappear into the building and not return. I knew this was her end. I made her comfortable and placed a video call to my daughter so she could say her goodbyes.

Every time we welcome a pet into our lives, we also welcome the inevitable heartbreak. We know how it ends, and yet we still open our homes and our hearts to four-footed companions.

Bella died at home in her bed while I sang her lullabies.

Anticipatory grief is the price we pay for unconditional love. Pets have seen us at our worst and our most embarrassing. They bear witness to everything in our lives without judgment. “That’s unprecedented emotional intimacy,” says Rachael Nolan Ph.D., MPH, CPH, public health educator and grief recovery specialist. Sure, pets can be moody sometimes (I’m looking at you, George the cat) but for the most part, their behavior is pretty predictable, which also provides us a source of stability. Nolan says stability is “one of the most important things in life for humans, particularly in regards to emotions.”

Isolation and quarantine during the pandemic deepened bonds and strengthened connections to our pets. Then, to have to say goodbye … it’s just devastating.

I began applying to adopt senior dogs. I’d fall in love with an online profile, only to be upset when the dog found a home with someone else. Pet adoptions soared last summer, making the high demand and the long wait heart wrenching. On one particular hot mess of a day, I sobbed over another dog I’d never met. I really missed my Bella. Adopting another dog wouldn’t fill that void. I withdrew my application from the local stray adoption program and gave myself time.

Then, one September day, my friend texted me about a litter of puppies needing homes. “I could pick up two and bring you one,” she wrote.

I said yes. She wasn’t an old Labrador like Bella — she was a mutt puppy who licked my face and chased my son while he squealed with delight. We named her Hamilton. I know I’ll have to say goodbye in a few years, but I’m grateful she’s here now, and I’m here for all the belly rubs she can handle.

Complete Article HERE!

How at-home euthanasia can provide comfort to pets and owners

Ezzy, the author’s blue merle Shetland sheepdog.

By Kathryn Streeter

It was painful to watch our dog, Ezzy, deteriorate during the long confining months of 2020. We had nursed the 9-year-old blue merle Shetland sheepdog through various illnesses during her lifetime, including one that required a trip to the emergency room in the middle of the night. Her joints were giving out, so we had invested in a stroller to allow her to continue to enjoy walks. But now, we could see that just lifting herself to get to her food bowl or crouching to go to the bathroom had grown obviously uncomfortable.

This prompted a hard family conversation about quality of life. It was time, we thought, and made the heart-wrenching decision to euthanize her. But there was one bright side: We were able to do so in a way that was best for Ezzy and for us: in the privacy, comfort and, given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, safety, of our home.

Here are some things to consider about at-home euthanasia, if you are faced with this difficult decision.

Home offers pets a humane, respectful setting

My husband and I had covid-19 work-from-home orders, allowing us to bond even more with Ezzy, and she with us. Being home with us, in her favorite place and with her favorite people, was when she was happiest, making it the compassionate choice for her final moments.
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As Maryland veterinarian Karen Randall puts it, “Where do you want to be when you don’t feel well? You want to be home. And for dogs and cats, home is their sanctuary; it’s their safe place. These are the people they trust. These are the things that smell like them. This is where their happy place is.”

Those were among the reasons Randall, who came to our house in November to put Ezzy peacefully to sleep, founded Solace Veterinary Services a decade ago.

At the time, Randall, a now 30-year veteran in the field, could have opened her third bricks-and-mortar practice. Instead, she felt called to focus solely on at-home euthanasia services after occasionally offering home visits to some longtime clinic patients. “It was really kind of mind-blowing how much easier it was for the patient and also for the family,” she says.

Psychotherapist and thanatologist Andrea Warnick has experienced both clinic and at-home euthanasia when her cats were terminally ill. “I think [at-home euthanasia] is a wonderful option because at this point a pet is pretty sick, and actually transporting them to a vet’s office can be anxiety provoking and uncomfortable,” says Warnick, whose practice in Canada, Andrea Warnick Consulting, focuses on supporting grieving children, youth and adults.

It eases stress for families and provides privacy for grief

Pet loss is often underappreciated as a traumatic life event, says grief therapist, author and speakerClaire Bidwell Smith. Your stress will be eased if you can stay home. “Especially with pets — because they are so dependent on us since we are their caregivers — we feel the added responsibility to take care of them to the end. If it’s this chaotic stressful thing that we fear is causing more pain, then that just causes us more pain,” says Bidwell Smith, who is based in San Francisco.

In a veterinary clinic, we’re likely to self-consciously suppress our grief, something Warnick says can be harmful. “The essence is that, as humans, we are designed to do grief — there’s no pathology. It’s rooted in our love and actually withholding it and not allowing ourselves to express it is far more harmful.” Home provides a haven conducive to facilitating a “healthy grief process.”

Being home also provides an unhurried environment that Randall believes is valuable. Saying goodbye can take time. She won’t rush it, often remaining with clients for a couple of hours. Logically, you can know death has occurred, but the body remains and there’s a connection, she explains: “The head and heart are not the same beings.”

It allows you to prepare and include kids

The home environment can also give children the time and space to process their pet’s death. Warnick suggests that you let your kids decide whether they want to be there, after you explain in detail what will happen. Be straightforward and leave nothing to the imagination, avoiding euphemisms such as “put down,” she said; whitewashing what’s happening will undermine your children’s trust. As Bidwell Smith points out, losing a pet often is a child’s first experience with death, and perhaps their first exposure to the concept of mortality. The importance of honesty cannot be overstated.

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You can tell them that the procedure is generally quick and, barring a pinch when the sedative is given, is pain-free. First, the heavy sedative is administered, which causes the pet to fall into a deep sleep. Then a final injection — a concentrated barbiturate — is delivered directly into the vein, which halts all brain activity. Randall says it’s a peaceful process. Two potentially upsetting effects to warn children about are that the pet’s eyes might stay open, and that sometimes the muscle relaxation leads to urination or defecation.

Parents also can use this opportunity to teach kids that it’s natural to struggle aftersomeone we love is gone, Warnick says. Modeling healthy grieving means crying with your kids and letting them know that when people are sad, it’s not their job to fix it but simply to be supportive. Conversely, she says, “it might be that a child is devastated for five minutes and then is off running to play video games, and that’s completely healthy as well.”

It allows you to incorporate meaning

Randall, who has completed multiple grief education courses, worked with hospice palliative care and hosted several pet-loss support groups, says that euthanizing a pet may be one of the most difficult decisions we face.

Once you decide it’s time, book an appointment several days in advance, because last-minute slots are more difficult to secure. During the lead-up to the appointment, you may experience what Bidwell Smith calls “anticipatory grief.” Randall explains that grief doesn’t begin with a pet’s death, it begins when we know death is drawing near.

But this gives you time to prepare. Randall underscores the importance of “the where,” encouraging families to consider one of the pet’s favorite places in the home as the spot for their last moments.

Conducting a ceremony or ritual can be therapeutic, Warnick says. Poetry readings, candles and a photo display with favorite toys are a few ways Randall has witnessed pets being memorialized. “We really need ritual to move through these kinds of transitions in life,” Bidwell Smith says.

It is especially helpful during the pandemic


During the pandemic, demand for at-home euthanasia has increased, Randall says. Covid-19 restrictions have made clinics “much more forthcoming about referrals for the service that we offer,” she adds. At-home visits follow covid protocols, including requiring masks and practicing social distancing.

It can be expensive

One drawback is that at-home euthanasia costs more. Liz Bales, a Philadelphia veterinarian with more than 20 years of experience, says that though it’s difficult to compare prices, owners should generally expect costs to run 30 to 50 percent higher than in-office euthanasias. Randall charges $350 for the visit, and cremation is an additional cost, ranging from $175-$350 (we paid $650 total).

It is not for everyone

Some owners find this approach too personal and the thought of having their pet die at home distressing. We’re all different, Randall notes. And for those more comfortable with their pet dying at their local veterinary clinic, Randall is reassuring, explaining there’s not a clinic that doesn’t do its best to make the end of life as easy as possible for animals and families. “We don’t want pets to suffer,” she says.

It does not guarantee closure

Our decision to have Ezzy die at home didn’t ease the ache nor necessarily hasten healing. “Closure is a bit of a myth,” says Bidwell Smith, whose parents died when she was a young adult. She doesn’t think we ever “get over” those we lose and that although grief doesn’t last forever, the loss is something we hold.

Randall believes that while it can be helpful when the environment is peaceful and gentle, it doesn’t take any time off the grieving process. “We know that grief is proportional to the relationship you’ve had with a pet,” Randall says.

Still, Randall sees at-home euthanasia as so valuable that she considers her work with Solace Veterinary the most consistently rewarding period of her career. “There are a lot of cases where people don’t have a choice about how their pet dies, but when you do, I think this is such a gift. I really do.”

Complete Article HERE!

How Losing a Pet Can Make You Stronger

The process of acceptance and letting go builds the resilience necessary to navigate an array of life’s obstacles.

By Kerry Hannon

It’s been three months, and I still fight back tears when I’m reminded of the death of my Labrador retriever, Zena. The haunting image of finding her lying on the kitchen floor flashes back: her jaw clenched, eyes open and body lifeless but warm.

She was nearly 13, but there were no signs she was in distress when I left her 20 minutes earlier. Yet she was gone. I felt as if I let her down in some way. I wasn’t there for her.

When Zena was just a few months old, she curled up on the bed with my 88-year-old father, as I held his hand, and he softly exhaled his last breath. My younger brother, Jack, died unexpectedly three years ago. I clung to Zena for comfort.

My first experience with death was losing my turtles, Charlie and Tina, at 6. I’ve since lost friends, relatives, other dogs, cats, horses. Decades later, Zena’s death has sharply reminded me how aching grief is.

Our pets are a part of the everyday fabric of our lives in a way that few human relationships are. When you lose one that is close to you, something inside shifts.

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And yet the death of a family pet can remind us of how vulnerable, precarious and precious life is. It’s that process of acceptance and letting go that builds the resilience necessary to navigate an array of life’s obstacles. We hone an ability to adapt to the evanescence of our lives with grace and hope.

“We’re changed and transformed by the loss,” said Leigh Chethik, a clinical psychologist in Chicago. “It brings impermanence and death into an updated internal, emotional map. This loss can help us with whatever comes next, whatever future losses may be in store. We come to see that we can create a new understanding and attach to new dreams.” Below are some ways in which the loss of a beloved pet can be a catalyst for personal growth.

Embracing Your Loss

“The idea that grief can often be the price of love is helpful in developing resilience,” according to Jessica Harvey, a psychotherapist in Portland, Ore., who specializes in pet grief. “By focusing on the positive elements of having a pet as the cause of why the hurt is so powerful when they are gone, we can begin to heal.”

Pets occupy a unique role in our lives. “They are usually our ‘roommates,’ part of the household, and they are typically a source of pure warmth and positive experience,” Ms. Harvey said. “How we are able to manage the temporary reduction of joy and warmth from the missing roommate can be a significant practice in resilience.”

That loss, of course, can have a startling depth. “For adults in their upper-20s to mid-30s it’s like losing their innocence as a new adult and being catapulted into reality,” said Dani McVety, a veterinarian and a founder of Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice, a national network of veterinarians dedicated solely to end of life care. “Many times, people in this age range got their dog or cat at the very beginning of their adulthood. This pet has witnessed them go through college, boyfriends or girlfriends, marriage, children, career developments, and so on. This pet has been the one constant in their life through their biggest growth years.”

How we handle the death of a pet “shapes how we deal with love and loss, conjoined emotions,” said Kaleel Sakakeeny, a pet loss and bereavement counselor who is based in Boston.

From Grief, Building Confidence

But how does that growth happen? One study, “Post-Traumatic Growth Following the Loss of a Pet,” conducted by Wendy Packman and others, of the Pacific Graduate School of Psychology at Palo Alto University, found that after losing a beloved pet, many of the participants reported an improved ability to relate to others and feel empathy for their problems, an enhanced sense of personal strength, and a greater appreciation of life.

Lynn Harrington, who lives in The Plains, Va., lost her 15-year-old Norwich terrier, Hap, about a year ago. “For many months, I couldn’t shake the sadness,” Ms. Harrington said. “And during these sad times, I finally remembered a lesson I learned many years ago with the loss of my first dog: Animals that come into our lives are gifts to us and can never be replaced. However, another animal can come to us and help us heal our hearts.”

Shortly after that epiphany, a friend told her about a senior dog that needed a home, and a match was made. “There isn’t a day that I don’t think of Hap through a photo, a memory shared, or even some funny mannerism I see of him in my rescue dog,” Ms. Harrington said. “These moments remind me that I’m grateful for the animals in my life — they teach me about love and that I’m resilient even in times of great challenge or sadness.”

Remembrance itself — though photos and memorials — can be healing. “Grief is ongoing,” Ms. Packman said. “Remaining connected to your beloved pet after death can facilitate the bereaved’s ability to cope with loss and the accompanying changes in their lives. Our findings suggest that those who derive comfort from continuing bonds — holding onto possessions and creating memorials for their pet — may be more likely to experience post-traumatic growth.”

Life Lessons for Children …

For children, the loss of a pet can be “a dress rehearsal for losing a human family member,” Dr. Chethik said. “With the death of a pet, kids are often exposed to a new existential crisis or struggle: the idea of impermanence and mortality. Things we love and care for are not around forever. We can and will lose what and who we love. And we can’t go where we may typically go for comfort — to our pet.”

For children, this process can be hard to grasp. The death of a family pet can trigger a sense of grief in children that is deep and lingering and that can possibly lead to subsequent mental health issues, according to a new study by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital.

“The impact can be traumatic,” wrote Katherine Crawford, the lead author of the paper. “We found this experience of pet death is often associated with elevated mental health symptoms in children, and that parents and physicians need to recognize and take those symptoms seriously, not simply brush them off.”

Dr. Chethik added: “A child needs to actively grieve and process the loss,” he said. “The attention, support, honesty, sharing and understanding the child receives during this time of grief will them create an emotional template for the human losses that will inevitably come their way.”

With support from parents and others, the loss of a pet can be a way for children to move forward. “Teaching children how to say goodbye and that the difficult emotions that accompany grief are OK to feel is a powerful lesson,” Ms. Harvey said. “Children learn that this painful experience does start to feel better eventually, and that other difficult situations in the future can as well.”

… And for Adults

I’ve reminded myself these past months not to rush the process. Grief slides from the heart in its own time. I’m still talking to Zena and reflexively looking for her when I wake up in the morning. Yet, I know that soon my husband and I will be ready for a next chapter with a new companion.

This is the second dog we’ve lost during our marriage. We’ve grappled with the sadness each time, but we both know from experience that the love and laughter a pet brings into our lives are worth it.

As Ms. Harrington said, “Just knowing I can move through that kind of pain and get to the other side really does translate into that lesson that even when things in other parts of my life seem dark, I just need to keep moving through it and the unexpected can happen, bringing joy or opportunity.”

Complete Article HERE!

Coping with a pet’s accidental death

— especially when you blame yourself

The author is mourning the loss of Suzy, an Australian cattle dog puppy.

By Gavin Jenkins

I parked my car in my girlfriend’s driveway. We were returning from the park that Sunday in November, and Bob, my 3-year-old border collie mix, bounced around the back seat, trying to avoid Suzy, our rambunctious 5-month-old Australian cattle dog, who had a habit of biting his neck and legs.

My girlfriend exited the car first and, as I got out, she opened a back door. Bob jumped out and raced toward the backyard. Suzy, a blue heeler who had big, pointed ears, a stumped tail and a white face, normally followed Bob. If she didn’t chase him, she was easy to grab, thanks to a seven-foot-long leash.

But we didn’t have the leash that morning. Earlier, when we were in the kitchen getting ready to leave, my girlfriend said the leash was on the third floor. Sensing an imminent departure, the dogs sprinted around us, barking and crashing into furniture. Frustrated, I picked up Suzy and said, “I’ll just carry her. Let’s go.”

I remembered to keep Suzy in my arms getting in and out of the car at the off-leash park, but when we returned to my girlfriend’s house in Pittsburgh’s East End, it had slipped my mind. Without a leash, Suzy zipped past us. But instead of following Bob, she ran into the street.

What happened next — the blur of a black SUV and Suzy’s cry as she died — is seared into our memories.

Grieving the loss of a pet is often as painful as mourning a close friend or relative. But being responsible for and witnessing your pet’s death can add guilt, trauma and shame to the heartbreak. And as we discovered after Suzy died, this emotional toll impedes the grieving process.

The pet industry has begun to help people mourn. Veterinary social work is a growing profession, and pet bereavement groups have become common. Cheri Barton Ross, an adjunct psychology professor at Santa Rosa Junior College, is a pioneer in the field. After a few one-on-one sessions with pet owners through her husband’s veterinary office in California, she started hosting pet loss support groups in 1986 because she realized groups work better because they allow people to see they aren’t alone.

“People often felt embarrassed and isolated in their grief for a pet,” she said. “However deep those bonds go for whatever it is that you loved, that’s how deeply you’re often going to grieve.” She also said people can develop post-traumatic stress disorder from witnessing their pet accidentally die. “With couples or families, you either pull apart or pull together in this crisis,” said Ross, co-author of “Pet Loss and Human Emotion.” “You might blame each other or blame yourself and not be able to navigate different stages of grief.”

My girlfriend and I each blamed ourselves for the death of our first shared pet. We had gotten Suzy because we had time, while working from home during the pandemic, to raise a puppy together. Talking through what happened helped ease the grief and brought us closer. However, she initiated the conversations, and I only participated reluctantly. After eight years of therapy, I know articulating emotions is important, but part of me falsely believed that not talking about the accident would take my mind off the image of Suzy’s lifeless body and make the pain go away faster.

My upbringing enhanced my reluctance. When I was a boy in suburban Pittsburgh, my dad competed in dogsled races, and our family had a kennel of huskies along the driveway of our six-car garage. A few of our pets died tragically, most notably our wolf, but we never talked about it. The family motto was, “It’s over; move on.” So, whenever my girlfriend brought up Suzy, I had to check my impulse to regurgitate my dad’s response. And then I’d tell the truth: “I replay her getting run over in my head every day.”

Walking past the accident site often triggered a flashback. Ross said this is so common that she’s had clients who moved to escape the bad memories. People also avoid certain roads. Kevin Nicholson, a 41-year-old cybersecurity information engineer I met in a pet loss group page on Facebook, told me over the phone that he hasn’t turned left out of his Long Island street since early March, because that’s where Lulu, his family’s 1-year-old cavapoo, slid out of her harness during a walk, ran into traffic and died.

Paweenudh Suanpan stopped driving on a section of Route 108 in Maryland after a teenage driver crashed into her car there in 2017. Piper, Suanpan’s chocolate Labrador retriever who was in the back seat, was thrown so forcefully that she was paralyzed and had to be euthanized. “I need to return there and close the loop,” said Suanpan, 34, “but I just haven’t yet.”

Suanpan, a special-education teacher who has become an advocate for dog safety belts, said she still blames herself for not securing Piper, just as my girlfriend still beats herself up for opening the car door and I can’t forgive myself for not running upstairs to get that leash.

“Every single person blames themselves,” said Dani McVety, a veterinarian who co-founded Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice, an in-home end-of-life care provider that also hosts pet loss support meetings online. “Whether you had an accident or come home to find that your 15-year-old dog passed away naturally, there’s always guilt.” Owners might blame themselves for not realizing sooner that their pet was sick, she added, or for knowing they were sick but waiting too long to euthanize.

Deciding when to euthanize is fraught. Kristeen McPherson, an accountant I also met through a pet loss group page on Facebook, and her husband euthanized Carly, their 12-year-old golden retriever, after surgery and chemotherapy couldn’t keep the dog’s cancer at bay. McPherson, a 60-year-old Harrisburg, Pa., resident, said she feels guilty despite the medical interventions, because, “If it were me, I hope they wouldn’t put me down and just keep trying and trying.”

McPherson said their dog was more of a family member than a pet. Describing a pet like this has become the norm, and it’s a fundamental shift from how they were treated a generation ago. The pet industry, which rakes in more than $100 billion each year, has dubbed it the humanization of pets.

Debbie Stoewen, a veterinarian who became a social worker in 2005 to help pet owners grieve, said the evolution of the human-animal bond can also be seen in how many pets today sleep in their owner’s beds and are referred to as furbabies. “The emotionality of pet owners, who we now call pet parents, is so deep and complex,” said Stoewen, who lives in Ontario, Canada. “This heightened bond amplifies the grief.”

Suzy playing with her companion, Bob, a border collie mix. She liked to herd and nip at him.

My girlfriend and I grieved differently. She told her close friends and family privately, and the more she talked, the better she felt. My shame ran so deep that I wanted to get another Australian cattle dog with a stumped tail, name her Suzy and never tell anyone. As a childless 40-year-old, part of my identity was tied to being a dog owner, and I was terrified people would think I wasn’t a good one.

After talking to my therapist, I finally opened up to people. But the shame didn’t recede until I joined a private Facebook group dedicated to grieving for dead dogs and realized how many other people had lost pets to car accidents.

Lindsey A. Wolko, founder of the Center for Pet Safety, wrote in an email that there are no official statistics tracking how many dogs are killed by cars each year. But it happens so frequently that emergency veterinarians have a term for it — HBC (hit by car). McVety, who worked in an emergency veterinarian hospital in Florida at the start of her career in the mid-2000s, said that she sometimes saw five HBCs a night. The term also applies to cats; McVety said that they, like dogs, are often accidentally run over by their owners in the driveway.

Stoewen, the veterinarian/social worker who is the director of veterinary services for Pet Plus Us, a pet health insurance company in Canada, said she can relate to what I’ve gone through. One morning 20 years ago, one of her dogs escaped her yard and was run over. The experience helped her become a better veterinarian and dog owner, she said. “The way you lost that pet is part of you, like an imprint. With your next dog, you’re going to be that much more careful and intentional.”

There is no right or wrong time to adopt a new dog, according to Ross, the psychology professor. She said her only advice is to make sure the new dog is not a replacement for the one that died: “No matter what, you’re going to grieve that loss.”

My girlfriend and I learned this lesson, too. A few days after Suzy died, we got another Australian cattle dog because a breeder had an available puppy, and we wanted an immediate shot at redemption. It wasn’t easy. Until we worked through our trauma, playing with the new puppy, who we named Isabelle, made us feel even guiltier about Suzy, and we experienced anxiety while walking her on a busy street or getting her out of the car.

Bob, my border collie mix, probably wishes we had waited longer. Like Suzy, Isabelle is a natural herder and constant nipper.

Complete Article HERE!

9 Tips for Grieving the Loss of a Pet During the Pandemic

By Erin Bunch

Two weeks ago, my cat unexpectedly passed away. Over the years, she’d become a real-deal dear friend, and in the midst of being isolated during the pandemic, my connection to her only grew stronger. Perhaps that’s part of why I’ve taken it harder than I ever imagined I would; grieving the loss of a pet under these circumstances feels not dissimilar to how I’ve felt after losing humans in the past. But despite commonalities in emotional experience, there are no rituals in place for how to proceed when it’s a pet you’re grieving, and that’s left me feeling lost.

According to Jillian Blueford, PhD, a Denver-based therapist who specializes in grief, what I’m feeling is extremely common. For starters, she assures me that it’s natural to feel pain when a pet dies. “Grief comes down to the loss of someone or something that was significant to us, where there was some attachment to it, and so it makes a lot of sense that the death of a pet can invoke a similar grief response [to the death of a person],” she says. “A lot of us consider our pets part of our family, so it can be impactful when they pass.”

And since pets tend to provide their owners with unconditional comfort and emotional support, their passing can leave a significant hole in our lives. Add this factor to the reality that many are spending more time at home with their pets than ever before due to COVID-19 safety measures, and the exacerbated sense of loss for those whose pets have died during the pandemic is much clearer.

While the only way out of grief may indeed be through it, Dr. Blueford has several suggestions to offer those grieving the loss of a pet during the pandemic who may feel even more alone and isolated as a result.

Below, a grief specialist offers 9 ideas for grieving the loss of a pet during the pandemic.

1. Create a ritual

While there are no standard rituals in place to mark the passing of a pet, burials are still common, says Dr. Blueford. And even if your pet’s body isn’t actually interred in your backyard, you can still hold a funeral ceremony or wake for them wherever makes sense for you.

2. Collect mementos

Some may find it therapeutic to collecting photos, toys, or other things that remind them of the good times they experienced with their pet. For example, I bought an iPhone Polaroid printer so I could print photos of my cat, which are now taped to my computer and fridge (the two places I gaze upon the most, LOL).

3. Get rid of reminders if they trigger sadness

On the flip side, Dr. Blueford notes that some people may find donating their pet’s things to be more healing because doing so gets those items out of sight (and potentially aids in the happiness of another pet). “There’s no timeline for getting rid of that stuff,” she adds. “It’s just about doing what feels right for you.”

4. Sharing stories

Dr. Blueford recommends sharing pictures and stories with others, just as you would do if you were grieving the death of a beloved person. If this makes you feel weird—as it does me—she says to consider why and work to get through those feelings. “Oftentimes we feel like we would be a burden on people for sharing our grief and memories of our pet, but oftentimes people do want to listen,” she says. “It’s just about finding the right person to share with, especially when an anniversary or special date comes up where you know your grief will be more challenging. You can say, ‘I know I’ve already talked to you about my pet, but they’re really on my mind today’.”

You can, of course, share on social media, too. “If you’re active and comfortable, that can be the audience you’re sharing to,” Dr. Blueford says.

5. Write to your pet

You can also journal letters to your pet, Dr. Blueford suggests. “It may feel odd, but we communicate with our pets all the time, and they communicate with us,” she says. “So just like we might do with someone who has died, we can write to our pets to tell them how much we miss them, and about the things that are going on that they’d normally be a part of.”

6. Consider adopting a pet

Dr. Blueford says her clients often struggle with the choice of whether or not to get a new pet—and if so, when. But, she assures, there’s no right or wrong way to go about this. “If you do decide you don’t want a pet ever again, that’s okay,” she says. “And if you decide you’re missing that companionship and would like another pet, that’s okay, too.”

If you choose the latter, she does make clear that the new pet won’t erase the grief you feel for the pet you’ve lost. “We don’t like to be in that pain, so it’s easy after the death of a pet to say, ‘I’ll go get another pet and this will help me avoid the loneliness and grief I’m feeling right now’,” she says. “But that’s not always the case. Even if you do decide to get another pet, the grief will be there, so sometimes it’s best for you to experience a little bit of time before deciding if you want to bring another pet into the home.”

7. Feel your grief

“I will always promote feeling the grief and whatever ugliness and joy comes out of it,” Dr. Blueford says. “As much as we try to push down any type of grief, it will eventually resurface to the point where we can’t avoid it.”

So in addition to memorializing and honoring your pet, try not to fix your feelings. “Honor the grieving and whatever feelings or thoughts come up—pain, anger, confusion, guilt, or even reminiscing on more joyous memories and laughing,” she says. “And hopefully the next time [the grief surfaces] will be more manageable.”

It’s important to note, she says, that like with all forms of grief, grieving the loss of a pet can be an unpredictable process, especially in the beginning. “That early, more acute grief can feel exhausting and like a roller coaster—maybe one minute you’re okay and the next minute you’re not, and you can’t predict when grief is going to hit you,” she says. This unpredictability is the part we dislike most, Dr. Blueford says, which is why many might try to suppress it. Doing so only likely postpones grief, however, so you may as well let yourself feel it when it first arises.

8. Look for support groups

Support groups for those who are grieving may be particularly helpful because they allow you to connect with others in similar situations. There are hotlines dedicated to pet grief, too.

9. Allow yourself to feel joy

When I tell Dr. Blueford that I’m experiencing guilt related to my pet loss amid moments when I feel joy, she assures me this is also a common feature of grief. “We have to give ourselves permission to have good days and know that that doesn’t mean we’ll forget our pet or the loss,” she says. “Grief is a unique aspect of our life because it doesn’t go away fully, and we have to learn how to integrate it into the new normal, knowing that means both good and bad days.”

Complete Article HERE!

Funeral for Fido

— as pet ownership levels rise, so does the end-of-life care business


When Helen Williams’ father died suddenly, her partner left and her first dog died, a Maltese shih tzu puppy called Hudson was exactly the balm required.

“I needed something to love again and Hudson was it,” she says.

When, at 14 years old, Hudson’s declining health meant he had to be euthanised, it was among the most painful experiences of Williams’ life. “It was harder than my divorce,” says Williams, who worked as a personal assistant for 47 years before her retirement.

Williams had buried her previous dog in the back yard of her mother’s place in Melbourne. But that would not work for Hudson, who died three years ago. “I knew that I was going to be moving house shortly after his death … I thought, ‘I don’t want to leave Hudson there’,” she says.

The vet who euthanised the small dog arranged to have him cremated for about $400.

A few days later, Williams received a polished wooden box, containing Hudson’s ashes in a velvet pouch, along with a card and a poem. She brought them with her when she moved to the Brisbane bayside suburb of Redcliffe one year ago.

Williams isn’t alone – either in her grief or her desire to memorialise her pet.

Australians have one of the highest rates of pet ownership (61%) in the world and spend a collective $13bn annually on pet-related products and services, according to Animal Medicines Australia’s 2019 Pets in Australia report.

The social isolation imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic has made companion animals more important than ever, says the University of South Australia’s Dr Janette Young.

Young led a study published in December 2020 in the Journal of Behavioural Economics for Policy, which found more than 90% of the pet owners interviewed identified cuddles, pats and other forms of cross-species touch as integral to their wellbeing during lockdown.

“These relationships [with pets] may be one of our greatest health-promoting resources at this time,” she says.

Our connections with companion animals, and our willingness to spend on them, even after their deaths, is fuelling the booming pet end-of-life business.

Tom Jorgensen, director of Queensland’s only independent pet crematorium, Pet Angel Funerals, says he cremates approximately 9,600 pets a year.

These range from cats, dogs and guinea pigs through to alpacas, water dragons and koi fish.

Packages range in price from $220 to $379 and include the pet’s collection from home or vet clinic, an individual cremation and return of ashes, a lock of fur and paw print if requested, certificate of cremation, engraved plaque and crystal guardian angel memento.

Other memorial products, including urns, lockets for ashes and memory bears, are also available.

The industry is growing at 9% per annum, according to human funeral provider InvoCare. In November 2020 InvoCare spent $49.8m on two pet cremation businesses – Western Australia-based Family Pet Care and Queensland-based Pets in Peace.

In an ASX announcement, InvoCare said the acquisitions represented a strategic expansion of the group’s existing pet cremation business in NSW, Patch and Purr.

Dr Rachel Allavena, a senior pathologist in the University of Queensland’s School of Veterinary Science, says that there are sound reasons to cremate, rather than bury, an animal.

If an animal has been “put to sleep” with powerful anaesthetic drugs, a back yard burial comes with a hidden risk: the poisoning – sometimes fatal – of wildlife or other pets who dig up and eat the remains.

Allavena refers to one case, from a vet in Darwin, who reported a poisoning eight years after an animal was buried: “It shows how long these things stick around.”

The pet funeral industry is unregulated and owners should choose a service carefully, as some have been fined for dumping bodies.

She urged pet owners living close to veterinary schools to consider donating their pets’ bodies to science or education as an alternative.

Pet owners should also choose a cremation service carefully, as the industry remains unregulated.

In 2011, a British woman who ran a pet crematorium was jailed for ditching animals’ remains in a field. Closer to home, Bendigo-based business Pets at Peace was fined $5671 in 2008 by the Environment Protection Authority for dumping 19 pets’ bodies in bushland.

Jorgensen says he would welcome regulation of the industry. Twenty years ago, long before he established Pet Angel Funerals in 2015, Jorgensen paid to have his beloved border collie Sophie cremated, but he “never saw the ashes”. In order to offer a transparent service, Jorgensen has unique numbers imprinted on stainless steel discs, which follow each animal all the way through the cremation process.

For Williams, who has chosen to work as a pet sitter rather than love and lose again, the money she spent on Hudson’s cremation was well worth it. “I’m so glad I did this, as this way, he is always with me,” she says.

Complete Article HERE!