Emotionally preparing for the death of a pet

The reality of having a pet is that we will outlive most of them.

By Kellie Scott

The grief when an animal dies can feel like losing a friend or family member to many of us, explains Annie Cantwell-Bartl, a psychologist specialising in grief.

“For some people it can be absolutely profound.”

Veterinarian Anne Fawcett, who has a special interest in end-of-life decision-making, says often the anticipatory grief can be worse than the experience of when the animal dies.

When you have some warning that your pet is nearing the end of their life — for example, when your pet is old or terminally ill — there are some things you can do to emotionally prepare for their death that can make the pain more manageable.

Our love for pets and disenfranchised grief

My mum Joanne Scott is a big animal lover and has given a home to many rescues over the years.

She’s had to say goodbye to dozens of pets including horses, dogs, cats, cows, guinea pigs and chickens — most of which were my family too.

A loss that stands out the most for her is horse Razie, who she had for 22 years.

“I was just so close to him. He was like my right arm.

“He understood me, I understood him. I just loved him dearly and he was a pony that was very loving.”

She had to judge the right time to euthanase Razie when his cancer was causing him too much pain.

“You feel like you’ve lost a friend.”

Dr Cantwell-Bartl says often the grief is not recognised as valid by the person themselves or others around them which can make it harder to work through. This is known as disenfranchised grief.

“There’s not those same social supports and rituals like when a person dies.

“People can feel embarrassed and guilty that they are so distraught.”

Dr Fawcett says she’s lucky to be surrounded by people who “get” the human-animal bond.

“As a companion animal veterinarian, I see people who are very bonded to their animals.

“There are often mutual tales of rescue — a stray cat who kept a person going when their spouse died of cancer; a dog that someone rescued from a pound who gave them a reason to get out of bed during a period of mental illness.”

She says while there is still room to improve, society is getting better at understanding pet grief. For example, she has clients whose bosses have granted them bereavement leave.

Ways to emotionally prepare for their death

Spend time together

Making the most of the time you have left with your pet can start the grieving process in a way you have control over, says Dr Cantwell-Bartl.

“You can spend time with them, stroke them, delight with them, and feel the sadness.”

Find a vet you are comfortable with and talk to them

Finding a vet you feel is understanding and supportive is important. There are vets who specialise in palliative care and can offer options like euthanasing at home.

Dr Fawcett says to talk openly about your concerns and the pet’s quality of life.

If you are considering euthanasia, make plans with them.

“Where will it happen? Who would you like to be present? What are the options regarding the animal’s remains; for example, burial, private cremation? If cremated, what sort of vessel do you want to keep the remains in? What are the costs you need to expect?” are some questions to consider, Dr Fawcett says.

If you do proceed with euthanasia, know it is normal to question if you did the right thing.

“That doesn’t mean it was the wrong thing,” Dr Fawcett says.

Joanne says she still struggles with some of her decisions.

“One horse I put down still haunts me. Even though everyone says you did the right thing, I still think sometimes, ‘Did I do all I possibly could?'”

Talk to people who understand

Seek out people who get what you are going through, Dr Cantwell-Bartl says.

“Find those people who can put their arms around you and walk by your side.

If you are struggling to find the support you need, consider professional counselling.

Make them comfortable and do your best

Joanne says knowing you’re doing your best by your pet can help you can have some closure.

“Making them as comfortable as possible in the time they have left shows that you love them.

“Then you know you’ve done all you could.”

Dr Fawcett agrees and says doing our best by our animals includes not prolonging suffering.

“That can mean letting them go when it is in their interests.”

Know that it’s OK to grieve

Dr Cantwell-Bartl says feeling like you should “just get on with things” can shut down your grief.

Give yourself permission to feel the hard emotions and go through the processes of grieving.

Words of comfort

Knowing she has given an animal the best life possible is what helps Joanne prepare to say goodbye.

“That is a wonderful thing because there are too many animals that don’t have a good life.

“I always look back and think about some of the kittens we only had for nine months, and a fantastic nine months is better than a shitty five years.”

Dr Fawcett says it’s important to be kind to yourself, no matter how you are feeling.

“For people who experience profound anticipatory grief, the death of an animal can be a relief.

“These owners can feel guilty for not grieving as much as they feel they should. I think the key is to be kind to yourself.”

She says the grief of losing her own animals has left a pain in her chest, but she has some peace knowing she gave them a good life.

“As one of my clients said to me, grief is the tax you pay for love — but it’s a tax worth paying.”

Complete Article HERE!

Do Animals Truly Grieve When Other Animals Die?

By Denyse O’Leary
Anthropologist Barbara J. King, author of How Animals Grieve (2014), has written a thought-provoking essay on the difficulties that COVID-19 has created for people coping with the death of a loved one because they are not allowed conventional grieving methods. Although it is titled “Animal Grief Shows We Aren’t Meant to Die Alone,” King’s essay turns out to be appropriately skeptical of ambitious claims about animal grief. She writes,

There is a popular perception that some animals, particularly elephants and crows, participate in their own kinds of funerals. But there’s little solid evidence—at least, so far—for this kind of community ritual. Elephants may occasionally cover a dead companion’s body with leaves or branches, but the meaning and intent of this action remains unclear. A 2012 paper includes the words “scrub-jay funerals” in the title, but the “funerals” were actually noisy gatherings of birds around scrub-jay skins and feathers laid out by researchers in an experiment. The birds’ response to what they saw indicates acute social assessment of their surroundings, to be sure, but it’s a stretch to consider that behavior a death ritual.

Barbara J. King, “Animal Grief Shows We Aren’t Meant to Die Alone” at Sapiens (April 22, 2020)

That said, she cites a number of instances of animals showing apparent grief at the death of a companion:

At the Farm Sanctuary in New York state, after years of close companionship, a duck named Harper withdrew socially and refused to form new bonds after the death of his duck friend Kohl in 2010.

Barbara J. King, “Animal Grief Shows We Aren’t Meant to Die Alone” at Sapiens (April 22, 2020)

But wait; it’s hard for a human to be sure what’s happening here. Harper may simply have lost the ability to form close bonds with other ducks, irrespective of what, if anything, he understands about Kohl’s absence. Again, while much is made of primates grieving over dead companions,

Monkeys and apes don’t act exactly as humans do around dead bodies. Mixed in with compassionate caretaking may be aggressive or even sexual behaviors: They might strike or mount a corpse. Yet human grief, too, can manifest in unusual ways. At a solemn memorial service, a mourner may suddenly laugh in involuntary response to tension.

Barbara J. King, “Animal Grief Shows We Aren’t Meant to Die Alone” at Sapiens (April 22, 2020)

Well, we are beginning to get a clue now. A human being may behave oddly at a funeral but that is because of an awareness of what death means. The monkey is troubled by death but does the monkey understand what death is? Anthropologists like King resist making that distinction:

For much of the 20th century, it was common practice for ethologists to resist acknowledging the profound emotions expressed by these animals. Anthropologists and zoologists who broke with tradition to describe animal grief—and other emotions as well, including joy—found themselves accused of anthropomorphism, the projecting of human capacities onto other species. The tide began to turn, however, as ever-more research in the field and in captivity showed unmistakable evidence of animals feeling deeply what happens to them. More than ever before, researchers now recognize that grief and love don’t belong only to us humans.

Barbara J. King, “Animal Grief Shows We Aren’t Meant to Die Alone” at Sapiens (April 22, 2020)

No, love and grief don’t belong only to us humans. But there is something that does. Consider the story of Hachikō, the Akita dog (right, in 1934) whose human friend, a professor named Hidesaburō Ueno, died of a cerebral hemorrhage while on a train trip in Japan in 1925 and never returned to the station from which Hachikō had seen him go:

Hachiko moved in with a former gardener of the Ueno family. But throughout the rest of his ten-year-long life, he kept going to the Shibuya Train Station every morning and afternoon precisely when the train was due to enter the station. He sat there for hours, patiently waiting in vain for the return of his beloved owner which sadly never came back.

Maria Wulff Hauglann, “The Amazing And True Story Of Hachiko The Dog” at Nerd Nomads

Hachikō has inspired much devotion ever since, along with several films and monuments.

The touching part of the story is not simply Hachikō’s devotion but the fact that the dog could not know that his beloved Hidesaburō had died.

Death, after all, is an abstraction. We can be told that someone has died and, without seeing the person’s body, we know what that means. We also know that all human beings (and all animals) will die sometime. But that is an abstraction too. For humans, mourning is a philosophical as well as an emotional affair. As a result, death raises questions about the meaning of life which Harper, the monkeys, and Hachiko could never ask.

It is these thoughts and questions, not only grief, that have always underlain funerals:

What’s undeniable is that our early Homo sapiens ancestors began to create increasingly elaborate burial rituals. At around 24,000 years ago in what is today Sunghir, Russia, for example, a boy of about 12 years of Animals ranging from elephants to cows, ducks to dogs, may grieve.age and a girl of about 9 were buried together. The research paper describing the remains says they were “head to head, covered by red ocher, and ornamented with extraordinarily rich grave goods.”

Barbara J. King, “Animal Grief Shows We Aren’t Meant to Die Alone” at Sapiens (April 22, 2020)

But then those human beings knew what it meant in the abstract to say that the children had died. The grave goods they provided suggest that the mourners thought the children might need something somewhere. But they surely understand that somewhere to be another dimension of reality. That’s part of what the animal doesn’t have.

So do animals grieve? Yes indeed. Do they grieve the same way humans do? No, because, for better or worse, they can’t. There is no turning back from the gift of reason.

Complete Article HERE!

4 Lessons You’ll Learn If You’re Grieving The Loss Of A Pet

The pain is unimaginable.

By Catie Kovelman

I recently lost my childhood horse, Amanda. To say that I feel devastated would be an understatement.

I’ve spent more than a decade loving and learning from this horse, and it seems impossible to imagine life without her. But no matter how much I miss Amanda, I can’t stop life from moving forward, and I can’t bring her back.

I can still learn from her, though, so here are four things that losing Amanda taught me about grieving a pet.

1. There’s no right or wrong way to grieve your pet.

First and foremost, please remember that there is no correct way to mourn your pet. Grief affects everyone differently, so we all react differently to losing our favorite animals.

Mourning also doesn’t come with a time limit. I’ve known friends who seemed to be fine the day after they lost their pets, but I still feel sad about losing my horse weeks later.

No matter how long I feel down, my feelings are valid. If you’re mourning a pet, there’s no shame in taking as much time as you need to heal.

2. Don’t feel ashamed that you’re grieving an animal.

Since Amanda passed away, I’ve felt a bit awkward telling people that I’m grieving a horse, not a person.

Sometimes, I feel like people judge my inability to stop crying over an animal, even though studies show that we feel the loss of our animals more intensely than we feel the loss of human friends or family.

However, Amanda was so much more than a horse to me; she was a friend. My grief is valid, so I shouldn’t feel embarrassed. And if you’re grieving a pet, yours is, too.

3. Find creative ways to remember your pet.

Right now, I take comfort in finding ways to memorialize Amanda and keep her memory close.

For example, I wear a locket with her photo in it, so that she’s always with me. I’ve even donated to multiple charities in Amanda’s name to honor her and spread positivity in the wake of her death.

If you’re grieving a pet, you can also create a photo memorial in your home or use an old feeding bowl as a planter to cultivate new life.

4. Talking through your grief can help you heal.

Amanda was an extremely special horse with an amazing story, and I love to tell the world about her. I genuinely want people to know how incredible she was, and I feel like it’s my responsibility to keep her legacy alive.

I often fear that people will forget about her, but I refuse to let that happen. Some people are hesitant to talk about Amanda with me, because they don’t want to upset me, but I love reminiscing on positive memories of my horse.

Since her death, I’ve laughed as I share happy Amanda stories and reminisce on her quirks. It’s also felt therapeutic to talk through the immense pain I’ve felt since losing my horse, because I can’t bottle up my emotions for long.

Although losing a pet is the hardest part of owning one, I take solace in knowing that my horse lived a truly incredible life and I’m grateful to have gotten the chance to love her.

If you’re grieving the loss of a pet, remember that no one can tell you the “right” way to grieve. It’s your journey, so mourn your pet in whatever ways feel right for you.

Complete Article HERE!

Grieving the Death of a Pet

Emotions are very real as pet owners come to terms with a difficult loss

By Chris Haws

At the pet loss support groups I conduct at the VCA Southpaws Veterinary Center in Fairfax, Va., I often hear from attendees that they encounter sentiments like this as they grieve a beloved animal companion: “He was only a dog, it’s not as if a real person died.” “You knew the day would come, cats don’t live forever.” “You can always get another pet — move on.”

Generally, such insensitive and unhelpful statements are made by people who have not known the unique, enriching and profound nature of the relationship we have with our pets.

They just don’t get it,” said Jennifer, the grieving owner of a Miniature Schnauzer.

And that’s their misfortune,” added Alice, her neighbor at the table and a former cat owner.

The Burden of Disenfranchised Grief

They were both right, and in more ways than you might at first imagine.

Numerous studies have shown that people enjoy a wide range of positive emotional benefits from their pets; the Comfort from Companion Animals Scale (CCAS) lists over a dozen, including companionship, pleasure, play, laughter, constancy, something to love, comfort, feeling loved, responsibility, feeling needed, trust, safety and exercise. Pet owners also tend to live longer than non-pet owners and report fewer visits to physicians, psychiatrists and therapists.

So why the disconnect when a person is grieving over the loss of a pet? Part of the answer lies in the fact that society at large doesn’t always cope very well with certain types of grief.  People aren’t sure what to say or how to behave. Death is never a comfortable topic, but when that death involves “socially delicate” circumstances such as suicide, drug overdose or any other loss that cannot be easily acknowledged, or publicly mourned, it can provoke what is described as “disenfranchised grief”.

And that’s what can occur when someone loses a pet.

Lizzy, the owner of Petra (a recently euthanized 13-year-old Boxer/Bloodhound mix), is a busy wife and mother who works full-time. Of her family, and her grief, she remarked: “They don’t want me to cry in front of them, and no one will talk about my pain.”

It’s a sentiment that is frequently expressed: “I can’t stop crying. My husband gets angry with me. I know he’s sad too, but he just won’t show it,” noted Alice, grieving the loss of the couple’s treasured cat.

And, of course, the additional, unwelcome experience of disenfranchisement only makes an already sad situation worse, as Jennifer observed: Everybody has moved on like it was just yesterday’s news. I’m not expecting everybody to feel as I do, but to be so utterly deserted has been tough. I was literally told that I would just have to get over it. Just take twelve and a half years and move on … sure, I’ll get right on that.”

A Painful Loss After a Pet Is Gone

The point is that pet loss generates a degree of grief that can be every bit as acute as human loss. Some go even further. “These have been the worst days of my life. For me, this is worse than losing people,” wrote Karen, a grieving Pomeranian owner.

She is not alone. Many of the attendees at my pet loss support group sessions have expressed the same view. Grief from pet loss hurts. A lot.

Grief from pet loss is also an equal opportunity emotion. Our session attendees have included high ranking military officers, diplomats, corporate executives and professional artists. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. There are a lot of us pet owners around.

Sixty-seven percent of all U.S. households, or about 85 million families, own a pet. Some 73 % of those families own one or more dogs (89.7 million) and 49% own one or more cats (94.2 million).

And the sad — and significant — fact is that no pet lives forever. The mean age of death for dogs of all breeds is just over 11 years; curiously, the larger breeds die much younger than the small breeds, and scientists aren’t quite sure why. For house cats, the mean age at death is just over 15 years.

Pet ownership is almost certain to lead to loss, at some point in time. Most of us understand that reality, although we don’t like to dwell too much on it.

The relatively short lifespan of a pet also brings its own unique challenge. The relationship that we have with our animal companions is beyond special — a two-way dependency that is based on an unspoken agreement that we will care for each other with no questions asked. But at the end of a pet’s life, that understanding can be tested in a way that has yet to present itself in the realm of human mortality: euthanasia.

A large animal hospital such as VCA South Paws “puts down” over 20 animals a week, but only after extensive veterinary medical review and never without the full agreement and participation of the owner. Nevertheless, many of the attendees at the pet loss support sessions are still wracked with guilt about the decision they made to end their companion’s life. Might he have recovered? What else could have been done for her? Had they been too hasty?

If it’s any consolation, in every case I’ve encountered, not only had the time truly come to end the animal’s pain or suffering, but in many cases the creature seemed ready and willing to stop battling on as well.

“He was ready to go,” observed Sue, the owner of a Chocolate Labrador. She was suffering and I needed to help my best friend,” remembers Lizzy, the Boxer/Bloodhound owner.There was nothing more anyone could do agreed John, the heartbroken owner of a fourteen-year-old Yorkie.

Grieving in a Safe Space

That unfamiliar blend of resignation, relief and heartache is a difficult one to process and it takes a while for people to reconcile all those internal conflicts. That’s where grief support groups can play an important role. It really helps someone who is bursting with questions and doubts, on top of their inevitable grief, to hear others express similar feelings and emotions.

As one newcomer to the group remarked:I was astonished to hear her talk about the same feelings I have and the same behaviors I’m doing. Someone I’ve never met, not in my age group, probably with a completely different life than mine, doing the same things and feeling the exact same way as myself.”

Another fellow griever agreed: I was surprised that my reaction is normal. It’s nice to speak to others that recognize those dark moments.”

As you might imagine, there is a lot of sympathetic nodding and wry smiles of recognition at these meetings. We also go through a lot of tissues. And that’s perfectly OK, too.

Like any grief counseling session, the participants are encouraged to talk openly about their feelings and express whatever emotion overwhelms them. Pet loss support groups are resolutely safe places … places where nobody is allowed to feel disenfranchised.

And there’s also a lot of laughter, as we hear about how Stan the cat defended his place on the family couch or how Petra the dog had a habit of herding the young children towards the meal table at supper time. These are precious memories, shared with people who understand.

Complete Article HERE!

How to help a dog who is grieving the loss of a loved one

We ask the experts for their advice

By

For dogs, the loss of a human or another pet can have a traumatic impact on their lives. Much like humans, dogs grieve the absence of someone they love so it’s important we know how to help them.

Dogs experiencing a loss can show signs of confusion, fear or depression. If it’s the loss of their owner, you may notice dogs trying to figure out where that person has gone. If it’s another pet who has died, your dog may spend more time in their bed or favourite space, often with the hope that their friend may return.

A recent news story highlighted this sad truth when a dog owner shared heartbreaking images of her dog regularly returning to the bed where his best canine friend once slept. The dog left the same space for his deceased friend to sleep in night after night, despite him passing away a year before. Tugging on the heart strings of many, it created a discussion around how dogs grieve.

Claire Stallard, Behaviour and Training Manager at the Blue Cross tells Country Living: “The loss of a person or another pet may have a huge impact on your existing pet’s behaviour.

“Not only might they experience grief themselves due to the absence of a family member, they are also likely to pick up on the subtle changes in your behaviour too during this difficult time.”

What are the signs your dog is grieving?

Some dogs may show visible signs of grief, while others may completely withdraw and mourn quietly.

“Dogs’ ability to form strong social attachments with us and each other means they can have difficulty coping when they are suddenly separated from their companions. If their owner is grieving, the change in their behaviour and their normal routine can also have an impact,” Lisa Hens, RSPCA dog welfare expert tells Country Living.

“This varies greatly depending on the individual dog, and some owners report that, when one dog dies, the remaining dog seems very affected and may stop eating, for example. While others report that the remaining dog seems unaffected,” Lisa says.

Some of the signs that will indicate a change in your pet’s behaviour include…

  • Losing their appetite
  • They might cry a lot or be searching in areas where they expect the deceased family member to be
  • They might be wanting your attention more than usual
  • More time sleeping
  • Changes in apetite
  • Loss of interest in going for walks

How do I know if my dog has separation anxiety?

“Sadly, many dogs simply don’t know how to cope when their owner isn’t at home. Some dogs will bark or destroy things to show their feelings. While, others will simply sit there quietly, feeling worried,” Lisa from the RSPCA tells Country Living.

“This can happen on a day to day basis, not just after loss, and research suggests that 8 out of 10 dogs find it hard to cope when left alone, and worryingly half of these won’t show any signs, which means you may not always know if there’s a problem.”

What can you do to help your dog?

“Try not to worry too much about your pet’s behaviour during this time and try to stick to their familiar routine as much as possible. Losing a family member can be a difficult time for everyone, our pets included, but grieving is a natural behaviour. Like us, they can recover and move on in time with the support and care of their loving owners,” Claire says.

Remember, always talk to your vet if you are overly worried about your pet’s health and behaviour.

Some of the practical ways you can help include…

  • Be observant for any change in their behaviour
  • Try to keep to their normal routine as much as you can
  • Be patient, as it will take time for them to adjust to their new situation
  • They may need more quality time with you

Should you get another dog?

If it’s a family dog who has died, it can be tempting to get another one quickly so that your surviving pet has a companion. “Try not to rush into this decision too quickly, and if you do decide to get another pet, take things slowly, making sure the introductions are carried out carefully,” Claire explains.

Complete Article HERE!

Meet the former mortician who runs an at-home pet euthanasia business

By Ace Tilton Ratcliff

Derek and I stand in the driveway, hands clasped together. “May we end Jetson’s pain easily and quickly, and bring peace to the family,” I murmur. Derek squeezes my hand in amen, our rings rubbing metal against metal in our grip. I don’t believe in heaven or hell, but praying feels comforting. If there’s an afterlife where you get everything good your heart desires, surely dogs and cats have earned that reward.

“Let’s go do some good,” Derek says, his warm breath puffing clouds in the frigid nighttime cool.

“Let’s take care of this family,” I say at the same time. The bare skin of my shaved head chills as we laugh at our outburst.

Jill opens the door almost immediately after I knock. We’ve been friends online for years, but this is the first time we’ve ever met. Each plagued by rare chronic illnesses, our friendship was born on social media as we commiserated over being trapped in mutinous bodies. It fostered an intimacy that neither of us shares with many others.

We hug on the front porch, while Porkchop and Jetson, Boston terriers with big ears and even bigger personalities, weave between our legs in excitement. I know them from what feels like a million exchanged videos and photos. Porkchop is brindle and white, his gigantic ears pulling his eyebrows into a perpetual mask of concern. He’s always wearing a bow tie on his collar: always the gentleman. He’s also obsessed with balls in all forms: thrown, tossed, rolled, and — his very favorite — utterly destroyed.

Jetson’s abdomen has been invaded by cancer — “multicentric neoplasia,” in clinical vernacular. Jill and her parents have invited Derek and me here to euthanize him.

***

Derek and I co-own and operate an in-home pet euthanasia, hospice, and palliative care practice that serves Northern California’s Bay Area. Most of our work focuses specifically on euthanasia and the subsequent disposition of pets’ bodies. We also have a few patients we see to manage end-of-life care — making sure they’ve got the good drugs to stay comfortable when osteoarthritis has set in.

Derek’s a veterinarian and I’m a mortician who has shifted from human death care to pets. We started the practice two years ago after euthanizing our own dog, Harper, in our living room, though we’d assisted friends and family members through the deaths of their pets for at least a year prior to that. After having cared for Harper since puppyhood, I didn’t want to entrust her body to strangers, and we realized that the work was a calling after that experience.

Harper’s Promise isn’t a full-time job for us yet; the work is too variable and the cost of living here is astronomical. Some weeks pass with no calls, but occasionally we’ll pull back-to-back-to-back appointments with only enough time to stop for fast food in between. Derek still works shifts at a brick-and-mortar veterinary practice, and I’m perpetually freelance hustling as a writer and artist, to make sure rent gets paid. We dream of a future where this work occupies all of our focus.

The cost of in-home services are slightly more expensive than visiting a veterinary office, but not by much. I’m haunted by years spent working for a corporate funeral home, where I had to meet a quota on my contracts or face a pink slip. The idea of fleecing people who are addled with grief-brain makes me feel ill. In-home euthanasia consultations cost $375. Communal cremation with the remains scattered in the mountains runs $115, while individual cremation with a cedar urn and a metal plaque is $225.

We’ve euthanized animals ranging from a tiny guinea pig to a full-grown, 200-pound domestic pig. Inevitably, every few months, a client will pursue a unique form of memorialization; taxidermy is popular. Once, we helped ship a dog to be cryogenically preserved, his owner desperate for a future where they could be reunited. We don’t judge what the heart wants when overwhelmed by grief; we simply work to make it happen.

***

At the house, we enter the dim back bedroom, dominated by a bed draped with a white comforter, contrasted with a startlingly red towel spread flat. On the dresser beside the bed, a digital screen scrolls through photos of Jetson. My memory is jarred — back to the mortuary and the ubiquitous slideshows that have become a routine part of directing funerals. The simultaneous experience of now and then is disorienting, but working in death care necessitates compartmentalization. I tuck that feeling into a box in my heart and focus on the work to come.

Jill’s mother, Kathryn, is also chronically ill. Jetson is her service dog, and at only 9 years old, his death strikes an unexpectedly early blow. The average Boston terrier lives to about 13. Jill and Kathryn seem resigned to the grim reality of their decision. They’ve done the research, spent hours on the phone with us, exhausted their vet visits and medical options. It is unfair, but there is a breeze of relief in the fact that dogs seem to have no concept of the impossible decision their humans have to make. They just want to lick your face and be loved by you.

As Derek prepares the first injection, a mix of sedatives, opiates, and antianxiety medications intended to relax Jetson into near-sleep, the family shares stories about adopting him. The medications usually take between two and 15 minutes to fully kick in, pets slipping into sedation as easily as they doze off in a sunbeam. Clients will often use this time to ply their pets with snacks as they share stories with us. One dog devoured an entire rotisserie chicken, bones and all, before succumbing to sedation. Big Macs are also a popular choice.

While Kathryn and her husband, Bryan, tell stories about their beloved dog, Derek slips the sharp end of the needle between Jetson’s shoulder blades, depressing the plunger and emptying the syringe. Jetson doesn’t even flinch.

Jetson wobbles when the meds make him sleepy. We move him on top of the red towel, and his head lolls, his big tongue floppy and loose. He gazes around the room, making direct eye contact with each of us. Bryan cries, cupping his hands around Jetson’s head and leaning against his muzzle.

Jetson licks my hand when I reach out. It feels as though he’s looking straight into my soul. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt the specific, quiet intensity of grief, an emotion that imbues funeral homes like spritzed perfume.

Jetson breathes steadily into the sedation. Jill sits on the bed beside him, Porkchop bundled beneath the covers and leaning against her. Derek holds my hand as we lapse into silence. My other hand rests lightly on Jill’s back as she touches Jetson and holds Kathryn’s hand; Kathryn holds Jetson, her fingers overlapping with Bryan’s. It feels sacred, existing in this veil between the worlds of the living and the dead, all of us connected as Jetson’s heartbeat slows.

When the medication makes Jetson’s eyes close, Kathryn reaches over to her bedside table and lifts up a small jar. “I saved the very last of the hand lotion I wear all the time,” she explains to Derek and me, unscrewing the cap and using one finger to scoop. She spreads the lotion across her hands with a deft, practiced motion. “I wanted it to be the last thing he smells.” She gently runs her hands over Jetson’s face and body, suffusing him with her scent as he lays relaxed. She lowers her voice, and though we can all hear her in the small room, the words are only for him. “Don’t forget this smell, Jetson. Don’t forget to find me.”

When the part of Jetson’s brain that recognizes us and responds to stimulus has gone quiet, I circle my right hand around Jetson’s thigh, watching the vein cast a shadow as it rises. Derek places the needle of the broad barrel of viscous pink euthanasia solution in the raised vein. The flashback of blood in the syringe is short and small. The headlamp encircling Derek’s forehead illuminates a full-moon halo against Jetson’s fur.

Because he’s so sick, his blood pressure is low. The vein blows; we waltz smoothly into new positions, shifting to Jetson’s front legs. Derek’s movements are efficient. This time, as the needle slides into Jetson’s flesh, the flashback of blood is a bright firework. The overdose of anesthesia slides in without resistance. Jetson is gone before Derek is finished, his heartbeat stopping beneath our collective palms.

When we are done, a tiny slip of pink tongue shows between Jetson’s lips. His body twitches and dances beneath Jill’s steady hand, a tarantella of nerves spasming with the last offshoots of his body’s electricity, even though his spirit is no longer there. I look up and see a photo of Jetson emblazoned above the bedside table: proud and handsome on a sand dune, his mouth open in a wide, happy pant.

We step outside of the room to let them sit with Jetson’s body. My hands shake as I trim roses from their stems to tuck around Jetson’s body before we leave with him. I can’t help but think of Harper again. She was the beginning of our mission, the connection we forged in that sacrosanct act, as we took the life that was already slipping away from her.

***

Harper had screamed a dramatic overreaction through the snap-pop first injection, as though we were killing her — which we were, but we didn’t want it to hurt. She took the sedation like a tank, eyes open and flickering long after she should have been peacefully whisked away in a hydrocodone dream. Waiting for the meds to kick in, I ran my hand over her flank while she panted, murmuring song lyrics to the top of her head because they say hearing is the last sense to go. After the final injection, I knew she was gone, even though her body was still warm beneath my hands and her tongue was twitching between her canines. She fought to the very end, and I was grateful to finally grant her peace and relief.

At first, euthanizing her felt like stealing something from her, like we should have let her body make the decision. But her broken heart was pumping harder than it should have to keep her alive, and the overexertion was eating away at her muscles. The meaty hocks I always swore teasingly I’d eat in an apocalypse had become easy for me to wrap my fingers around. Her hacking cough, her exhaustion, the image of white fur flopped on the cool tile. Her body told us it was either euthanasia or an inevitable, slow, painful collapse.

That day is divided into two sections: Harper’s death, and everything that came after.

After six years as a mortician, I was comfortable with the paperwork, with carefully winding our way between the gravestones that interrupted long stretches of grass at the pet cemetery, and with Derek asking if the smell of burning meat coming from the crematory was Harper’s body. (It was.) I knew what the door of the crematory would look like as it trundled up, how her limp body would flop when I lay her gently inside the retort, how her fragile bones would crumble into dust beneath the bristles of the broom sweeping her out after we returned an hour later.

But I was still surprised when my heart lurched in my chest as we got home and saw there were two leashes hanging beside our front door and only one dog to walk. The same tiny earthquake wound a hairline fracture through my heart at seeing two white bowls stacked for dinner but only one mouth to feed.

Harper was half of the furry brigade that undertook the hard work of keeping me afloat in the years after I was forced out of the mortuary industry because of my Ehlers-Danlos syndrome diagnosis. A rare connective tissue disorder, the disease causes my body to create collagen incorrectly. Collagen serves as the brick and mortar of the body. Symptoms are unique to each patient, but I deal with a myriad of issues, including unexpected joint dislocations; dysautonomia, which causes me to faint from standing for too long; and endometriosis, which invaded my abdomen and necessitated a hysterectomy. I’ve had at least a surgery a year since I was 26, and since the disease is degenerative, it’s only going to get worse.

Frightened I might injure myself, frightened of the lawsuit that would surely follow, and frustrated by the time I needed to take for doctor appointments and surgeries, my managers illegally limited my responsibilities and cut my hours. My last paycheck dipped below $1,000, barely enough to pay rent and definitely not enough to cover my copious medical bills.

Becoming a mortician had been my childhood dream; I read books about ancient Egypt and mummification. In my early 20s, I’d fought through an abusive marriage and the pain of my undiagnosed disease to graduate from mortuary college and complete a grueling two-year apprenticeship. I became a licensed funeral director, embalmer and crematory operator, and I was damn good at the work. I loved being able to make someone’s worst day ever at least a little bit easier. I’d expected to make a lifelong career working in the funeral industry, not to be forced into retirement well before I turned 30.

The death of my career had neatly followed divorcing my abuser. Losing it all in one fell swoop left me wild with grief, my bereavement all bared fangs and sharpened claws. I was plagued by debilitating panic attacks and existential terror about my own death. I was afraid my ex would show up unexpectedly, battering down the front door, his hands around my neck.

But Harper made me feel safe. The length of her furry form was always pressed tight along my thigh, her long, pink tongue licking away my tears. Tangling my fingers in her white fur brought me back to myself when I was spinning out. The necessary routine of feeding and walking her kept me grounded.

By the time I eventually met Derek, my life had become more balanced. Sure, I wasn’t doing what I loved anymore, but at least I hadn’t been swallowed into the black hole of my hurt. One day, Derek brought home his stethoscope so I could hear the comforting drumbeat pulse of Harper’s heart. I couldn’t identify the subtle lub-swoosh, lub-swoosh as a portent of congestive heart failure, but Derek could. Harper’s illness was terminal; death was not a matter of if, merely when.

The idea of bringing her to a clinic for euthanasia, giving her over to someone we didn’t know, never occurred to either of us.

Before the euthanasia, we had a new tag made for her collar, one with Derek’s last name on it too. She was part of our family. We took her out for a burger and a cup filled with whipped cream, and snapped photos of her with the redwoods as a backdrop before she was exhausted. When she was gone, we arranged her body in a cremation casket, white fur bold against a pink towel. Beneath her paw, I slipped a bouquet of pink roses, white Peruvian lilies, and a bone.

Later, after driving back from the crematory, as I cradled a small wooden box in my lap instead of my dog, we parked outside our apartment. Sunshine streamed in through the windshield and the sky was so blue it almost hurt my eyes. Derek cut the engine, and we sat in silence for only a moment before I turned to him and we spoke.

“I don’t know why we never thought about this before …” he started, glancing at me.

“We have to do this for other people,” I finished. “This was the best way for the worst thing ever to happen.”

“At home, in our arms, surrounded by familiar scents and sounds? Yeah, that’s how I wanna go.”

He nodded, and from the promise that a dignified death is an important part of a good life, our practice, Harper’s Promise, was born.

***

Jill and I sit together on the bed, swaddling Jetson’s body with the red towel and moving him over into a small basket Derek and I brought. We tuck the trimmed blooms of yellow roses around him, the color of friendship. Kathryn steps inside the bathroom to sob and collect herself, but her face lights up when she returns. She slips outside to collect rosemary and lavender from the yard in a small, fragrant bundle that she places beneath Jetson’s paw.

On the way out, Jill hands me a brown bag with a white envelope stapled to it, a thank-you card and home-baked dog treats for our pooches. Reading it out loud as we pull away from their neighborhood, I burst into tears. Derek holds my hand, and again we are connected — in this moment of service, this kindness, in Jetson’s death.

After the long drive home, Derek lifts the basket out of the back seat where we have it buckled in. Looking down at Jetson’s body, Derek’s eyes crinkle, clouding with tears. I love that even though he has carried a syringe full of Euthasol for an uncountable number of pets, he’s crying in our front yard over Jetson. I am more used to being there in the seconds after the grim reaper has left the room, curtains still wafting from his exit. It’s so strange that now the reaper comes in the form of this beneficent man I sleep next to at night.

Heading inside, I notice a text from Jill to both of us. “This is the first time I haven’t heard my parents bawling since we got the news about Jetson’s diagnosis.” I feel the acrid sting of tears rise again.

I have missed the way it feels to shepherd a family through the tumultuous experience of death. There is nothing quite like being the guiding light through this storm, basking in the deep sense of contentment combined with the adrenaline rush of success. When I left the mortuary, I had regretfully accepted the hurt of knowing I wouldn’t do this work again, yet here I am. I feel like I have stepped back onto the ferry, wrapped my hands around the rowing oar and felt the gentle waves of the river Styx lapping against the hull.

Complete Article HERE!

Apes and Monkeys Have an Awareness of Death

Performing Grieving Rituals and Mourning the Deceased, Study Suggests

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Researchers say non-human primates exhibit an awareness of death.

Non-human primates like monkeys and apes appear to have an awareness of death in the same way humans do, scientists have said. After analyzing over 200 years worth of research into how primates deal with death, they found common behaviors emerged—including carrying their dead, defending the deceased from threats and exhibiting a grief-like response.

There are many stories about apes and monkeys grieving for their dead. For example, a BBC documentary in 2017 appeared to show a group of langur monkeys grieving for what they believe is a dead baby—even though it was actually just a robotic spy monkey.

The same year, scientists observed a chimpanzee using tools to clean the body of a deceased group member. A female sat down with the dead male and used a firm stem of grass to clean his teeth. The practice, researchers say, suggests chimps may have a more sophisticated response to death than we currently know.

Andre Gonçalves from Japan’s Kyoto University and Susana Carvalho from the University of Oxford in the U.K. say there is a huge amount of anecdotal evidence relating to they way non-human primates deal with death—but a review of the literature to find specific characteristics and behaviors has been lacking.

“For the past two centuries, non-human primates have been reported to inspect, protect, retrieve, carry or drag the dead bodies of their conspecifics and, for nearly the same amount of time, sparse scientific attention has been paid to such behaviours,” they wrote in a study published in Biological Reviews.

In their analysis of 240 reports, Gonçalves and Carvalho showed that specific responses emerge among different non-human primate species. Often this involves carrying the dead around—especially mothers and their dead babies. Species that are unable to grasp objects—such as lemurs and tamarins—are observed trying to carry their dead even though they lack the ability.

A chimp cleaning the teeth of a deceased group member.

They also found that group members defend the bodies of the deceased and returning to the body or site of death: “Such places may hold residual information about the event which can arouse curiosity or emotional distress,” they wrote. This behavior tended to happen when an adult died, rather than a juvenile. The researchers speculate this could relate to attachments, with members needing to re-categorize from living to dead—a behavior they say is essential to the grieving process.

In one anecdote about a family of chimpanzees studied by Jane Goodall, a mother named Flo died before her son Flint had become fully independent. After her death, Flint would stare at the nest they shared and returned to the site of her death. He exhibited signs of clinical depression and stopped eating and interacting with other group members. Eventually his immune system became too weak and he also died.

In another case, an adult male howler monkey was observed staying close to the corpse of a female for five days after her death, “suggesting close proximity between these individuals in life.”

“Considering all these findings and given their cognitive abilities, we argue that non-human primates are capable of an implicit awareness of death,” Gonçalves and Carvalho wrote.

They say more research will be needed to confirm whether non-human primates are aware of death—and to what extent they are. “It’s not an all-or-nothing ability,” Gonçalves said in a statement. “Awareness of death includes things such as animate/inanimate distinction, or the sensory and contextual discrimination of living/dead. The concept of death is something we humans acquire between ages three to 10. We can infer that non-human primates have some aspects of death awareness but, thus far, only humans conceptualize it at a higher order.”

The researchers also say further investigation could help shed light on the evolution of our own funeral practices: “Given that there exists a considerable gap in the fossil and archaeological record concerning how early hominins might have interacted with their dead, extant primates may provide valuable insight into how and in which contexts thanatological behaviours would have occurred.”

Complete Article HERE!