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Preparing For The End Of A Pet’s Life

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Aired 5/19/10

What can pet owners do to prepare for the end of their animal companion's life? It's usually a conversation that people don't want to have, but planning ahead can help to improve the animal's quality of life in those final days. We speak to a pair of local veterinarians about end-of-life care for pets.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): It's been a growing trend for years that Americans are spending more time, money and affection on their pets. People now commonly refer to their pets as members of the family or as their babies. That kind of relationship with a companion animal can add a lot to life but it can also complicate questions about the pet's end of life. This morning, we'll be talking about the issues dealing with end-of-life care for pets. What can be done to extend the quality of life for sick and older pets? And when is it time to say goodbye? I’d like to welcome my guests. Dr. Katy Allen, local veterinarian, and owner of Canterbury Tails Veterinary Services. Katy, welcome back to These Days.

DR. KATY ALLEN (Veterinarian, Canterbury Tails Veterinary Services): Thanks, Maureen. Good morning.

CAVANAUGH: Dr. Tricia Carter is staff veterinarian for the Helen Woodward Animal Center. And Tricia, good morning. Thanks for coming in.

DR. TRICIA CARTER (Staff Veterinarian, Helen Woodward Animal Center): Thank you for having me.

CAVANAUGH: Now we’re going to try not to get too sad on this show but it is a very sad subject. We want to invite our listeners to join the conversation. Are you taking care of a sick or older pet? Have you ever had to decide to put your pet to sleep? Tell us your story. Give us a call with your questions or your comments. Our number is 1-888-895-5727, 1-888-895-KPBS. Katy, it sounds like the concept of providing end-of-life care for pets is a relatively new topic in the veterinary world, is that right?

DR. ALLEN: Yes, it is relatively new. Certainly maybe over the last couple of decades, the idea of hospice care has slowly started to enter into our consciousness. But I would say probably maybe in the last just five years or so that I’m really seeing a huge increase in people’s awareness of end-of-life care and asking for more and more options and veterinarians trying to respond to that, so it is fairly new.

CAVANAUGH: How are you keeping up with that when people come in and, in the past, I would imagine, let’s say a dog is very ill. You know that the dog doesn’t have much of a chance of recovery or much life left, and what would have been your counsel to the family at that point?

DR. ALLEN: Well, certainly in my early days, you know, I’m a doctor so I want to find out what’s wrong and I want to fix it. And if I find something I can’t fix, then, you know, I would be done. It’s like, well, we can’t help this animal, it’s time to put it to sleep. And that was very much, I think, most people’s frame of mind because we’re doctors, we’re not really nurses. And so it’s really taken a sea change and a wake-up call to say, well, yes, no, I can’t save this animal’s life until we feel like a failure because we can’t save their life, but we can certainly improve the quality of life they have left. We can maybe extend it or at least make it more comfortable and also be very much involved in helping the owner and the family adjust to that idea, and help them make decisions they’re going to have to make and, hopefully, help them make those decisions before the moment is upon them.

CAVANAUGH: Tricia, what are some of the things that pet owners should think about as their pet is nearing the end of its life?

DR. CARTER: Well, again, as Dr. Allen said, if there’s a diagnosis and you know that there’s, you know, no hope for full recovery or cure, the things to look for, though, if the animal’s uncomfortable, if it completely stops eating, it’s not able to get up and it’s just sitting there in its own feces and urine. I mean, no one wants to be like that. Most dogs don’t want to be like that, or cats. But it’s hard to say goodbye. One thing I hear all the time with cats is they will sit there and they’ll purr when you pet them but they won’t eat. And you see that a lot because they just love that companionship and that interaction with the person but if they’re just wasting away, say, from kidney failure, I think that’s a little hard, you know, to let them last for a month just wasting away. So I think that is where you have to help the owners realize. You know, you do as much as you can to keep them going, make them as comfortable as possible, but don’t – I wouldn’t want to see them suffering and just basically hoping that they’ll eventually go to sleep or die in their sleep…

CAVANAUGH: Right.

DR. CARTER: …when they’ve been suffering.

CAVANAUGH: We are taking your calls about pet end-of-life care. When is it time to say goodbye? When is it time to perhaps try to extend the quality of life for sick and older pets? We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. And right now on the line, Mary Jane is calling us from San Diego. Good morning, Mary Jane, and welcome to These Days.

MARY JANE (Caller, San Diego): Morning. Thank you for taking my call.

CAVANAUGH: You’re welcome.

MARY JANE: I have been blessed with two wonderful spirits in my life. I have a 15-year-old shepherd mix and a 13-year-old Lhasa mix. They’re both rescue animals. And from the very beginning, they’ve enjoyed eating aloe vera, bugs, fruit, vegetables…

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

MARY JANE: …and I think that has added a lot to their longevity. I went through a spell with the shepherd, she had torn both cartil ligaments (sic) and a traditional vet had told me that I would want to have to have surgery done and then keep her confined for a year. And that was at the age of five. And I said, no, I’d rather put her down. She’s too active. And I met somebody who turned me onto herbal supplements for pets.

CAVANAUGH: Interesting. Thank you, Mary Jane. Thank you for that. Is there any evidence, Katy, that what you feed your dog is going to make their lives longer? Mary Jane has dogs 15 years old and 13 years old. That’s…

DR. ALLEN: Yeah, well done her, and certainly we don’t know how long those dogs would’ve lasted without the diet that she’s feeding them. But just like with people, diet can make a huge difference. Certainly feeding a diet to keep your animal at its optimum weight will, on average, add about two years to the length of their lives. That’s one thing right there you can do, is feed to keep them at their proper weight, and a good quality food with good quality nutrients, have all those things in them that will help them fight cancer just like, you know, good quality food will help us. And so, yes, a good diet is absolutely essential to longevity.

CAVANAUGH: And you were saying, Tricia, before, the idea of euthanasia is sometimes—I’m paraphrasing what you said—sometimes the kindest thing to do. What – Are there alternatives, though, to that nowadays? Can pets who are gravely ill be maintained in a way they couldn’t be before?

DR. CARTER: Well, it’s going to depend on each individual case but, yes, I mean, when I first started in practice if you had a cat that had chronic kidney failure and stopped eating, you know, people didn’t know or we didn’t think about, you know, they can give sub-Q fluids at home. You know, they can do things, pain medications. It doesn’t mean that you’re going to cure them and they’re going to live forever but we want to keep them as comfortable as we can for as long as we can, make sure their quality of life – And just actually to add into the diet, you know, just like with people, exercise is important, keeping them at the ideal weight, and another thing, and this is for people out there, too, they’ve shown that some dogs or some animals get tumors from secondhand smoke so it’s a good idea not…

CAVANAUGH: Ha.

DR. CARTER: …to smoke for people and pets.

CAVANAUGH: Isn’t that interesting? Now I’m wondering, are you both finding that animals are living longer because of the way they’re being treated?

DR. ALLEN: Oh, absolutely. When I first came out in practice, I thought of, you know, a 12-year-old cat as being a very old cat and I’m routinely seeing them up in the high teens, and that’s not unusual anymore. People are doing a much, much better job of looking after their pets, and we have better foods for them, we have better medical care for them. People are just more aware, they’re getting more and more educated about how to see signs of disease early. Rather than appearing at our office when it’s too late to do anything, they come in earlier and we can do something about it. So, definitely, the pets are living a lot longer life which means we’re also seeing more old age diseases, again, just like with people.

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

DR. ALLEN: We’re seeing a lot more cancers because we’re seeing an aged pet population. So there’s a lot more of them out there but, again, there is a lot more we can do that we couldn’t do. I mean, particularly, we have a lot more in the way of pain control than we ever had before. We used to think pain was actually useful to keep the pet quiet and so it wouldn’t be running around and maybe hurting its leg or whatever. But now we have a lot of pain medicine that we can send home that’s safe to send home that’s very useful. We even have pain control medicine for cats that we never had anything that safe to use for cats. So there is a lot, lot more that we can do, so people shouldn’t give up. They need to go see their veterinarian, get a diagnosis, get some kind of prognosis on how the disease is doing to progress, what signs to look for, and then what their options are for at-home sort of hospice type care.

CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Dr. Katy Allen and Dr. Tricia Carter. We’re talking about end-of-life care for sick and older pets, and when is the time to consider ending your pet’s life and putting your pet to sleep. The number is 1-888-895-5727. Bonnie is calling us from San Diego. Good morning, Bonnie, and welcome to These Days.

BONNIE (Caller, San Diego): Good morning. Thank you so much for taking my call. I have to say I’ve been a lifelong supporter of the San Diego Humane Society and I had to use their services this weekend. I had a almost 20-year-old female kitty who was just the light of my life and she’d always been indoors so she wasn’t subject to cat fights or disease but old age got the best of her. And I babied her for the past month but I saw it getting worse and worse with no consumption of liquid, wouldn’t eat food, hadn’t used the litter box in days, and I would come home from work every day and hope that perhaps nature had taken its course and she would always lift her head and greet me. And I thought, oh, dear, this is going to be my responsibility. So Sunday I took her to the Humane Society at about 10:00 a.m. and the people there were so wonderfully sensitive to her and to me. And the experience, it was almost as if she knew she was passing to a better place. She was extremely calm and the passing was within seconds, and it was almost a beautiful thing had I not been suffering so much through it. But the people there are wonderful, understanding and sensitive, and when you know that this is going to have to be, I suggest you contact them.

CAVANAUGH: Bonnie, thank you so much for your call. I think Bonnie gives us a story that is just about as nice a passing for an animal as you can hope for.

DR. ALLEN: Yes, certainly it can – it certainly can be that way and, you know, I’m very sorry for her loss, that, you know, been there, done that, and it is extremely painful.

CAVANAUGH: Yes.

DR. ALLEN: And people who don’t have pets maybe don’t quite get it but it – and any loss of any relationship is painful and an animal that’s been in your life for 20 years, that’s as long as a kid will be in your house. I mean, it really is quite a wrench. I would like to pick up on the let nature take its course part, though. A lot of people hope that that will happen but the problem is by having animals in our houses and giving them food and shelter and medication and extra fluids, we’ve already let nature not take its course. You know, those animals out in nature would be dead by now. So by having taken them out of that, we then have a responsibility to…

CAVANAUGH: To make the hard decision.

DR. ALLEN: …to make that hard decision for them, exactly. So, you know, and anybody who’s watched a David Attenborough nature show knows that nature can be – you know, she’s a real – really not a nice person.

CAVANAUGH: Right. Yes, yes.

DR. ALLEN: Yes, and so natural is not necessarily good.

CAVANAUGH: When a cat of mine was very, very ill and had stopped eating and had – basically was just lying next to me and purring and not doing anything else, I did call my vet and I said, you know, can I just wait this out and just have the cat sort of just go on his own? And what my vet told me is, well, what the cat might have is seizures and in that case it won’t be very pleasant for either one of you. So that’s where the hard decision came for me. Do you find, Tricia, that most people are maybe unprepared for the kinds of decisions they’re going to have to make at the end of their pets’ lives?

DR. CARTER: Well, I just think that’s a hard decision for anyone because they do love their animals so much and I think, you know, they think, oh, my God, I’m the one who’s ending it but, as Dr. Allen said, you know, you have a responsibility to that pet and I certainly don’t think that, you know, if your animal vomits one time you rush it in to take it to sleep.

CAVANAUGH: Right.

DR. CARTER: But you want to find out what’s going on. I actually have had to do both things. I had a dog that was rescued when I was a vet student. He lived to be sixteen and a half. He was a lab mix. And he started to become senile and was having trouble and I ended up having to put him to sleep. And then I had a 15-year-old cat that was perfectly fine and fell, you know, fell asleep and died in her sleep…

CAVANAUGH: Wow.

DR. CARTER: …on the chair. So that is one animal of all the animals that I’ve had that that’s happened.

CAVANAUGH: That’s…

DR. CARTER: It doesn’t happen that often. And – But you’re right. When you go to a veterinarian and there are a lot of veterinarians out there or the Humane Society, they realize how hard of a decision it is and they are not there to try and hurt the animal. They want it to be as comfortable and peaceful for the animal as possible. And it is a very emotional time for the owner. But it can be done in such a way that the animal does not suffer, and just waiting it out, the animal could be suffering more, you know, without eating.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take a call. We are taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Yavira is calling us from San Diego. Good morning, and welcome to These Days.

YAVIRA (Caller, San Diego): Thank you so much for taking my call. I lost my 14-year-old cat two weeks ago.

DR. ALLEN: Umm.

YAVIRA: And I just really wanted people to think about as your cats are getting – or your pets are getting older, they have some needs that we don’t think about. And talking to your vet, just educating yourself is really important. For example, I made sure I changed the – my cat’s diet but…

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

YAVIRA: …I wasn’t necessarily thinking about other things that may have helped his – prolonged his life and had a good quality life in his last year. So really take the time to do that. My cat died of renal failure, unfortunately. We tried to help him for a little while but he succumbed. And I know that’s part of life but if we can think about these things in advance, maybe there’s something we can do to prevent it or not necessarily prevent it but help them through those last years.

CAVANAUGH: Yavira, thank you so much for your call, and I know that this is so raw for you right now. Thank you so much for calling and trying to help other people who are dealing with very, very sick and older animals. Would you like to comment, Katy?

DR. ALLEN: Yes, I think that was very brave of her to call. And, yes, the point is there is lots you can do and sometimes you don’t find out until after the fact that maybe there was other stuff you could have done. But there’s no point in beating yourself up about that. What you did do is you did the best you could with what you knew at the time, and then when it was necessary, you did the best thing and the most loving thing to save your pet any further suffering. So feeling guilty is something people seem to do.

CAVANAUGH: Yes.

DR. ALLEN: You know, to beat themselves up.

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

DR. ALLEN: But obviously this kitty had 14 years of a loving home and then when it was time, you did what you needed to do and that’s – that’s what counts. That’s what counts.

CAVANAUGH: We have to take a short break. When we come back, we’ll be talking about the new concept of hospice care for pets, and continue to take your calls at 1-888-895-5727. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.

CAVANAUGH: I’m Maureen Cavanaugh. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS. My guests are Dr. Katy Allen. She’s a veterinarian, owner of Canterbury Tails Veterinary Services. And Dr. Tricia Carter is staff veterinarian at the Helen Woodward Animal Center. And we’re talking about end of life care for pets. End of life issues. When is it time to say goodbye to a member of your family, to a beloved pet, and what can be done to extend the quality of life for sick and older pets? We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. There are a lot of people who want to get involved in the conversation but I do want to start to talk about this new concept of hospice care for pets. Now, Tricia, we’re not necessarily talking about actually taking a pet to a hospice center but what are we talking about?

DR. CARTER: Well, in my position right now, we’re more involved in the finding homes for pets so I am not as up on the new hospice but just like with people, sometimes you need a break if there are people that can come in and help. But maybe Dr. Allen knows more about it.

DR. ALLEN: Yes, there are actually hospice – there are animal hospice and a lot of them are – They’re not – there’s no licensing requirement, first of all, for a pet hospice, so if somebody has set themselves up as a hospice where you could take your aging, elderly, sick pet to give yourself a break or a vacation, you need to really look into that. There needs to be a veterinarian on staff and properly qualified staff. And there are some hospices out there where it’s very well-meaning people, you know, they want to help but they don’t actually have the expertise to help. What is around and more common and is becoming more and more common are mobile veterinarians so they’ll do house calls, and also registered veterinary technicians who will make house calls who are working under the instructions of a veterinarian. And they can come to your home and they can do – they can give fluids, they can give pain medication. You know, maybe it needs to be by injection and not pills that the owner can’t give. They can do on-going evaluations because obviously the situation keeps changing. So if you have an animal that’s in need of hospice care which, by definition, is they have a terminal illness and do not have a very long time to live, then going and researching mobile veterinarians or these sort of traveling registered veterinary techs are the best way to go. And if you get in touch with the San Diego County Veterinary Medical Association, they can give you some very reliable referrals.

CAVANAUGH: And it’s my understanding, too, that more pet owners are sort of stepping up and saying that, you know, we will take care of this very sick cat, just teach us how to do some things.

DR. ALLEN: Yeah, it’s amazing. People who are, you know, they’re scared of needles but they will give fluids to their cat. You know, a needle under the skin and hang a bag of fluids and run that. They’ll clean up all the poop and the pee that ends up not in the litter box or not out in the backyard because, you know, the animal can’t get around. People are amazing what they will do for their pets, and more power to them. But they really do need expert advice and guidance to make sure they are actually extending life with quality and not merely sort of being a little bit selfish and keeping the pet around for themselves.

CAVANAUGH: We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727 or you can post your comments online, KPBS.org/thesedays. Let’s hear from Caroline. She’s calling us from Marston Hill. Good morning, Caroline. Welcome to These Days.

CAROLINE (Caller, Marston Hills): Good morning. I wanted to comment on the grief counseling services that are available at the SPCA. I had two cats die in the last four years. They were 21 and 22. And I found their services extraordinarily helpful. And I think if they could be expanded to include people who are caring for aged animals it would be extremely helpful.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you for the call, Caroline. I appreciate it. And I do want to, even though this is another terribly sad consequence of what we’re talking about, Tricia, the pet owner might want to make some plans ahead of time as to what they’re going to be doing with their pet’s body after that pet dies. What do you counsel people to think about?

DR. CARTER: Well, there’s different options. They do have pet cemeteries, there’s cremations, there’s just a couple of pet cemeteries in San Diego. You definitely can, if your pet should die at your house, definitely you cannot just put it in the trash. I know that sounds terrible but you shouldn’t do that. If you don’t want to have the ashes back or have them cremated, usually you can take them down to the animal – SPCA or the Animal Control and they can take care of the body for you. But those are the things to consider. You know, do you want to have a burial plot where you can go visit your pet? Ashes can be returned to you. Some people take them to the favorite place where your dog rested and may spread them, things like that.

CAVANAUGH: And I’m also wondering, you know, when we were growing up and we had pets, sometimes, you know, you just sort of buried Fido in the back yard. That’s…

DR. ALLEN: That’s not really an option. I think actually in San Diego, the city, it’s not legal.

CAVANAUGH: Right.

DR. CARTER: Right.

DR. ALLEN: And then that’s kind of fraught with problems, too, because people will bury them maybe not deep enough and the coyote comes, digs Rover up and not very pleasant.

CAVANAUGH: Not good, no.

DR. ALLEN: You might move from that house a couple of years down the road and, in fact, a friend of mine said that she had some people knock on her door not too long ago and said they’d lived there two years ago and could they go dig their dog’s remains up from the back garden because they wanted to move it to their new yard.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, my.

DR. ALLEN: So you have to think about, you know, you really have to think ahead about what’s really going to work. You need to talk about it with your family. If you know your animal’s, you know, got a terminal illness and maybe in three or four months that the big decision’s going to be made, making these decisions today is much, much better. Talk about it with your veterinarian, let them know what you want to do so we don’t have to have this conversation when you’re sobbing your heart out.

CAVANAUGH: Right.

DR. ALLEN: So we already know what you want to do. But, yes, just burying in the back yard often doesn’t work out awfully, awfully well.

CAVANAUGH: And just to reiterate Tricia’s comment, people, if they don’t have any other options, if they’re not going to be shelling out money for a pet funeral, they can take their pet’s body to the SPCA.

DR. ALLEN: Absolutely, yes. Yes.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. Let’s take another call from Shanna in San Diego. Good morning, and welcome to These Days.

SHANNA (Caller, San Diego): …taking my call.

CAVANAUGH: Yes, hi.

SHANNA: I’m calling because I work at a vet’s office. I am actually a receptionist and as a staff member sometimes it’s hard to see these people come in with their aging pet and you realize that it’s time for the pet to go but the owner’s having a hard time letting them go. And I’ve realized in the last year especially that it goes against our humanity to euthanize a pet because it’s a decision that isn’t a natural decision for us to make. It’s hard for people to have to make that decision to do that to someone that they love but it’s, you know, it’s such an important decision to make when you love them that much that you want to give them the best end that they can know, and they can go on, especially cats can go on for months without hardly eating anything, dying of the illness that is taking them. And it’s, you know, it’s really important that people know that it’s okay to make that decision when it’s time, that that’s what you do for the animals that you love.

CAVANAUGH: The animal you love, right. Shanna, thank you. Thank you so much for that comment. Let’s take a call from Margaret calling us from Oceanside. Good morning, Margaret, and welcome to These Days.

MARGARET (Caller, Oceanside): How are you guys today? Thanks for taking my call. I have been so blessed. I have, oh, I’ve been – I’ve had a Great Dane that we rescued 10 years ago and about 2 years ago he started to slow down significantly. And we’re with a vet, a very wonderful vet that I couldn’t be more happier with. But one of the things that always worries me is when do I say no more? Because he – we’ve tried medicine and he hasn’t responded really well to it. He’s gotten very sick from Duramax and a few other things. But what he does do is he gets up every day. Maybe it takes him a little bit longer. He eats every day. He still runs along our fence line at the other dogs that walk by. And he’s still there; the look has not left his eyes. But what concerns me the most is the day that I hear him cry or the day that he doesn’t get up. Without question, I think the most humane thing to do is to have him put down. I can’t handle that and I know he can’t.

CAVANAUGH: Margaret, well, thank you. Thank you so much for the call. And I want to get the response from our two veterinarians here. What would you say, Tricia, to Margaret and her 10-year-old Great Dane?

DR. CARTER: Well, I think from what you’re describing he’s doing all right but you’re right, when he doesn’t want to get up or he doesn’t want to eat, I think that he’s basically letting you know that he’s probably had enough. And I always gave, when I was in private practice, the option to the person. Sometimes it’s very hard on the person to be in there with the animal and they’re crying and upset and the animal becomes more upset because they know you’re upset. And so we always had great techs, very loving, very gentle because this is a hard time for everybody. Some people want to stay in the room and talk to them while they’re getting the injection, others, we would have the animal – give them the injection and then the people would have some opportunity at the end to come in and, you know, spend a little time, say their goodbyes to the animal after the pet had already gone.

CAVANAUGH: Right.

DR. CARTER: So it’s really your decision, too, and I think it’s important that you discuss it with your veterinarian. Veterinarians, unfortunately, have to deal with putting animals to sleep all the time, and it’s one of the bad parts but I always looked at it as at least I’m allowing the animal to go peacefully and not suffering. So that’s – it’s your call, it should be your call.

CAVANAUGH: Let me…

DR. CARTER: But I think it’s very important.

CAVANAUGH: Let me ask Katy, if I – Margaret said that, you know, she could still see something in her dog’s eyes. How important are signs like that when you’re making these huge decisions? You know, I can still see him in there. I can still see that he’s enjoying himself.

DR. ALLEN: I think that’s very, very important just as long as you’re not kidding yourself.

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

DR. ALLEN: And it’s easy for me to say but when it’s my pet, I’m totally in denial so, you know… And that’s sometimes why you need an outsider to help you. But, absolutely, you’re looking at mobility, can they still get around? When they’re lying down, do they settle and sleep and rest or are they always restless and trying to find a nice spot? I couldn’t run up and down a fence line all day, so if your dog’s doing that, he’s in much better shape than I am. And so, yes, certainly and behaviors and part of that light in their eyes is behavior. So an animal, he’s still present, he’s with the family, he’s interacting with you. That’s always – that’s a good sign. An animal that’s really uncomfortable, feels sick all the time or is in pain, they’ll hide. They’ll go find a place to hide. Their behaviors will change. And, yeah, the look in their face, they often will have like a worried, anxious look on their face. And if you know your dog, which obviously this lady does, she will know that. The thing is, can she then accept that, and that’s the hard thing. You know it but you don’t want to accept it.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s talk a couple of minutes about something that’s a little bit more uplifting and happy…

DR. ALLEN: Oh, good.

CAVANAUGH: …than what we’ve been talking about and that is the decision when you have lost a pet, when you’ve put your pet to sleep, when your animal has died, to go out and adopting a new dog or cat. Are there any kind of guidelines, Tricia, that you advise people? Should they wait a certain amount of time? Should – I know some people actually even introduce a new pet into their home when an old pet is sort of getting to the end of their life. What do you advise people to do?

DR. CARTER: It all depends on the person.

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

DR. CARTER: There will be people, unfortunately, if you’re losing a pet or have lost a pet, that will tell you, oh, go out and get another one. Those people don’t really understand the bond that you have with your pet. You’ll know when you’re ready. And – but they – some people—and these are usually not pet owners—think that you can replace your pet with another pet just like it. It’s not possible. Every animal has their own personality. You have your own relationship with them. Doesn’t mean that you can’t have a wonderful ‘nother pet in your life but you have to wait until you’re ready. And you just know when it’s time. You may walk by or you may go to an animal shelter and say, oh, my God, I’m taking this dog or this cat home. And then there are other times when you’re like, no, I just can’t, I’m thinking about, you know, Fluffy or whoever you’ve just recently lost. So, really, you need to do what’s best for you and you shouldn’t let anyone talk you into it or try and downplay the fact that you’ve lost a beloved companion in your life.

CAVANAUGH: That’s – It’s real grief that you’re going through. Katy, is there anything that you advise people to do when they’re thinking of perhaps getting another pet after the loss of their pet?

DR. ALLEN: Pretty much the same, is you need to get yourself to the point where you are looking forward to a new relationship rather than still looking back. You cannot replace and often you end up resenting the new pet because it’s not the pet you just lost and it doesn’t behave the same way. And so generally I advise people, you know, just wait and don’t be looking for the same breed or the same coloring or the same anything. Try and – This is brand new. This is brand new. And so think of it that way and you can still honor your old pet and then you have a new start again.

CAVANAUGH: And I think you’ve said, Katy, something so good during this conversation. Think of the wonderful years that you and your pet have shared together instead of the moments of the end of the pet’s life.

DR. ALLEN: Absolutely. Absolutely. Don’t be guilty. You did a wonderful job. Yeah, absolutely.

CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you ladies both so much. Dr. Katy Allen and Dr. Tricia Carter, thanks. It’s not easy to talk about this but I think you both did a wonderful job. Thank you.

DR. CARTER: Thank you very much.

DR. ALLEN: Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: If you’d like to post a comment online, please do, KPBS.org/thesedays. You’ve been listening to These Days on KPBS.

Comments

Avatar for user 'antone712'

antone712 | May 19, 2010 at 10:56 a.m. ― 4 years, 6 months ago

would like people to be aware.. that there are services out there
where they will come to your house and you can put your animal
to sleep at home.. which I feel is very comforting to the owner
as well as for the pet
thank you

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Avatar for user 'Donna'

Donna | May 19, 2010 at 11:01 a.m. ― 4 years, 6 months ago

A couple of people mentioned 'if your cat is purring,' that the cat is o.k.

Important point - Cats will PURR as a way to soothe themselves, for example when in pain.

If your cat is purring, it might not be a sign that it is o.k. or not in pain. You and your Vet must look at disease, overall condition, weight loss, etc...

Thank you

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