Monday, December 19, 2011


Helpful Buckeye recently has had conversations with several different pet owners who either had just had a pet die or they felt that a pet's death was coming soon.  We talked about the various aspects of such a situation, how it got to be that way, what to prepare for, and how the different members of the family might react to...


We know and understand that all living things grow older and die at some point.  Plant or animal, it makes no difference.  Sometimes the death can be unexpected or come early in the organism's life.  Other times, the death might be anticipated due to poor health or aging.  Regardless of the circumstances, when a pet dies, the pet owners will be affected to some extent.  To help you better prepare yourself for this situation, Helpful Buckeye will present several suggestions about what you might encounter and how to deal with those circumstances.

World’s Oldest Dog Dies at Age 26

Pusuke, listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s oldest-living dog, died recently in Japan.  He was 26 years old — or somewhere between 117 and 185 in “dog years,” according to various calculations. There is no official method for converting human years to dog years.

The dog’s owner, Yumiko Shinohara, said the male cross-breed died at Sakura in the Tochigi prefecture, north of Tokyo, according to the Kyodo news agency.

Pusuke was reportedly eating well and staying active until Monday, when he lost his appetite and had difficulty breathing. Pusuke died peacefully, minutes after his owner returned home from a walk.

“I think (Pusuke) waited for me to come home,” she said, according to Kyodo.

Born in April of 1985, Pusuke was recognized last December as the world’s oldest-living dog.

The oldest-known dog on record, according to Guinness, was an Australian cattle dog named Bluey, who lived to the ripe old age of 29 years and five months before it was put down in November 1939.

In Pusuke's case, his owner obviously had the benefit of knowing that her dog was really old and that death was probably coming soon.  However, she couldn't have known that Pusuke would live for 26 years, well beyond the average of 15 years for a dog of that size.  She had to have known that Pusuke was living on borrowed time for those last 11 years.  Unfortunately, most dog owners cannot expect their dog to live anywhere near that long and they have to be prepared for a more typical scenario.  A much more normal turn of events would be like this story from suburban Chicago:
You probably should have a box of tissues handy when you read this....
A Death in the Family

Maxx Hill Warren of Irving Park dedicated his life to making people happy. A devoted companion and protector, he despised formalities and insisted on being called only by his first name, like Oprah and Regis. Maxx was short in stature, but tough, and refused to be pushed around by bullies. But folks who knew Maxx best say his bark was worse than his bite.

Maxx was born with an impressive pedigree, but abandoned by his mother at an early age and banished to live on a farm in the Chicago suburbs. In 1998, Kristin Hill Warren, a Chicago mortgage broker, adopted Maxx. They lived together in the city — most recently with Kristin’s husband Eric Warren and daughter Samantha Warren — the rest of his life.

On November 13, 2011 , Maxx, who suffered from congestive heart failure, died at home. He was 72 — in dog years. Bright yellow leaves tumbled from trees lining Hoyne Avenue on the day death made a house call.

Dr. Lisa McIntyre rang the bell. A traveling veterinarian from Naperville, she carried with her a black fleece blanket and a black suitcase. She wore a knit poncho and a somber face. She was there to treat a patient, Maxx the dog, who was suffering from congestive heart failure. Maxx, a 14-year-old Maltese, hadn’t eaten for nearly two weeks. He refused to take his medication, the highest dose allowed. And over the last 24 hours, Maxx rarely took a sip of water.

Maxx’s owners, Kristin Hill Warren and her husband, Eric Warren, hoped against hope that Maxx would get better. Their beloved companion had survived the peaks and valleys of health scares before. “This was just a valley he wasn’t coming out of this time,” Eric says. “He’s just shutting down.”

For weeks, Kristin and Eric cried about Maxx’s declining health. They talked with their friends and the vet about whether it was time to end Max’s suffering. Kristin adopted Maxx 14 years ago, when she was single, lonely and struggling trying to make a career for herself. She didn’t want to let Maxx go. But if she did nothing, she knew that one day soon the tiny white dog’s lungs would fill with fluid. Death by suffocation could be violent and painful.

They had to make a choice. Maxx didn’t have much time left.

A final kindness

Nearly every week, McIntyre makes a similar house call. In-home pet euthanasia has become a growing part of The Welcome Waggin’, her traveling-veterinarian business.

That final house call costs a premium — about $250, which includes euthanasia services, plus an extra $50 transportation fee. Cremation costs extra, too. But some pet owners could pay even more if they make an emergency trip to an all-night veterinary hospital.

No one’s sure exactly how many pets are put down at home each year, but more veterinarians than ever are making euthanasia house calls, says David Kirkpatrick, spokesman for Schaumburg-based American Veterinary Medical Association. “We do not track actual numbers, but it’s certainly a growing trend, particularly with more pet owners looking for ways to more personally and, in some ways, conveniently deal with end-of-life issues,” Kirkpatrick says. “We are hearing more vets are performing the service. And more pet owners are requesting it.”

There are reason for that. More than 59 percent of American households have pets. Over the last several decades, folks have started to treat their animals more like family and less like property. A pet’s death can be traumatic for owners, like losing a good friend. “People view veterinary hospitals as a sterile environment or a place you go for a medical crisis,” McIntyre says. “I don’t think that is the appropriate place to say goodbye to their animals. I think being at home affords comfort and privacy, and I think it removes a great deal of anxiety on the animal’s part, as well as pet owner’s part, as they have to say goodbye.”

For weeks, Kristin and Eric watched Maxx’s health deteriorate. They didn’t want Maxx to suffer. They didn’t want Maxx to die on a cold, metal table at an animal hospital. They certainly didn’t want strangers in the vet’s lobby — parents with children taking puppies and kitties for routine vaccinations — to see them leave in tears. So last Saturday, Kristin called McIntyre, who agreed to come over at 10 the next morning. The visit would be Kristin’s gift, a final kindness, for Maxx.

‘It was time’

On Sunday morning, Maxx walked in to the living room, his paws slipping on the glossy hardwood, to sniff a stranger’s pants leg. For the past few days, all Maxx had done was sleep and pace around the house, a modest A-frame. Kristin bought the place because it had an extra-wide lot with a side yard perfect for her dog. “This is Maxx’s house,” Eric says.

Kristin lifted Maxx onto their bed, where Maxx sleeps every night. McIntyre offered Maxx a tiny beef-flavored treat. A last meal. Maxx refused it.

As McIntyre explained to Kristin and Eric what would happen next, Maxx jumped off the bed and made a slow lap around the house. Maxx returned to the water bowl, took a long drink and returned to the bedroom.

Samantha Grace Warren, just 4 months old, woke up from a nap and started to cry. Eric picked her up and cradled her. He laid Samantha on the bed next to Maxx, the girl’s first doggie. Whenever Samantha cried to demand a nightly feeding, Maxx always followed Kristin into the baby’s room and waited, like a protector, until the baby went back to sleep. On Saturday night, Samantha slept through the night for the first time.

“It’s like Maxx’s job is done now,” Kristin says. Kristin put Maxx back on the bed, gently stroking her dog’s velvet coat.

The past few days had been especially difficult for Kristin and Eric. So many tears. “Last night, it sounds funny but . . . ” Eric says, stopping mid-sentence. For a moment, he sobbed. “I had a conversation with Maxx. He told me it was time,” Eric says. “That helps you, you know . . . when it comes to realization and acceptance.”

‘Bye, Maxx’

McIntyre opened her bag and pulled out a syringe filled with a heavy sedative. “This is the part I expect him to react to,” she says. “Anything we can do to distract him. Scratch his ears if he likes that.” She inserted the needle and injected the drugs into a vein. Maxx let out a series of high-pitched squeals, shaking his back leg. Kristin and McIntyre petted Maxx to calm him.

“You’re such a good dog,” McIntyre says, reassuring Kristin that Maxx’s yelp was a reaction to irritation from the injection. In just a few seconds, Maxx lay down on the blanket. Samantha cried. “Come pet him, honey,” Kristin says to her husband, who leaned over the bed to rub Maxx behind the ears. “If there was a candidate for doggie heaven, it was this little guy,” Eric says.

McIntyre talked in almost a whisper, consciously trying to create “positive energy” and to be a “comforting presence.” The medication worked faster than usual.

“He doesn’t have the light in his eyes that I remember seeing in him,” McIntyre says. Kristin last saw that sparkle on Halloween. Maxx loved his pumpkin costume.

“All right,” Eric says, petting the family dog for the last time. “Bye, Maxx.”

McIntyre quietly speaks directly to Maxx for his owners’ sake. “We’re going to let you go . . . release you from your body,” she says. “It doesn’t want to help you anymore and do what you want it to do. You’ve been such a good boy, we’re just going to do what’s right for you.”

McIntyre reassures Kristin and Eric on their decision. “I think it’s a gift,” she says. “It’s a huge responsibility, but I think he gave every sign in the book.”

Then, McIntyre slipped a tourniquet over Maxx’s leg. “He looks like he’s sleeping,” Kristin says. McIntyre inserted a needle filled with a barbiturate overdose that would stop Maxx’s heart. “What you will see is his breaths will stop in a minute or two,” she says. “And then I’ll listen to make sure his heart has stopped.”

“He won’t feel this?” Kristin asked. “He’s not feeling anything,” McIntyre says. “He’s not aware what’s going on.” Almost immediately after McIntyre injected the final shot, Maxx’s chest stopped moving. Kristin gently closed Maxx’s eyelids.

McIntyre listened for vital signs and confirmed that Maxx was gone. “That was quick,” Kristin says. “I could tell right when it stopped. This was more peaceful than I thought . . . This was nice.”

Kristin unclipped Maxx’s collar and handed it to her husband, who held their daughter close to his chest. Eric set the collar — tiny white bones printed on a faded red strap — on the dresser next to their wedding picture.

McIntyre wrapped Maxx in a thick, fleece blanket and carried him outside. Later, she would take Maxx’s body to be cremated.

Kristin and Eric sat on the couch in the living room.

“It was really peaceful for me,” Kristin said. “It actually made it better. He slept in that bed for years. For me, it was peaceful . . . I don’t know why. It was just warm . . . You think of him laying there and his spirit is leaving him and going to heaven.”

Kristin says they plan to put together video of Maxx’s best days for Samantha. They have plenty of footage. Until Samantha was born, Maxx was their baby. They want their daughter to remember her first dog, the best dog.


In a few days, McIntyre will knock on the door of another owner with a terminally ill pet. She considers her work an act of kindness.

“I hope that by going into people’s houses that — Kristin and Eric especially — they have some closure. That this was a peaceful experience for them. Their last memories of Maxx . . . they’ll be able to focus on Halloween . . . and times he sat up at night by Kristin,” McIntyre says. “I want them to go on and be open to accept another pet in their life. And for their daughter to have another dog some day.”

Adapted from:

Every one who has had a pet dog or cat has most likely experienced something similar to this story.  Everybody handles this situation a bit differently, in a way that is comfortable for them...but, the basics are all here in this heart-felt account.  A quick show of hands right many of you read this without shedding a tear?

No matter the amount of sorrow that comes with these situations, it's still very important to understand the meanings and consequences of  "end of life choices":

Making End-of-Life Choices for Our Pets

It was a tough day for a new veterinarian. I stepped out of the exam room and walked to my desk visibly upset. The senior partner of the three-doctor practice asked me what was wrong. Three times that morning a client had asked me if they should end their pet's life, and I felt ill-prepared to counsel people in these cases. If the person who lived with my patient was unclear, how could I know better? What if I was wrong? Can we predict miracles? I did not want to "play God," and I was afraid of making a decision that would turn out to be incorrect. After all, the choice to euthanize a beloved pet is permanent. No amount of regret can undo the action once it is done.

The gentle older veterinarian rubbed his salt and pepper beard and acknowledged my concerns. He asked if I would like some suggestions.  What followed was some of the best advice anyone has ever given me:

1. Acknowledge the affection and feelings associated with a pet's life. The word "euthanasia" means "to bring about a good death." The choice to treat or euthanize is a major one. No one, veterinarian or guardian, wants to be wrong. It's simply a very big choice. While none of us ever wants our favorite fuzzy friend to leave, we do desire that they pass gently and without pain, suffering, fear or degradation. This means that questions about when and how are natural and necessary between people who share affection for animals.

2. Clients and doctors are partners. Clients and veterinarians share information and they share decision making, but there is a sacred aspect of the human-animal bond that is best described in the concept of stewardship. Ultimately, the steward of this patient is the guardian. No veterinarian can make the final choice for an animal guardian. The final choice must come from them, but it's natural and beneficial for a veterinarian to assist in that process as an extension of the professional and personal relationship that manifests from our shared affection for living things.

3. Acknowledge the guardian's love and track record in making good choices. Many of us worry about making mistakes, and in medicine mistakes can be fatal and lead to irreversible damage. The fear of error can actually make us more likely to make mistakes, so we are better off in this discussion if we banish fear, and realize that this process is simply about loving our friends and making choices based upon what is best for them. Looking and discussing work better than worrying. Most of us make right choices when we are given safe space, correct information and support, which allows us time to come to a conclusion on our own.

4. Ask, "Does he have more good days than bad ones? More good moments than bad?" Honestly assessing this question gently leads most people to a safer place for discussion. It is amazing to me how fast many people answer this question and how easily it leads them to sensible choices. Sometimes we are not really looking, and we may need to honestly and objectively assess this fact before we can decide. In most cases it is fine to simply decide to take a week and really look at this fact. People need to be aware though that conditions can change, and so it is important to look for more than just a moment. For instance, some arthritis pain cases get really bad after cold, wet weather. Waiting until the weather clears may result in a totally different decision, so do be sure to give enough time to really know.

5. Knowing it's time. Many people experience a moment where they look at their pet and suddenly a moment of calm silence ensues when they know it is time. If a person knows it is time and I have no other medical information to share then I feel good about their choice.

6. If it is not time, is there something that needs to occur? A family member may wish to visit and say their goodbyes, or we may want to share a few more ball catches at the beach, or watch some more sunsets together. If we can name those things and enjoy each moment, then it becomes easier to say farewell.

7. Do you know your options? It is necessary to know all the options before deciding. Euthanasia can be done in the examining room of the veterinary hospital, or it can be done at home. People can be present or not depending on their needs. There are other options beside euthanasia, as natural death following hospice is a rich choice for many people. Hospice is a growing area of interest, especially as our technical abilities improve. I've lectured for years about how we can address the needs of clients and patients with "hopeless or terminal" diseases. Some of these patients can live long, happy lives despite their serious conventionally diagnosed condition. In their lives, we learn so many lessons that enrich our abilities to be happy.

All living things are born, grow old and pass away. Death is a part of living and if we concentrate on living then we have better, happier lives. If we face death with the same sense of love and understanding that we live our lives, then we can navigate this process and learn many things along the way. As death comes, we are faced with the importance of relationship and not with things. Sometimes just calmly being together is the greatest gift of all. Don't wait to learn that lesson.

Adapted from:

This discussion will continue in the issue of Questions On Dogs and Cats that arrives on January 8, 2012.  In the meantime, Helpful Buckeye will offer a Christmas weekend edition and a New Year's weekend edition that will be loaded with interesting stories, facts, and fables about pets for your holiday enjoyment.  Don't miss them!


The Pittsburgh Steelers will be playing at San Francisco Monday night, against a 49ers team with the same 10-3 record as the Steelers.  Unfortunately, we'll be a bit short-handed...our QB might not be able to play, nor our starting center.  Beyond that, our best linebacker has been suspended for this game due to a stupid tackle he made in last week's game.  We have 2 much easier games to finish the season and should qualify for the playoffs without any problem.  However, the coaching staff will have to decide if it's more important to win this game or hold the injured players out so they can recover better for the playoffs.

The Ohio State basketball team remains in the #2 spot of the polls.


Several quotes caught my attention this week.  Since we're not only well into the holiday season, but also rapidly approaching the beginning of a new year, I felt this group of thoughts will give all of us grist to mull over as we get ready for 2012:

“Whatever is beautiful is a joy for all seasons.”  Oscar Wilde, Writer and poet

“Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn, or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude.”  Denis Waitley, Author

"Never refuse any advance of true friendship, for if nine out of ten bring you nothing but an acquaintanceship, one alone may repay you and become a really good friend."  --Claudine GuĂ©rin de Tencin, French socialite and author

~~The goal of this blog is to provide general information and advice to help you be a better pet owner and to have a more rewarding relationship with your pet. This blog does not intend to replace the professional one-on-one care your pet receives from a practicing veterinarian. When in doubt about your pet's health, always visit a veterinarian.~~

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