Monday, January 9, 2012


Helpful Buckeye hopes that all our readers made it into the New Year unscathed and ready for what the year has to offer.

The Association of Pet Dog Trainers would like all dog owners to be aware that the month of January is "National Train Your Dog Month" can find out more from them at:

OK, it's time to return to our presentation of End of Life Considerations, Pt. 1 of which ran the week before the holidays began.  There are several other aspects of those considerations that pet owners should be aware of and this issue of Questions On Dogs and Cats will finish those areas of discussion.  Helpful Buckeye received several e-mails with questions and/or comments, especially about Maxx's owners being able to conduct his euthanasia at home.  One of those, from a reader in Virginia, went this way:

"OK, you did it this time. I just read your 12/18 blog on end of life decisions for pets and the tears are streaming down my face. What a beautiful story about Maxx and his family. As you know, we are facing that decision for Megan and Duncan one of these days soon, and it's not an easy one....but a kindness we can show them after the many years of unconditional love they have shown us. Thank you for putting this into words."  Richmond, VA

Since the account of euthanasia at home seemed to touch so many chords with our readers, Helpful Buckeye offers this article as a further illustration of:

‘No other way I’d want to do it’

Many pets spend their final moments at their least-favorite place: a veterinary clinic.

After they are euthanized, their grieving owners often must pass through waiting rooms full of clients with barking dogs — headed for home with only a leash.

Billie-Jo Altier couldn’t stand the thought of such a lonely, anxious end to her relationships with her 15-year-old German shepherd, Sheena, and 16-year-old mutt, Manatee, when the time came to put each of them down.  “I wanted them to have as peaceful an exit as possible,” said Altier, 39. “I wanted to be the face they saw and the voice they heard and the hands that were on them.”  So, instead of making the dreaded trip to the vet, Altier twice hired veterinarian Jennifer Taylor to visit her North Side home.

There, the veterinarian euthanized Sheena and Manatee in their beds as they were held by the owner who had loved them since puppyhood.  “I told them what a good dog they were and how special they were and that they were going to be OK,” said Altier, her voice breaking with emotion. “There’s no other way I’d want to do it.”

Like Taylor, other veterinarians in central Ohio and nationwide also administer euthanasia in the comfort of a pet’s home.  The online In Home Pet Euthanasia Directory, a paid listing available since 2009, contains almost 100 providers, including some who offer the service exclusively.  The prices vary, depending on the size of the animal and the distance traveled.

Although she finds euthanizing animals heartbreaking, Taylor readily attends those so old or so ill that just getting them on their feet is difficult — let alone out of the house and into the car.  And she feels honored when her staff receives a touching thank-you note — a gesture that follows a euthanasia more than any other procedure.

“It’s such a raw moment in people’s lives. Even if we haven’t met people before, it really gives you a chance to know them and see their hearts,” said Taylor, owner of the HouseCalls for Dogs & Cats mobile veterinary practice.  “It gives us an insight into the relationship between people and pets.”

Euthanasia services can represent a significant portion of the mobile business for veterinarians such as Taylor, who sometimes euthanizes as many as three animals in a day.  At-home euthanasia is the sole focus of Closure, a practice founded in 2009 by Columbus veterinarian Jill Hayes after she euthanized her parents’ beloved dog in their home.  Hayes realized that a sad day might be a little less traumatic if, instead of in a vet’s office, an animal were to die in a favorite spot in the yard or on the bed where it always slept.

Owners should discuss options with their veterinarian before deciding where to euthanize pets, said Gail Golab, director of animal welfare for the American Veterinary Medical Association.  She cautioned that, in the case of complications, a veterinarian might not have all the necessary tools and medications in a home that would be available in a clinic.  Still, she said, “In terms of the animal and the client, there are advantages to doing it at home.”

In the home setting, Taylor has seen owners form prayer circles before a pet is euthanized, with one even inviting friends for a party, at which people enjoyed a cake decorated with the dog’s likeness.

Although the actual euthanization usually takes only a few minutes, Hayes might spend more than an hour with the owners, hoping to make the visit meaningful. Clinical veterinarians, though compassionate, sometimes have to keep up with a tight schedule of appointments.

Westerville resident Anne Creek appreciated the time that Hayes spent last year with Rudy, a 5-year-old Bernese mountain dog who had cancer.  Rudy wagged his tail as Hayes petted him and discussed the procedure, which often involves administering a sedative before injecting the lethal dose of anesthesia. He passed away quietly, with Creek; her husband; and the dog’s sister, Evie, by his side.  “I know that if I were dying I would have wanted him with me,” said Creek, 57. “He left the world in peace.”  Hayes then took the dog’s body to her car, returning to the home a few weeks later to deliver Rudy’s ashes. Creek keeps the urn on her nightstand, near the spot where the dog slept.

Owners appreciate such personal service, said Karen Henry, who offers at-home euthanasia through Buckeye Mobile Veterinary Services.  “A lot of people treat the pet’s death as they would that of a family member,” she said. “You go through the same emotions.”

The death of a pet can trigger broader memories, too. Hayes often hears of owners connecting a pet’s life span to a period of their lives: a dog who grew up with the children, a cat who represented the last link to a deceased spouse.

Throughout the marriage of Cynthia and Joe Reinacher, their Shar-Pei mix was a constant. The Minerva Park couple adopted Jade when she was 4 — shortly after their wedding in 2001— and the dog quickly became family.  “Every memory of us includes her,” said Cynthia Reinacher, 32. “We loved going hiking with her, taking her for road trips, snuggling on the couch. She really was our whole world.”  Earlier this year, the couple filled Jade’s bed with her favorite toys and blankets before Hayes arrived. As the 12-year-old dog passed away, they told her how much happiness she had given to their lives — a moment of sorrow that Reinacher remembers positively.

“I can look back at it now, and I don’t get sad,” she said. “I just think, ‘I’m so glad we did that.”

Adapted from:
After experiencing the loss of a pet (either through natural death, an accident, or by euthanasia), many pet owners have even more difficulty moving beyond the "sense of loss" feelings they have. 
Memorial services can help pet owners find closure

This is what Tonya Bunce remembers from the funeral, the details still clear though months have passed: a peaceful Roxy - front legs wrapped around a Teddy bear with ears frayed from chewing - surrounded by loved ones, friends and much of the staff from the veterinarian's office.  After the chaplain's comforting words, others shared their favorite memories of Roxy as they said goodbye to the little Yorkie cut down in her prime.

For Bunce, who had no idea just weeks earlier that such a service was possible, it was a fitting tribute to a dog who had so touched her life in the 3 1/2 years Roxy had lived before being hit by a car. On that Sunday afternoon in a quiet, candlelit room at Fairwinds Pet Memorial Services, Bunce felt closure for the first time.  "It was a blessing," Bunce said. "It was everything I needed."

A growing number of people are finding solace in services, ceremonies and memorials dedicated to recently deceased pets. Veterinarians once were asked to simply dispose of bodies, but owners now are spending hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to send furry loved ones off with respect and dignity.  Although viewings and memorials are relatively few at this point, those in the "pet aftercare" business say more and more owners are opting for funeral services mirroring those conducted for loved ones.

Because who's to say pets aren't loved ones?

According to a 2008 survey by American Pet Products Association, which tracks the pet industry, 39 percent of dog owners planned to make some sort of burial arrangements for their pets upon death, up from 26 percent in 2004. In addition, 23 percent planned to buy memorial stones, and 15 percent would buy urns for their pets' ashes. Four percent said they would buy grief books to record memories of the pets.

None of this surprises Mara Goebel, who leads a pet-grief group at Hospice of the Valley.  For years, owners suffered the death of their pets in silence, because if they dared share the depth of their sadness with a friend, odds are the reply would have been, "So? Get another dog (or cat, or bird, etc.)." Now people are realizing it's OK to grieve the death of a pet and to seek a caring shoulder on which to cry.  "Animals can take a deep place in our hearts," said Goebel, the hospice's bereavement office manager. "They offer us unconditional love."  The bond between pet and human companion is particularly strong among parents whose children have moved out or in adults who never had children, Goebel said. Their pets become their children, and their deaths can be traumatic.  And the grieving is as deep, as real, as if they had lost a beloved human family member. The dozen or so who attend Goebel's weekly grief sessions seek those who feel as they do about a lost pet, so they feel safe expressing the kind of sadness others associate only with the loss of a person.

Closure in the clouds

On a cloudless morning earlier this year, Lee Jones stood on the tarmac of Scottsdale Airport, blowing kisses to a four-seat Cessna rushing down the runway. She waved as it lifted into the air, taking Jones' spirits skyward.  Twenty minutes later, her cellphone chimed with an incoming text. That was the agreed-upon signal from pilot Jackie Tatelbaum, now high above Four Peaks. She was about to release the ashes of Katrina, Jones' 19-year-old cat, who three months earlier had been diagnosed with cancer.  The arrival of the text also meant it was time to read aloud Jones' handwritten tribute to Katrina. As discussed in a pre-flight meeting, Tatelbaum would speak the words in the air as the memorial was read on the ground.

Katherine Heuerman, a friend of Jones' who owns Pet and Animal Lovers Service, a pet mortuary, unfolded Jones' emotional testimony and solemnly read it aloud. Jones looked toward Four Peaks, where her cat's ashes were being scattered among the winds.  "This is a wonderful way to say goodbye," a tearful Jones said. "Katrina always loved the cold, loved to lie in the sun on winter days. Now she'll have her wish forever."

For Tatelbaum, it was less about the flight and more about the emotional journey of Katrina's owner.  That's why the certified flight instructor started Angel Wings Funeral Flights. Since incorporating a year ago, Tatelbaum has scattered pet ashes dozens of times, typically releasing them at about 3,000 to 4,000 feet, where prevailing winds can scatter them as far as 6 miles across (and yes, it is FAA-approved as long as dispersal occurs over unpopulated areas).

She was inspired by the loss of her own pet, Bessie, a dog that accompanied Tatelbaum everywhere. She could think of no better way to honor a close family member than sprinkling ashes from above, creating memorials across vast landscapes.

And as more people hear about Tatelbaum's service, she expects busier times ahead. She thinks her service is just starting to take off, and she is starting to hear from people with older pets who are planning on animal funerals.  Each week, Tatelbaum says, she receives a number of calls from owners asking about the memorial flights, as well as flowers, catering and even limo services.  "We're beginning to touch on something," she said. "It's not a trend, it's far more than that."

Memorializing the bond

For proof of the lasting impact of pet memorials, look no further than Heuerman, who founded PALS in 1986. Over the years, she has seen thousands of pets, from ferrets and birds to horses, each as beloved as the next.  When her Irish setter, Duffy, died, Heuerman was inspired to find a more humane way to deal with the death of a pet. She founded PALS so owners could make the same sort of funeral arrangements as they could for any loved one.

Heuerman remembers how common it was for owners to leave deceased pets at the vet's, trying not to think about what would happen with the remains.  At PALS, clients can spend quiet time with their pet in a private viewing room and watch the cremation process from start to finish (though few choose the latter option). Grief counseling also can be arranged.

"People want to show love and affection to their pets even in death," Heuerman said. "Memorializing helps draw closure and helps the life cycle start all over."

Those bringing their pets to Fairwinds Pet Memorial Services in Phoenix can arrange everything from simple cremations to a $4,000 funeral complete with chaplain, flowers and limousine to and from the service (although no one has ordered that package, manager Mary Rauchwarter said).

Rauchwarter, a former nurse, will groom and prepare the body for viewing, placing it on a favorite blanket, perhaps, and posing it with a favorite toy. Thanks to a large cooler that can preserve bodies up to 10 days, no embalming is necessary before services and cremations.

Business has been steady through the recession, Rauchwarter said, as Fairwinds on average conducts 25 cremations monthly and perhaps three viewings (quiet time with the pet) and one funeral (with minister, family and friends).

For a funeral or viewing, Rauchwarter often places flowers and candles around the room, suggesting that family members bring photos to place on magnetic boards. She also will arrange a meeting with the chaplain so owners can share something about their pets that can be part of the eulogy.

It can be as simple or as elaborate as the client would like, Rauchwarter said.  "It's about how much you love your pet," she said. "I've had people borrow money from Mom or do this with credit cards. For some without family or friends, pets replace family. And you want to treat them well in death."

With 18-month-old twins and a loving husband, Tonya Bunce had plenty of love in her life when Roxy was killed. But that didn't make the loss any easier, particularly because the accident happened right in front of her.  Bunce's vet suggested Fairwinds, and soon she sat down with the chaplain to share details about her Yorkie.  Bunce assisted in Roxy's prefuneral grooming, combing the Yorkie's hair into a ponytail and affixing it with a pink ribbon. And after the service, Bunce stayed behind to say her final goodbyes, wheeling Roxy into the cooler when she was finished.

"It was the closure I needed," she said. "Roxy was a big part of my life. I still miss her."

Bunce now keeps Roxy close, in a box that includes her ashes, collar and favorite toys. The box is on her nightstand, the last thing she sees each night before turning out the lights.

Another question of proper etiquette concerning the death of a pet is discussed in this article:
Modern Etiquette: When "Bob's" dog dies, do you send flowers?

By Mary Mitchell

In the old days, I had been known to point at dogs in the street and sputter callously, "That is why zoos exist. Animals should be behind bars."

That was before ZsaZsa, our French bulldog, entered my life, albeit unbidden by this columnist.  When I told my cousin, Kate, that we were about to get a puppy, she effused, "The dog will make you a better person. You will love her."  Wiser words never were spoken. Indeed, that little pup taught me, among so many other things, how to play, how to be patient, and how to be in the moment.

In short order, little ZZ created a family from my husband and me, and shared all the happy and not-so-happy moments with equal spirit, love, and loyalty.  Humbled, I have a new, zealous appreciation for the role our pets play in our lives and how -- when we lose them -- we can be as devastated as if we had lost a child.

I've long preached how important condolences are, when someone loses a loved one. Clients often ask how best to do this, especially when they might not have known the deceased, who might have been a colleague's spouse, parent, child.

Sadly, much of the Western world is a death-denying culture. We typically are given three days to grieve the loss of a family member, and then we are supposed to return to our jobs, performing as effectively as ever.  The idea seems to be to suck it up and move right along, almost as if a life-altering event had never occurred.

Fortunately for our humanity, we slowly are becoming more aware of the toll losing a loved one takes, and necessarily more empathetic in our dealings with the bereaved.'s time to appreciate how devastating the loss of a pet can be, and the effect that loss can have on our outlook, our emotions, our performance. We need to reach out to those around us, just as we would were the loss a human one.


Reverend Betsy Salunek, a hospital chaplain and grief counselor, allows that "I was one of those people who laughed at people who lost animals and were desolate...until I had my own dog."

Now she realizes that "We go through the same stages of grief when we lose a pet, and humans often have the same unfinished business with pets as humans, feeling that 'I could have done more...I was not prepared to lose my best friend.'"

Jaycee Barrett, an investment executive turned dog trainer who recently lost her beagle, Henry, said she wondered what would fill the gaps in her life when Henry died.  "For many people, our relationship with animals helps define us, and, when co-workers recognize this importance, it creates a unique, respectful, and memorable connection."

Ariana Andrade, a physician at Johns Hopkins Medical Center, admits that losing her dog Bella made focusing at work tough.  "It was also very hard to come home at the end of the day and not find her there," she said. "I avoided coming home until I knew my husband was already home, because I just could not bear being there by myself without Bella."

Andrade cautioned the well-intentioned friend against suggesting a replacement as part of efforts to reach out.  "People often asked me when I was getting another dog. That made me feel worse and wonder whether, if a human being had died instead of a dog, they would have asked me 'when are you getting another son, or husband, or friend?'"

Barrett agrees with those sentiments, and adds that "When Henry died, personalized sentiments in handwritten letters, a plant to nurture in memory of the loss, a donation to a dog park, a shelter, or a particular pet illness gave me great comfort."

Ron Hunter, yet another Wall Street executive turned dog trainer, recommends as a means to express condolence, especially when we are well-intentioned yet clueless.  "If you really can't connect, it's better to keep your mouth shut because you know you will say the wrong thing.  Fortunately, there are more pet condolence cards available now, as a last resort."

Our pets enrich our lives, and, when they are taken from us, we suffer. Let us be mindful of this and reach out with compassion to those who have lost a beloved animal, giving them time and space for adequate grieving, while letting them know that we understand.

Adapted from:

Reversing the situation just a bit, many pet owners worry about how their pets will fare if they (the owner) get too sick to properly take care of their pet.

Pet Peace of Mind: A caring program for ailing owners

Imagine this: A person is terminally ill. Has weeks or months to live. Must tend to end-of-life matters, and, with depleted energy and, probably, resources, try to make the most of her remaining time. For this person, a great comfort — perhaps the greatest comfort — is her pet, who provides round-the-clock love during even the worst moments.

Now imagine that in this awful time the patient can eliminate one area of worry: Her much-loved pet's vet care, grooming, food, medicines and other needs will be provided, as if on the wings of angels, free of charge. As the patient grows increasingly unable to provide for the pet that has always stood nearby and continues to do so, there is peace in knowing its every need is being tended to.

That's the sort of experience pet-owning clients of Hospice of Green Country in Tulsa have been able to count on in the last couple of years. The chaplain there, Delana Taylor McNac, a former veterinarian, launched a pet-care program because she knew that keeping their pets near was hugely comforting to the hospice clients, but she was also aware that patients often were unable to provide the care their animals needed.

The Pet Peace of Mind Program that Taylor McNac developed provides not only pet food, vet care, meds for older animals with arthritis or other chronic disease, flea and tick control, and vaccinations, but also sends volunteers to walk dogs, make runs to the groomer, or provides transportation for any other pet need.

I learned of Taylor McNac's efforts 18 months ago when I researched and wrote a story about the tiny handful of programs cropping up around the country to help the elderly or terminally ill keep their animals at the time when, we can assume, they need them most. As I spoke with Taylor McNac back then, I found myself wishing that ailing pet owners everywhere could receive the same solace this woman was bringing to the people of Tulsa.

And now, it turns out, there's a greater chance of that happening.

Banfield Charitable Trust has stepped up to promote and share the Pet Peace of Mind Program with non-profit hospices nationwide, and is offering up to $5,000 in start-up money for those that decide to implement it.

Here's how that happened: Several months ago, Hospice of Green Country applied to Banfield Charitable Trust for a grant for its pet program. And folks there were so impressed with what Taylor McNac was doing in Tulsa, they asked her to reconstruct the early planning phase, create a manual and participate in training in exchange for a grant to grow its program.

"We knew hospices had a desire to help people with pets," says Banfield Charitable Trust's Dianne McGill. But they also knew most hospices couldn't spare the time necessary to deal with all the planning and detail work required to launch such a program, and most couldn't come up with the cash to get it off the ground. Now two of the biggest obstacles are being diminished.

In the month or so since the trust began publicizing through the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization the availability of the training program and funds, more than 100 hospices have contacted McGill. Five are deeply engaged in the process that will get Pet Peace of Mind launched in their communities.

"We planned for a lot of demand," says McGill, "but the response surprised even us."

Hospices with limited means "need not adopt every facet of the program," says McGill. The materials were developed to be "incredibly flexible" to meet every community's need so each can expand according to its own realities. "Our intent is to arm them for success."

McGill hopes that by the end of this year, "seven to 10 hospices will be in the late stage of start-up."

We can all hope that happens … and that the movement escalates with time.

In its two years of existence, Hospice of Green Country's Pet Peace of Mind Program has helped 89 patients with 239 animals, says Taylor McNac. That's a great many people who probably spent their final days a lot more peacefully. "I want every hospice to offer the same," she says. "The human-animal bond is intense, and it's important we see pets as part of the family system."

And although she's involved in the national effort, Taylor McNac is continuing to fine-tune and add to her own facility's program. She has started a blog; she has formed alliances with some of the local pet rescue groups; and although 90% of her hospice's clients make arrangements for new homes for their pets after they are gone, she wants to help those who haven't, so she's working to add that component.

Banfield Charitable Trust, meanwhile, is continuing fundraising efforts ( to ensure start-up money will continue to be available to hospices that want to embark on the program.

Adapted from:

Now, you understand the double meaning of "End of Life Considerations For Your Pet"....

The Humane Society of the United States also has a couple of web sites with information that might be helpful for those who wish to provide, ahead of time, an organized plan for taking care of their pets.

Providing for Your Pet's Future Without You

Knowing that pets usually have shorter lifespans than humans, you may have planned for your animal friend's passing.

But what if you are the one who becomes ill or incapacitated, or who dies first?

As a responsible pet owner, you provide your pet with food and water, shelter, veterinary care, and love. To ensure that your beloved pet will continue to receive this if something unexpected were to happen to you, it's critical to plan ahead. 

As a lighter ending for this rather somber topic, Helpful Buckeye offers this sincere question and answer from one of my favorite columnists, Clay Thompson, in the Arizona Republic:

Scotsman weighs in on differences between mice, men

Today's question: Do you think animals know that they are going to die some day? I know they realize when they are ill and want to hide, but do they know there is an end?

Well, now, that's a good one.

I don't think anyone knows the answer for sure, so I guess I'll throw it out to you people.

It is true that most animals will go away and find some place to hide when they are sick or injured.

Is that because they know they're dying or because they feel weak and vulnerable and want to feel they are safe?

It also is true that when elephants come across the skeleton of another elephant, they will pick up the bones and sniff them.

Are they just curious or do they detect a familiar smell? Or do they realize those are the bones of a herd mate that won't ever come back? Or are they contemplating their own mortality?

And it's true that some pets seem to know when their human companion is gone. Do they understand that person is dead or do they just feel lonesome?

My guess -- and it's only a guess, mind you -- is that animals do not have enough self-awareness, enough cognitive sense, to know they're going to die.

So what do you people think?

This is what the poet Robert Burns, speaking to a mouse, had to say on the subject:

"Still, thou art blest, compar'd wi' me!

The present only toucheth thee:

But och! I backward cast my e'e, On prospects drear!

An' forward, tho' I canna see, I guess an' fear!"

Adapted from:

The Pittsburgh Steelers went to Denver today to play the Broncos in the first round of the NFL playoffs....and it wasn't pretty.  First, they dug themselves a big hole and were fortunate to tie the Broncos at the end of regulation.  Then, they gave up an 80-yard TD pass on the first play of overtime.  I don't want to hear any of our Steeler fans moan about all the injuries we had...the guys that played today just didn't do their job very well.  Hats off to Denver, they had a smart game plan and, for the most part, stuck to it.

It's a good thing that I really like college basketball because it will have to scratch my competitive sports itch until baseball gets underway.  And, speaking of baseball, pitchers and catchers report on February 16th.  If you're a baseball fan, you'll understand what that means.  If you're not, I can't help you.  I've already started the process of picking up some tickets to Spring Training...I've got a couple of friends who are just as big baseball fans as yours truly.


Most of us know someone who is easily bored...asking us how we find enough to keep us busy.  John Burroughs, Naturalist and Essayist, had this great answer:

“I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see.” 

...that might be what Bronco fans are shouting right now!

~~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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