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Saturday, April 14, 2018

Dog bite prevention faces one unseen but powerful barrier

Dog Bite Prevention Week encompasses a lot of topics regarding unfavorable interactions that result in dog bites, and one has been rolling around my head the past couple of days.

I've had *one* incident occur in all of my years as a professional, and it was very dicey because even though it was through no shortsightedness on my part, I still bore the inherent responsibilty of a lot of things as a result. It was my ethical and personal responsibilty to ensure that the individual was tended to medically, that emotionally, they were okay and that they had proof that my charge was fully vaccinated. It was not fun to contact my client and tell them what had occured.

It was a valuable lesson for me in that sometimes, no matter how much you advocate for a dog in your care (please don't approach, he's isn't comfortable with that), no matter how you try to explain that you're advocating for yourself and the other human (please don't try to pet him, he's not good at handling himself), regardless of you pointing out that the other person shouldn't stick their hand through a fence to pet a dog who is overly stimulated despite the handler’s protestations (which is what happened in this incident), some folks will still do it. I try to dodge situations like that on a daily basis when I’m with my canine charges, and yes, it can be frustrating.

My bigger problem is that I hear and see a lot of shaming from colleagues and others who work with animals. I find the practice unsavory, though I get why it happens: when you're a professional or a savvy family member who understands the ins and outs of canine and feline behavior, you see things through a very defined, clear lens. You see perhaps a less-idealistic view, one that's at times completely obstructed for those who don't have the experience and knowledge. And so the shaming begins, sometimes out of smugness, maybe out of frustration. Shaming that is directed at those who want to interact with other people’s dogs, and those who want others to interact with their dogs. Who can blame them?? For goodness’ sake, dogs are pleasant to touch, and known to be playful and happy. The bring out the best in us, they draw out fond memories from our past and break down proverbial barriers that we put up and break the ice in social situations. They’re a social lubricant of sorts, a drug even.

As a dog bite safety educator (a distinction earned through Doggone Safe), I have a lot of conversations with folks of all ages and backgrounds about how to foster safe interactions with their canine friends, and we talk about how they can help their dogs navigate challenging situations better. But often, I can tell that when they hear me, I’m sounding a lot like the teacher on a Peanuts cartoon. This is especially true when a dog is standing right in front of them. And the other day, it occurred to me why that might be. I don’t think I’m having a hard time articulating what I am trying to say, nor do I think what I’m saying is hard to understand. It could have something -- at least in part -- to do with our biology.

Applied ethologist and dog behavior consultant Kim Brophey pointed out in her rather powerful TED Talk ‘The Problem With Treating a Dog Like a Pet’, when we see a dog, we get a hit of oxytocin -- the feel-good hormone.  But that wasn’t the only profound thing she talked about. There was plenty more.

I’m all too familiar with oxytocin and how it helps us mammals. But what Brophy helped me to understand better is that it’s a little tough for us to behave rationally, to think about what a dog really wants or what they can reasonably handle in social situations, when we’re feeling that rush of oxytocin. Our brains can become as hijacked by that love hormone, which is a dangerous thing when we’re interacting with a dog who has been communicating to us that the unit of their brain and body is feeling equally hijacked by fear and anxiety by what we’re doing and they are running out of ways to safely convey that they aren’t comfortable with a situation we’ve put them in.

While it’s certainly not an excuse, but an explanation (though there are surely other factors involved), I suspect that is what really happened on the day with that interaction between my charge and his neighbor at the fence, and what happens during many interactions that I see on a regular basis.

The good news is that because we have the bigger brain, autonomy and the knowledge of what’s happening, we can get in the habit of regulating ourselves and stop and think about how our own behavior is affecting the dogs. We can learn to recognize the body language, the calming/appeasement signals that dogs are tossing around like confetti when we put them in a situation they might not be equipped to handle or are at their threshold. But we have to get a handle on our inherent addiction to oxytocin first.

I know that going forward, I’ll be a lot more cognizant of the notion that the person who so desparately wants to get up close and personal with my charges on any given day might be overwhelmed by a rush of oxytocin and not thinking as clearly as they would like to. An unexpected hit of that love drug is something that I think a lot of people could use a lot more of these days. Given that, I feel confident that my go-to tactic for dissuading others from interacting with a canine charge and I while we’re out on adventure will be effective, but in the kindest, most thoughtful way possible. I detail how I do that here. After all, it’s my job as a Certified Professional Pet Sitter to not only to provide the very best care to my charges, but to be a good steward of exemplifying, modeling and teaching in safe interactions between pets and humans.

Lorrie Shaw is a Certified Professional Pet Sitter (CPPS) and owner of Professional Pet Sitting, where she specializes in ancillary pet palliative and pet hospice care. She's a member of Doggone Safe (where she completed the Speak Dog Certificate Program), as well as the International Association of Animal Hospice and Palliative Care, Pet Sitter International and Pet Professional Guild. She tweets at @psa2.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Optimal sleep is a simple way to bolster a pet's palliative or hospice care plan

Ask most people what they could use more of and they'll say, 'sleep'. 

Oh yes, we value it so much and know that we need it to be our best selves. So why is it that so many of us strut around like its a badge of honor to exclaim how little sleep we've had and how productive we are [or think we are]? It's understandable, really, given the current societal climate: if you're not busy most of your waking hours and intrude on those hours when you can rest optimally, you're a loser. That, coupled with a world that's perpetually 'open for business', it's hard to honor our inherent need for sleep, and not just some shut eye, I'm talking about restful, valuable sleep. The truth is, we humans aren't the only ones that need sleep; animals are dependent on it. A new series, "The Secret World of Animal Sleep" on the Smithsonian Earth website, details those parts of the lives of the animal world. 

As a companion animal death doula, and as someone who interacts with senior and geriatric pets regularly, it's hard not to notice that some families have a tendency to impart their own attitudes about rest and sleep onto their pets. Though I see it less often with cats—the assumption that cats sleep their lives away isn't lost on any of us—I'll often hear families lament that their dogs seem to sleep a lot. The truth is, they do, and it's not just growing puppies! 

Older pets, those who are ill or recovering from illness or injury and yes in their twilight or are approaching their end need adequate rest. That said, the standard isn't one-size-fits all. After surgery or an illness of course, it's understandable that recovery takes a lot out of anyone so that's easier to take notice of. What can be more difficult to recognize is when the need tends to build slowly with advanced age and any complicating illness or disease trajectory, as it tends to be more gradual. That, and we might forget how much some daily life and events take out of them: that car ride to relative's house for a fun visit, having a contractor working at the house—even a new arrival like a baby or another pet. 

One of things that I've seen unfold time and time again is a scenario that can get easily overlooked: the need for predictability and routine with our companion animals. It's not all that uncommon on my Monday and Tuesday rounds to find older or hospice pets exhausted, crabby and out-of-sorts. (I also note higher incidences of digestive upset and nausea, but I digress.) For many families, they're away at work and school on weekdays but then on weekends, there's more hustle and bustle around the house, disrupting a pet's usual rest periods, plus there's more inclusion. One astute family pointed this out years ago as their Dalmatian eased into twilight and it's been a barometer I've gratefully employed ever since in my work. 

The point is, any fluctuation in schedule or health status uses physical and mental energy, which can deplete energy stores, so more rest is necessary to cope. And it seems important to remind that things take longer to recover from as age advances.

One thing that I gather from my conversations with families is that it can be a tough pill to swallow, noticing those changes that occur with the age or possible illness of a pet and our need to then admit that's the case. Sometimes, we ignore what we see, so please know it's a normal response to those gut-wrenching realizations but it's something we can and need to hurdle.

What's important to remember is that adequate rest is one of the most helpful, supportive and nurturing things we can offer our pets as they demonstrate to us they're slowly winding down.

In fact, as I've seen in my time in animal hospice, pets tend to fare better when they've been afforded adequate rest balanced with other aspects of a palliative care plan that's tailored to their needs. One of the questions that I ask families with pets receiving enhanced palliative care or in hospice when we meet is, 'How well are they resting? Are they sleeping comfortably? Are you sleeping?'

So, how can we best help our pets roll with the punches during this time? It's pretty simple. The notion of setting the tone for comfort and a sense of safety along with ensuring that there is time set aside for rest affords them the autonomy to do so.

A bed that accommodates their physical comfort, especially when it comes to arthritis is a great start, along with choosing an area of the home that they feel most comfortable in. Having an amount of privacy that suits them (some pets need to be alone) and an optimal level of quiet helps, too. In fact, a few of my families have found it necessary to give their pet a room of their own, preferably one with a door, to rest undisturbed. This not only achieves a peaceful space in terms of noise, privacy and temperature—the latter can be critical for some animals—but in a household with multiple pets, it's not uncommon for the infirm pet to be bullied or fussed with a bit by one or more others so this offers some protection when things can't be supervised. (I see this more so with cats.) 

Balancing out factors like this can optimize the most important of all, time. Understanding what does work for your pet in terms of how much quality sleep they are requiring, and adjusting for stress, seasonal changes (I find that heat and humidity in the summer and wintertime's snow and cold affects energy levels) and changes in their condition and any accompanying anxiety. Some days, you'll notice that your animal friend is demonstrating that they're up for more engagement and that's terrific! Just know that they'll likely need more rest afterwards, so make room for that.

It's a simple idea, but a good solid rest sets up how the coming hours and even days unfold, and using a more encompassed approach with facilitating sleep can yield more good days and help soften the bumpy ones. An equally great benefit of seeing to it that your pet has the kind of rest that they need is that you'll have a better chance of sleeping well, too—something that we need to be our best for everyone in our life, and also helps support that all important human-animal bond well into a pet's end of life. 

As always, I urge my families to take what they derive from the conversations that we have about sleep and other concerns and talk to their veterinarian about additional options that are appropriate and safe for their companion animal. This can include veterinary-formulated nutraceuticals, herbs, supplements, acupuncture and even pharmaceuticals. 

Lorrie Shaw is owner of Professional Pet Sitting, where she specializes in ancillary pet palliative and pet hospice care support. She is also a Certified Pet Loss and Grief Companion and a member of The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement as well as the International Association of Animal Hospice and Palliative Care and Pet Sitter International. She tweets at @psa2.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Rituals as storytelling can help the grief process after the loss of a pet

We have few things in our collective culture that serve as markers in life. You know, those things that say that we've reached points in our respective journeys that are significant. In the broadest sense, aside from cementing our relationship with another human like with a wedding, the birth or welcoming of a new child or serving our country during war -- and for some in our culture, those situations never occur -- there really is little else that we feel compelled to mark as a rite of passage, aside from some cases, religious ones. 

Rituals and traditions are a natural part of the events that we do honor, and in our culture, I can see that we need more of that. Reclaiming rites of yore and establishing new ones would be especially helpful in navigating the bumpier times, enable us more solidly connect to members of the proverbial clubs that we're (sometimes unintentionally) initiated into and to navigate that new territory. Rituals demand that we engage in the act of noticing -- something that Ellen Langer has pioneered the discussion of -- as well as find the language (verbally and visually) to articulate meaning. They incorporate movement, too, which is especially important in rituals attached to loss. (Moving our bodies helps us move our minds and hearts through the mourning process.) They also help facilitate the very important mental movement from grief into mourning and that mystery of 'what will life be like going forward?'. It's all very much about storytelling, the core of ritual. 

Aside from helping to attach a sense of physicality to important events in our lives, rituals are closely tied to the idea of time. When we're grieving and mourning, our sense of time often feels skewed, and ritual helps us gain some equilibrium with it. It's also acts as a tether to the past, reminds of the present and helps us remember that there's a future. Rituals and traditions summon a sense of timelessness. 

Painful events, and there are many of them -- a death of a loved one, the loss of a job, losing a breast, a move cross-country from a place one feels bonded to, a relationship that dissolves, selling a business -- are tough because we don't know who we're supposed to be, other than strong enough to navigate it. So, in hushed tones, we slog through the emotions that invariably arise. Yet they're all part of our story, our collective stories. And we grieve to varying degrees when these things happen, even if we don't realize it, and then we mourn. We mourn the familiarity, the comfort, the identity what is attached to it has given us. There is that unsettling sense of uncertainty that accompanies it all. After all, there's the idea of a 'new you' unfolding.

But often, we don't ritualize losses, outside of a funeral for a human member of our tribe. And what happens when a pet dies? We often feel too shamed to express our grief then, let alone give that life event a marker. The truth is that we need to do that even more then. We need to acknowledge and honor our story with that pet with ourselves, discover the verbal and visual language to articulate it and for those who've earned the right to hear it, we need to share the story with them. This kind of storytelling not only enables us to express our own path of loss, grief and mourning, it invites others to convey theirs. The latter can be an incredibly rich and full experience as well. 

The ways that we ritualize the passing of our pet can be as vast and unique as our lives with them. 

Loss offers an opportunity to express emotions in unexpected ways

One family shared their recent experience of using ritual after Nico, their 17 year-old cat, passed away after complications from chronic kidney disease.

A sense of emptiness, even discombobulation is a common feeling amongst those I work with in Pet Loss and Grief Companioning.

Photo credit: Meghan Storey

"...there was just this sadness and also a kind of surreal-ness," said Meghan Storey, one of Nico's humans. The day after the family's vet helped her along, Storey walked into the house from work for the first time without her cat being there. The new normal became starkly visible.

"Like, logically you know what's happened. You were there. You brought her to the vet, you left without her... but it still doesn't seem to make sense. Yesterday there was a cat here, today there's an empty space. I walked in the door to this empty table and I'm guessing I cried. I felt this need to acknowledge that Nico had been here. It would seem wrong to just come in and make dinner like it was an ordinary day. This little furry life had come and gone and intersected with mine for quite a few years, and she had a beautiful spirit, and I couldn't just carry on like she hadn't existed."

I was kept me up to date on how things were going with Nico, and was in the loop as bigger decisions were made on her behalf. It wasn't easy time. But a couple days after Nico died, I got an email that exuded a radiance, a sense of peace. Remembering what she saw with regard to the death and funeral traditions belonging to one of her best friend's family, who happen to be Vietnamese Buddhist, an idea organically formed in Storey's mind. In the Vietnamese Buddhist tradition, setting up a small adorned shrine in the home with photos of the deceased loved ones is common, as is burning incense. And these loved ones are acknowledged on a regular basis, sometimes setting out favorite foods and other things that they loved.

She explained, "And so, I set to work putting together my own little tribute to Nico. I lit a few sticks of incense and a candle. I put out little dishes of different foods that she liked, and treats, and some milk and water. A couple of her toys. And it really helped. I felt like I was honouring her."

Photo credit: Meghan Storey
With Nico's ashes home where they belong, the ritual continues.

"Since then, I have been lighting a little candle for Nico most nights. I was comforted when we received Nico's ashes, and then the sympathy card with her paw print from the vet. I've set up a very small shrine on our mantle. That's just my way of remembering that Nico was here, and letting her know that we loved her and that her sweet little spirit is welcome to hang out here any time it wants."

Do what's meaningful and comfortable for you 

I had done a lot of intentional work beforehand to prepare for the passing of both my pets, who did so 8 months apart. They had benefit of going to peace at home, so I wasted no time in beginning the ritual practices, and in fact, I recommend it. My vet made clay impressions of their paws after they transitioned. I spent some hours alone with them at home to allow myself some time to feel any recoil from the day and clipped locks of fur from their vessels to be made into memorial art pieces and jewelry. After transporting them to the facility, the staff helped me tend to them, situating their vessels in their final resting boxes just so in preparation for private cremation. Spending that last bit of time with them, tending to them was incredibly powerful and cathartic, and though it's not something everyone would feel comfortable doing, I did and it's really good that the option is there for others. 

The things I did on those days, and what Nico's family did for themselves incorporated important elements: tangible objects, words, movement and meaningful, intentional activity that make rituals what they are. 

I've no doubt that because of the rituals, I was able to remember more details from those days, something that I really wanted to do, knowing how much of a blur they can be in the fog of grief.

I did other things, like set up small tribute tables for each of them, incorporating things that remind me of them or that belonged to them. I donated any leftover veterinary medications and pet food to local animal organizations. 

There was more stuff that I did, and still do as an active ritual, years later.

I keep a plush soccer ball of Gretchen's on my bed amongst the throw pillows and I see and pick it up and bop it around every morning or when I'm stressed. She loved sports balls of any kind, but especially soccer balls. In her geriatric years, she preferred softer options for her old teeth and one day at IKEA, I saw the perfect choice. Happiness ensued! I plant catnip every summer because I know Silver loved finding it in the yard -- it still makes me laugh to recall finding him ripping it out of its spot if I wasn't paying attention. 

Rituals spur the memories that we need to remind us, and in their own way are a form of effortless storytelling. And storytelling is something that we really need to get us through the bumpy periods in our lives, and to remind us to make each and everyday matter.

Lorrie Shaw is owner of Professional Pet Sitting, where she specializes in ancillary pet palliative and pet hospice care support. She is also a Certified Pet Loss and Grief Companion and a member of The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement as well as the International Association of Animal Hospice and Palliative Care and Pet Sitter International. She tweets at @psa2.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Planning ahead empowers your pets to better handle your absence during holiday travel

There’s something to be said for the benefits of routine. To some degree, I think we’re wired for it. It offers a sense of familiarity in that we know what to expect, even a sense of safety. When routines are disrupted, no matter how little, it can make an impact on how well we humans and companion animals navigate through our respective days and nights. A frequent conversation that I end up engaging in this time of year is about how busy I must be. The truth is that my schedule, no matter the ratio of healthy pets, those with special behavioral needs or those receiving palliative or hospice/comfort care, is no busier during the holidays than other times of year. Long ago, I understood the virtues of curating my schedule carefully so that there is adequate time to tend to everyone, including myself. I’m also all too aware of how stressful this time of year can be for the families in my care, with the prospect of traveling when it seems every other family is, maybe dealing with any bad weather and yes, spending time with extended family that they don’t see all that often and maybe find difficult to be around.

So, I step it up a bit to ensure that things go as smoothly as possible for everyone, and that includes the pets in my care especially.

Most pets do pretty well in weathering the temporary changes in their routine, and they don’t need too much extra in the way of consideration, though every bit helps. But for those pets that are medically-fragile and/or lack coping skills to deal with changes in caregiving, schedule and in wrestling with boredom, they’re at a real disadvantage. And that’s when my advocating for them in an effort to allow them the autonomy to practice their own brand of self care -- yes, pets can do it too! -- really needs to come to the forefront. I’m a big believer in self care, and it’s concept that I embrace personally, and I espouse it where my colleagues are concerned, not to mention with clients who are navigating hospice care with their pets or other loved ones. By having the tools and resources that we need to ride the waves of change or bumpy periods, we can fare so much better.

But back to pets. How do we give them the autonomy to practice self care? How to better handle themselves when their families are away, to maintain an optimal level of physical and emotional wellness, to not have their already delicate health go off the rails?

By thinking ahead, anticipating needs, knowing their habits and where/when they tend to have trouble. By offering enrichment, comfort, and yes, even novelty.


This is all relative, right? Lots of things lead to comfort: the right bedding, favorite toys, appropriate things to chew on, being able to get outside to relieve themselves when they need to, even staying on track with prescribed medication. I am adamant about families making sure that those prescription meds or foods are refilled in advance of any trips away (this is super-important for those pets needing supportive care like subcutaneous fluid therapy, tube feeding or pain medications). Is your pet needing to get outside or visit the litter box more often because of age, illness or medication? Arranging in advance for your caregiver to make scheduled, timely visits for potty breaks and checking the litter boxes makes a huge difference. We all behave better when our physical comfort needs are met.

Edible encouragement

Don’t underestimate the power of tasty food and treats. It’s easy to get in that trap of thinking, ‘You’re just bribing them’, but oh, contraire. Food is a powerful reinforcer. I use pieces of kibble  or high value treats -- Happy Making Stuff, I call it -- a lot in my work to reinforce behavior that I want or need from a pet, no matter if they are canine, feline or avian. During our interactions, pets come to count on the fact that when I’m with them, it means that good things are going to happen, and that equals a cooperative and willing attitude.

Pheromones, Rescue Remedy, neutraceuticals (and catnip)

This is, in my opinion, a grossly underestimated area to tap into when empowering pets. I use Feliway, Adaptil and catnip profusely in my day-to-day, and it’s truly Happy Making Stuff. An ever-growing list of neutraceuticals can be tremendously helpful, too. Click here for more on that.


I talk about this a lot with my families, the age of the pet doesn’t matter. Geriatric pets need mental stimulation and enrichment every bit as much as puppies do, and when it comes to cats, they need every bit of help in that area as they can get. Food puzzles, frozen Kongs, scavenger hunts are all fabulous ways to promote the yay! quotient. Don’t forget their old, favorite standbys and yes, snag a couple of new toys for your caregiver to give them while you’re away. Novelty in this way can be a boon.

Consider the length of your trip

Where’s your pet’s tipping point in terms of how long they can tolerate being out of routine? I have this frank conversation often with the hospice families that I work with, and in erring on the side of mindfulness, a pet can fare much better. Despite any efforts to empower them to manage your absence, there are limits to what some pets can handle, no matter how much they love their temporary caregiver.

With all of this in mind, it's important to keep in mind that these are just a few things to seriously consider to empower your pets in practicing the very best in self care as you make your way out for holiday travel and they're out of routine. After all, you know your pet better than anyone. It also never hurts to pick your pet care professional’s brain about what strategies they think will work best for your tribe, and where their collective limits might be.

Lorrie Shaw is owner of Professional Pet Sitting, where she specializes in ancillary pet palliative and pet hospice care and is also a Certified Pet Loss and Grief Companion. She's a member of Doggone Safe (where she completed the Speak Dog Certificate Program), as well as the International Association of Animal Hospice and Palliative Care, Pet Sitter International and Pet Professional Guild. She tweets at @psa2.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Picking battles, understanding limits while a pet is in hospice can be transformative

Recently, I was meeting with a family to get up to speed on their dog’s hospice care plan. They had lost another dog, Sal -- one that they had adopted well into his senior years -- only a couple of years earlier, and that experience was still quite fresh in their memory. In the time since their sweet boy, Timo, had developed a life-limiting illness, we’ve set time aside to talk about the changes that have been occurring, how the family is feeling about what’s happening, how well they feel they’re all managing and bouncing ideas around about comfort care and safety.

“I really wish that I could do more for Timo,” said my client, someone who I might add isn’t shy about administering care, no matter how challenging or messy the task is.

“I get the feeling that you mean a little more than what you’re saying,” I replied.

This, after getting the update on my charge’s updated prescription regimen and hearing how he gave the clear indication that he wouldn’t be accepting of acupuncture. He also doesn’t tolerate taking one of his medications well, so, as with many hospice pets, we give the medications he needs in order of importance, and administer what he’ll reasonably allow and revisit what he won’t a little while later in hopes that we’re successful -- basically, picking our battles.

“Yes,” she went on to say, with a big sigh. “I just wish I could give him all of the medications everyday. Sal was so good about it; Timo is a different story, and he’s not faring as well as he could.”

One thing that I’m certain of in my work is that navigating animal hospice isn’t routine, nor perfect.

There’s the notion of having ideal days, rough days, really good days, great days, even, but it’s never perfect. Having that realization come at you when you’re hospicing a pet, especially when you’ve tended to another so recently can make for a daunting journey. And when things had gone well in one’s previous experiences with animal hospice, it can conjure up some complicated, unexpected feelings -- including frustration and guilt -- emotions that we when we need to free from when trying to focus on providing that level of care.

The truth is that we need our pet’s cooperation, their permission, really, to carry out a hospice care plan, among other things.

Some companion animals are extremely easy going, like Sal was, others not as much. It seems important to note that no two pets are alike, nor are their disease trajectories, even if they seem similar. Case in point: two like-aged cats with renal insufficiency can fare differently based on any additional diagnoses that they have, like diabetes, hyperthyroidism -- not to mention their personalities. A medical issue seems easy enough to contend with, right? It’s there, it is what it is, no wrestling with it. It’s more tangible, rigid, cut and dry. But a pet’s willingness to consent or cooperate with allowing care, veterinary exams, taking medication requires flexibility; we can try and work with that, we can cajole them.

Or can we?

Well, most of the time. Sometimes. In some cases, never. And there’s the rub.

Sure, we can be creative with compounded medications and with disguising pills and capsules, and that works well, but sometimes, we just need to honor what our pet is telling us and back off a bit, maybe try again later. Perhaps the pet prefers someone else to handle that particular duty.

We can forgo some treatments, even supportive care like subcutaneous fluids, and try other, less effective strategies that a pet will accept or that we’re able to manage.

We can, if it’s too stressful for the pet or the humans, go with a house call veterinarian instead of going to a vet clinic.

With some pets, hospicing them -- nor treating them reliably for any medical condition -- isn’t an option at all because they won’t allow anyone to handle them, something that becomes more necessary as things progress. We can only do what they will accept, and what we’re able.

Something else to think about is how we as family members might be different in handling the duties of providing palliation or hospice care the second or third time around. We’re not the same person as before. It’s important to ask ourselves: Are we as physically able to manage it? Do we have the time needed to devote to it? Mentally, do we feel equipped? Are the financial resources in place? Are we trying to manage the care of a human loved one who needs it right now as well? Is everyone in the household on board with managing the plan?

That’s only part of what affects how a palliative and hospice care plan can be seen through. Ensuring that the pet and the humans at the core are feeling honored and supported by the professionals involved (veterinarians, pet sitters and even a pet’s trainer or behaviorist) is also vital through the process. So is understanding that circumstances can change at any time and affect the way that the plan is carried out. I’ve seen time and time again that much of the strife that is felt by families comes with the ever-changing landscape that comes before a pet dies, and it can be amplified by comparing this experience with previous ones, especially if the latter was one that was more manageable.

I’m not going to say don’t feel guilty or don’t let the fact that your pet isn’t accepting of treatment upset you, because that’s our nature to have emotions like that in those situations. What I will offer is this: give yourself a moment to take a step back along with a deep breath, and understand that you are doing the very best that you can on any given day with the resources that you have and what your companion animal will allow. You might be surprised that in giving yourself the permission, the courage to do that, you can transform this time of life with your pet.

Lorrie Shaw is owner of Professional Pet Sitting, where she specializes in ancillary pet palliative and pet hospice care support. She is also a Certified Pet Loss and Grief Companion and a member of The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement as well as the International Association of Animal Hospice and Palliative Care and Pet Sitter International. She tweets at @psa2.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Disrupted sleep cycles can be a result of and a clue into how much stressful events affect dogs

“Bumble has been behaving oddly the past few weeks, and I’ve been concerned about that, given that she’s so young and has been healthy. She’s been urinating in the house, and at times seems so touchy. You know her pretty well -- any ideas??”

This was an email that I got a few weeks ago, and the question, well, it’s not all that unusual.

I decided to call Bumble’s human, rather than email back, since it seemed like the best way to get to a solution. We chatted for a bit, talking about what was going on in her family’s life, and then I asked some more questions that ranged from if there were any changes in the dog’s appetite, her water intake, bowel movements, any disinterest in her usual favored things or activities, apprehension with other pets -- any small detail. A couple of things had accompanied the inappropriate elimination, including some sleep changes and being withdrawn at times. She even snapped at the vet staff -- something that was very uncharacteristic of her, as she loves going to the vet -- to have an exam to get to the bottom of any possible health issue behind the behavior changes. Plowing forward, I helped Bumble’s human whittle down things even more: was there a pattern to these things happening? When did they start? Does the intensity increase at any time?

In the end, we figured out that, after an unfavorable interaction with another dog that occurred weeks before (Bumble was bitten and required a few stitches and an antibiotic for a bite wound to her leg), she hadn’t been herself -- that’s the time that the behavioral changes started. Putting everything together, it all made sense. But one thing -- the sleep changes -- were especially telling.

A recent study on how stressful experiences affect a dog’s sleep drive home this point. Researchers from the Family Dog Project wanted to see if stress affects sleep, and just how much. The results, which were derived from observing 16 dogs, divided into two groups (one-half having a good interaction, the other an unfavorable one) over a period of days. You can learn more about the study by clicking here.

We know that sleep is important for a lot of things, and during all stages of life. It’s especially vital when we are trying to heal from an injury (as in Bumble’s case) or navigating a stressful period. A secondary issue that Bumble’s family faced is that they were losing sleep because of Bumble’s tendency to be restless at night.

After implementing some strategies that I suggested (with her vet’s input, blessing and oversight) to help Bumble manage the after-effects of the traumatic event that she encountered, the sweet pooch was able to settle into a more normal routine and get back on track.

The takeaway: when a pet is expressing behaviors that are new to us, and troubling or less-than-we-expect from them, we can’t opine that they are doing so out of spite, or anger or other very-human reaction. Pets are great communicators, and if we are paying close attention to the details, we can often get to the root of what is going on. We also can’t discount the importance of sleep, for every member of the family.

Lorrie Shaw is owner of Professional Pet Sitting, where she specializes in ancillary pet palliative and pet hospice care and is also a Certified Pet Loss and Grief Companion. She's a member of Doggone Safe (where she completed the Speak Dog Certificate Program), as well as the International Association of Animal Hospice and Palliative Care, Pet Sitter International and Pet Professional Guild. She tweets at @psa2.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Indifference, lack of support from others after losing a pet can stem from hidden stories

That flush of emotion -- one that can encompass anything from sadness, a void, a breathlessness even confusingly accompanied by a catch of vibrant joy after recalling a fond memory -- is sometimes familiar, at other times, surprisingly less so, equally gripping and can hit any time. It’s that emotion that comes with the grief after the loss of a loved one. Loss that is recent, anticipated or is one that has had a chance to cure a bit with time or tending. The accompanying grief that inextricably links us as part of the human experience can just as easily isolate those that it’s touching if it doesn’t really register on the radar of loved ones, friends, those that we work alongside, the world-at-large.

The interesting thing about loss and grief is that neither seek approval from anyone. The pair swoop in without being summoned, and we’ve no choice but to go along with them when they arrive. There’s really no point in which grief from loss -- especially loss sprouted from death, loss has many roots -- is equidistant to any time frame or stage of life. In fact, there is no timeline at all for it, despite what some think.

Having experienced this myself and in accompanying others through their grief, there’s no doubt that this is an especially challenging misconception to hurdle in our interactions with others after losing a pet. It seems that it’s easier to understand the loss itself to be so gutting -- it’s so black and white, so tangible -- but it’s that lack of approval that grief seeks that seems to trip people, the grieving and those around them, up. Grief is cloudy, so murky, subjective even. Because grief isn’t always recognizable, because of some of our less-than-healthy relationships to it, fears about what it is or isn’t and most importantly, how it should proceed, it can be the default when around a grieving person to say well-meaning-but-off-the-mark things, to even have a dismissive attitude or worse. I recall one woman, who I know to be impossibly caring quip, "Well, we all have to go sometime..." after my dog, Bruiser died from cancer. This was odd, coming from her but later, I came to understand the flippancy of her comment better.

There’s so much chatter about what not to say to someone who is grieving a pet, what to say to them, and a lot of it is helpful information. In their defense, it can be tough for someone who doesn’t “get it” or hasn’t been afforded the luxury to, to get it right. And, in my experience, those grieving the loss of a pet often don’t feel empowered to own their process, to express what they need.

Do you see the gap there?

Instead, when we’re grieving, the advice we often hear is to stay away from those who aren’t as understanding or supportive as we’d like, at least for a little while. And that’s fine in theory, but the fact is that in practice it’s more tricky; we have professional and familial ties to others, not to mention that in general, life doesn’t stop and avoidance isn’t a good strategy. To soften those uncomfortable interactions for ourselves, we often defer to the other person. Sure, that can be a quick way to get through a moment, but time after time after time, it can wear on us -- and it really doesn’t make future interactions easier as we grieve.

What I’ve discovered in years of writing about the human-animal bond (and more importantly, listening to reader comments), working with families with pets and as a pet loss and grief companion, the idea that often, in our own haze of grief, the ones with the most indifference, the purveyors of biting, off-the-mark comments are the ones who are hurting as much as we are. Yes, sometimes, our grief tears off the proverbial scabs of their own disenfranchised, buried, and silent grief. Like the ones that belonged to the aforementioned woman, as I learned.

Does that mean that we stuff our grief? I offer, a resounding no! -- quite the contrary. Instead, tread thoughtfully, mindfully through your grief process during interactions with others.

Don’t be afraid to say to another person when you’re having a tough moment, hour, or day that when they are having difficulty in navigating something important to them, that you hope that you’re extending the kind of consideration they need to do that better. Be fearless in articulating how your grief is very much a testament to the relationship to your pet -- another living being that you spent each day with -- and that their confusion about it can make it tough to relate, but surely they’ve a close relationship that’s been impacted by death and that must resonate on some level. The comments with regard to euthanasia can be especially cutting, and it’s no wonder: in my experience, it’s the single most sensitive issue surrounding a companion animal’s end-of-life, especially for those who have avoided it, had a poor euthanasia experience, or if there is a sudden illness or accident necessitating it. It’s always fitting to express with sensitivity, the notion that yes, having a veterinarian’s help to helping your pet go to peace might be or is or was necessary, and that you’re grateful that your final act of love for them was an option.     

Is everyone that you encounter wrestling with their own buried grief with a pet as you make your way through your own? No. But I will say that our culture doesn’t have the healthiest relationship when it comes to loss and grief. And pets have a way of drawing us humans closer to that edge of profound emotion than anything else on earth with their ability to form social bonds and life cycles that move far too quickly from curious, young creatures to the mature sages that we envy. And the latter, no matter our feelings about pets, magnifies our collective uneasiness with mortality. So again, be unapologetic and brave about your grief after losing a pet, and bear in mind that the person who seems to be the least supportive of it may actually draw the support and resilience that they sorely need to reconcile their own sense of loss in your doing so.

Lorrie Shaw is owner of Professional Pet Sitting, where she specializes in ancillary pet palliative and pet hospice care support. She is also a Certified Pet Loss and Grief Companion and a member of The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement as well as the International Association of Animal Hospice and Palliative Care and Pet Sitter International. She tweets at @psa2.