Sunday, January 26, 2020

Pet Loss and Grief Companioning professionals: a viable 'third' option for families to seek support from after a pet's death

One afternoon many years ago, when I was having a conversation with one of my families after their pet died, I heard a response to something I offered in an effort to be 'helpful'. What I didn’t realize is the exchange helped me to see grief very differently, and it eventually pushed me further along on a unique path that led me where I am now.

I have no interest in listening to other people talk about their experience losing their pet, about their grief…

This resonated with me deeply. At first I thought it was just me because I tend to be exceedingly private about my personal life, and that includes anything regarding the deaths in my midst. Understanding that, in looking back I’m not even sure why I even suggested that a pet loss support group meeting might be helpful to this person. I know now that was widely accepted as just what was available, accessible to those grieving the loss of a pet. I’m better equipped, today.

People in pet loss support groups… they’re focused on their grief -- as you would expect. How can I go there and have an expectation of being seen, heard, understood in what I’m going through by others if they’re grieving? And I certainly can’t be expected to support them. I don’t want to. I’m too caught up in what’s going on in my own head to do that.

Oh boy. I can remember uttering those words years later in my own grief. Or at least thinking them. And fast forward years later, I know why they came so easily to that person -- and me. My intuition was good back then, and I’m grateful that I followed it, eventually.

We are generally pretty instinctive about how we need to move through our grief, we just need the right space and environment to do it. It’s when we don’t have that, when we are told the only option we have to have any sliver of a chance in having our grief seen and heard is to share grieving space with others, and in many cases, before we’re ready.

We all have a different set of tools and skillset in our toolbox to be with our grief, to navigate through it. And of course that’s true -- we’ve unique experiences with death, various types of loss, and grief, well… grief can be a shapeshifter of sorts. It assumes any form that it can take, to be heard, seen, acknowledged in, which for many of those who I’ve served over the years, can be disconcerting. It’s resilient like that, grief. It demands to have a front row seat, to be in your lap. Or at least sit side car.

Our culture is so grief-resistant, grief-repellent even, that if we see, hear or feel someone that is navigating the death of a loved one (or become aware that it’s happening), and this is especially true with disenfranchised grief, like that due to the loss of a pet -- we’ll find any way to push it, and them -- away. And so, until not so long ago, those wading through grief from the loss of a pet felt like they had no choice but to huddle together in groups designed just for them. Or, as I’ve seen in my ongoing training, they might be directed to talk to a mental health professional. Yes, people who are expressing normal grief because they’ve lost an animal companion are being referred to pet loss groups, and if they indicate that they’re not down with participating in a group setting, they are often at best referred to a list of mental health professionals to contact, if they’re not ignored altogether.

What’s often interpreted by the grieving when that occurs?


They feel dismissed. They feel like the only place their grief is allowed to come out to breathe is with another group of people who are grieving too. Or they come away feeling like their grief is a pathology. And for those who have the desire to get defensive about making those recommendations to the grieving, please don’t shoot the messenger. This is feedback that I’ve gotten from families over the years.

And we need to be clear: grief is not a problem, not a pathology. Grief is normal. We all experience it. Yes, even when our pets die. (That said, in less-common cases, like those involving complicated grief, the involvement of a mental health professional is beneficial.)

What seems to be the missing from this conversation? Certified Pet Loss and Grief Companioning professionals.

As those professionals, my colleagues and I trained in the art of being fully present to those grieving the loss of a pet -- not to assess or fix them, give them a road map, or resolve their grief. Our role is that of a bereavement caregiver, tending to those grieving and doing so without judgement, shame, grief ranking, or a prescription on how to grieve. We walk with the grieving. We hold space for them. We have earned the right -- earned the trust -- to hear the stories of those we serve.

The Companioning philosophy, developed by Dr. Alan Wolfelt, serves the grieving in a way that is antethetical to what can be more commonly seen in our culture -- as those who need to be ‘treated’. As you might have guessed, Companioning started out as a philosophy designed to be helpful to those mourning the loss of a human, and later, was scaled to meet the needs of those navigating pet loss. That doesn’t mean that one is more or less valuable than the other, rather it recognizes that the two experiences can be very different. One of the things that probably comes to mind in how that’s so is that euthanasia is in many cases a part of the landscape in pet loss, and that’s so very true.

Though we are trained to lead pet loss groups, many Pet Loss and Grief Companion professionals, like myself, find it more useful to offer our expertise by way of one-on-one time. In that format, the grieving person can have as much space as they need and express themselves freely, unencumbered. They are able to have themselves and their grief be heard, seen and acknowledged. We walk with those who have shared life with their pets who are either approaching their end or already have (anticipatory grief is just as gripping as the grief after a loss): yes, some people seek the help of a Pet Loss and Grief Companioning professional as they are navigating their pet’s later years not only when pets receive a life-limiting diagnosis or are wading through the fourth life stage. Those being Companioned also learn how to craft space for themselves, to advocate for themselves when they are faced with everyday situations where they don’t feel as supported as they should at work, home and elsewhere. Because quite honestly, not having interactions with others isn’t always a workable option -- and why should anyone have to wear a brave face constantly because their grief makes other people feel uncomfortable?

Pet Loss and Grief Companioning professionals bridge the gap that seems to exist when we lack the space to really be seen and heard in our grief by those in our midst, and with what else is available: pet loss groups and mental health professionals. The former isn’t conducive to moving through grief, and for many, the latter two aren’t necessary or useful. The truth is, as is evidenced by my experience in working with individuals in families after their pet’s death, the reason that things can get difficult as we grieve is that there is no healthy, natural atmosphere to give one and their grief the space they need -- or that space is squashed. Companions, whether we’re certified to work in a capacity associated with pet loss or that with the loss of a human, help create that space. And we’re experts on understanding that the real expert on grief, is the one experiencing it. Companioning doesn’t involve there, there attitudes or oh, I feel really bad for you, here… you should do this to feel better. It’s not sympathy, but empathy; it’s ...yes, this loss that you’re experiencing? It’s very real and hard and I can’t take it away, but I’m right here with you as you move through it.

Ahh yes, bearing witness.

Pet Loss and Grief Companioning is about working in our culture at-large to dismantle or at least weaken the notion that the grief over the loss of a pet somehow ranks lower than that of a human, that it belongs squarely in the category of disenfranchised grief, where it often sits now.

As Companioning professionals, we understand the essential needs of the mourning, and the importance of ritual in grief and how art, writing and other forms of creativity can be an expressive outlet for adults and children alike. Those whose focus is on pet loss understand how other family pets might be affected by a housemate’s death.

That said, most Pet Loss and Grief Companioning professionals are in some way tethered professionally or work in the trenches in the veterinary or pet care industries, though not all are.

After several years as a Certified Professional Pet Sitter, I had witnessed many an instance when one of my charges died, and their families were left with the kind of grief that only another that faced pet loss would recognize. I’d also experienced the loss of a companion animal -- three times in as many years, not to mention the death of my father not long before. What kept resonating through that journey is that grief deserves as much care and tending as new love (one won’t exist without the other, of course), and we don’t tell people to please get over your happiness, so why do that with grief?

And so, I made the decision after these experiences and others (including training as an end-of-life doula for humans, refining my hard and soft skills in working with pets who are in fragile health or dying and their families) to get more curious about what comes before, during and after a loss. My curiosity has proven to be a valuable asset, because that is essential to the Companioning philosophy. After discovering the Companioning model years ago, I decided to do the work of studying Pet Loss and Grief Companioning and earning my certificate under Coleen Ellis -- who herself graduated from Dr. Wolfelt’s grief studies program -- so that I could better serve my families and other individuals navigating through fresh or ripe grief after the loss of their beloved pet. And then I got more curious. I had more questions. And I studied and learned more about loss, grief, and how guilt, shame and judgement so easily swoop in as uninvited guests from outside and in and try to crowd out what’s really important as we mourn: being able to freely express ourselves when we need to in grief and being seen and heard as we do so. And I realized that my work as a Certified Professional Pet Sitter specializing in palliative, hospice and end-of-life care support allows me to have a unique perspective on loss and grief with the time I spend in the trenches, seeing what unfolds during these times of life, which is very much profound, intimate and personal for families.

It goes without saying that it seems logical for those mourning the loss of a pet to seek support in navigating their grief to gravitate toward a pet loss support group. It’s not uncommon for that bereaved person to mention to their pet care provider or veterinary practice staff that they are feeling the effects of a pet’s loss. It’s equally often the case that those professionals refer the person to a pet loss support group or a mental health professional.

And it’s important for all of them to know that while those are viable options and a fit for some, they are not the only ones. Certified Pet Loss and Grief Companioning professionals are capable and highly-skilled in pet loss bereavement care and offer it using a philosophy that honors the grief journey, without seeing it as something that needs to be ‘treated’; we walk alongside the grieving person. As I say frequently in my work -- in borrowing a quote from Ram Dass -- “...we are all just walking each other home.”

For more on connecting with a Pet Loss and Grief Companioning professional, click here.


Lorrie Shaw has trained as an end-of life doula and earned a certification in Pet Loss and Grief Companioning in 2017, which qualifies her to work in a professional capacity with families coping with the emotional toil with pets in end-of-life, as well as individuals seeking professional Companioning in their journey through pet loss and grief. She's a member of the International Association of Animal Hospice and Palliative Care, National End-of Life Alliance and Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement. She can be found at lorrieshaw.com, and tweets at @psa2.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Easy-to-use product gives dogs with changing mobility and arthritis better grip on slippery surfaces

Mobility is one of the key changes that my families and I see with dogs, especially large and giant breeds, and it looms especially hard. It’s such an obvious sign that things are changing, and it can affect how a pet functions day-to-day and even interacts in a family unit.

When I’m doing a consultation with a geriatric pet, how well they ambulate is something I focus on and I’m happy to make suggestions on how that might be made safer and easier. Bare floors can be too slick for them to get traction on whilst making their way through a room, and causing them to slip, fall and even sustain an injury. Non-skid rugs, yoga mats and neatly-trimmed nails are common things that I recommend to aid in boosting traction and guarding against slips and falls, but there are other strategies.

Booties to protect draggy back paws and give a little more traction that’s lost with diminishing mobility, though those are not a good fit, excuse the pun, for every dog and for various reasons.

Though many professionals, myself included, suggest something like Dr. Buzby’s Toe Grips, they are most definitely not suitable for every dog. Getting them on, while a pretty simple process, can be stressful for both dog (and their humans) if said animal has an aversion to their paws being handled due to arthritis or anxiety about the interaction. One of my families noted that they waited until their pet was exhausted to attempt it, which as you can imagine still didn’t go over very well.

It’s not lost on me that in my area of specialty, I’m having many more physical interactions with pets -- medicating, giving injections, tending to hygiene, re-positioning, assisting with mobility -- and so making every interaction that I have with a companion animal be as free from stress and anxiety all the while doing so safely is foundational. It’s equally vital that my families are using whatever strategies that are as low-stress and safe while effective to tend to their pets: this supports the human-animal bond. Interactions that cause families and pets stress and anxiety often slowly chip away at the human-animal bond with the negative or fearful reactions of pets. As a pet care professional specializing in fourth life-stage support, its clear to me that bond is the single most important thread in the equation.


I’m happy to offer up one easy strategy to families to offer pets sure footing, and it involves minimal physical handling, so it’s good for even the most touch-averse dog.

Bio-Groom’s Show Foot -- easily available through online retailers -- is a product that handlers have used in the ring to give their show dogs better traction on slippery floors, and it’s one that some of my families have found helpful. Whether you’re at home or at the vet clinic, this convenient product can be quickly sprayed on the pads of the paws to instantly give dogs the extra grip they need to navigate confidently. The staying power of the product varies, but its ease of use and effectiveness are a boon in bridging the gap that families find themselves facing with one of the most troublesome and common problems with their aging dogs.


Lorrie Shaw is a Certified Professional Pet Sitter, Certified Pet Loss and Grief Companion, and owner
of Professional Pet Sitting, where she specializes in ancillary pet palliative and pet hospice care. She's also 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 Sitters International, Pet Professional Guild, International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (supporting member) and Ann Arbor Area Pet Sitters. Lorrie can be found at lorrieshaw.com. She tweets at @psa2.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Tone-deafness in pet loss and grief may contribute to animal homelessness, negative outcomes for pet care and veterinary businesses



A good friend sent me a message a few days ago, it’s tone abrupt and the latter three words laced with a staccato that was easily palpable, even in a text.

“I got this in the mail for the third straight month…”


The accompanying photo showed what at any other time could be seen as innocuous, even helpful, but today and during the past year, gutting.

Not the first time since the sudden death of the dog last December, the local veterinary office handling vaccinations and such for the pet has sent periodic reminders just like the one pictured to his family for preventative care.

It seems important to mention that the dog died suddenly while being boarded
at their facility while my friend and I were traveling out of state. And that the after care for said pet, including my own clear requests to have a clay paw print impression be made and a lock or two of fur be clipped and carefully set aside for my friend prior to transport for cremation were met with “the crematory will handle that” and never were honored. And then, upon my friend arriving to take custody of their pet’s ashes, there were even more missteps on the vet practice’s part.


A message from a family-of-record asking if I would consent to being a reference for them after they decided they were ready to take the plunge and be considered to adopt a new-to-them dog from a rescue organization was met with the kind of joy those of us who are in the fold as Certified Professional Pet Sitters and Pet Loss and Grief Companions are super-charged by. In the months leading up to this ask, the family had lost both of their dogs unexpectedly to cancer. But after taking a little time to navigate through their grief and eventually feeling ready, they started browsing Petfinder. It wasn’t long before they saw a dog they felt would be a great fit for them and then submitted the necessary paperwork with the rescue organization—which included information on verifying their having a history with a veterinarian—they waited. And waited. It wasn’t until a short time later when the family checked in on their application, it was discovered that they’d been denied because their current dogs hadn’t had veterinary care in awhile.

Can you imagine the awkwardness that swooped in when the rescue’s representative heard my client say, ‘That’s because they’re both dead’? (Thankfully, this family wasn’t daunted, but they did relay the exchange to me so it had made an impression.)

Simple missteps, mistakes, you might think.

But from the vantage point of a family who’s suffered the loss of a pet—especially traumatically so—or that of a pet care professional who is also an end-of-life doula, these are cases of an egregious lack of common sense and I’ll come out and say it: tone-deafness.

It goes without saying that those who are connected to animal rescues can be more easily forgiven for this seemingly easy detail to pick up on because many of them are volunteers and may not have that much exposure to the dynamics of pet loss with families. However, with veterinary practices, it seems logical that more mindfulness and tact when it comes to the deaths with their clients-of-record’s beloved pet would be par for the course.

The problem is, sometimes, it’s not. Veterinary practices don’t always have the training, skills, protocols in place, not to mention the time to have more thoughtful interactions with families when a pet dies. Protocols like each staff member being educated on how to handle phone calls about inquiries from a family worried about their pet’s quality-of-life or regarding euthanasia and ditto for questions about end-of-life care; on how to handle after care for a pet including paw print impressions and cremation, if that’s in the family’s wishes and as importantly, how and when the family will get their beloved pet’s ashes. Protocols to immediately denote the pet’s death on their file so that the family isn’t getting notifications via mail or electronically for wellness care or otherwise.

Not having these protocols, dropping the proverbial ball only highlights what is known about why 20% of families surveyed don’t return to their vet practice of origin after after a pet’s death. My friend certainly made it clear that was how they feel, and it’s hard to blame them.

Poor experiences like the ones illustrated demonstrate the apprehension and frustration that families feel about the tone-deafness by after a pet’s death and because of the depth of their emotion, and as a pet loss professional, I can confidently say that few are willing to articulate it to those on the other side of the equation. In fact, they take those hits in silence, tuck them into private, dark place and for many, they inform their choices about the way they might approach a pet’s care when it’s most needed in the future. Rather than leaning in to the experience and partnering with veterinary care professionals when those chips are down, a pet owner might decide to wing it and make less-than-ideal decisions for their pets. Because to them, those previous negative experiences with a pet’s life-limiting illness or age-related decline, end-of-life, euthanasia, death, aftercare and how they themselves were tended to after are far more scary to them than that unknown road of going it alone with a pet who needs exceed their capabilities.

As a pet care professional specializing in palliative and hospice care, I assure you that’s not what anyone wants.

And as for animal rescue organizations, it’s just as important for those handling applications and interviews to use a little intuition and thoughtful communication when sorting out the details offered.

The above statistic, reported by Compassion Understood, doesn’t reflect the percentages of families whose experience may affect their willingness to welcome a new pet at all in the future. Though, I can confidently say that I’ve heard families mention that in order to avoid having to go through what they had before, they’d go as far as to resort to that. And again, this is understandable, but not something that anyone wants to see happen, either.

How can we in the pet care industry and those in the veterinary and animal rescue communities help families avoid these feelings?

Shift the focus, get the education and expand the horizons

I see many veterinary practices, animal rescue organizations and pet care professionals home in on reducing pet homelessness, and though I understand that putting so much of their attention on getting animals currently without homes into a forever, stable arrangement is important, it’s hard to ignore that can be somewhat short-sighted. As a professional who has a specialty in the fourth-life stage (palliative, hospice and end of life care), I’m all-too-aware that walking with families through this important time of life is more powerful than one might think when it comes to reducing pet homelessness.

Though not everyone’s role is or can be in hands-on care during the fourth-life stage, having the soft skills that are so desperately needed to lend a sense of sensitivity, thoughtfulness and understanding where a family is (or has been, essentially, ‘meeting them where they are’) can be a boon. All of us can join and support organizations whose missions are geared toward facilitating as whole and peaceful a transition for pets and families alike through the fourth life stage. We can gain education (some even have transferrable CEU’s for specific professionals) about communication, best practices, standards-of-care and the all-important self care strategies in this area.

Regardless of our role in these fields, the access to the best information, education and skills are accessible.

It would be foolish to not acknowledge the matter of hard it is to hurdle one’s own fears, biases and viewpoints of all that encompasses the fourth-life stage and death. In having this common obstacle in front of us, it’s difficult to see, hear and acknowledge those who have death, dying and loss -- or the remnants of it -- squarely in their lap, no matter our capacity.

With a lack of soft skills, the standards-of-care, the sensitivity, the time needed to give these situations, sliding into the tone-deafness of the trauma of losing a pet is much more easy. And that tone-deafness comes at a cost to veterinary practices, the pet care industry and animal rescue organizations. And so, if we want to help make a bigger dent in keeping families from losing trust in the ways that we say that we want to be helpful to them, and yes, in ending pet overpopulation and homelessness, we need to acknowledge the broadened scope of what is contributing to it and fix it.


Lorrie Shaw is a Certified Professional Pet Sitter, Certified Pet Loss and Grief Companion, and owner of Professional Pet Sitting, where she specializes in ancillary pet palliative and pet hospice care. She's also 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 Sitters International, Pet Professional Guild, International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (supporting member) and Ann Arbor Area Pet Sitters. Lorrie can be found at lorrieshaw.com. She tweets at @psa2.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Safe canine enrichment for every dog—even those who routinely destroy their toys

Canine enrichment is a topic that comes up often with families and professionals in animal behavior, dog training and pet care. 

Kongs and related toys are an oft-recommended option to provide a fun and stimulating outlet for dogs in a variety of scenarios. But in some cases, there’s a valid concern: dogs who can’t be trusted with these items for fear of choking hazard or foreign body in the GI tract. The good news is, a simple idea gleaned from the Science of Animal Behavior Conference 2019 means that these dogs need not miss out on the enrichment and fun that other dogs enjoy. And a side benefit for shelters, rescues, foster situations and even boarding facilities means that sanitation isn’t a worry. 

The vlog below fleshes out the details on this idea that has already made for some very happy dogs in my care.










Lorrie Shaw is a Certified Professional Pet Sitter, Certified Pet Loss and Grief Companion, and owner of Professional Pet Sitting, where she specializes in ancillary pet palliative and pet hospice care. She's also 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 Sitters International, Pet Professional Guild, International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (supporting member) and Ann Arbor Area Pet Sitters. Lorrie can be found at lorrieshaw.com. She tweets at @psa2.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Strategies for helping pets navigate storm and fireworks season are not one-size fits all

Each year at this time, just as many other people here in Michigan, I delight in the arrival of the extended daylight hours; the warmer weather; not worrying about ice-covered roads; outdoor gatherings. Fireworks isn’t included on that list, and though I can appreciate other’s enthusiasm for them, they are the bane of those who share life with pets. The noise is the chief offender when it comes to frightening pets, but I've no doubt that if the light and smell resulting from them are within a detectable distance of a pet, they’re contributors, too. It’s understandable; the loud pops and bangs are confusing and occur without any sense of place. Though it need not be a precursor, for a pet that already has some level of anxiety or fearfulness, the things that make fireworks enjoyable to humans only feed the behaviors that signal to us that our pet is having even more trouble coping.

Merry-making isn't the only culprit giving pet frayed nerves this time of year: thunderstorms are just as responsible.

Over the years, I’ve had more companion animals in my care that find themselves in this situation than I care to count. My own dogs were included in that group. I’ve learned a few things in that time, and thankfully, there are more strategies and tools to help stave off the anxiety and fear associated with the nightly light and noise shows—and to assuage it if it’s already a problem. The key, as is the case with so many things, is to anticipate and plan ahead.

The approaches of using games to help dogs make a more positive association, T-Touch and Thundershirts is something that I’ve written about in the past, but there’s still more that families can do to keep the peace during these particularly taxing periods of time. Whether you've a young pet or an old friend in hospice or end-of-life—the latter posing its own set of emotional challenges—there's some flexibility in choices.

Having attended the Science of Animal Behavior Conference in June, it was not lost on me that the behavioral challenges that result from anxiety and stress in pets was at the top of the heap of topics. Out of the nine lectures that I attended, the majority of them were centered around anxiety and stress in cats and dogs, and science-backed ways to help them be more resilient in the face of it, or at the least feel more comfortable, safe and calm. A few things that veterinary behaviorists and other credentialed animal behavior professionals proposed during the event are covered below.

Pheromone analogs aim to appease

A staple in my day-to-day work, pheromone products work to promote a sense of calm and well-being in dogs and cats, and can be found at vet clinics, better pet stores or online. What are pheromones and how do they work? Pheromones are natural chemicals produced by mammals, and different types serve various functions depending on where they are secreted, but in this case, we're focusing on the ones that aim to appease, happy make, feel good. A synthetic form of the real thing, Adaptil for dogs (the collar is preferable), and Feliway for cats are available in a plug-in diffuser.


Herbal and nutraceutical approaches

Rescue Remedy - What’s in this tiny bottle does so much. Long sought after to alleviate anxiety in humans, there’s a formula for pets, too. Available at better pet and health food stores, no vet prescription needed.

ComposurePro chews – Available from veterinarians, these tasty gems are readily accepted by both dogs and cats. Bovine colostrum- and vitamin-based, this product promotes stress reduction and a sense of calm.


NutriCalm – A combination of amino acids and herbs, this product is available in capsule form for medium to large-sized dogs, and a liquid form for cats and smaller dogs. As with the aforementioned products and as the name suggests, it can be a help to promote a sense of chill.

Zylkene – This nutraceutical is something I'm really excited about. While attending a Fear Free workshop in Arizona, I spent some time learning about this product by the Vetoquinol company. What makes it unique? It's formulated with bovine-sourced hydrolyzed milk protein, and is good to implement before potentially stressful situations not limited to fireworks and storm season. Events like a move, bringing a new baby home, a visit to the groomer or vet and even preparing for the transition to an adoptive home are appropriate. Zylkene is purported to allow pets to be more receptive to behavior modification training as well.

Solloquin – Formulated with an amino acid as well as plant-based ingredients and others., this product from Nutramax Labratories boasts its ability to help dogs and cats get in their chill zone. Additionally, Solloquin is indicated to help address inappropriate elimination in cats, and would be a great addition to help make introductions between established family cats and new-kid-on-the-block kitties go more smoothly.

Though these products are not pharmaceuticals, and don't cause sedation per se, they still need to be used with care. Despite the fact that you'll likely be able to find them available for purchase online, there's no guarantee of their authenticity through that avenue. The good news is that you can get them through your veterinarian, which is where you can figure out which product or combination thereof is right for your furry friend. Your clinician can help you sort out any possible contraindications with existing herbal supplements, prescription medication and diagnosed medical conditions.


Scents and Sensability

One study indicates that essential oils -- four of them, to be specific -- may elicit a sense of calm in dogs. According to one study, The behavioral effects of olfactory stimulation on dogs at a rescue shelter, the essential oils containing coconut, ginger, ginseng and valerian seemed to promote better rest and less vocalization and barking in dogs. Knowing what I do about the power of smell and pets, I don't think essential oils are a great choice for every pet. It seems mindful to go with a trial to see how your dog responds to smelling a couple of drops applied to a bandana when they're at their best, and go from there.

Going further

One thing that was discussed frequently at SABC was the importance of how effective medication can be in addressing noise phobia. Anti-anxiety medication can be prescribed by your pet's veterinarian. Eileen Anderson summed up the topic (with Dr. Lynn Honeckman weighing in) with a post that's worth reading.

Having a discussion about Sileo, a new prescription option on the market, is a good idea if your pet is having trouble. Designed to home in on one pressing issue associated with fireworks, noise aversion, Sileo is administered transmucosally. This drug is not indicated for every dog, but that's something your veterinarian can help you decide.


Queue up the tunes

Music is an area of great interest in recent years, and while classical has been touted as the gold standard for soothing anxiety and offering an audible buffer to offending noise in dogs and cats, one study suggests that our canine friends respond favorably to reggae as well. After coming home from SABC, I ended up down a few rabbit holes of additional reading since noise phobia -- something that is of great interest to me since I see it frequently in my work -- was one of the topics covered at the event. One of the theories that experts in veterinary behavior have is that music that's heavy on bass and rhythm, like hard rock music, is effective. (Reggae certainly fits that criteria.)

Sally J. Foote, DVM, who specializes in animal behavior, noted that for her dog, playing belly dancing music has been helpful. This intrigued me because the rhythm, deep bass and instrumentation associated with this type of music seems the most sensible choice in blending out noise from thunder and fireworks. I've been experimenting with it with my charges, and it definitely seems worth pursuing. I created a playlist on Spotify that everyone can access and use.


Lorrie Shaw is a Certified Professional Pet Sitter, Certified Pet Loss and Grief Companion, and owner of Professional Pet Sitting, where she specializes in ancillary pet palliative and pet hospice care. She's also 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 Sitters International, Pet Professional Guild, International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (supporting member) and Ann Arbor Area Pet Sitters. Lorrie can be found at lorrieshaw.com. She tweets at @psa2.

Friday, June 7, 2019

(Pet) patient and family advocates throughout a pet's life are necessary

Seeing a family-of-record’s phone number light up my phone late at night or in the early morning hours is not at all unusual. When it happens, I take notice: I know it’s serious. It usually means that there’s been a crisis of some sort, and that may be a family situation that they need to head out of town in a hurry for but more commonly, it’s regarding their pet. A frantic, tired voice on the other end begins with an apology that’s never needed and a rundown of what has unfolded at the emergency veterinary hospital followed by:

I’m feeling pretty overwhelmed by all of this information and I don’t know if I really understand what’s happening. Calling you seemed like the natural thing to do. You always know how to sort out all of this stuff. Have you heard of this diagnosis before?

It’s also not uncommon for me to get a nervous email from a family when they’ve made an appointment with their primary vet because they notice changes in their pet, for example appetite, weight, willingness to engage in their typical activities.

What should I expect going in? What will the vet suggest in the way of tests, etc?

Whether it’s an emergency or things are changing and a family is facing even the gentlest of shifts in their pet’s health status, there is no lonelier place than the opposite end of that veterinary exam table and never does it seem more cold. One thing that I’ve learned in working with families that are in the midst of either scenario with a pet, or are experiencing anticipatory or fresh loss is that yes, the ability to hear what is said is there, but the ability to comprehend it naturally avails itself in short supply. And being slammed with the worst of news, the need to make decisions and wondering if you can trust the information you’ve been given to make them is hard. (What we know is that when a pet owner is reluctant to move forward with a treatment plan, it’s usually based on lacking two primary things: facts and trust.) Plus, many people are already weary of making decisions in general. And add stress to the mix, it becomes more difficult. I’ve learned in my experience and in my never-ending training that these families need tremendous amounts of support; the direction to know what questions to ask; the wherewithal to say, ‘I’m not sure that this treatment plan is going to be manageable because of XYZ. Do you have other options?

This is what veterinary staff members need in order to do their jobs better. A bridge for the gap.

In any case, I’m always happy to take the time to help sort everything out, give the family talking points to consider in their conversations with the vet and staff, translate what the vet and staff have relayed (and yes, sometimes as importantly, decipher what the family is having a hard time conveying to the vet staff) and support the family as they make decisions about next steps. In many cases, having a fresh, neutral eye and mind on things helps the family feel more empowered about moving forward.

Dr. Jessica Vogelsang wrote about an experience that she had during a serious health crisis with her pet, in which she detailed how even a veterinarian-as-pet-parent can use some neutral, knowledgeable support during times like that. She notes that in human medicine, designated patient advocates exist to help bridge the communication gap that can often exist between the health care provider and the patient. She posited that veterinary medicine might benefit from the same kind of thing.

This resonated with me heartily.

It’s obviously something that I’ve seen exemplified in my experience as a pet care professional. Acting as an advocate for families of record when they've needed it has come so naturally. And in my interactions with their veterinarians, it’s been noted that doing so helps get and keep their treatment plans on track.

I also began to notice something years ago: with pets living longer, they and their families need additional support navigating those senior and geriatric years, a demographic that I most enjoy working with. I realized that they of course were the ones who were requiring more tending, intervention and interaction with veterinarians, both in primary practice and in specialty. So, I decided to use my existing years of expertise -- including certifications in Pet First Aid (the certificate that I hold goes far beyond the basics) and CPR, Infectious Disease Management and the namesake of my industry -- and build on it to help families. I completed training as an End-of-Life Doula. I earned a certification as a Pet Loss and Grief Companion. I’ve applied my existing skillset and added to it with regard to animal hospice, palliative care and end-of-life, a field that I truly love more than even geriatrics.

So now, my heart is in tending to families with pets needing palliative and hospice care, no matter their age, and I’m happy to serve as an advocate for them and for other families-of-record and otherwise when the call arises. But yes, sturdy, knowledgeable, fearless advocates who understand what goes on in veterinary circles, who work in the deep trenches of pet care and possess enhanced training in all things associated with these fields such as hospice care, palliative care, end-of-life care and grief and loss is so very needed. It’s because pets are living longer, better, but that’s not by osmosis: it’s because of veterinary care that has improved not only from a medical standpoint, but from a practical one -- it’s (ideally) asked throughout the journey, ‘...what will this pet allow, not allow?’. It’s because families know better and want better. It’s all coming full-circle. We professionals understand that pets hold a profound place in the family, even after they’re gone, and we honor that. These relationships are rich, colorful and meaningful. We serve them in many capacities. Yes, there is such a thing as an animal End-of-Life Doula.

What Dr. Vogelsang noted about advocacy for families and pets is absolutely correct. But it only clips the tip of the iceberg.



Lorrie Shaw is a Certified Professional Pet Sitter, Certified Pet Loss and Grief Companion, and owner of Professional Pet Sitting, where she specializes in ancillary pet palliative and pet hospice care. She's also 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 Sitters International, Pet Professional Guild, International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (supporting member) and Ann Arbor Area Pet Sitters. Lorrie can be found at lorrieshaw.com. She tweets at @psa2.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Monday is the most difficult day of the week for pets who are in fragile health or hospice

For a pet who has a life-limiting diagnosis, or is in fragile health due to chronic illness or age-related decline, I find that the trend is that Mondays and Tuesdays to be the roughest days of the week.

With families hanging around the house and including their four-legged loves in their free time on Saturdays and Sundays, pet’s schedules are knocked off course. Medication doses may given off-schedule. Ever-crucial nap and rest schedules are disrupted. Increased activity and excitement affects overall ability to manage and old pastimes, like car rides, can result in a queasy pup.


In conversations with families over the years, I’ve learned a lot -- especially to pay attention to patterns that are unfolding.

One dog owner noted that by Monday mornings, their sweet, old dog was exhausted and irritable but would fully rebound by Wednesday when I saw her. “It’s pretty busy here on weekends, it’s no wonder she’s tired…”

And a more common scenario unfolds as a pet segues into a stage of more delicate health. Upon three weeks in a row of being withdrawn, drooly and unwilling to eat on Mondays and Tuesdays, I wondered with one geriatric dog in renal failure in my care middays, five days a week, ‘What happens on the weekends to make this dog feel so terrible right after?’. I chatted with the owner about their weekend schedule. She enthusiastically offered, “We go visit my parents on both days -- she loves car rides!” This, as I learned, was coupled with not getting pain and GI meds on time, and a feeding schedule that was not as regular. Stomach upset followed closely behind, not to mention the physical and mental effects of the pain that was under-managed and allowed to ramp up. By Tuesday/Wednesday, she was finally getting back on track with some doing, only to have trouble brewing again by weekend.

These examples of how seemingly minor changes in the routine have made the following recommendations to my families standard, no matter the day of the week:


  • Keep your pet’s feeding and medication regimens as close to what they are on weekdays as possible.
  • Consider how well your pet really handles car rides. Then think about forgoing them altogether, at least those that are too lengthy. And talk to your veterinarian to see if anti-nausea meds might be helpful if your pet’s FOMO gets to be too much for them.


It’s those little things that matter in this time of life. They increase the likelihood that a pet in fragile health is able to manage themselves optimally and thus, feel their best more consistently. They also decrease the time and effort that is spent trying to get the pet back on track, as well as the need for palliative/hospice/comfort care regimen tweaks made by the veterinarian. So, as you head into this weekend -- or whenever your time off from work is -- do so with care.


Lorrie Shaw is a Certified Professional Pet Sitter, Certified Pet Loss and Grief Companion, and owner of Professional Pet Sitting, where she specializes in ancillary pet palliative and pet hospice care. She's also 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 Sitters International, Pet Professional Guild, International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (supporting member) and Ann Arbor Area Pet Sitters. Lorrie can be found at lorrieshaw.com. She tweets at @psa2.