Monday, October 6, 2014

Having the courage to face reality is key when helping any pet in their twilight or during a grave illness

"I am seeing that my dog doesn't do as well when we travel and aren't able to take them with us, and wanted to ask about how you might be able to help..."

This is something that I often hear from those that share life with aging dogs, and for good reason: they know their pet better than anyone.

Pets experience all kinds of changes throughout their lifetime, and we spend so much of our time with them that it seems easy to pick up on when they might be having trouble — or is it?

The answer to that depends on a lot of things: our previous experience, the pet, the species — even our willingness to do so.

With regard to the latter statement, I'm not suggesting that we're stubbornly refusing to do what is reasonably mindful for our furry friends. Rather, perhaps it's subconscious. It can be difficult to wrap our heads around the fact that a pet is changing in little ways, or more profoundly.

In some respect, we've probably all done it, or will: we don't want to face the prospect that they might be in pain or that cognitively they are slipping a bit or we know that we need to stop procrastinating on having a conversation with the vet even though we instinctively know that there is a dire health issue unfolding. Perhaps we feel like there isn't good communication between ourselves and the clinician and we don't know how to navigate through that. Family dynamics often muddle things when it comes to addressing pivotal or even minor changes with our pets. It can even be easy to let ourselves off the hook by writing things off as a normal part of aging, when we know that there's more to our pet's story.

What does facing the changes that we're seeing mean for us? That's certainly a fair question, because we're one part of the equation, and we're socially bonded to our companion animals.

Sometimes it means crafting a different life, a new routine; acquiring a new skill in caring for our pets; thinking not in terms of years, but months or weeks; having to summon the courage to open up a tough conversation with another family member who might be resistant to what is happening; facing the fact that a chapter in our lives will be closing.

Being honest is hard, I know that all too well. I'm incredibly bonded with all of my charges and over the years, specializing in the care of aging pets because of my day-to-day experience has become the norm. And with two aging pets at home, there's a double dose of everyday reality.

Coming to terms with our pet's changing needs spurs us to re-evaluate our definition of what "doing well" is — "the new normal", I call it. It's surprising how different that looks in short periods of time.

With the right care, our pet's lives can be comfortable, happy and full while navigating their twilight or through a grave illness. None of that happens optimally without our having the courage to speak up on their behalf.

Many have articulated that what's most surprising is once the honestly hurdle is crossed, there is a weight that is lifted — the one that is worn like an albatross around the neck. If we give ourselves the opportunity, we come to see that though these changes are moving us and our pets in a direction that we don't want to go, life can still be enjoyed, just differently.

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer -- most recently as a regular contributor on MLive -- and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

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