Animal companions are very much a part of our day-to-day. It's our job as humans to ensure that our pets acclimate to family life and that they are equipped to cope with the changes that invariably occur. Over the years, it's been my mission as a writer to empower you to do that by exploring topics like animal behavior, pet health and the power of the human-animal bond.
As most of you already know, I spend a lot of time engaging on social media. There's a constant flow of insight, ideas—and a willingness to help when there is a pet in need. Despite what many might think because of today's political climate, there are a lot of folks who are using social media platforms to do things for the greater good. And then there are some who think they are, but are seriously misguided. This of course has nothing to do with the quarterly jobs report or health care or goodness knows what else floats through our feeds.
It's armchair pet welfare activism. But, it goes even deeper than that someone eager to make that first comment time and time again on how they'd love to adopt that sweet homeless dog that's been featured on Twitter if only they didn't already have enough canine mouths to feed, but that's as far as it goes. Deeper than those who foolishly admonish the [over]use of life-saving vaccines when they see and share an out-of-context online post by a less-than-reputable source (oh! fake news!), if they even bother to read the article. It's almost as downreaching than the loathsome bashing of the veterinary industry; "...they're only trying to make money off of people by ordering all of that unnecessary bloodwork and those tests," when said people haven't given the doctor enough to go on because they've not kept track of how long any number of symptoms that the pet is presenting with have been plaguing them.
We've all seen it, and I've watched more than my share of it, though I'll admit that my lens is probably different because of my profession. Sure, I read things and exchanges between people online that cause a knee-jerk eye roll, but others infuriate me. One of which is the intense judgement of people on their fellow pet owners.
A few days ago, I was browsing Facebook and saw a photo of a small breed dog on a well-known lost pet page based in Michigan. He needed some grooming at the time he was found (a few of my charges do too, not uncommon) and he was wearing a doggie diaper (also not as uncommon as you'd think). The photo was accompanied by a couple of snide paragraphs written by the individual that found the dog (and continued in the comments), which clearly set the stage for what was to come next: a seemingly endless string of seething, judgmental comments about the owner. Even a bit of a witch hunt ensued. There wasn't one happy comment that the dog had been reunited. There was, however, plenty of vitriol toward a woman whom the countless number of commenters—nor the finder—had ever spent a [measurable] amount of time with.
What struck me from the start was that there was no context—something that is vital, in my opinion when reading anything about humans and pets. No context to the relationship between the human and the dog, how the pooch get separated from their family (they're a family, remember) and so much more. There wasn't one glimpse of what kind of life that woman has. All that was illustrated was that the owner is a neglectful, selfish woman who doesn't deserve to have the dog. Ignorant b**** Rotten Ungrateful These are just a few of the words.
What I mindfully gather from the limited exchange that the finder and the family had, is that the owner could very well be feeling the effects of being frantic over their pet becoming lost. She could have been frazzled, overwhelmed and have few resources, financial or otherwise to have help with their dog during the time they're at a job they might really hate. Who knows? Maybe she also has to take care of an ailing parent, or maybe she got the worst news of her life the morning her dog went missing. She might have lost her husband a month ago or have a child with special needs. Maybe she's mentally ill. She just might be doing everything she can all the while hoping she doesn't lose her s**t and everything with it. There's a chance that the animal/human bond has been degraded somehow for reasons unbeknownst to the outside world, and she's giving her all so that it doesn't break.
But no one knows, because no one asked, they only judged—from the safety of their smartphone.
In my professional life, I've seen this: families who are frazzled, disempowered, lacking in resources of all kinds. They are some or all of that and more and most of the time, people want to do better but if they don't have the resources, they can't. But maybe they could if they had a little encouragement. And they often do.
Judgement like this does nothing. But empowering others does. Maybe it'd be mindful to think about that the next time we're in the midst of another human who is demonstrating a reaction that we don't quite understand or doesn't fit a situation when it comes to their pet or otherwise. Who knows. We might be in their shoes one day when we least expect it, but one thing is for certain: we'll be judged in some way.
Years ago, I had an idea to do a piece on bucket lists for pets, and it was one of the most well-received posts I've ever written. The reason isn't surprising, really. When we become aware—usually with a confirmed diagnosis by the vet or in other cases when it's clear that, because of age-related decline, the sand in the hourglass is dwindling at hyper speed—we naturally want to squeeze out every day with our companion animals. People shared their stories with me since that time, and they've been left with some terrific memories. What's really great about it is that the human-animal bond not only remained intact, but was strengthened.
That's the goal, right?
Though our interactions to carry out what we deem to be a bucket list may differ a lot between cats and dogs, I think its fair to say that we spend a lot more time living vicariously through our canine friends. Wouldn't you agree? Dogs go places with us; they are most often welcomed to join in the fun with family gatherings, they sometimes travel with us—I've even had clients take their four-legged friends with them on their sailboats or private planes when they felt it was manageable for any given trip, rather than leaving them in my care. And believe me, I am not disappointed when a client says, '...oh, we decided to take the dog this time. It'll just be the cats at home,' because a family taking any opportunity that they can to foster the human-animal bond makes me giddy.
But when we feel motivated to give our dogs the experiences of their lives, at perhaps a time when they're least able to enjoy or manage it can leave us feeling conflicted. That's if we're able to, in our haze of anticipatory grief, recognize that's the case. Yes, it's hard.
During this time, we often plan out epic road trips, long walks, all of our attention. We give them food we'd never consider dishing up at any other phase of life. All of this is happy-making stuff, as I call it. Until it's not. Until it's too much. When it's too hard to manage; when there's not enough energy to muster or breathing is too difficult for the extra distance on that walk; or when pain medications (or absent or insufficient pain management, in some cases) won't allow for enough comfort to actually enjoy any car ride; when our pet is just too tired because they've not been able to get adequate rest on one day or night or a stretch of days because of changing physical or emotional needs, or they've been up in the middle of the night and couldn't get comfortable.
I've seen my share of cringeworthy situations when someone—who honestly is only trying to do good—stops by with their furry friend during their hospice or end of life on a bucket list- or even a 'last car ride' on the day or two before euthanasia, to visit with others, including me, or maybe to grab a last cheeseburger or order of fries. Though I can understand the sentiment, I see so much more: frightened, pleading eyes, grimacing expressions, painful looks from the pet. The effort of getting around and into a vehicle, not to mention the car ride that at that point might be daunting to physically manage because of pain or even make them nauseous. Ditto for upset tummies that reveal themselves on my mid day visits and set them off-course because they've indulged in too much yummy food that their humans have served up.
Have you ever been recovering from a whopper of a bug or even minor surgery, only to over do it and feel like you've physically and mentally taken a few steps back in your recuperation? Yes, that. It's tough, right?
The intention of a bucket list is to provide joy, enrichment, sucking the marrow out of life. But don't let the term 'bucket list' slant your thinking. At some point, all a bucket list might consist of is having a good, comfortable day spent alongside one's inner circle of trusted loved ones—or it's simply spent being allowed to try and sleep in peace. That might be towards the end, or somewhere in between on a day that's just no darn good at all. The latter happens. It's okay! It's a time to re-evaluate things, or at the least go to plan B or C.
My plea: yes, do that bucket list. Please. Only, do so from the vantage point of a pet that wants so much to spend meaningful time with you but might just be too tired, painful, nauseous and/or anxious on any given day to muster what they could do weeks or months before, with unlimited joyful complicity. Consider taking that shorter walk, a hop in the car for a quick car ride on a cool day when everything seems to be all-systems-go, give just a satisfying taste of that yummy food (maybe more frequently).
That bucket list? It's about the human-animal bond, about spending time together, and during a pet's final weeks, it's all about the animal companion at the center, not solely about how we humans want to do things. Even better, while your pet is in good health, perhaps younger, take a cue from how they live: seize the day. Don't wait to do fun stuff. Make having the "bucket list" mindset a habit.