How to Cope With Losing a Pet

In one of the stars...

For those of us who share our lives with animals, it’s inevitable that at some point, we will be dealing with losing these beloved friends.  Over the last ten years, I’ve lost three cats, and I’ve helped many clients through pet loss during the years I worked in veterinary clinics.  As a result, I’m often asked how to cope with losing a pet.

Different things work for different people.  Each situation is unique.  Was the death sudden?  Did it come after a prolonged illness?  Was it the first time the person experienced losing a pet?   I share my own experience of dealing with pet loss and grief in Buckley’s Story – Lessons from a Feline Master Teacher, and maybe my readers will find some commonalities with what I went through.  Even though no two people will deal with pet loss in exactly the same way, I’ve found some common things that can help ease the pain at least a little.  I’ll also share some resources at the end of this article that have helped me when I’ve had to deal with grief and loss.

Acknowledge that losing a pet is a very difficult experience.  Many people, especially people who don’t have pets, don’t realize that losing a pet can often be far more difficult than losing a person.  Many of us view our pets as children, especially if we don’t have children of our own.  For most pet owners, losing a pet is very much like losing a child.    Don’t let anyone tell you that you should “get over it,” “it was only an animal,” or, even worse, “you can always get another one.”  Expect to feel the same emotions you would feel after a person close to you dies.  In Elizabeth Kuebler Ross’ model, the five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and eventually acceptance.  Expect that some of these stages may be magnified after losing a pet.

Mark the pet’s passing with some sort of ritual.  It’s important to acknowledge that your pet is gone.  A ritual can be something as elaborate as a memorial service and burial ceremony, or something as simple as lighting a candle in your pet’s memory each night for a little while.

Find supportive family and friends.  Not everyone in your life will be able to handle your grief.  It’s important that you find people who are comfortable with being supportive, can handle letting you cry, listen while you talk about your pet, or who can just quietly sit with you.  Many people don’t know what to do or say when faced with someone who is grieving, so, afraid of saying the wrong thing, they don’t say anything at all.  This can make you feel even more isolated during a difficult time.  Try not to judge people for their inability to handle your grief, and spend more time with those who can.

Allow yourself time to grieve.  There is no way around grief – the only way to deal with grief is to move through it.  If you try to ignore it, it will catch up with you when you least expect it.  You may need to spend an afternoon or an evening crying.  You may not want to distract yourself all the time.  While it’s not healthy to get stuck in your grief, pretending that nothing is wrong is equally unhealthy.  Try and find a balance.

Find things that comfort you.  Whether it’s a walk, music, a favorite book, looking at photos of your pet, or a perfect cup of tea, find small things that provide comfort for you. 

Getting over the loss of a pet takes time, and it takes being gentle with yourself.  If you find that you simply can’t cope, and that even supportive family members or friends aren’t enough to help you get through this difficult time, consider getting professional help.  And know that even though it seems hard to believe when you’re in the middle of grieving the loss of an animal friend, there is truth to the old adage that time heals all wounds.  It does get a little bit easier as time goes on, and one day, upon waking up in the morning, instead of your first thought being about your pet being gone, you’ll find yourself remembering something wonderful about your departed friend.

Resources:

• http://www.veterinarywisdom.com/ is a wonderful site for anyone looking for information on pet loss. The understand that it’s hard to face the future when you know it won’t include your beloved animal companion, and they offer a plethora of resources to prepare for and cope with pet loss, as well as to celebrate and cherish the pets we love.

• http://www.petloss.com/ provides information on how to cope with pet loss, a bulletin board to exchange messages and gain support from others grieving the loss of a pet, healing and inspirational poetry, and links to other internet pet loss sites.

• BooksFor Every Cat an Angel and For Every Dog an Angel by Christine Davis.  These little books are wonderfully illustrated and celebrate the connection between a human and his or her forever cat or dog.

• Music:  Some people find music plays an important part in the healing process.  One particular cd that I have found very helpful anytime I’ve dealt with loss, whether it was an animal or a person, is Beth Nielsen Chapman’s cd Sand and Water.  The singer/songwriter wrote the songs on this album after the loss of her husband to cancer.  The songs on the album reflect the many stages of grieving and healing, and are just as applicable to pet loss as they are to human loss.

• Private Pet Loss Consultation:   I offer phone consultations to help you navigate through your grief.  Sometimes, talking to someone who has experienced this devastating loss can make a difference.  For more information on consultations, click here.

The Psychology of Gratitude – Five Things I’m Grateful for Today

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Gratitude is a wonderful way to raise your vibration and shift your energy to a better feeling place.  The vibration of gratitude is a powerful force.  It can shift your mood and your thoughts from a place of scarcity to a place of abundance.   Research by Dr. Robert Emmons of the University of California at Davis into the psychology of gratitude has shown that people who practice gratitude are 25% happier.  They are more optimistic about the future and feel better about their lives. 

Practicing gratitude is also a great way to start and end each day.  Think about five things you’re grateful for before you get out of bed each morning, and again before you go to sleep each night.  This practice will shift your vibration.  Do this for a few days and you will notice how the shift in your energy will transform your life.

My five for today are:

1.  Amber’s gentle, loving and peaceful presence in my life.

2.  Doing work I love, getting paid for it, and being in charge of my time.

3.  My wonderful friends.

4.  The unlimited possibilities life holds.

5.  Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.

What five things are you grateful for today?

 

 

Image for sale at http://www.zazzle.com/cartoon_animals_talking_tree_nature_poster-228754069543042099

Book Review: “Alive Day” by Tom Sullivan

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This book was sent to me for review by the publisher. They thought I might enjoy it because I loved The Art of Racing in the Rain  by Garth Stein.   It’s not a book I might have otherwise picked up, and I enjoyed the opportunity to read it.

Based in part on a true story, Alive Day is about blind psychiatrist Brenden McCarthy and his guide dog Nelson, a big-hearted and courageous black Lab.  It’s also the story of Antwone Carver, a Marine who is injured in Iraq and is struggling with coming to terms with the physical limitations caused by his injury.  McCarthy volunteers his services at a veterans’ hospital, is assigned to Carver and attempts to help the young Marine build a new life.  Nelson becomes an important contributor to the therapeutic process by his gentle and comforting presence.  This is a story about dealing with tragedy and life’s challenges, and it’s told in a straight-forward  and uplifting way.   While the solutions to the magnitude of the problems at hand may be a bit oversimplified at times, the overall message of the book is positive and inspirational, and dog lovers will enjoy the passages about Nelson. 

The author presents a convincing case of the need for better programs for veterans returning home from the war without being preachy or political.  However, I would have liked to have seen the bond between Nelson and McCarthy conveyed in greater depth.  While McCarthy’s love for and reliance on Nelson is very apparent, the story doesn’t delve deeply enough into the spiritual aspects of the human animal bond for this reviewer’s taste.

The book is a heartwarming and life-affirming testament to how the exuberant spirit and love of a dog can heal wounded hearts.

Amber’s Mewsings: Birthday Girl

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Today is my birthday, so I told  Mom I wanted to write something on here.  So far, my birthday has been pretty great.  I got my favorite breakfast (salmon and turkey, in case you’re wondering), and I got this really fun toy (you can see me with it in the photo).  I humored Mom by playing with it when she gave it to me, but most likely, it will be used as a pillow to rest my head on while I nap.  I don’t want to over-exert myself, it’s just not ladylike.

Actually, technically today is not my birthday, it’s the anniversary of the day Mom brought me home.  She doesn’t know my real birthday, and I don’t really remember.  I know some of you would love to hear my story, so I thought today would be a good day to share it.  I’m not sure how I feel about the fact that my sister Buckley gets a whole book to share her story and I get a single blog post, but it’s only part of my story, so I guess that’s okay.

Me and my five kittens were brought to the animal hospital where Mom worked in the spring of 2000 by a client who had found the little family in her barn.  I was hungry, skinny, and scrawny-looking, but my eventual beauty was evident to everyone even then.  My kittens found new homes in fairly rapid succession.  One of my daughters, a beautiful Calico, went to live with Cindy Ingram, the founder of Casey’s House.  Cindy rescued my sister Buckley five years later.

It didn’t seem like anyone was interested in me.  I spent my days in the big adoption cage in the hospital’s waiting area.  People would come and ooh and aah over how beautiful I was, but with the constant inflow of homeless kittens that is typical for spring and summer, nobody wanted to adopt an adult cat, no matter how gorgeous I was.  Mom had recently lost her almost sixteen-year-old soul mate cat Feebee, and the grief over his loss was still very fresh for her – I knew she was still hurting, and she didn’t think she was ready for another cat yet.  But I also knew that it was getting harder and harder for her to go back to an empty house every evening, and more importantly, I knew we were meant to be together.  I tried my best to get her attention, and she’d pet me occasionally, but she just wasn’t getting it.

Finally, on July 29, a Saturday, she took me home.  She said it was “just for the weekend.”  I knew better, but I wasn’t about to share that with her – she needed to figure that out for herself.  Mom said she wanted to give me a break from the abandoned feral kitten they had put in the cage with me after my own kittens had all found homes.  The kitten was a rambunctious six-week old grey tabby, and I was getting really tired of his constant need for attention.  I had done my mommy duty, and I was so over the whole thing.

After living in a cage for all these months, it was a little overwhelming to have an entire house available to explore.  I wasn’t sure what to do, it felt kind of scary to me, even though Mom did her best to make it okay for me.  I spent most of that first weekend near or under Mom’s bed.  I was so stressed I didn’t even eat for a day or two – and if you know anything about me, you know that food is very important to me!  But by Sunday evening, I felt braver and started exploring.

Of course, all weekend long, I’d been working my magic on Mom.  I really didn’t want to go back to the animal hospital.  Thank goodness, Mom started to get it.  She liked having my gentle and peaceful energy around the house, and she decided that I could stay a little longer.  Big sigh of relief on my part when Mom left for work at the animal hospital that Monday morning without taking me back there!  Mom still wasn’t quite ready to acknowledge that I was home to stay.  Instead, she told everyone that she was “just fostering me.”  Yeah, right.

Somehow, the flyers Mom had made up advertising that I was available for adoption never got distributed, and the rest is history.

Advances in Veterinary Medicine – Highlights from the ACVIM’s Annual Meeting

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The ACVIM is the American College for Veterinary Internal Medicine.  It is the recognized specialty college responsible for establishing training requirements, evaluating and accrediting training programs, and examining and certifying veterinarians in the veterinary specialties of Cardiology, Oncology, Neurology, Large Animal Internal Medicine, and Small Animal Internal Medicine.  As a non-profit organization, the ACVIM promotes and fosters scientific and professional activities that lead to better care for both animals and humans through training, education and discovery.

Each year, the ACVIM hosts a meeting that features cutting-edge internal veterinary medicine lectures and educational programs.  This years’ meeting took place in Montreal, Canada June 3-6.  Pet Expert Steve Dale, the author of the twice weekly syndicated newspaper column “My Pet World” (Tribune Media Services) and host of nationally syndicated radio programs Steve Dale’s Pet World, The Pet Minute with Steve Dale; and Steve Dale’s Pet World on WLS Radio, Chicago presented a summary of highlights from the meeting on the Good News for Pets site.

Book Review: Shades of Grey by Clea Simon

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The first book in the brand new series by Clea Simon, Shades of Grey features Harvard grad student Dulcie Schwartz, who is fascinated by 18th century Gothic novels.  Dulcie is not having a good summer.  She recently lost her beloved pet cat Mr. Grey, her best friend and room-mate has gone away for the summer, and she has sublet her apartment to an unpleasant business school student.   One day, Dulcie comes home from her boring temp job at an insurance agency and is about to enter her apartment when she sees a cat that looks just like her beloved Mr. Grey, and she clearly hears a voice in her head warning her “I wouldn’t go in just now, if I were you.”  Is it he spirit of her pet?  Dulcie ignores the warning, and finds her room-mate murdered with her own kitchen knife. 

This sets up a multi-layered plot in which our heroine deals with murder, someone hacking into computers at the insurance agency she temps at and at Harvard, and research for her thesis on Gothic novels.  Throughout all of this, the ghost of her cat continues to appear, offering his cryptic advice.  Is it a ghost, or a spirit guide?  You’ll have to read this extremely well-crafted and enjoyable mystery to find out for yourself.  This book has everything a mystery (and cat) lover could want:  a great story, a likeable heroine, a spirit cat, a little bit of romance, exceptional story telling and multi-dimensional secondary characters.  I can’t wait for the next book in this series.

For more information about Clea Simon and her other books, visit her website at http://www.cleasimon.com.

Five Habits to Expand Your Thinking

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Our thoughts create our reality, so it makes sense that by thinking big, you’ll create a big life for yourself on all levels – spiritual, emotional, and physical.  The five habits below will help you expand your thinking, and as a result, expand your life. 

1.  Your choices create your outcomes.

In order to create something for yourself, you have to decide that what you want is yours now, not a week from now, a month from now, five years from now.  Get into the feeling place of what it feels like to have or be what you want, and then make the necessary changes in your life to create it.  This may be uncomfortable at times and you may be stepping outside of your comfort zone, but by keeping the vision of what you want in mind, you get clearer, and you make your decisions based on your vision.   Think about making your decisions from a place of already having what you want, not from where you are now.  Decide to keep stepping into your “yes.”

2.  Your habits create your outcomes.

If you want to be a marathon runner, develop the habits of a marathon runner.  If you want to be a millionaire, develop the habits of a millionaire.  If you want to be healthy, develop the habits of someone who is healthy.  Think and act from the place of where you want to be.  Your physical and personal habits need to be in alignment with your vision.

3.  Your environments create your outcomes.

Do you love where you live and work?  Create an environment that supports you and your vision.  An environment that is in alignment with your vision frees you to focus your energy on achieving your dream.  How about your emotional environment?  Are the people around you supportive of your vision and your dreams?  The environment that created the you that you are now may not be the environment that is going to create the you that you want to be. What about your intellectual environment?  Pay attention to how the people around you think.  Be around people who think positive and who think big as much as you can.  If you’re around people who worry and fear, remember that fear and worry are not truth, and try to limit interactions with negative people.  Set up a support system that works for you.

4.  Continually raise your abundance thermometer. 

We live in an abundant universe and there is enough of everything for everyone.  Everything we could possibly need or want is available to us, if only we allow it into our experience.  You can’t manifest abundance with a scarcity mindset.  Expect abundance in your life and allow yourself to receive it on all levels – spiritual, emotional and physical. 

5.  Focus on the “why.”

Why do you want what you want?  Tap into your life’s purpose and your passion.  Once you’ve identified what your passion and purpose are, it becomes easier to line up with living authentically to let your life reflect that purpose in all aspects.  When you consider why you want something, your vibration usually shifts toward your desire.  Whenever you consider how it will happen, or when, or who will bring it to you, your vibration usually shifts back toward the problem and all the reasons why you can’t have it.

By implementing all of these habits in your life, you will find your energy shifting.  If implementing all of them at once feels too overwhelming, start with one new habit at a time.  People will ask you what you’re doing differently, what your “secret” is.  Your life will expand.

Is Your Vet Cat-Friendly?

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You just had a lovely breakfast served by your devoted  human.  You’ve settled in for your morning nap in the fist sunny spot of the day, and are dreaming of chasing mice and being revered as a Goddess by all humans.  Life is good.  Suddenly, your favorite human wakes you up out of your deep sleep, and gives you a hug.  Okay, not something you really need to have right now, but you love your human, so you tolerate it.  But wait – what is happening?  All of a sudden, your formerly loving human turns on you!  You’re shoved into a small container, you’re bounced around, and next thing you know, you’re in a loud, rumbling very small room that actually moves!

You know immediately where this is headed.  Yup – it’s your bi-annual visit to the vet’s office.

For most cats, going to the vet’s is stressful, and for some cats, it’s so upsetting that they turn into snarling, hissing, scratching, biting little or not so little terrors.  Going to a veterinary clinic where the doctors and staff understand cats can go a long way towards making the experience less stressful.  What should you look for to determine whether a veterinary clinic is feline-friendly?

Ideally, look for a feline-only practice.  You will find more and more of these practices in large, metropolitan areas, and even in some smaller, rural areas.  If this is not an option where you are, look for the following:

  • Does the practice have separate cat and dog waiting areas?  Most cats, especially cats who don’t live with dogs, hate the noise and smell of dogs and do much better if they dont’ have to deal with a dog’s face in front of their carrier while waiting for the dreaded exam.
  • Does the practice have cat themed decorations as well as dog themed ones?  This can be an indicator of which species a practice prefers to deal with.
  • Does the clinic have separate exam rooms for cats?  Since most cats don’t like to smell dogs, this can help keep cats calmer.
  • Do the doctor and the veterinary staff speak calmly and move slowly when introducing themselves to you and your cat?
  • Do the doctor and staff take their time with your cat?  Your cat has just been through the stress of a car ride and possibly a short wait in a crowded waiting room.  Having a doctor or staff member come at him with a thermometer, stethoscope and needles without first giving the cat a little time to get used to the environment will not make the exam go smoothly.  Veterinary staff who know and like cats know this and will act accordingly.
  • Do the doctor and staff acknowledge your cat’s anxiety, or do they make disparaging remarks?
  • While cats need to be handled different than dogs, restraining a fractious cats with unnecessary roughness is never okay. 

These are just some of the things to look for when you’re choosing a vet for your cat.  Be your cat’s advocate, and don’t be afraid to ask questions and speak up if you don’t like how your cat is being handled.

Amber’s Mewsings: On Purring

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It’s been a while since Mom has let me write something on here, so I thought it was time that I shared my thoughts on life and other things again, in case you’re getting bored with Mom’s writing.

So there’s this woman in England who actually did a study on cats’ purrs.  The conclusion of the study was that cats learn to vocalize a particular sound to train their humans.  They needed to do a study for this?  Puleeze!  Cats all over the world are laughing.  For those of you who really need to see the details of the study to grasp this universal feline truth, here’s the link.

One very interesting aspect of the study was that what the researchers called “solicitation purring” got better results than a loud meow, for example to make the human get up in the morning to feed the cat.  I have to respectfully disagree with this finding.  I sit by my mom’s head and gently purr in the morning to make her get up and feed me.  I’m so thoughtful and patient, and it still takes her forever to actually get up.  My sister Buckley, on the other hand, used to meow at the top of her lungs and walk all over Mom in the mornings, and boy, did that work – there was no more sleeping once Buckley got to work.  I miss my sister (and not just because breakfast came earlier when she was still with us).

I hope everyone is having a good summer.  I love summer – the sunny spots stick around longer and are more frequent in my house.  I’m an air-conditioned kitty and I like it that way.  I spent the first two years of my life outside, and I can’t say I miss the hot and humid summer days and trying to find a cool place to hang out in during the day, not to mention always having to worry about finding enough to eat.  Mom may be a bit slow on the uptake when it comes to feeding me breakfast on time, but I always know that eventually, it’s going to end up in my dish.  For those of you who do go outside in the summer, Mom posted a great article about hot weather tips for pets a little while back.

And speaking of my life – I have a birthday coming up!  Well, it’s not really my birthday, but July 29 is the day Mom brought me home, so we celebrate that as my birthday.  Mom always buys me a cool present.  So to help her out, I’ve marked some items in our Conscious Cat Store for my Wish List.  If you’re a kitty with fabulous taste, make sure you check out the store – you’ll really help your human with gift shopping if you drop little hints about what you want every once in a while.  And remember to use that “solicitation purring!”

Book Review: “8 State Hurricane Kate” by Jenny Pavlovic

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From the publisher:  “On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina roared into New Orleans, Louisiana, unleashing a torrent of wind and water that forever altered the landscape. In the ensuing weeks, countless people and animals were rescued from the flood-ravaged city. 8 State Hurricane Kate is the unforgettable story of the powerful bond between a cattle dog rescued from a rooftop and the woman who wouldn’t give up on her.

The heartwarming story of Kate’s post-Katrina journey is a testament to the will and perseverance of the dog and human spirit! As they make that courageous journey together, new worlds open up for Jenny and Kate, an amazing survivor and teacher. Kate’s remarkable journey, a tale of love, courage, and compassion, has inspired many others. Her legacy is a rescue network that continues to help dogs across the country today.”

I found this book to be very moving.  The accounts of the author’s experience helping with rescue work  immediately following Katrina were gut-wrenching and difficult for me to read, but at the same time, inspirational.  Thank goodness for people like Jenny and so many others, who dropped everything to assist the animals in need after this catastrophic event.   The book is also the story about how one dog can change a person in ways they never expected.   As Jenny becomes more and more involved in rescue works, she forges bonds with others, both dogs and humans, that change her at a core level.  I always enjoy reading books about how animal affect the life of the humans they come into contact with – this book is a gripping and touching contribution to this genre.

For more information about the book, and about Jenny Pavlovic, visit http://www.8statekate.net/

Pets and Lawn Chemicals – Not a Good Combination

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While a green lawn is pretty to look at, you should think twice about how you go about achieving that lush, green look.   The pesticides we apply to our lawns and gardens are hazardous to our pets.  Pets can absorb pesticides through their paws or lick it off their bodies. In addition, pets can be exposed to pesticides when they eat grass.   Some of the chemicals found in herbicides are also easily tracked indoors on your shoes.  An EPA funded study in 2001 found that 2,4-D and dicamba (a chemical used in herbicides) are easily tracked indoors, contaminating the air and surfaces inside residences and exposing children and pets at levels ten times higher than pre-application levels.

This should be enough to make any pet owner think twice about using chemical fertilizers.  There are plenty of natural and organic alternatives to these chemicals that are not only safer for your pets, but also friendlier to the environment.

Insecticide and pesticide poisoning is always an emergency situation and requires immediate veterinary attention.  Symptoms of insecticide poisoning are:

• Excessive salivation
• Tearing of the eyes
• Excessive urination
• Muscle twitching
• Weakness
• Difficult breathing
• Collapse
• Nausea
• Vomiting
• Abdominal pain
• Weakness
• Dizziness
• Unsteady gait

Repeated exposure to phenoxy herbicides (example: 2,4-D) may affect the liver, kidneys, gastrointestinal tract and skeletal muscles. Some pesticides contain chlorophenoxy acids and are poisonous to the blood, leading to anemia, neutropenia (low white blood cell count), thrombocytopenia (low platelet count), and feline distemper.

Don’t put your pets’ health at risk – look for natural alternatives to keep your lawn green and your yard weed-free.

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