WHEN IS THE RIGHT TIME TO SAY GOODBYE?
A vet's point of view, by : Nick 'the Vet' Murgatroyd BVSc MRCVS.
It can be one of the toughest and saddest moments in our lives when we have to say goodbye, forever to a beloved pet. I have had many owners admit that they have cried and grieved more when they have lost a pet, than when they have lost a friend or family member.
It is nothing to be ashamed of because all pet owners know what a special place they have in our hearts. They are always there, they never complain and always loving (and never answer back!!).
Both Caroline and I have lost a very dear friend recently. Her, her little Nela and I my beautiful Julieta (the Staffie; famous socializer, public relations, dog trainer, receptionist and playmate for the clinic during nearly 15 years).
When is the right time? I always say that most people know and myself included. It was very heart wrenching for me, as it is with all owners, but I knew when the day came; she was hardly able to walk, still keen to eat but could not co-ordinate her mouth to chew nor swallow.
I, only on very rare occasions, have to say to clients that their pet needs putting to sleep. In their heart of hearts they know the moment has arrived. If not, then they may be being selfish, and nobody wants to see their friend suffer, especially if there is no quality of life.
Quality of life is an important factor; if they recognise their owners, want to eat, keen to go for a walk (even if they don´t get far), and are not soiling themselves. Then they probably still want to go on. But when “the lights are on but nobody is at home”, then probably it is the time to say goodbye.
Sometimes just letting a pet pass away is a bit unfair. Not always, like us they can die in their sleep. But often they might suffer in the last hours or days and at least we can help them by giving them a painless injection of anaesthetic.
Where to do the deed is also important; either in the clinic or at home. Sometimes it is nicer to do it at home. But if the dog or cat is a little nervous or in pain it is often better and actually less stressful to do it in the clinic. But I agree this is more difficult for the clients. Sometimes owners are embarrassed to cry in the clinic, other times we all cry together. For many years, now that the clinic has been open 18 years, I have known cats and dogs and their owners all their life. And I have seen their children go from toddlers to big grown-ups. We often have a good laugh about the family fotos on their files and may people want a copy of the family foto when the pet passes away.
If we have children like I do, then the death of a pet for the family is an extremely tough and sad moment. But my children have learnt that it is an important part of life and death. And they, the children, often cope much better than we adults do. Unfortunately or fortunately, we should always outlive our pets. We have lost several cats and 2 dogs now. And they are buried in a special place in the finca of my wife´s uncle. There is a little line now!!
What to do with the body is another difficult decision that has to be made; whether to bury or incinerate. Whether to have the ashes back or not. And that is very personal. Some people think that “that´s it” when they die. Another client even admitted (happily, we had a good laugh about it!) that she now sits and watches telly with the urn of her cat (in the shape of a wooden cat) at her side, just as before.
How to deal with grief is very personal too. For some people it takes years. Others never want another dog or cat. Whilst others want a new puppy or kitten the very next day. For me, I decided to get Rafa (a new Staffie) when Julieta was very old.
He gave Julieta a new lease of life and us someone to cuddle when she died. He is also the new star of the clinic now and has taken over the reins where Julieta left off. (see our new web site: www.vet-bendinat.com). Lots of you must know him by now.
Finally, what Caroline says is true; that pets all leave footprints and memories in our hearts forever.
Obedience training part 3, limitations:
By Joachim Sommer
A few weeks back we first defined what obedience training is (teaching our dog to carry out certain tasks on cue) then we talked about how to teach it.
This week we want to talk about the limitations and “dangers” of obedience training when attempting to change undesired behaviours in our dog.
Obedience training is excellent for creating and deepening the bond between handler and dog, it is a very good mental challenge for the dog, thus an aid in calming and tiring them but of course it is also used as a means to control the dog (like telling them to sit or lie down when they actually want to go and do something different).
Hence it is often very tempting to address behavioural issues by obligating the dog to give us a certain behaviour that is incompatible with the situation, here is an example:
Fluffy gets very excited when visitors are coming into the house and likes to “greet” them by jumping at them sometimes he even bites at their clothes. So John, the owner decides to take him to “obedience class” where he teaches Fluffy to “go to his place” and stay there until the visitors are gone. Problem solved…… Or is it?
Let us think about what John most likely has achieved:
Initially he achieved a suppression of the jumping and biting behaviour. That means Fluffy actually still wants exactly the same thing, which is jumping and biting at the visitors but due to his strong obedience he remains lying down. So, again initially, John achieved to manage the situation using the dog’s obedience (to achieve similar result he could have put Fluffy in a separate room or simply leashed him).
If John decides “jobs a good’n” and leaves it as it is one of 2 things can happen in the long run:
1. Fluffy keeps on suppressing the behaviour and it is very likely that at one stage he can’t “hold out” any longer and reverts back to his old behaviour, probably in some stronger fashion than before.
2. Fluffy realises that this actually IS how he is supposed to greet people and little by little changes his state of mind towards the situation whilst being obligated to remain in his place.
So John does not really know whether he actually achieved a real change in behaviour or just a suppression. In effect he achieved a similar result as if he used punishment.
When we are dealing with undesired behaviour, we should always aim to change the state of mind of the dog towards a situation, person, animal or object, regardless of whether this is overly excited greeting or aggression and not suppress it.
Obedience training can help us a lot on the way to real change, for example by getting the dog to sit rather then jumping at visitors but ONLY if we start teaching the dog at the same time to actually cope with the overwhelming stimulus and decide for themselves to give us situation compatible behaviour.
In one of the next issues we will talk about ways how we can achieve that. Stay tuned!
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