Friday, March 30, 2012

The Passing of Sage - Dealing with Pet Loss

One of the most difficult aspects of being a pet owner is dealing with the loss of a beloved companion. Recently that hit home not just once, but twice. Greg and I lost our beloved Sage, our blind Springer Spaniel, just a few weeks ago. She had been part of our household for more than 11 years and because of this special dog, I am an author and many children and adults have learned valuable life lessons through her life story. Just the month previous, my parents’ cat, Milly, died from an unknown disease. Although Milly had only been with them about a year, her death rendered their hearts. Many people know that feeling. How does one deal with the loss of a pet? Grief experts state that intense sadness is normal. During the years, even if the years are few in number, that pet became a significant and constant part of one’s life, and the absence is felt deeply. People experience different emotions, not just sorrow or pain; sometimes it’s anger, sometimes it’s guilt and sometimes it’s depression. Experts state that one should honestly acknowledge their feelings, not hide or deny them. Try to find a confidant with whom to share your feelings, perhaps another pet owner, a sympathetic family member or friend, someone who will provide comfort and understanding, not belittle your true emotions. What you feel is real; don’t mask it. How do you talk with your children about a beloved pet’s death? Honesty is critical. If you say the pet was "put to sleep," be sure your children understand the difference between death and ordinary sleep. It’s not wise to say the pet "went away," or your child may wonder what s/he did to make it leave and wait anxiously for its return. When you talk with your children, make it clear that the pet will not come back, but that it is happy and free of pain. Children are never too young or too old to grieve. Please don’t criticize your child for tears or for feeling sad. Be honest about your own sorrow and let them be honest about theirs. Discuss the loss as a family, and give everyone a chance to work through their grief in their own time. If you have other pets in the house, they may also appear to grieve when their companion is gone. Our Cocker Spaniel, Cody, paced the floor the night before Sage passed. He whined and was restless. Pets observe household changes, therefore, they are bound to notice the change in the family’s emotions as well as the absence of the pet that has passed. Pets can form strong attachments to each other and they recognize when their friend is gone. You may need to give your surviving pet lots of extra attention to help it through this period. We are do this with Cody. That extra attention is helpful for you as well; surviving pets can provide great healing to you and your family. Take time before bringing a new pet into the household as children and surviving pets may not accept a new addition for awhile. Grieving is a very personal and individualized experience. Therefore, there is no “right way”. Simply being honest with yourself and your family is the key to dealing with the loss of a beloved pet. For me, it meant sobbing uncontrollably at first, taking a drive to some of the places Sage and I shared in this community, like the river walkway and a park. Being grateful for sharing life with her helped put a salve over my broken heart. Additionally, sharing my loss with others who understand and experiencing their love and comfort provides relief. Time heals a broken heart. And, healing does come when we allow it.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Spring Into Exercise with Your Four-footed Friend

The end of winter is just around the corner as we've enjoyed some GLORIOUS warm, sunny days. As we look forward to warmer days, greening grass, and blooming flowers we can help our pets and ourselves become healthier and more rejuvenated by getting outdoors.

Exercise is as important for our pet’s health as it is for our own. Many dogs, especially those of the herding and hunting breeds, need activity to keep them both physically and emotionally healthy. Working dogs can get bored without a job. Activity stimulates their physical muscles and their mental abilities. For example, weaving through poles and running through tunnels in agility training engages a dog’s mind and body. Playing fetch or going swimming also stimulates the body and brain. Even walking and allowing your dog to explore the grasses and trees provides it with activity that stimulates the senses. Without exercise, a dog can become not just bored, but also destructive, chewing on furniture or digging up the yard.
Senior dogs may not need as much activity as younger ones or more active breeds, but they still need some exercise. Often, a simple walk around the neighborhood will suffice. Walking is great exercise for both human and animal, and partaking of spring’s flavorful sights and sounds stimulates the mind as well as the muscles in both you and your dog.

Perhaps running is more your sport. Many dogs, such as labs and border collies, also benefit from a jog or run. These types of dogs need more active exercise than a short walk around the block, and the companionship you’ll share on such an outing helps cement the dog-human bond. Hook your pet’s leash to your wrist and jog on out there!

Whether it’s an hour playing fetch, two hours on the agility course, or a short jaunt around the neighborhood, activity adds up to a more enjoyable day for your pooch – and for yourself!

Cats, too, need exercise. My mother would take her cat, J.J., on a walk around the house on a leash. J.J. enjoyed these strolls, hearing the birds sing and rolling around in the vegetable garden’s dirt. She and mom would sit together under the weeping birch, stretched out on the grass and simply enjoy the day. I, too, once had a kitty that walked well on a leash. I lived near a creek, and therefore, didn’t want her roaming beyond the back yard border. I could actually “tie her out” on a long lead near the lilac bush, and she would spend hours there, relishing the sights and smells of the blooming shrubs. Or, simply nap in the overgrown shade. Even indoors, a cat that’s provided toy mice and games of “catch-the-feather-on-the- fishing-pole-if-you-can!” enjoys the stimulation of her senses.

Spring officially arrives March 21. Cabin fever strikes us all, and the coming of spring helps alleviate some of that by providing extra daylight, extra sunshine, and extra-stimulating fragrances. Fresh air, warm sun, blooming flowers, and singing birds – the great outdoors is calling to our pets and us! Allow your dog some extra time in your fenced backyard to drink in the sights, smells, and feelings of the new season. Take kitty for a safe stroll around your house – many cats become very amenable to a leash and stay safe from passing cars or roaming dogs by being on one. Enjoy your furry friend’s company while outdoors this spring – you’ll both feel better for it!