Pet Connection

Pet Loss

Recalling a beloved dog or cat who has died is painful but comforting

Andrews McMeel Syndication

If you’re like me, the new year is a time to count your many blessings and to look back at the highs and lows of the previous year. The replay is not an exercise designed to arbitrarily whipsaw emotions, and it’s been decades since I’ve made New Year’s resolutions (I just try and live a life of self-improvement). Rather, it's an effort to sear into my consciousness the things for which I want to remember every detail. The most special of all these memories involve the loss of pets.

I know I open myself up to attack when I say this, but I honestly grieve more for the loss of pets than I do people -- even the deaths of family and friends. I love people, so maybe I need counseling to figure out this paradox, but I bet if I joined group counseling for the same problem, we’d fill the largest sports stadium you could find.

I think that’s because when pets die, we face a loss of unconditional love, limitless affection, daily doses of smiles and laughter and to-die-for loyalty. When pets die, we tend to think the gifts given are always lopsided on their side of the ledger.

Pets swell our hearts with their unfettered joy, then break them when they go before us. This year we lost an amazing dog, our precious Quora. She was a 15-pound fawn-colored canine cocktail (Pomeranian, Shar-Pei and Cairn terrier), whose most unique gift was her love of shoes. We’re not talking the stereotypical leather-chomping puppy; no, Quora possessed a talent so unique that we should have had her on the hit show "America’s Got Talent."

Quora would go into an open closet or mudroom and take all the shoes out and put them in another room. We’re not talking a pile of shoes, or dropped helter-skelter. No, the dog we nicknamed Imelda Barkos or Shoebacca would transfer the shoes in the exact order she found them. Let’s say there were three pairs of shoes -- one pair of tan sandals, one pair of red heels and a pair of black boots -- side-by-side on the floor of the closet. Quora would pick up a shoe, prance proudly with it in her mouth through the house to a random room, then place it right side up, in the same order, left to right like she found it (always with the right and left in perfect place). I know what you’re thinking: Hard to believe. I probably wouldn’t believe it if I were reading it, but it’s true.

So as the year closes, our family goes through the highlight reel of Quora’s 14 years on Earth. I could write thousands of words about her, and in fact, I did. It’s one of the ways I grieve. But I know that many of you, too, have had to say goodbye or give the final grace to a four-legged family member who left too soon. Know that I understand the depth of your loss and pray for you to find comfort.

I want to leave you with three thoughts:

-- Greatest pet in the world. I used to end a radio show by saying, “There’s only one greatest pet in the world ... and every family has her.” This is true.

-- Better too early than too late. Most pet owners agonize over the decision to euthanize a pet. My advice is always, “I’d rather be a month too early than a day too late.”

Warm memories. Over my four decades in practice, I’ve signed thousands of sympathy cards for pet owners who’ve lost a pet. Here are the words I find most comforting and use: "May the times you shared forever be the warmest of memories."

Q&A

Can cat and

baby coexist?

Q: I have the sweetest, most loving cat. She is 5 years old and lives indoors. I will be baby-sitting my newborn granddaughter, and my daughter wants me to get rid of my cat. What should I do?

A: The old wives' tale that families with infants should get rid of their cats because the cat will harm the baby still persists, unfortunately. It’s just not true that a cat will suck a baby’s breath because she’s attracted to the scent of milk or that she’ll lie on the baby and smother her. Millions of women have lived with cats for thousands of years without their babies coming to harm.

We think the myth about cats being harmful to babies probably got started because cats may have been found snuggled next to babies who died from other causes, and the cats received the blame for the death.

You should be able to take some steps that will allow you to keep your cat while protecting your baby granddaughter and keeping your daughter happy. Keep your cat out of the room where the baby sleeps, and don’t allow her to nap in the bassinet, even if the baby isn’t in it. It should be a simple matter to check the room for the cat before closing the door so the cat can’t get in. A baby monitor with a microphone and camera will allow you to hear and see the baby when you’re not in the room with her. You may also consider using a crib tent to keep the cat out of baby’s bed.

You may find that your cat stays away from the baby on her own because she’s unfamiliar with the crying sounds the baby makes. If your cat does show interest in the baby, let them interact only while you’re holding the baby. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to askpetconnection@gmail.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.

THE BUZZ

6 pet-friendly

New Year’s resolutions

-- Do you make pet-related New Year’s resolutions? Here are six suggestions to help you and your pet have a happy, healthy 2018. Commit to daily walks, longer walks or, for cats, regular playtime. Walk in new areas to stimulate your dog’s senses, especially his sense of smell. Teach your dog or cat a new trick. Try out a dog sport such as nose work, rally or agility. Take a pet first aid course. Remember to bring treats when your pet goes to the veterinarian so he will associate the visit -- and the vet -- with good things.

-- Before 1860, herding dogs were considered common working dogs, unworthy of much notice. They were often referred to as cur dogs. In the mid-19th century, sheepdogs were divided into three types: rough, smooth and short-tailed and were called, variously, colleys, colley sheepdogs, sheepdogs and collies. Most herding-breed experts agree that rough and smooth collies, border collies and Shetland sheepdogs descend from the same ancestors. Collies became popular companion dogs in the 1860s after Queen Victoria took an interest in the dogs working on her Scottish estate, Balmoral, and made them part of her household.

-- Stretching benefits dogs, whether you’re taking them for a walk around the block, a two-hour hike or a 10-day backpacking trip. After a five-minute warm-up of walking or light jogging, start with a play bow, luring your dog into position by holding a treat low and pushing it toward the dog. Next, a counter stretch to extend the hind end is done by placing your arm beneath your dog’s belly, in front of his hind legs, holding him in place while you lure him forward with a treat. Having your dog offer a high five -- on both sides -- stretches the shoulders. Paws up onto a surface stretches the lower back. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.

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