The Animal Doctor

DEAR DR. FOX: I read your tribute to your cat, Pinto Bean. I had to put down my beloved Bella Charlotte last month after a protracted pancreatitis. She was 13 years and 7 months. I adopted her as a parvo survivor at age 3 months. She was just a little poodle mix that never had a good hair day in her life.

I am a critical care nurse and deal with death on a regular basis. But this was nothing like I've ever experienced. When Bella Charlotte became septic, my capable and trusted veterinarian and I knew we were in the fight of Bella's life.

From the onset, it was 33 days and my Bella was gone. Subsequent hydration and IV antibiotics were to no avail. There were multiple hospital days and sleepless nights for all of us.

My heart breaks for you. The guilt I felt and still feel is haunting. My Bella trusted me. I know she was suffering, and it was the humane thing to do. However, holding my sweet girl as she fought death was an image that I cannot escape. I believe I let her down, even though I know she was not ever to be well again.

Our babies are now free from this earthly chain. Your beloved Pinto Bean and my Bella are surely best buds, as they look for us to join them. Blessings and Peace. -- J.W., Tulsa, Oklahoma

DEAR J.W.: Thank you for your kind words. I have received several letters of condolence from readers about my having to euthanize an animal who loved and trusted me. It is a haunting experience regardless of any rational justification.

Your letter is a reminder that many animals don't have such lucky adoption stories. Regrettably, more animals are surrendered to often overcrowded shelters around Christmastime than at other times of the year, according to a recent report. (For more on this, see my commentary below on last December's Boston Globe story.)

The former owners may want their pets to be adopted, but do they follow up?

There are excellent adoption networks to assist people who face economic hardship with surrendering their animals to a shelter. Most, especially their children, would be better off keeping their cat or dog.

I am encouraged by pet food banks that are set up to help people keep their animals, along with community-supported veterinary outreach and care. These kinds of social services, along with grief and other emotional and spiritual support groups, are spreading among millions of people who treasure their animal companions.


The year-end holiday season brings with it as much as a 50 percent spike in pet euthanasia procedures, says veterinarian Dani McVety of Lutz, Florida-based Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice.

These pets have been declining for some time in most cases, says Boston-area veterinarian Jeremy Gransky. In addition, their poor health may be exacerbated by the fact that they are susceptible to the stress their owners experience during the holidays. (From The Boston Globe, Dec. 29.)


Veterinarian Catherine Cortright worked with Fort Collins, Colorado, nonprofit The Street Dog Coalition to create a pop-up clinic in her hometown of Ithaca, New York, that provides veterinary care for the pets of patients in transient housing. (The Street Dog Coalition works to provide free veterinary care to homeless people's pets across the country.)

In Ithaca, veterinary specialists have volunteered to provide basic care for approximately 25 dogs and cats so far, and the clinic has moved from a parking lot to a dog grooming shop. (From The Ithaca Journal, Jan. 8.)

(Send all mail to or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.

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