Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

Pets Ease Grief

When death, injury or illness come calling, sometimes the love of a pet is all that can heal the pain

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

My father died last month, and less than a week later, my stepmother fell and broke her wrist and kneecap. In her grief and pain, she has had one lifeline to cling to: her love for her toy poodle, Spike, and her cat, Daisy.

When Ann realized that she was facing up to two months away from home in a rehab facility to regain her strength and mobility, she balked. Spike is 16 years old, and she feared that with so long an absence, he might die without her ever being able to see him again. It was an uphill struggle to persuade her that if she didn’t get the intensive and long-term physical therapy she needed, she might never be able to care for either of her beloved pets again on her own.

When we are facing emotional loss and physical or emotional pain, sometimes our dogs, cats or other pets are the only motivation we have to keep going. And during the COVID pandemic, they may be even more important. While interactions with other people are limited right now, our pets can be with us with no restrictions. Their presence is a comfort in many ways.

“Pets mitigate grief, sorrow and pain, both physiologically and psychologically,” says Lois Abrams, Ph.D. “It is a scientific fact that petting a furry animal releases endorphins for humans. These are calming and relaxing hormones. Psychologically, our pets divert sad and uncomfortable feelings and thoughts. They provide a distraction that allows the individual suffering to focus on another being rather than one’s pain and sorrow. Our pets are our comfort.”

When the hospital social worker and I were unable to persuade Ann of the need for a stay at the rehab hospital, we put our heads together. The next day, with a friend driving, Spike rode in my lap to the hospital. I’d tried to bring him there the day before, but he was terrified of being in the car -- so fearful that we didn’t even make it out of the neighborhood before I turned around and headed back to the house.

“He likes to have someone hold him,” Ann said. That did the trick. If it hadn’t, I would have tried Fear Free lead trainer Mikkel Becker’s suggestion of some calming natural treats to help reduce his anxiety, but being in my arms was enough to calm him.

Ann’s face lit up when I walked into her hospital room carrying Spike. I placed him on the bed with her, and he gently licked away her tears of happiness. You could tell that Spike was just as happy to see her. The visit helped her to accept the need for physical therapy so she could return to Spike and Daisy.

Ann has a long road to recovery ahead of her. She’s also facing the loneliness of life without my father. With COVID restrictions and my return soon to California, it may be more difficult to bring Spike to her for a visit. But I’m planning to work with her great-granddaughter, Tia, who’s taking over the pet sitting after I return home, to ensure that Ann gets plenty of opportunities to “see” him and Daisy, whether that’s through FaceTime calls, texted photos or even bringing Spike to the window of her room so she can wave at him with what I hope will soon be a more mobile and less painful arm and hand.

Now go scratch your pets’ ears and give your parents and other loved ones a call. You never know when it might be the last time.

Q&A

How to choose

pet products

Q: There are so many options regarding what to feed my dog or use for parasite control. How can I make an educated choice?

A: The choice of pet food you put in your cart (in store or online) has largely been driven by marketing, packaging and store employee recommendations. A pet store or farm and garden store employee’s recommendation is often based on what pet food line representative was just there presenting information about their company’s products, or sometimes they’re incentivized to sell a certain brand of food.

It can be the same routine regarding parasite control products for preventing or treating fleas, ticks, mosquitos and internal parasites such as roundworms and hookworms. The recommendation winds shift based on manufacturer sales materials or the uninformed employee simply recommending the product they use or that sells best.

My father used to tell me that when you want to buy a new washer or dryer, ask appliance repair people what brand they use in their own home. Similarly, ask car mechanics what brand of oil they used in their vehicles. Experts know how well a product is made, how reliably it works and whether it’s a value. Nobody knows pet foods and parasite control products as well as veterinarians.

We have extensive training in animal nutrition and parasitology. We attend conferences or online webinars to learn more about these issues. Plus, we’ve seen real-world evidence of how these products work with pets.

The way to make an educated choice of what product is best for your pet is to simply ask the veterinarian or veterinary nurse, “What do you feed your pets?” or “What parasite control products do you use with your pets?” Once they tell you, ask, “Do you think that is the best food/parasite control product for my cat(s)/dog(s)?” -- Dr. Marty Becker

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

THE BUZZ

Rescuers turn tables,

save Saint Bernard

-- Normally, Saint Bernards are the rescuers, according to the history of the Swiss breed, developed to help find lost travelers in the frigid Alps. But 16 volunteers from the Wasdale mountain rescue team returned the favor to the breed, carrying 121-pound Daisy down from Scafell Pike, England’s highest peak at 3,209 feet (there are taller peaks in Scotland and Wales). Daisy had been hiking with her people when she collapsed with signs of pain in her legs as they were descending the mountain. The Mountain Rescue Team consulted a veterinarian, gave Daisy pain relief and some treats, and adjusted their stretcher to make it more dog-friendly. The trip down took five hours, and Daisy is expected to recover.

-- A lucky cat named Spooky took an unplanned ride of 491 miles in the engine bay of a Peterbilt semi, driven by trucker Jack Shao. Unaware that he had a stowaway, Shao headed from Canada to the United States. He discovered the black cat during a routine engine check in North Dakota and called the phone number on Spooky’s collar, which connected him to the cat’s veterinarian. The kind-hearted trucker returned Spooky on his way back, with the cat riding more comfortably in the cab with his benefactor.

-- If you have a new puppy, you may be wondering how you can socialize him when training classes and public outings are curtailed. Never fear! Taking him for walks and car rides will allow him to see people, places and things from a distance. Spend time at home teaching him to love his carrier; gently handle his paws, ears and other body parts to prepare him for veterinary visits; and set and maintain a routine he can stick to even if your schedule changes. You can find more on practical home training at fearfreehappyhomes.com/blog. -- 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, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets 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.