Universal Press Syndicate
It's the question every pet lover dreads, the one for which there's often no easy answer: "When is the right time to say goodbye?"
Choosing to end a pet's life is the hardest decision we make when it comes to our pets, and we can tell you from decades of experience that it's a decision that never gets any easier. Your veterinarian will offer you advice and support, and friends and family can offer you sympathy, but no one can make the decision for you. When you live with an elderly or terminally ill pet, you look in your pet's eyes every morning and wonder if you're doing what's best.
Everyone makes the decision a little differently. Some pet lovers do not wait until their pet's discomfort becomes chronic, untreatable pain, and they choose euthanasia much sooner than others would. Some owners use an animal's appetite as the guide -- when an old or ill animal cannot be tempted into eating, they reason, he has lost most interest in life. And some owners wait until there's no doubt the time is at hand -- and later wonder if they delayed a bit too long.
There's no absolute rule, and every method for deciding is right for some pets and some owners at some times. You do the best you can, and then you try to put the decision behind you and deal with the grief.
The incredible advances in veterinary medicine in the past couple of decades have made the decisions even more difficult for many people. Not too long ago, the best you could do for a seriously ill pet was to make her comfortable until that wasn't possible anymore. Nowadays, nearly every advantage of human medicine -- from chemotherapy to pacemakers to advanced pain relief -- is available to our pets.
But the addition of high-level care shouldn't change much when it comes to easing suffering: If you can have a realistic expectation that a course of treatment will improve your pet's life -- rather than simply prolong it -- then those options should be considered. But you must also ask yourself: Am I doing right by my pet, or am I just holding on because I can't bear to say goodbye?
If it's the latter, you know what decision you have to make.
Many people are surprised at the powerful emotions that erupt after a pet's death, and they can be embarrassed by their grief. Often, we don't realize we're grieving not only for the pet we loved, but also for the special time the animal represented and the ties to other people in our lives. The death of a cat who was a gift as a kitten from a friend who has died, for example, may trigger bittersweet memories of another love lost.
Taking care of yourself is important when dealing with pet loss. Some people -- the "It's just a pet" crowd -- won't understand the loss and may shrug off grief over a pet's death as foolish. I find that the company of other animal lovers is very important. Seek them out to share your feelings, and don't be shy about getting professional help to get you through a difficult time.
Choosing to end a pet's suffering is a final act of love and nothing less. Knowing that your decisions are guided by that love is what helps us all through the sad and lonely time of losing a cherished animal companion.
Finding help when you need it
You're not alone in losing a pet, and many resources are out there to help you cope with your emotions during a difficult time. Some veterinary schools offer pet-loss support lines staffed by volunteer veterinary students, and the Web site PetHobbyist.com offers a pet-loss chat every night of the year, which is staffed with volunteer moderators and attended by other pet lovers.
Halter problems? Try a harness
Q: I've heard that head halters can cause serious injuries if used incorrectly. A too-abrupt tug could jerk a dog's head, causing neck or spinal injuries, couldn't it? -- S.T., via e-mail
A: Anything's possible, which is why I don't recommend using a head halter with one of those long, reel-type leashes. The force of a running dog hitting the end of a 30-foot line does have the potential to cause injury.
In truth, just about every piece of canine equipment has the potential for problems if used incorrectly. Slip-chain collars can choke a dog or injure his neck. Breakaway collars, designed to release a dog who's caught on something, can result in a dog being off-leash when it's least safe, such as next to a busy street. And head halters can jerk a dog's head around.
Dogs who don't know how to walk nicely on leash end up not being walked at all -- and that can contribute to obesity and behavior problems. The same people who came up with the head halter have more recently come up with a product I like much, much better: the front-clip harness, which is called the Easy Walk. There are a few different ones on the market now, and they all work on the same theory: When the leash is clipped to the front of the harness (as opposed to the top center of the back), a dog's own forward momentum is used to keep him from pulling.
I've been recommending this product for a couple of years now because it really works. It's especially wonderful for people who run with their dogs and for making it possible for supervised children to walk even a big dog.
Mind you, it doesn't train your dog not to pull on the leash. If you switch back to a collar, your dog will pull again. It's a management tool, and a great one.
I have never liked head halters. They make even nice dogs look as if they're wearing muzzles to keep from biting someone. And some dogs don't like them, especially at first. But everyone I've recommended a front-clip harness to has come back raving about it. Again: It really works.
The Easy Walk is available from pet retailers or from Premier (www.premier.com).
If you don't know what's right for your dog or how to use it, find a trainer who can help you choose the appropriate equipment and show you how it works. Every piece of training equipment is right for some dogs, but no single item is right for all. And no piece of training equipment is safe or effective unless it's fitted and used properly. -- Gina Spadafori
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books.
On PetConnection.com there's more information on pets and their care, reviews of products, books and "dog cars." Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to email@example.com or visiting PetConnection.com.
Chip cancer scare unwarranted
-- Veterinary experts say there is no evidence that cancer is a problem in microchipped pets. More than 14 million-plus microchips have been implanted with only four cases in question.
-- The ASPCA can solve crimes against animals with its mobile forensics unit. It is equipped with X-ray machines, computers, examination tables, cameras and video equipment for documenting evidence, and will travel when requested by local officials to wherever there are multiple cases of abuse or cruelty. Those most often will be dog-fighting operations, puppy mills or animal-hoarding situations.
-- Elephants are the largest land animals, yet these goliaths move quickly when they hear the buzz of a bee swarm, reports LiveScience.com. Their fear could be used to protect them from deadly conflicts between man and beast by strategically placing beehives (or even recordings of them) as an invisible fence of sorts.
-- Aging cats can develop a feline form of Alzheimer's disease, a new study reveals. Some 28 percent of pet cats aged 11 to 14 years develop at least one age-related behavior problem, and this increases to more than 50 percent for cats over the age of 15. Experts suggest that good diet, mental stimulation and companionship can reduce the risk of dementia in both humans and cats.
-- Mister Ed, the talking horse of the 1960s television show, is buried under a wild cherry tree near Tulsa, Okla. The palomino lived to the ripe old age of 33. -- Dr. Marty Becker
ON GOOD BEHAVIOR
Praise for proper placement
If you are house-training your puppy, recognize the behaviors that come right before your puppy eliminates. When you see your puppy begin to circle and sniff, or see his tail up in a certain way, quickly interrupt the moment with a loud and sharp-sounding, "Ah, Ah, Ah!"
When your puppy looks up, clap your hands and say in a friendly, excited tone, "Good puppy -- let's go," as you lead him outdoors to the place you have chosen as the puppy potty. Then look at the sky and be still like a tree. Your puppy needs to go, so it's only a matter of time.
When the deed is done, crouch down with open arms, praise your puppy, and invite him to a big heap of loving.
(Animal behavior experts Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp are the authors of "On Good Behavior." For more information, visit their Web site at AnimalBehavior.net.)
Easy cleanups for messy birds
Cleaning isn't just about neatness -- it's also about health. Clean, fresh food and water are essential to pet birds, and so is keeping their environment as free as possible of bacteria, fungus and molds, all of which can lead to disease.
You can keep things relatively neat with a few supplies kept close to the cage and used on a consistent basis. Among them:
-- Newspapers. Bird lovers go through a lot of newspapers. Put all the glossy inserts in the recycling bin, and stack the rest for use in the cage tray and under play areas.
-- Cloth towels. Worn bath towels are great for protecting clothing from bird poop -- just drape a towel over your shoulders.
-- Spray bottle with cleaning solution. Keep this near the cage, along with towels. Since birds are sensitive to fumes, skip the ammonia, bleach, pine solutions or any other strong cleaners. Simple soap and water are fine for everyday touchups, or you can try Poop-Off, a product developed just for bird cleanup.
-- Handheld vacuum. Great for snarfing up food pellets and feathers.
-- Mats for underneath the cage. The heavy, clear plastic mats intended for underneath desk chairs and sold at office-supply stores keep most of the gunk off the floor. Newspapers catch the rest.
-- Trash bin. Again, right by the cage. Every time you change the cage liner, put the old newspapers in the trash.
A few minutes spent cleaning a couple of times a day keeps things in good order and makes the weekly cage scrubbing easier to accomplish. Clean cage papers daily, at a minimum, and clean everything else as soon as the mess hits. -- Gina Spadafori
PETS BY THE NUMBERS
Veterinary specialists abound
The United States has almost 85,000 veterinarians, the majority of whom (56,000) are in private practice. Among those veterinarians (those not in the chart treat a variety of other kinds of animals, such as exotics, so numbers won't total 100):
Treat companion animals 76 percent
Treat horses 6 percent
Treat food animals 9 percent
Source: American Veterinary Medical Association
PETS ON THE WEB
No need for war with wildlife
As we've grown out from the cities and developed more and more land for housing, it's no surprise that conflicts between humans and native wildlife are a big problem.
Conflicts can be kept to a minimum by blocking off attics, chimneys and crawl spaces to prevent wildlife from setting up housekeeping, and by keeping garbage cans and other food sources securely sealed.
The Humane Society of the United States has an excellent collection of articles on the group's Web site (www.humanesociety.org/animals/wild_neighbors) that offers more suggestions on living peacefully with urban wildlife. From coyotes to skunks to deer, the site provides information that will minimize the potential for nuisance. The site offers advice on products that can help discourage animals, along with case studies of nonlethal methods of dealing with conflicts. -- Gina Spadafori
Pet Connection is produced by a team of team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper, by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting PetConnection.com.
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