Mourning the loss of a pet takes different forms
By Kim Campbell Thornton
It's strange to see an empty cage every time I go into the kitchen. For 28 years, our African ringneck parakeet, Larry, greeted the day with a cheery "Good morning!" But a few weeks ago, when my husband woke up and went to prepare the dogs' breakfast, there was only silence. Larry was dead at the bottom of his cage.
He seemed fine the previous evening when I put him up for the night, but we consoled ourselves with the thought that he had lived the typical span of years for a ringneck. Still, he had been with us the longest of any of our animals, and his absence cast a pall over the house.
I called his veterinary clinic to pass on the news. I knew the staff would be devastated. Larry was a popular boarder when we were away on trips. One time I went to pick him up, and a collective "Aww" of disappointment emanated from the back room when the receptionist called to have him brought up front. His veterinarian, Dr. Kristi Krause, returned my call a little while later to offer condolences.
"Larry was an awesome bird," she said. That sentiment was echoed by former Bird Talk magazine editor Kathleen Etchepare Samuelson. "I always loved his beautiful bright-green feathers and happy personality," she said.
We noted his demise on Facebook, of course. Larry met lots of people over the years and charmed them all with his conversation: "Larry's a good bird," "Larry's a pretty bird," "Whatcha doin'?" "I love you!" "Gimme a kiss" (followed by smacking sounds). He was also famous for meowing with such authenticity that it often prompted people to look around for a cat. He received nearly 80 tributes from friends who had either known him in person or admired him in photos.
Our most amusing memory of Larry is one told to us secondhand. Our neighbors, who had a caique named Pogo, were caring for Larry at their house while we were on a trip. One night, they were watching a movie with both birds, and Larry kept talking over the dialogue. Finally, Pogo turned to him and said, "Shh." Larry shut up.
It was hard to know how to memorialize Larry. Burning a candle didn't seem right, since we avoided burning them during his life to ensure that the fumes didn't kill him. He didn't have a collar and tags that we could put in a keepsake box. His veterinarian offered to have us bring him in to make a toe-print memento, but we prefer photos, and we have several nice ones of him.
Other ideas I've seen include writing about the animal, purchasing a children's book on dealing with the loss of a pet and donating it to a local library or school with a label inside dedicating the book to the pet's memory, framing a favorite picture of the animal or having a professional portrait made from a photo, making a donation to a shelter or rescue group in the pet's memory and planting a living memorial such as a bush, tree or flower. We've done several of those things for various pets over the years and will choose from among them for Larry.
The University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine suggests sharing photos and stories of a deceased pet, and that's what our Facebook notification ended up being. And it seems appropriate as I write this that National Pet Memorial Day is coming up on Sept. 13. We will think of Larry fondly on that day and many others.
Goodnight, Larry. We'll miss you, good bird.
How to enrich a
Q: I have a new job, and it's requiring me to work a lot more hours. What are some ways that I can still spend quality time with my dog and help keep him from getting bored? -- via Facebook
A: You are so right to realize that your dog needs more activity and interaction than just sleeping all day and a quick walk when you get home. Mental and physical stimulation are important to a pet's well-being. Fortunately, there are lots of great ways you can enrich your dog's environment and keep his brain and body active both when you're home and when you're away.
-- Give him something to listen to. Leave on a classical music station to provide calming sounds. He might also enjoy the sounds and voices on a nature or travel channel.
-- Put his brain cells to work with puzzle toys. Fill one with treats or even with his daily allotment of dry food so that he spends his day "hunting" for food.
-- Use some of your time with him to teach some new tricks. Any dog can learn new things, not just puppies and young adults, and the activity is a good physical and mental workout. If you're really ambitious, you can save yourself some time and effort in the long run by teaching him to pick up and put away his toys.
-- Don't rush through walks. Let him spend a few minutes here and there sniffing at whatever he finds interesting. You can check your email while he checks his pee-mail.
-- Really "be" with your dog while you walk. If you're wearing headphones, you're not interacting. Talk to him -- dogs love the sound of our voices -- and watch his reaction to things as you walk. You'll learn more about him, and you'll be more aware of your surroundings and any approaching animals or people who could cause problems. -- Mikkel Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
Cat named Corduroy
assumes "oldest" crown
-- After the recent death of Tiffany Two at age 27, a new cat holds the Guinness World Record for oldest living cat. The feline geezer is named Corduroy, and he's 26 years old. Corduroy, born Aug. 1, 1989, lives with Ashley Reed Okura, who acquired him as a kitten when she was 7 years old. Corduroy still has a ways to go before he beats the record of the oldest cat ever known: Creme Puff, who lived 38 years (1967-2005). The average cat lives 15 years.
-- How do you invite your dog to play? Depending on your signal, he might not understand exactly what you're asking, according to research published in the journal Animal Behaviour. After videotaping people playing with their dogs, scientists found that dogs responded to the most common play signal -- patting the floor -- only 38 percent of the time. The most successful invitations to play included chasing or running away from the dog, bowing from the waist, making a quick movement toward the dog, tapping the chest to encourage the dog to jump up, grabbing or touching the dog's paws and imitating a play bow -- knees on the ground and arms flat on the floor.
-- Thanks to Operation K-9 Care Package, you can support a military working dog team with helpful items such as Wubbas, tennis balls, Kongs and other heavy-duty chew toys; collapsible nylon water bowls; bandannas; nail clippers; and more. For human team members, think sunblock, hand sanitizer, hand cream, travel-size tissue packets, chewing gum, cotton swabs, toothpaste and toothbrushes. For more information on how and where to send items, visit uswardogs.org/k9-care. You can also make a financial donation with a check or money order made out to Operation K-9 Care Package, 2000 W. County Rd. B2, #130605, St. Paul, MN 55113. -- Kim Campbell Thornton
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 Johnson. 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 Johnson is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.
CAPTIONS AND CREDITS
Caption 01: African ringneck parakeets typically live 20 to 28 years. Position: Main Story
Caption 02: Combining speech with body language helps to encourage dogs to play. Position: Pet Buzz/Item 2