New Pet Bereavement book

As I started to write this blog about my new book, ‘When It’s Time to Say Goodbye – Preparing for the Transition of Your Beloved Pet’, I received a phone call from a friend. As soon as she started talking I knew she was going to give sad news – I could hear the distress in her voice. Unexpectedly one of her two whippets had been taken ill and had to be put to sleep just a few days earlier. My heart went out to her. Anyone who has been through the loss of a beloved pet knows what it can be like. I listened as she told me the details and was thankful that her pet’s illness had been brief and that she was able to be with her little dog as she said her final goodbye to her companion of 11 years. I’d been through the same process with my own dog a few months earlier.  I knew what she was going through – seeing the empty space where his bed used to be at home and missing all his little endearing ways, and trying to avoid other people when out walking in case they say, “Where’s your dog?” Animal bereavement is a tough journey, and it’s not something anyone should have to do on their own. That is why I am so glad to have written this book – it’s somewhere for people to go, to find information, guidance, ideas, support and the warmth of being understood as they traverse the twists and turns of their own particular journey during their beloved pet’s end of life.

In my friend’s case, the lead up to her dog’s death had been short and the decision to have him put to sleep clear-cut. But, often this is not the case, and finding the right time to say goodbye can be fraught with anxiety and stress, as well as emotionally overwhelming. To share some insights about this area, here is an extract from the book:

~~~

People often say to those going through this process, “Oh, you’ll know when the time is right.” Certainly, you may know at the point; however, trying to decide when to have a much-loved companion animal put to sleep can present a myriad of uncertainties. Because of the emotional and mental turmoil, it can be difficult to quiet your mind and listen to your instinct. On the one hand, you want whatever is best for your pet; on the other, this is an irrevocable decision.

You may worry about having your pet put to sleep too soon and, therefore, depriving them of time. Or you may be anxious to ensure that they don’t get to a stage when they start to suffer. The thing to remember is that you do not have to work this out totally on your own. While the final decision has to be made by you, the vet professionals are there to offer vital information and guidance.

One way of thinking about when to consider euthanasia is that it can be done to prevent suffering rather than to end suffering.

I remember a few years ago going through this myself with an elderly guinea pig. Beryl had been a wonderful companion who had played a crucial role in educational sessions for a school programme called “Being Kind to Animals”, before retiring at around four or five years of age. When she reached the grand age of eight years, which is good going for a guinea pig, I noticed some changes in her demeanour and body condition that made me think she wasn’t feeling as well as normal.

I was determined that this little life wasn’t going to suffer unnecessarily, and am firmly of the mind that a little too soon is definitely better than a little too late. So I took her to the vet for a check-up and asked outright whether I needed to consider having her put to sleep in the near future. I explained that I was anxious to ensure that she didn’t suffer; she’d had as comfortable a life as I could offer her, and I wanted to ensure that she had a comfortable death.

The vet gave her a thorough examination and reassured me that she was in good health and would probably go on for another year! She also told me what to look out for that would indicate that Beryl was losing condition.

I was pleased and relieved and arranged to take her every six months for an assessment, or sooner if I had any concerns. A year later, Beryl’s condition suddenly deteriorated, and despite the fact that she kept eating, I knew that it was time for her to be gently put to sleep. The vet agreed, and I said my goodbye to this beloved guinea pig who had reached the grand age of nine.

My point in sharing this story is to show that rather than inwardly fretting and worrying, I discussed my concerns with the vet and got professional guidance and information, then, having been reassured, I was able to enjoy the time we had left together.

There is no doubt that it is incredibly difficult to be objective about your pet’s quality of life when emotions are running wild; therefore, a methodical system to gather information will help you stay grounded and be realistic. Keeping a diary of your pet’s general condition and behaviour will enable you to keep track of any changes that may not be obvious when you see them every day.

This activity is to help you work out a system to recognize important changes as they occur and to know what to do about them.

Recognizing Important Changes in Your Pet’s Well-Being

Ask your vet for guidance on how to measure changes in your pet’s well-being. The list below offers suggestions, but it will depend on the type of animal and what you and your vet decide about your particular pet’s needs. Leave space beside each point to write down what to do:

What to Look Out For

1.            Behaving differently, such as:

•             Having out-of-character reactions, such as aggression

•             Being listless

•             Avoiding people or hiding

•             Being disoriented or confused

2.            Are they:

•             Losing weight?

•             Off their food?

3.            Should I take a photo each week to notice gradual changes?

4.            Does their fur or feathers look any different?

5.            Have they got any new lumps or bumps?

6.            Are they struggling to stand up or lie down, or finding it difficult to walk or move about?

7.            Are they coughing or being sick?

8.            Do they seem in pain?

9.            Are they crying, moaning or breathing heavily and/or quickly?

10.          When would I need to contact the vet urgently?

11.          There may be other things which you or your vet could add to this list.

This focused and practical approach should give you some peace of mind, as you are more likely to recognize a gradual or sudden worsening of your pet’s condition and will know what to do about it.

~~~

There are many different aspects which caring guardians may have to work through in the lead up to their loss, and then afterwards as they cope with the loss of their beloved pet. Wherever the reader is in the process, the book aims to gently support the sacredness of their individual human-animal relationship as they face the inevitable separation within the physical world.

‘When It’s Time to Say Goodbye’ by Angela Garner, is now available to order from all major bookstores: https://petlosspress.com/

Preparing to say goodbye during lock-down

This is an incredibly difficult time for any pet guardian, but it can be especially challenging during lock-down, when you can’t meet your vet face-to-face or be with your pet during consultations. I’m writing this blog in the hope that how I coped might help someone else.   I know what it’s like because our own beautiful little 13+years dog, Rufus, was unwell in March just as the first lock-down started. We were backwards and forwards with him to the vet practice; each time we stayed in the car until the vet nurse came to collect our nervous little charge to take him in, while we waited anxiously in the car park.

It was difficult not actually meeting our vet, who was isolating, because normally we’d ask about things and would see exactly what she thought as she examined Rufus. They say that a high percentage of what we communicate is through body language and facial expression, and, of course, that was all gone. Everything had to be relayed through the nurses, who thankfully were experienced and knowledgeable so they became our highly valued life-line. As we got into August it became apparent to my husband and I that Rufus was coming to the end of his life. Although I was often on the phone to the wonderful vet nurses, who would take my questions to the vet and relay the answers, we really didn’t have a clear picture about our dog’s situation, and we weren’t able to fully express our concerns.

In the end, what I found worked best was to carefully prepare for each vet visit by:

  • Writing a brief report on how Rufus had been – any symptoms, his appetite, whether he wanted to go for walks etc. (the kind of things I thought the vet would ask me if I was there)
  • Listing our questions in clear bullet points so that the vet could easily see what we were concerned about or what we needed to know
  • Printing it for the vet nurses to take into the surgery with Rufus (some vets will have email access instead)

When it was apparent to us that Rufus may be starting to suffer, or at least wasn’t enjoying life anymore, with a very heavy heart I wrote down the question, ‘Is it time to have Rufus put to sleep, because we have noticed (and gave details of his sudden change in behaviour and symptoms)?’ to go in with him at the urgent consultation we had arranged. This time, the vet actually came out to see us in person, from a safe distance, which was such a relief. After discussion, she gave us some really strong medication to try him on for a few days, and we all agreed that if there was no significant improvement after this, then the kindest thing would be to say goodbye to Rufus.

Rufus had a peaceful last few days before we took him back for the final time to the surgery. Our vet kindly set up a long line to the intravenous catheter so that I could cuddle him in the back of our car as she injected the drug which put him to sleep. We were grateful we could be with him as he quickly and peacefully slipped away in my arms.

CARING FOR PETS DURING COVID-19 LOCK DOWN

We thought it would be useful to pull some information together on caring for our pets during this unprecedented time, and in particular, what we might need to consider should a beloved companion animal need to be put to sleep while the vets are only covering emergencies and implementing social distancing.

Although we at EASE cannot give any advice, we hope that the following current information from the government is helpful, along with any updates that follow on the government websites.

Defra’s advice for pet owners diagnosed with Covid-19 is:

  • Restrict contact with pets as a precautionary animal health measure until more information is known about the virus.
  • If your pet requires care, wash your hands before and after any interaction with them and wear a face mask if possible.
  • Keep cats indoors if possible and try to arrange for someone else to exercise dogs, taking care to restrict any contact with the person walking your dog and making sure they practice good hygiene. This is to reduce the likelihood of your pet spreading the disease through environmental contamination on their fur – there is no evidence that pet animals play a role in the spread of the disease.
  • If your pet shows clinical signs, please do not take it to the vet but call the practice for advice.
  • If your pet requires emergency treatment, call the practice for further advice. Do not take your pet to the surgery unless the vet instructs you to. You may need to arrange for someone else to transport your pet for treatment.

GOVERNMENT ADVICE re: Coronavirus (COVID-19): advice for people with animals

Advice for pet owners and livestock keepers on maintaining the welfare of their animals during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Published 27 March 2020
Last updated 31 March 2020 — see all updates

From:

Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs and Animal and Plant Health Agency

Contents

  1. Dogs
  2. General advice for all cat owners
  3. Horses, livestock and other animals

We all need to do what we can to reduce the spread of coronavirus. The single most important action we can all take in fighting coronavirus is to stay at home in order to protect the NHS and save lives.

You should follow the current guidance and must stay at home, except for very limited purposes.

The following advice provides further detail for pet owners and livestock keepers on maintaining the welfare of their animals during the coronavirus pandemic.

There is no evidence of coronavirus circulating in pets or other animals in the UK and there is nothing to suggest animals may transmit the disease to humans. In line with the general advice on fighting coronavirus, you should wash your hands regularly, including before and after contact with animals.

Dogs

Advice if you have symptoms of coronavirus and must remain at home for 7 days, or 14 days as a household

If your dog cannot exercise at home, you should ask someone outside of your household to walk your dog for you.

All non-essential trips to vets should be avoided. If your pet needs urgent treatment, you must phone the vet to arrange the best approach to meet your pets’ needs.

Advice if you do not have symptoms of coronavirus

You may leave your house to exercise once a day and you should combine this with walking your dog. In doing so, it is important that you minimise the time spent outside of the home and remain 2 metres away from anyone outside of your household.

All non-essential trips to vets should be avoided. If your pet needs urgent treatment, you may take them, but must remember to wash your hands and remain 2 metres away from anyone outside your household. You must call the vet before going to see them.

Advice for those walking dogs on behalf of someone not able to

You may also leave your house to provide care or help a vulnerable person. This includes walking a dog for someone who is unable to leave their house because they are self isolating or being shielded. You should remember to wash your hands before and after handling the dog and keep 2 metres away from other people and animals, including when handing over the dog to the owner.

General advice for all cat owners

You should wash your hands before and after any contact with your cat.

Horses, livestock and other animals

Advice if you have symptoms of coronavirus and must remain at home for 7 days, or 14 as a household

If you have a horse in livery, you must not visit them whilst you are self-isolating. You should contact your yard manager or vet to make suitable welfare arrangements.

If you have livestock such as cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, poultry, or any other types of livestock you should arrange for someone else who is not self-isolating to care for your animals.

Where this is not possible you should ensure the basic needs of your animals are met. You must make sure you wash your hands before and after handling your animals and ensure you remain 2 metres away from other people.

If you are too unwell to care for your animals and there is no one to help, you should call your local authority.

Advice if you do not have symptoms of coronavirus

You may leave your house to exercise once a day and you should combine this with leaving your house to provide care for your horse or livestock.

It is essential that you minimise the time spent outside of the home and remain 2 metres away from others. You should remember to wash your hands before and after contact with any animals.

If your horse needs urgent attention from a farrier

If your horse requires urgent attention from a farrier, you should phone the farrier to arrange the best approach to meet your horses’ needs. You and the farrier must ensure that you keep 2 metres apart and wash your hands before and after contact with the horse.

THE FOLLOWING IS NOT FROM THE GOVERNMENT WEBSITE:

IF A PET NEEDS TO BE PUT TO SLEEP DURING LOCKDOWN

We haven’t been able to find anything specific about this other than having a pet put to sleep for welfare reasons is covered by urgent or emergency vet care. However, while social distancing rules are in place, we need to be aware that it might not be possible to be with a pet during the procedure, and home visits might not be possible, especially if someone in the household has Covid-19 symptoms. It looks like we would need to phone the usual number for our own vet and ask for advice and information. (If your own vet practice has been closed completely, they should have arranged for another practice to take over the care of their patients during closure.)

Currently Cloud9Vets are still offering home visits for euthanasia, if they have a vet available in the right area, and providing the government guidelines can be met: https://cloud9vets.co.uk/  (Although we are not yet able to recommend them from having had personal experience of having a beloved pet put to sleep at home, they are always very helpful and understanding in replying to any enquiries. Therefore this might be a reassuring option for any pet guardian who would prefer a home visit for their pet’s euthanasia. Understandably, the cost can be higher than using your regular vet.)

My Woollie Moment

You’d be forgiven for thinking that this was something to do with sheep, or maybe knitting or crochet, but the story is about a donkey who taught me something important.

I was attending an Equine Facilitated Learning (EFL) session as a client.  EFL is where the interaction between the person (client) and the equine (in this case – a donkey) allows gentle reflective learning.  The donkey acts as a mirror.  This happens under the careful supervision of the instructor / facilitator and a ‘watcher’ whose job it is to ensure that both donkey and humans remain safe and free from stress.

I was asked by Sally, my instructor, what I’d like to focus upon in my session.  This was easy to decide as I’d been finding it difficult to handle stress and pressure in my work and was consequently becoming increasingly reactive, which was hard to handle.

After being taken through a short mindfulness and grounding exercise, I was invited to observe the two donkeys who had joined us in the outside arena.  I was asked, “What do you think is going on with the donkeys?  What do you think they’re feeling?”

To me they both looked like they’d prefer to return to their paddock.  These donkeys regularly work in the Donkey Assisted Therapy Centre, where close human contact is the everyday norm, and I didn’t feel that they were particularly interested in engaging, although one of them did glance over at us a few times.

After a reminder about the health and safety aspects of staying within their field of vision and not standing right behind the donkeys where they wouldn’t see me, I was invited to approach whichever of the two donkeys I chose.  At this point Woollie, the larger of the two, appeared more interested than the other in that he was looking at me.  So I slowly approached being mindful of my pace and to ensure he could see me easily.  I went up close enough to say Hello and to stroke his neck, which he seemed to enjoy.  After a short while he moved away and I returned to Sally.  I was asked to reflect on the process.

Before the next step, I was reminded to go to a quiet place within myself, where I could be in the moment, to be with my awareness and to breathe slowly.  This time I was to go up to Woollie and simply stand nearby him without actually doing anything.

Again, slowly and mindfully I approached Woollie and stood quietly in his zone.  I stayed still, consciously bringing myself into what I call my neutral gear, reminding myself ‘to be’ rather than feel the pressure ‘to do’.  Woollie looked directly at me and then purposefully walked over to me, where I waited calmly, somehow knowing that all was well.

He came and stood right by me, so I quietly said Hello again and stroked him.  He moved around, walked off, and I stayed still.  He then came back, this time right up close, and then he gently snuggled his head into me, so we ended up in an equine / human embrace!  It felt incredibly special – he’d actually chosen to be with me – to share a few moments of mutual warmth and connection.

Afterwards, Sally asked me what I’d felt about that experience.  “I loved it!”

What had I learnt from it?  Having taken a moment, I reflected that it showed me how being in that quiet, calm, ‘neutral’ place in myself had allowed the special moment to happen.  Woollie hadn’t been put under any pressure.  It had just happened.

It taught me that I don’t have to keep trying to make stuff happen all the time; instead, I could put the pause button on, and simply wait – ready to respond if I chose, without being reactive.  This was a revelation to me!

Sally continued to gently question me. “How will you take this experience back into your work situation?”

“Well, that is easy – when I start to feel stressed, I’ll remember to press the pause button and have a Woollie Moment!”

——————————————————–

Later, thinking back on the session, I could only wonder and smile to myself at how a donkey had taught me exactly what I needed to learn about the importance of inner stillness and calm.  Thank you, Woollie.

Equine Facilitated Therapy

Equine Facilitated Therapy (EFT) is described as an opportunity to learn more about yourself and how you communicate, with the horses reflecting how you interact with others, affect other people and how others affect you. It all sounds good to me!

There was a nervous excitement in me as I turned up at the equine centre.  Ever since I had heard about EFT, I’d wanted to experience it, so here I was – ready with an open heart and open mind.

I’ve always sensed a depth of feeling in equines – no wonder they can form such enduring bonds within their herds, but also with those who care for them.  And I longed to get a bit closer in and to feel it for myself.

The weather that day was awful (following days of lovely sunshine) and not conducive to spending two hours outside in a field of horses. But there was no way I was going to be put off now that the EFT day was finally here.

The session started with a chat about how I was feeling, and what I hoped to gain from the session, and the obligatory health and safety check.  I confessed that I’d forgotten to bring my steel-toed work boots, but my instructor told me that my wellies were just right.  She explained that some of the horses are so big and heavy that if my foot was trodden on in steel-toed boots, the metal would be crushed into my foot.  Mental note to self: keep feet away from hooves!

I explained that the thing I hoped to gain from the session was a moment of deep connection with a horse; perhaps a soul connection.

I was taken through some preparatory exercises to sense what was going on in me and to slow everything down inside.  Having explained about how to approach each horse quietly and with respect for their personal space, and how to read subtle changes in body language, I was let loose into the field of horses.  They were all rather intent on eating, earnestly pulling at the grass or piles of hay, so they were not concerned or interested in my tentative requests to make contact.  But they didn’t mind me there, and I certainly sensed different emotions with the two I did approach.

The smallest horse was a young male.  I felt incredibly emotional in his presence, overwhelmingly so.  I found out later that he’d had a rough start in life.  The other horse, a magnificent Shire, gave me a totally different feeling – sort of quick and excited; he was altogether a more confident, mature horse.  But from both, I got the sense that they were very happy to be living there in that special Equine Centre.

Eventually the rain and cold drove us inside to the stalls.  Housed in here were two of the instructors own beautiful mares.  I had been drawn to them earlier, but respectful of their need for space and privacy as they each had a note to say they had only recently arrived at the Centre and were still settling in.  However, the instructor said that it was fine to greet them, as the signs were there to ensure they weren’t overwhelmed by attention from visitors.

So I quietly approached one of the mares – then it all changed.  I gazed softly at the black Shire mare in front of me.  I let her sniff my hand and gently touched her neck when I felt she was happy for me to do that.   Her long, thick fringe almost covered her eyes but I could see the gentle spirit that shone through.  My instructor explained that she had been through a very difficult few months, having been grief-stricken with the sudden death of her two month old foal.  I felt an incredible tenderness and gently stroked her.  “You can go in with her if you want.” I was told.  Without hesitation, I entered her stall – there we were – one small human and one beautiful and impressively huge Shire mare, together in a few moments of quiet understanding and exchange.  She was incredibly sturdy yet gentle – what a warm, loving spirit.

A lump formed in my throat – her grief was palpable.  I sent her healing thoughts holding my hands on her.  A little later I quietly withdrew, knowing that something had passed between us.

As I walked away afterwards, I reflected on her grief, and on the depth of feelings that these beautiful ‘other people’ have – often not recognised in our world.  But today it was recognised, respected and revered.  What an honour.

Saving Grace

graceIt was a normal sunny summer’s day as I made my way up to the local farm shop with my little dog, Rufus, trotting along besides me.  We both enjoy walking up the track to the farm house, for me seeing the sheep with their lambs in one of the paddocks on either side, and for Rufus to sniff the many enticing aromas and the occasional chance of eating sheep’s poo!

Continue reading “Saving Grace”