Regrets

 

We had to say goodbye to my girl when she was 14.

We had her since she was one, and she was every bit a family member as I was. Her name was Maddy, and she was a big, happy, sweet redheaded lab (her dad was yellow, and her mom was chocolate). We adopted her from a family who couldn’t take care of her anymore. She’d been with us through two moves, three states, elementary, middle, high school, and college. Maddy was a constant source of joy, laughter, comfort, companionship, and love. She was my best friend- my sister (just a…really hairy one).

As the years passed and Maddy got older, she didn’t really change that much. Sure, she slowed down a bit, and we couldn’t really take her on walks through our hilly neighborhood anymore. But she didn’t seem to mind. She grew white around her eyes and nose, but that just gave her a wizened look, and it made us love her even more. Nothing ever altered her personality. She was always just as sweet, just as dopey, just as loving, just as loyal.

But in the last several months of her life, she really did start to change. She grew very thin, and she had trouble getting up on her own. For the first time in her entire life, she had an accident in the house. She wasn’t energetic anymore, and her tail didn’t wag as much. Her sweet, gentle eyes seemed clouded with worry.

You would think that I would have had a keen awareness of her condition, that I would have known that her time with us would soon come to an end. You would think that I would have been making sure to savor every single moment with her. Maddy was my best friend, after all. My sister.

But I was 20, and I was stupidly distracted by so many things. It was summer, and I was home from college, working full-time. Life was fast paced, and the slow and steady decline of my girl was not really on my radar.

In the last few weeks of her life, her personality was markedly different. She was still so sweet, but she had none of her dopey spirit; she seemed a little anxious, and nervous. My dad thinks she had dementia. In my silly, selfish mindset, she just wasn’t that fun to be around.

In fact, there were moments in which I would become frustrated with her. I would be lying on the couch, trying to relax, and she would park in front of me and breathe her stinky breath in my face. So I’d push her face away from mine in disgust. Or she would try to “hold hands” with me (as she always did). Her claws would painfully dig into my leg, and I’d move her paw as fast as I could.

Or we would try to let her out to go to the bathroom, and as she struggled to get up and make it to the door in time, she would accidentally go on the way. Rather than acknowledging the look of embarrassment and shame on her face, we would be annoyed that we had a mess to clean up.

If I had only paid attention, if I had known then that our days with her were few, oh how differently I would have spent them.

I was in the middle of my workday when my dad called me. He said “Chelsea, I think Maddy is really struggling now.” He told me that our vet was afraid that one of these days, we would let her out to go to the bathroom and she would injure herself badly. She struggled to stand as it was and could hardly hold herself up when she went out. An injury or a bad fall were likely.

I couldn’t even process what he was really saying, but I hurried home on my lunch break. When I arrived, both my parents were home. Maddy was standing in the garage, looking confused and anxious. I walked over to her, while my dad tried again to explain what was going on. She was not doing well. She could no longer support her own weight, despite how thin she had become. She was confused. She was in pain. We needed to take her in.

I was upset and overwhelmed, and I didn’t fully grasp what was happening. I petted her briefly, and I stood next to her as I numbly tried to process what my dad was saying, but I didn’t realize, even for a moment, that this was my only opportunity to say goodbye.

I only had a few minutes at home, and then I had to hop in my car and hurry back to work. I worked with children, and as I drove, my focus was more on trying to look like I hadn’t been crying then on what was happening with my girl.

When I got home from work that night and walked into our empty house, reality finally hit me. My sweet Maddy was gone forever. She’d never again greet me at the door. She would never again try to “hold hands.” I could never again lie down on the floor with her and take a nap. I would never be able to stroke the white around her eyes, or kiss her soft head, or tell her how very much I loved her.

And in that moment, my regret was born.

In that moment, I would have given anything to have her stinky breath in my face again. Or to hold her hand. Or even to clean up her accident and hug her and tell her it was okay, and that she was the very best girl no matter what.

In that moment, I wished I had said goodbye. I wished I hadn’t cared so much about being late for work. I wished that I had bent down and held her face in my hands and whispered a thousand “I love you”s.

I wish I had gone with my dad. I wish I had been there with her, kissed her, and held her as she left this earth.

I wish I could talk to her now. I wish I could tell her how much I miss her, how much she meant to me. How much she still means to me. I wish I could tell her that I am sorry. Sorry for hating her stinky breath and sorry for rejecting her attempts to hold hands, sorry for not cherishing every single minute with her. And sorry for not saying goodbye.

She was my best friend. She was always there for me. And I wasn’t there for her.

It has been almost 8 years, but I still dream about her. Often. Sometimes I dream that she is alive and well,  like we’ve gone back in time and she is only 10 years old, and “reality” was the dream the entire time. Sometimes I dream that we find her after all these years, and that she is somehow still alive, but very very old. In these dreams, I have a chance to show her just how much I have always loved her, and I know that when it comes time to say goodbye again, this time I will do it right.

These dreams are always eerily vivid. I awake, certain that it was all real, that we did find Maddy and she is alive and well and there was nothing to be sad about! And then as the dream fades away, and as reality heavily sets in, I feel the grief and regret all over again.

I tell myself that I did my best. That I didn’t do any of this on purpose. That I did love her so much and tell her all the time, and that she knew how much I loved her. That she spent 13 beautiful years in our family, and she adored every second. I tell myself that at the end, she was already confused, and she probably wouldn’t have remembered or understood what I said to her anyway. But no matter how many times I tell myself these things, my regret remains. Sometimes it is as fresh as if it all happened yesterday.

But I know that this regret, this guilt that I carry with me, is felt by so many who lose a dearly loved one. If we could have just one more day with them. If we could say just one more thing, or if we could take back that one thing we said.

I think what makes the guilt so strong when we lose a pet is that our sweet pets are so pure and perfect. They can never utter an unkind word, and they live their lives devoted to us, whereas we flawed humans are capable of so many mistakes. Our animals close their eyes after a lifetime filled only with love, but all we can think about is what we did wrong in the short time we had with them.

But the truth is, we can be assured that our pets knew how much we loved them. Goodness knows we told them all the time. And we gave them beautiful, happy lives as a part of our families. We gave them walks and toys and snuggles and treats- so many things that sent their little feet dancing and their tails wagging. They knew. They always knew, and in the end, in their final moment, they knew.

My sweet Maddy knew. Though I wasn’t there to tell her, she knew. And though her mind had begun to wander away as the end of her life drew near, I know that it wandered away to a place free from pain and discomfort, a place full of her very favorite people, and all the “I love you”s we ever said.

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Only a dog

A colleague recently shared a story with me, one from her days working in a veterinary clinic. A man had come in during a shift that she worked. He was a big, older guy, burly, wearing overalls. He most likely lived in the country, my colleague said. Perhaps a farmer.

He had brought his elderly dog with him. It was time to say goodbye.

The vet techs and the doctor gently lifted his dog onto the table. The man stayed faithfully beside his dog, standing over him. When the moment came, there was no initial sedative, just the one shot.

The doctor gently administered the injection. As it was being given, the dog lifted his head, looked straight up at his man, and licked his face. Then he lay down his head and passed away.


“It was only a dog.”

“It was just a cat.”

Have you heard these words before? Even though comments like these are usually well-intended, the truth is, they often hurt more than they heal. When a person is grieving the loss of something very precious to them, one of the most important things their friends and family can do is support them, be there for them, and indicate to them that they are not alone. But the words “It was only a______,” communicate a much different message. They say:

“I don’t understand your feelings, and I’m making no effort to,”

“I think there is something wrong with what you are feeling, or how deeply you are feeling it.”

“You need to move on.”

I am sure no friend or family member would ever want to communicate these things to their loved ones. We want to say helpful things, things that comfort and heal, or things that will “fix” the grief. But these words are not healing words, and there is no simple fix for grief. When we say, “it was only a____ ,” we indicate that, through our lack of understanding of our loved one’s feelings, we are not there for them in the way that they need us to be. By saying these words, we communicate that not only do we do not understand their pain, we think there is something wrong with it. This further isolates our loved ones at a time when the loss of their beloved companion may have already left them with a great deal of loneliness. And by indicating that they need to move on and “get over it,” we are imposing a timeline on their grieving process. Rather than expediting the healing, this can often have the opposite effect.

When a human is grieving the loss of another human, we would never assume we fully understand their relationship. Human relationships are private, and complex. We sympathize, we express words of support and comfort, no matter how distantly related the individuals, no matter how long it’s been since they’ve spoken.

Are relationships with pets that different?

They are not human, but that doesn’t hinder us from developing a deep relationship with them. They live in our homes. Sometimes they share our beds. We see them every single day. They are joyful when we are joyful; our joy gives them unbridled happiness, and their joy gives us life. They feel our pain with us; they bear it with us. They offer comfort unlike what any human could ever provide, when no words could possibly say what we need to hear. There is great profoundness in the quiet, simple, steadfast presence of a pet. In their silence, they speak things humans never could.

Of course, our friends and family may not be aware of the depth of the relationship we have with a beloved pet. They weren’t present for the perfect silly joy, or the moments of sorrow, or the countless days of our precious, mundane routine. They may simply not understand. They may have never experienced this themselves.

The way I like to think about it is like this: there are those who have “the animal piece.” They understand.

And there are those who don’t have the animal piece. They just don’t get it, and that is perfectly fine. But they need to know something:  the people with “the animal piece” are not wrong, or defective, or weak, or strange. They simply have a “piece” that others may be missing. And I think that when people say “It was only a____,” they reveal to us that they don’t have that piece. Though those words sting, if we can re-frame the moment, pause and step back, and view it with the understanding that the words came from a place that is missing that piece, then maybe we can try to shrug off the hurt it may cause, and instead remind ourselves that our hearts have that beautiful piece, and that others are merely missing out.


Maybe you are trying to cope with your own, fresh grief. Perhaps you have just lost a most beloved furry family member. Perhaps you have recently heard these well-intended, but painful words. If so, please know that it was not only a dog, or a cat. He or she was a dearly loved, integral part of your family, and that is a profound loss to bear. Please know that we hear you, we understand your pain, and we support you as you begin to walk through this time of grief. If you ever need a listening ear or a supportive word, we are here for you. We and our team of social workers all have that “piece,” and we are more than willing to be that support for you that you may not have in your circle.

Maybe you are a person who has recently spoken those words to someone, in the hopes that it would help. We all want to comfort our loved ones when they are grieving. We wish we could “fix” their pain. We all desperately want to say the right things. If you have said something like this to someone in your life, it is ok. Please do not feel guilty. We are not speaking to you from a place of judgment or resentment, but rather in the hopes that we can provide a deeper understanding of a very complicated, very painful time in our loved ones’ lives.


The story of the farmer and his dog is true, and it is one of the most beautiful, powerful, profound things I have ever had the honor to hear. The steady, abiding, mighty love between an animal and his human.

Only a dog? It’s true.

Only a dog could show such immovable, unwavering devotion. Only a dog could give so pure, so selfless a final act, for his only thought in the last moment of his life was his love for his man.

Only a dog, only a cat, only our precious pets can show us such profound, mighty selfless love, the purest example of unconditional love we have on this earth.

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Welcome

We’d like to welcome you to MN Pets’ website.  If you are new to our site, we are happy you’ve found us.  We’ve designed the site to provide you with important information as you face a difficult choice.  We are now pleased to share the photos of some of our past patients on our home page.  These are just a few of the many beloved pets of our clients here in the Twin Cities.

If you’ve been to our website before, you’ll notice that much of the content is the same.  There are some changes related to enhanced usability for you, including an easy appointment request form, a contact us form, and a thorough explanation of all the cremation options.  There is also now a blog page.  We’ll continue to expand this with detailed information we feel may be important to you.  We welcome your comments and feedback as part of this community.

You can find our MN Pets video which explains the home euthanasia process and answers some of the more common questions we hear from clients.  You can also view the newscast from WCCO-TV profiling our client Janis Olson and her dog, Heather.  You may want to carve out some uninterrupted time for this one and have a Kleenex handy.

We have a vibrant Facebook and Instagram community, composed of fellow pet-lovers.  We discuss pet loss and grief, and many of our clients have graciously shared their stories, which may help you to understand what it is like working with MN Pets.  We’d appreciate you becoming a friend of MN Pets.

We welcome your feedback on what you find to be helpful or confusing.  We’ll work to continually improve the site to meet your needs.

Welcome and take your time having a look around.

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Memorial Stone

It’s our goal at MN Pets to help ease the feeling of loss after one of our visits as much as we can.

Memorial Stone

To provide comfort and to help you remember your pet fondly, our doctors make a small remembrance stone with your pets name to leave with you after the appointment.

This shiny, black stone is small enough to fit in your pocket and is personalized with your pet’s name written with a gold or silver pen. We’ve come to realize how comforting this small stone is for our clients and have put together some tips for their care:

  • Once your pet’s name has been written on the stone, it’s best to leave it in a safe place to allow to dry for a couple of days. Placing it in a pocket right away or holding it too tightly can smudge the writing.
  • Please be aware that the name may rub off over time. We are always working on perfecting these small gifts and will make improvements as we can.

If your pets name does fade from the stone, simply rewrite their name any way you wish using a metallic permanent Sharpie with a fine point such as this one:

Sharpie pen

There are so many creative ways to memorialize your beloved pet. We’d love to hear your ideas and what you like to do to preserve your memories.

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Helping Children Cope with Pet Loss

For a downloadable resource on helping kids grieve the loss of a pet, click here: HelpingChildrenCopeFactSheet

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Do We Always Recommend Euthanasia?

 

MN Pets MaxYour pet is a beloved member of your family; he or she shares your home, your daily routine, and maybe even your bed. As our pets age or become ill, it can be difficult to assess their quality of life and to know when it is time to say goodbye. Deciding to euthanize a cherished pet is never easy, and when you only make the decision a few times in your life (if you’re lucky) it can be hard to keep a sense of objectivity about knowing if and when the time is right.

At MN Pets, we take very seriously our role in helping you objectively think about what is best for your family, for your pet, and for you. The veterinarians and counselors in our practice see many pets and hear many stories about when the end of life is near. We take the time to listen to your unique story about what has been going on with your pet, and we talk about what it all means and what your options are.

Sometimes, at the end of our conversation, it becomes clear that euthanasia is not the right choice at that time. It may not be far off, but the decision doesn’t feel right just then, and that’s perfectly ok. For these pets, one option is to enroll in our Comfort Care program. Our Comfort Care team can come to your home to evaluate your pet’s condition and help you develop a plan to help your pet enjoy the best quality of life possible as he or she deals with chronic conditions. Our focus isn’t on invasive diagnostic testing or aggressive medical care, but rather on helping your pet experience comfort and relief of symptoms that may reduce their quality of life. We keep in close contact with you and schedule regular check-ins to manage your pet’s condition as he or she ages.

Other pets that are aging or facing a serious medical condition may already be experiencing a severe decline in their quality of life. For these pets, the decision to euthanize may be appropriate, but it can be difficult to know when the time is right. Sometimes it is helpful to be able to talk through the decision and your unique situation with a veterinarian face to face. During a quality of life consultation, a veterinarian will visit your home to do just that. Sometimes, these visits conclude with euthanasia, and sometimes the doctor will leave you with valuable tools to monitor your pet’s quality of life in the coming days and weeks.

Finally, sometimes it becomes clear during our conversation that euthanasia is the right choice. You love your pet and know more about him or her than anyone else does. When you decide that the time is right, we will always support you in this painful and difficult decision.

Regardless of your situation, we are here to help you every step of the way. Please don’t hesitate to check in and get an expert’s advice on what seems right in your situation.  The call is free and we’re available every day, including weekends.  You can reach us at (612) 354-8500.

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Children and Pet Loss

The loss of a pet is often a child’s first experience with death and because it is painful, parents often wish to protect them from it.  Not talking about it, however, can make the grief process even more difficult.  Parents need support and reassurance that a decision to include children in the end of life process of a beloved pet can be a rewarding and positive experience.

 

Explaining death
When speaking with children about the death it is extremely helpful to use clear, concrete and simple language.  Avoid using euphemisms like “put down” or “put to sleep” which can leave children with confusion around what it means to rest or sleep.

Children understand when something is wrong even if it is unspoken.  Often a pet is ill for some time before their eventual death, which is a good time to begin the discussion of what is happening to the pet’s body.  This may also be a good time to find a children’s book about pet loss as a way of beginning that conversation.  An extensive bibliography listing several good choices is available at this link.

Once the conversation begins children will have questions.  It is important to answer all the questions that come up as honestly and plainly as you can, even if they are silly, difficult or complicated.  This is also a good time to find a children’s book that can answer some of the specific questions they have about death.  It is also important to be honest when there are things you do not know or cannot be answered.  Death can be a mysterious process for adults and children alike.

Decisions
If you are preparing for a euthanasia appointment it is important to explain the process and then give your child options for how they would like to be involved.  They might decide they would like to be present during the appointment or maybe they would like to be in an adjacent room with a supportive adult and then visit with their pet’s remains after the appointment.  On the other hand, they might only wish to be involved in the memorialization or burial of their pet.

Support your child in a non-judgmental way as they experience their grief.  Ask them about how they are feeling and ask them if they would like to talk about that—actively listen to what they express and mirror back to them what you hear them say using their own words.

Grief process
It is often helpful to children to process their grief in non-verbal ways.  Providing some art materials can be very effective – you may help them identify something important they are expressing and ask them if they would like to make a picture of it.  Creating a scrapbook can also be a helpful project.

Memorialization is another task that could have non-verbal or physical components.  Offer to let them participate in the decision-making process.  Where will Bailey be buried?  What will we do with her ashes? 

There is no defined length of time a grieving process will take.  Children may recall happy and sad memories of their pet well after their pet has died—allow the space necessary for them to express any and all of those memories in an ongoing way.

Taking breaks
Grief can be a strenuous endeavor.  It impacts mind, body, and spirit.  There will be ups and downs related to the exertion of grieving, coupled with a need for distraction.  It is helpful to the grieving process to take breaks, particularly if they involve something fun and especially if they include laughter.

More information
If you have additional questions or concerns about your unique situation, feel free to speak with us.  We have licensed counselors on staff daily, available at 612-354-8500 Mon-Fri, 8:00 AM-6:00 PM and Sat/Sun 8:00 AM-4:00 PM.   There is also an excellent article available on this topic at a favorite website of ours, veterinarywisdom.com.

Click here for a FREE printable version of this article:  Children and Pet Loss

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Hyperthyroid Disease in Cats

As your cat ages, there are many age-related ailments that may develop throughout their later years. Hyperthyroidism, or hyperthyroid disease, is one of the more common glandular disorders for cats in the middle to senior age range. Cats with a hyperthyroid condition may have minimal to no side effects during the early stages of the disease and that is one of the reasons your veterinarian may recommend annual blood work. Some signs of the disease, however, may be noticed at home before any true diagnosis is made. Typically, cats will display one or more of these clinical signs:

  • Weight loss
  • Increased appetite
  • Increased activity and restlessness
  • A matted, greasy or poor hair coat
  • A fast heart rate
  • Increased water consumption; also, increased urination
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Catching any disease in its earlier stages is always best and will afford you the most options for treatment, and luckily hyperthyroidism in cats is one of the most treatable diseases a cat can have.  There are several options for treatment of hyperthyroidism, including:

  • Oral medication
  • Radioactive I131 treatment
  • Prescription diet
  • Surgery if applicable

Treating hyperthyroid disease is always recommended, because if left untreated long term, your cat can develop all the clinic signs listed above, heart problems, and an over-all feeling of being uncomfortable/ feeling ill.  Once your pet reaches middle age, it is important to get routine lab work, including checking their thyroid function. Luckily, hyperthyroidism can usually be managed with medication.

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What life is like now

Long road at sunset.

When your pet dies, everything changes. Your morning routine, your shopping lists, the space in your bed. The void that creeps into your life and the hole you can’t seem to fill in your heart is your new normal. When will it get better? Will it get better? How can I ever bring another pet into my life? Could I have done something more? These are all normal and common thoughts. The answers, however, can be hard to find. You may not be ready for another pet, and that’s okay. If you are ready, you are not replacing your beloved lost dog or cat. The hole they left in your heart will not be fully filled by another furry friend, but rather healed a bit-the edges of that hole will be a little less torn and jagged. Take your time and grieve, cry, yell.

Reach out for support.

You are not alone.

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Do pets grieve the loss of their animal friends?

 

DaisyDo pets grieve the loss of their animal friends?

Owners of multiple pets know that these furry “siblings” share a special bond with one another. They romp around the backyard and snuggle up together on the couch, but do they grieve for another? It’s an important question when you are considering how the death of a beloved pet will impact your family and how best to support not only your human, but your animal family members.

We recently spoke with a client whose family had two dogs.  Sadly, when one of their beloved dogs had to be euthanized in a clinic, the other dog seemed to experience a profound grief.  In fact, this client reported that her dog was forever altered from the experience of losing her friend and simply was different from that point on.  The two dogs had their toys in a basket and part of their “after work” routine was to go outside, have supper, and play with their toys together.  “She didn’t play with her toys for two years after the death of (her friend),” her person reported.  Now her friends’ ashes are buried in the yard, and when she is out there, she lays on his gravesite.  When it came time to euthanize another one of her dogs, this client decided on in-home euthanasia because she felt that it was important for her dogs to know, firsthand, what had happened to their beloved friend.

Although animal emotions are challenging to study, some evidence shows that humans aren’t the only creatures to grieve the passing of a loved one. Mark Bekoff, former professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder and author of The Emotional Lives of Animals, cites examples of animals displaying grief in the wild while mourning lost companions. He explains that, “categorically denying emotions to animals because they cannot be studied directly does not constitute a reasonable argument against their existence…current interdisciplinary research provides compelling evidence that many animals experience such emotions as joy, fear, love, despair, and grief – we are not alone.”

Some animal behaviorists report working with pets in their practices whose animal companions have died and whom appear to be grieving that loss.  Those pets sometimes manifest their grief in the following ways:  decreased appetite, changes in activity (increase or decrease), increased soliciting of attention from their family, separation anxiety, increased vocalization, and increased sensitivity to noises.

One of the positive aspects about having a pet euthanized at home is that their animal friends can be with them.  Sometimes, when a pet is euthanized in a clinic setting, it can be confusing for their animal family members, who may not understand what has happened to their loved one.  Your pets have their own individual personalities and sensitivities, and you know them better than anyone else – it is up to you to determine how much to include your furry family members in a euthanasia appointment.  Sometimes it is helpful to animal companions to have a moment to visit with their friends’ body – they have their own way of sensing what has happened to their friend and their own way of saying goodbye. The grieving process is very personal, and each pet may grieve the loss of their companion differently, just like each person grieves differently. It’s ok for your pet to act differently for a while after the loss of their companion. Keeping to normal routines, such as walks, playtime, and meal times, is a good way of supporting grieving pets. Some pets may also appreciate extra cuddles and one-on-one time after a loss…and you may appreciate that too as you support one another through the grieving process.

For further reading:

Do animals mourn: http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/stories/do-animals-mourn

Mark Bekoff writes a blog for psychology today called “grief in animals”: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/animal-emotions/200910/grief-in-animals-its-arrogant-think-were-the-only-animals-who-mourn?page=2

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