Tuesday, August 9, 2011


It is interesting how few people acknowledge the need to truly grieve over the loss of a pet. People generally seem to feel that it should only take a day or so to be back to normal and act as if it is odd if you take longer. I was thinking of my technician friend that I worked with 2009-2010 who lost her Great Dane at 13 years on the last weekend before I left to move back home. It amazed me how many of her "friends", including veterinary people, were on the verge of having her committed because they felt her grief was too excessive. I worried about her because she was truly suicidal at one point but I also understood where she was coming from completely. Heck, I'd probably be seriously suicidal myself if it were not for the rest of the herd needing me (now y'all can run off and see if you can have me committed.)

I'm sure not everyone is the same and not everyone forms the ultra-close relationship with their pet that I and others experience but the reality is it is present and for many people, losing a pet is like losing a close relative. First thing this morning, I had to euthanize a 16 year old dog that has a lot of health problems and fell and broke his leg. His owner is one of those "practical, grew up on a farm types." I don't mean this to be critical and I'm certainly not saying she made a wrong decision but I doubt it is the decision I would have made. She loves her pets but seems to have a much more practical outlook for end-of-life decisions than I do. Sometimes I wish I were more like that.

At work, they have started calling me "Dr. C" because it seems that all I do is find cancer. In client pets, in employee pets, in my pets, everywhere I look. I've suggested that when people call they schedule with the boss because he probably wouldn't find it and it would be a simple problem that could be fixed. It grows depressing when you feel like you talk about death more than anything else and when employees jokingly say they don't want you to examine their pet because they are afraid of what you may find. Maybe I should have taken a friend's advice and pursued a residency in oncology.

Yesterday was a bad day for me. For no particular reason, I was extremely glum and thinking about the Rust-bucket. All day my employees kept asking if I was mad about something. When I answered that I was not in a good frame of mind they asked why. Then it compounded because I got more upset that they had to ask... I'm always reminded of the book and movie Sense and Sensibility when things like that happen. If you don't know me or haven't figured it out I'm "sense." Yes, I can go to work and bury the grief deep inside and even function semi-sanely but that does not mean I feel any the less.

To add to the mood, there was a 12 year old dog in for routine vaccinations plus the owners mentioned she had been breathing heavily. I examined her and felt she had increased respiratory effort and increased noise although no crackles; additionally, she had dry eye on the right side although the left was normal and significant dental disease. I called to discuss the problems making recommendations for thoracic radiographs, treatment of the eye, and a pending dental after we assessed the breathing. I was informed that they did not want to do any of the above and had been "given drops for the eye before and their dog was healthy, just old." So much for that. Plus the boss called to ask about the dachshund (details in a moment) and was answered by the technician who had not even assessed the dog much less knew what was going on with it. And, the boss has already talked to the owner and contradicted 90% of what I had said indicating to them there really was not much hope and they might as well just stop. Made for a great day, let me tell you.

The previously mentioned dachshund in the hospital presented paraplegic (Intervertebral Disk Herniation, shocker, I know!) over the weekend and her owners could not afford referral and surgery. I've been medically managing her and she is making baby steps in the right direction to the point that today she actually moved both hind legs. Somehow, the owner got the impression there was no change when they called this morning and I was unable to get on the phone but sent a message. The message I got in return was that they were considering euthanasia. If they had made that decision, I think it would have been the last straw to completely push me off the deep end. I probably would have quit completely and my boss would have loved that since he is on vacation at the moment...

And today I got to remove a portion of a nasty tumor that was intertwined around the very large named artery, vein and nerve in the axillary region. You know, the ones you really don't want to nick accidentally for fear of bleeding... I couldn't get it all out and, of course, it is a nice dog with nice owners. I'm curious what kind of tumor it will be. At least they will be willing to follow-up with an oncologist for chemo or whatever. Although at the moment, I'm feeling very fatalistic as if it really doesn't matter what I do anymore because they're all gonna die anyway. It wasn't helpful to my frame of mind that I got the Rusty-dog's ashes back today either.

Of interesting note is that the vet school in Guelph has decided to add a grief counselor to their program. I think it is a wonderful idea. Many counselors minimize the grief being experienced and rather than helping someone to cope wind up worsening the problem because the person no longer feels they can openly share their feelings without being belittled. I wonder if they will consider adding teaching sessions for the clinicians and students to help them learn how to handle grief as well as help them learn how to help clients handle grief?

Here is the link to the article if it works right since I'm semi-computer illiterate much of the time...

GuelphMercury - Veterinary College counsellor helps pet owners


Elizabeth said...

My experience is that many people don't understand the grief of loosing a beloved pet. Then there are the people I see that go out and get a new pet the next day.. that boggles my mind and they seem to act like nothing happened.. When I lost my Labrador "Barlee" who was my heart dog the pain felt overwhelming, it threatened to smother me. I had her for 14 yrs but it wasn't enough.. It wasn't "like" loosing a family member I did loose a family member. It took me 4.5yrs to bring another dog into my home. Before that I could not bear the thought of losing another family member.. it hurt too much. Now I have three Labradors but think of Barlee most days..
Two of mine are seniors now, and I know their lives are short compared to ours but I cannot imagine living my life any other way..

Choopee said...

I've lost only two pets in my life (thankfully, they had long and very happy, loved lives as my childhood pets), and I ca easily get worked into tears just thinking of losing my two pups. I have heard studies that it is actually normal for people to grieve a pet almost as much as a person.

I am away from my dogs for six months and even though my mother skypes them to me every day, I miss them enough to cry. Which I do almost daily.

My condolences to you.