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A Thought For Those Furry Friends We Leave Behind

This week’s blog was meant to be kind of a part 2 to the mismatching theme for people looking at getting a new furry friend, but to be honest I just wasn’t feeling it. One of the reasons I started writing this blog was so I could vent about subjects close to my heart, that I am passionate about, so I can ensure I am always being genuine. And this is where my heart was leading me this week.

On February 15th my nana passed away. She was an amazing lady and one who I have always had a very special relationship with. During vet school I spent every pre-exam study period at her house, hidden away in one of her rooms, showering every 2 days only because she would remind me that I had forgotten to the day before, surviving on my food of choice – raw chocolate cake mix (much to her disgust), but still fitting in quality time with her just doing nothing. Understandably she is what is currently filling my thoughts and that is what has lead me to this blog.

Growing up there was always at least one dog at my nana’s house. In the earlier years there was generally 3, but as time went on and it was just her living at home, it was one dog. They always arrived about middle age (the dogs not nana), either as strays or intentional adoptions from the pound. Each with their own tale to tell of their life before nana. All have been small dogs who generally do what they want, when they want, due to nana being wrapped around their little paws – it happens to the best of us so there’s no judgement here.

Time and time again I see the true magic of dogs is that they tend to fill the role that their owner needs at the time and for many elderly people it is very much a role of a companion. Someone to wake up for, to get out of bed for, to talk to and to nurture. My nana’s most recent dog is the classic elderly person companion. When she was still at home, he spent his waking hours by her side whether on the bed, outside on the porch soaking in the sunshine, helping her gardening, or even helping her eat her breakfast, lunch or dinner. After she moved in to the nursing home he went to live with my aunty and would visit nana (and the other residents) each week, knowing when the time for his weekly visit had come he would hoon around the house and garden barking and then go and wait by the car for someone to let him in.

When he first arrived at nana’s he was well-mannered, cute to look at, friendly and sociable - and then the cheekiness began, particularly with his bedroom antics. I might preface this with the fact that he has always been a bit of a tart and very fickle, so many people have had the joy of experiencing his attitude first hand. If any family members came to visit nana for a few nights, he would swiftly bugger off and leave her alone so that he could share the bed with the new arrivals – whether he knew them or not. I mean, where’s loyalty all those dog books describe?! In hindsight though we should have seen this coming as when she picked him up from his previous home he happily trotted out to the car, jumped on her lap and never looked back.

Now like many companion dogs he had a spot with his name on it on the bed (self-appointed I might add) and he would get upset with you if you tried to move him over just a little. Terrible bed hog he was. Over time this progressed to growling if you looked like you were going to try and move him over in the bed, to growling and snapping at you if you looked like you were thinking about trying to move him over in the bed. I describe this little white devil with a smile on my face because I’ve had to share a bed with him many times, and even after 5 years of vet nursing, 11 years of being a vet, and about 5 years of sharing a bed with him when I visited, he still scares the crap out of me to the point I really think hard about whether I need that bit of extra room before attempting to move him. And if I decide I do need that room, mainly because he already has ¾ of the bed 99% of the duvet and I’m shivering, I move him with my hands under the duvet or push him over with pillows. Once the relocation has taken place, he’s back to being an angel and you can happily snuggle all night. I am well aware in professional terms he is resource guarding and this could have been dealt with, but this is not my dog and I am just sharing an anecdote. Let’s appreciate it for what it is and chill out.

Now elderly people getting new dogs isn’t always something people think about very much. I can’t help but have concerns when I see an elderly person or couple walk in to my consult room with an 8-week old puppy or kitten, especially if it is a highly energetic dog breed like a border collie, German shepherd or a Staffordshire bull terrier. My internal monologue instantly chimes in – how on earth are they going to give this animal what it needs? Who is going to help them? Is this animal going to out-live these owners? Who is going to take responsibility for it if that happens? Do I dare bring this up in my consult room - absolutely not! Mainly because I don’t want to offend the owners and potentially lose my job for being an offensive a-hole for telling clients they’re old and about to cark it when in actual fact all I want is for them to be mindful and for that pet to have their needs met.

I know over the years I have been faced with people who have inherited animals from family members who have passed away, and there have been as many happy endings as sad ones. Sometimes it is a great fit and they all live happily together. Other times it’s just not. But what happens when it isn’t a great fit? Grief, guilt, and a feeling of responsibility can make it really difficult to come to terms with the fact that maybe you aren’t the right home for this animal. Or that you feel this animal is the last living connection you have to your loved one. I totally get it; these are all normal human emotions that can make the decision process extremely difficult. But ultimately it is now your responsibility to ensure this pet has the best life and home, and as difficult as it may be to admit, that just may not be with you. You haven’t failed. If anything, you’re doing your loved one proud by ensuring their beloved pet has the best life possible. I do want to say that if you, or anyone you know is going through a situation like this, there are people and services available to help you through this and your local vet is a good place to start.

Now just to be clear and to avoid unwanted anger, I’m not saying elderly people shouldn’t have pets. I think the companionship they offer is vital for quality of life. But the reality is that with some dogs and cats living up to 15-20 years, there needs to be a contingency plan in place to ensure there is a loving home available for these pets should the worst happen. Really this can be said about pet owners of any age. Regardless of our age it is our duty as their owners to consider these scenarios, even if it has us considering our own mortality, because our furry children just like our human children deserve security and care after we are gone. My husband and I are 32 and 34, we have no human children but we have 3 dogs and a cat. Our last will and testaments specifically outline who will be taking over the care of our animals and how our finances are divided up to ensure those people have adequate money to do that. Yeah, some people might say we are crazy and over the top and my response would be quite colourful and filled with expletives. It turns my internal rage fire up to max when people judge and mock us for treating our fur-babies as equal members of the family. To us, a life is a life, each as important as the next. Human or not, these lives are our responsibility and aren’t to be forgotten about and quite simply, they deserve to be thought about and planned for.

For anyone needing closure, my nana’s dog now lives with my aunty and her other 5 dogs. It was a smooth transition as he spent every weekend there when nana still lived at home, which then became full-time when she went in to the nursing home. Not all transitions are this smooth and ways to handle them is a topic for another blog.

For now, I won’t say anymore, and I’ll leave you with a favourite image of mine – my nana doing her slow waddle down the driveway with one of her companions by her side. Heaven has gained an angel who I’m sure is now walking around with an entourage of pound puppies at her side.


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