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Veterinary Forum March 2009 (Vol 26, No 3)

Editor's Note — Learning from our pets

by Marie Rosenthal

    About the time that my husband Tom and I had decided to euthanize our weimaraner Bogart, my colleague at VLS, David Sepanski, had to say good-bye to his cat Niles B. Krumm, a 13-year-old with lymphoma.

    Tom and I recognized that Bogart had given up almost all his favorite things: eating, going to the park and playing with Jane Eyre, our other weimaraner. The only favorite thing he wanted was to lie next to me.

    Dave and his fiancée Tiffany noticed that Niles no longer wanted to play with the newspaper or Dave's socks and hardly touched his catnip.

    But food was the real clincher for all of us. Bogart just stopped eating, and Niles kept vomiting every time he ate. We came to realize that Bogart and Niles were so weak that it would have been inhumane to continue. Dr. A. D. Elkins, who is on the Forum Editorial Board, put it really well: "You just have to be honest with yourself and think with your head, not your heart."

    Shortly before the end, on a surprisingly mild winter day, Bogart managed to stumble outside, paused to lift his head and sniffed his world as if inhaling it all in for the last time.

    When talking to Dave about our losses, I was struck by the thought that both of our pets seemed ready to let go. It was probably the first time that they were not afraid to be at the vet. When Bo's doctor brought him back to the examination room after inserting a catheter, he was so calm that Tom and I asked the vet if she had already sedated Bo before proceeding with euthanasia. She had not. Bogart was ready. Dave described a similar situation with Niles, noting how calm and accepting he was.

    It seems that both Bogart and Niles were ready long before we were. They say that animals don't understand the concept of death. But if "they" had been with us in those final days, they might be saying otherwise.

    Dogs and cats might not be able to articulate, but they do seem to understand the concept of living life, which may be more important. To me, and many others who share their lives with pets, it is obvious that our pets are self-aware — the prerequisite for wisdom.

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