The Benefits to Spaying and Neutering Your Pet

Happy New Year’s Eve everyone. As we look forward to a new year (and new decade), I wanted to discuss an extremely important topic. Even though this topic is talked about by veterinary practices, animal welfare organizations, and popular T.V. shows, I wanted to discuss it here, too. Let me tell you why…

A couple weeks ago, I decided to watch an HBO documentary regarding people’s relationships with dogs. I thought it would be an interesting story on how dogs have become much more part of the family and how much we, as pet parents,  will do to protect them. I could not have been more wrong.

The documentary was broken into 3 parts. The first segment discussed how some owners/pet parents will do anything to make sure their dog is kept in the home even if it is truly aggressive (which is another blog for another day), and then it went into a story of the overpopulation in animal shelters in the Midwest. My heart was broken, and to be honest, I could not stop sobbing at what happened next. The documentary took us to a shelter where they euthanized dogs by placing them in a big container and gassing them until they die. These dogs, who were already scared of being in kennels, now became terrified as they were placed in a container with the lid closed. You could hear their cries as the container was being pumped full of a gas. Once the first round of dogs were euthanized, they placed more dogs on top of the bodies and proceeded to gas them. After they were all dead, a garbage truck picked up the container and dumped their lifeless bodies in the back of the truck…like trash.

I can’t even remember what the third segment was because this portion took all of my attention.

Yes, the visual was devastating, and yes, you may be overcome with emotion as well, but that is the point. This story didn’t have to happen, and these dogs did not have to die this way. If everyone did their part in caring for their pets, we could have avoided this situation.

Now, let’s look forward into the new decade. We CAN reduce the number of euthanasias in the United States by simply spaying and neutering our pets. A simple procedure… Not only can spaying and neutering our pets have an impact on the overpopulation in America’s shelters, it also has health and behavior benefits, which is what we will talk about today.

What Happens When Pets are Not “Fixed”

According to VCA, female dogs can have 1 – 2 heat cycles a year starting when they are between 6 -24 months old, where they can get pregnant. Some smaller breeds can have up to 3 cycles. These pregnancies can produce 1 – 13 puppies dependent on the size/breed of dog. If a female dog is not spayed, and she has 2 litters a year for 5 years (conservative number), she may give birth to up to 130 puppies. If her puppies are not fixed, the cycle repeats.

Female cats, on the other hand, start the heat cycles between 4-10 months old and will go into heat up to 5 times a year. Each pregnancy can result in birthing an average of 1-5 kittens; however, there have been many females who birth up to 10 babies. If a female cat gets pregnant in 3 of the heat cycles a year, and bears 5 kittens in each cycle, she will have up to 15 kittens a year. Even conservatively, a cat can birth up to 150 babies or more in 10 years. Can you imagine the cat population if her female kittens are not spayed?

These numbers can be staggering. What are the chances these puppies and kittens will find their forever homes? Some will, however, for unplanned pregnancies, many get put out on the street where they begin to reproduce or they end up at the local animal shelter.

Health Benefits

To avoid the number of homeless pets, it is important to get our furbabies spayed or neutered as soon as possible. Not only will it have an impact on the population, it also has health benefits for our pets.

For females, the ASPCA recommends spaying your pet before the first heat cycle, as it will reduce the risk of uterine infections and breast tumors which can be malignant or cancerous in approximately 50% of dogs and 90% of cats.

A male can be neutered as early as 8 weeks, as long as he is healthy, but the average age of neutering is approximately 6 – 9 months old. Neutering will reduce the risk of testicular cancer and other prostate issues.

The health benefits outweigh the cost as it allows our pets to live longer, healthier lives!

(If cost is prohibitive, there are many communities that have low-cost or fee-assistance programs for lower income households. Contact your local Humane Society for more information.)

Behavior Benefits

Spaying and neutering also reaps some behavior benefits…

  • You won’t have to deal with yowling and more frequent urinating from female cats.
  • Your male dog won’t need to find a mate, so he is less likely to devise a plan of escape from home!
  • Some aggression issues and marking may be thwarted with an early neuter
  • You will keep your sanity and money in your pocket since you will not need to care for your pet’s litters.

Economic Benefits

We have discussed some health and behavior benefits, but how does this simple procedure affect the economy…our communities?

The first benefit is the reduction of the animal overpopulation in the United States. If we can spay and neuter our pets, we can reduce the number of animals on the streets and in the shelters, which reduces the number of euthanasias in the animal shelters.

According to petfinder.com (using ASPCA estimates)…

  • Approximately 8 – 12 million pets enter animal shelters each year.
  • Every year approximately 5-9 million shelter animals are euthanized.
  • 50% of dogs and 70% of cats in shelters are euthanized due to lack of adopters.
  • Every 6 seconds in the United States alone an animal is euthanized.

The second benefit is improvement within our community. Stray animals in our neighborhoods can cause health and safety concerns such as unclean play areas for children (think sand boxes!) car accidents, disease, and even the possible killing of livestock or other pets. Reducing the number of unwanted pets on the streets can increase health and safety and can potentially reduce financial strain from having to pay for any damages.

Conclusion

Spaying and neutering our pets will benefit our pets, our families, and our communities. We will have pets that lead longer, healthier lives. We will reduce the number of unwanted cats and dogs on the streets or in the shelters, and we will reduce the number of needless euthanasias.

Please take this information to heart. If your pet is not intended to breed, and if you are not a qualified breeder, please be responsible and spay and neuter your furbaby. They will thank you for it and the community will thank you for it.

Let me know if you have any thoughts on this topic. I would love to hear what you have to say, so leave a note below.

Helping Kids Cope with the Loss of a Pet

Not only do we grieve the loss of our pets, our children go through their own grieving process as well.. Most kids are highly expressive, and are more apt to show their sorrow than adults. After writing the blog on the stages of grief, I wanted to touch base on how we as parents, aunts, or uncles, grandparents, or friends can help our children grieve the loss of their furbaby, too.

The Friendship Between Kids and Their Pets

If your kids are anything like mine, they become attached to their pets…fast! My oldest son became best friends with our Malamute as a baby, and it was the same with my youngest. My middle son saved his heart for our cat, Hunter…but when they met, I could tell it was love at first sight.

My boys would request me to take pictures of them with their best friends, send them to teachers, print them out…make plaques, send the portraits to any art museum that would take them… Ok, so the last few are a little embellished, but you understand where I am going with this. These pets meant the world to my kids.

Each pet has given so much to each of my children, that I can see their hearts break when we have to let their best friend go. It was difficult enough to work through my own grief, but add three boys who lost their best friends? It was brutal.

I am sure it is the same scenario for your family.  Your kids and pets are inseparable, and you aren’t sure how to help them cope through the grieving process when that time comes.

Ideas to Help Kids Grieve the Loss of Their Pet

Reading an article from Psychology today, Roxanne Hawn, author of Heart Dog: Surviving the Loss of Your Canine Soul Mate, offered some ideas that may help in the grieving process.

  • Marking time: If your pet is diagnosed with a terminal illness, you can start a gratitude ritual that your children can participate in. Find something your pet can still do. If it is walk to a certain part of the yard, maybe put a notch in the tree or a stone in the yard each day they are still able to make it that far. If it is a terminal illness, maybe you can put a stone, a penny, a love note in a jar each day their best friend is alive. Allow them to come up with some ideas too. Kids are creative, and I am sure they will think of something cool.
  • Let your child have a memento of your lost pet. My mother-in-law cut some of Roc’s fur and placed it in a baggie for each kid. My vet puts a little fur in a mini bottle. My mom, keeps her dog’s collar and tags on her purse. Find something that will comfort your kids, that helps them to remember the good times.
  • Bowl of memories:  This can also be an opportunity to help your kids through their grieving process. Everyone in the family can write down individual good memories on little slips of paper, and put them in a bowl. When your kids become sad, they can pull out a memory to read.
  • Videos: How many kids love watching videos of themselves and their pets? One way to help preserve the good memories, is to put together a video or a slide show of your pets to watch. When the kids feel down, they can go to the computer, phone, iPad, tablet…whatever you have the video downloaded onto, and watch it to remember their furbaby.
  • A candle / LED light (candle): I found this interesting, as you can place a light next to a picture of your pet or in a special place. The candle represents hope and life, and it can help your kids remember the good times they had when their pet was alive.
  • Portraits: This can be a game changer. Kids are visual. When they lose a pet, they don’t get to see their pet again. Routines can become difficult, because their furbaby may not be laying in the hall when they brush their teeth, or they may not be at their feet when doing homework. A visual reminder is such a great idea, because it brings your kids eyes to their best friend. These can be kept in a prominent place, or if your child prefers, in their room, so they have it close to them when they sleep.

The most important thing to do is be honest! Your kids are smart, and they know something’s up when a pet goes missing. Involve them in the discussion and possibly (depending on their age) the decision to euthanize. For example, my oldest son was 7 when he decided he was going to be at Roc’s side when he passed over the Rainbow Bridge. I allowed him to make this decision because of his maturity level at the time, but also because I explained exactly what would happen at the vet’s office. My other two sons were not involved, and my mother-in-law took them away from the house during that time. We explained why Roc was no longer at home, but they were too young to be in the room when Roc was euthanized.

Last moments

It will be difficult, but don’t lie to your kids. Don’t tell them that you took them to a ranch somewhere up North, where they can run freely. This is actually going to make their grieving process harder because they will think that their pet may have a chance of returning. It’s okay to be vulnerable and sad with your kids. They will understand…and will thank you in the long run.

Books That Can Help Your Kids

If you have questions on how to help your kids through the grieving process, there are a number of books that may help:

Conclusion

We all grieve the loss of our beloved pets; adults, kids…even our other pets… So, how do we at least help our children through the process safely and fully? We need to be there for them. Even if we are grieving ourselves, our children need our help. There are certain activities we can involve them in to help in the process, but there are also books that can help you to help them. I hope the ideas provided will help you in that time.

Let me know your thoughts or if you had other ideas on how to work through this. I would love to hear from you! Just leave a note below, and I will get back with you.

 

Sources used: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/adoption-stories/201507/6-family-friendly-ways-help-kids-grieve-after-pet-loss

5 Stages of Grief and loss

There are so many stories being told about loss (human or pet) especially during a worldwide pandemic. How can we process the grief we feel when we lose someone close? What are the 5 stages of grief and loss we feel as we begin to heal?

There is a question regarding if there are actual stages we go through? Is it the same if we lose a human family member or friend as when we lose a fur baby? Is there a certain progression we go through? What are…the stages of grief?

5 Stages of Grief or is it 7 Stages?

5 stages of grief and loss

The 5 stages of grief was originally introduced by Swiss-American psychiatrist, Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Dr. Kubler-Ross studied death and those who were faced with it; be it due to their own illness or someone who had lost someone. Her book “On Death and Dying”, published in 1969, was inspired from her work with terminally ill patients and the emotional states they faced from the time they were diagnosed to their death. In her research, she found we go through different emotional states in this order:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

After researching to find who created the 7 stages of grief, I came up short. The only information I could find is that the 7 stages have become widely used when dealing with the loss of a loved one. I am not sure who came up with that, but, I will post them below. You can see the similarities in both progressions:

  • Shock
  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Testing
  • Acceptance

Shock, Denial, and Anger in the 5 Stages of Grief

I find that shock is more prominent in the unexpected loss of a pet. When you have an older pet, you know it is coming, and you can plan for it, so it may not be surprising that your pet will cross the Rainbow Bridge soon. The only caveat is if it is through more of a natural progression. Now, if you have an older pet that has been relatively healthy and you get a poor diagnosis, such as cancer…the initial emotional state will most likely be shock. You will be paralyzed by the initial news. In the same right, if your pet passes away unexpectedly, the first reaction is “What?!”

Shock can then lead into denial. No, that can’t be…my pet was completely healthy yesterday… No, my pet is fine. He/she can’t be sick or dead. I can’t tell you how strong the denial process was when I lost Aprilia. She wasn’t going to die yet. Nah…she’ll be ok. It’s all a dream.

Once you get past denial, you move straight into anger. Anger might present itself in different ways such as being angry at your pet for passing away, being angry at yourself for not seeing the signs sooner. But…it can also manifest itself in how you act towards others in this time of grief. For example, you might become more irritable with people, you might get mad at the smallest infractions, but you can also lash out at your loved ones when they are trying to help you. This is natural, but try to identify the emotional state you are in, so you can reduce the number of outbursts that are truly not meant to hurt those closest to you.

Bargaining, Depression, and Testing are Next in the 5 Stages of Grief

How many times have we bargained with God or a higher power to make something right, and we will do whatever they say? We not only do this when we face difficult human situations, we also try to bargain our way out of the loss of our pet. It can be anything from promising to clean the litter box 3 times a day instead of 1 time a day, just to bring back our kitty. You many also find yourself saying you will donate money, food, water, or other resources just to buy more time with your pet.

Depression is a topic I am very familiar with as I have dealt with it on a personal level, through postpartum, and through loss. It is not something I wish on my worst enemy, but I know I can’t keep people from going through this emotional state when losing a pet. Once you have bargained everything you can, you can move into the depression phase. This phase can look like clinical depression which can include sadness, crying (and at random times too.), trouble sleeping or sleeping too much, a change in appetite and body aches and pains. You have realized the death of your pet is inevitable, and it ultimately makes you sad and depressed. This is to be expected, but if you feel that the depression has taken over your life or if you have thoughts of suicide, please seek help by a medical professional. It is so important for you to be here for your family, loved ones, and your pets.

Testing is trying to find realistic solutions. Some of us may not go through this phase as the decision has already been made. You may test to see how comfortable you can make your pet in his or her last days, or you may test to see if there are other options to extend the quality of life. You will also start working towards what works for you to move forward and to get through this incredibly difficult time. It is not part of the original 5 stages of grief; however, I can see how it fits in when moving towards the next step.

Acceptance

You have finally reached the acceptance phase, where you can accept that your pet is dying or has passed away. This is the phase where you can understand and remember what you have lost, but dwell on the positivity your pet has brought to your life. I think this is the most hopeful emotional state, as it shows that moving forward is actually ok. Does it mean that you should forget everything? No, not at all…this phase just allows you to take a deep breath and take that first step forward into the future. It also will allow you be happy and peaceful again.

Conclusion

Losing a pet is devastating, and grief is difficult to move through. Everyone will go through grief a little differently. You might find yourself moving quickly through some emotional states, but then you also might find a stage you can’t quite get through. This is normal. The important thing you need to remember is you will get through the pain and the sadness. BUT…if you feel that you are struggling more than normal, please contact a medical professional who can help you identify what you need to move forward. Don’t be afraid to talk to someone. Pets have become such a big part of our families, that pet loss and the grieving process is more recognized these days.

And of course…remember that your pets want you to be happy. They don’t want you to continue in the stages of grief, where you don’t see the wonderful things around out. Besides…it is just a “see you later”, not a “goodbye”.

 

If you have any questions or thoughts, leave them below, and I will respond as soon as possible.

 

How to Prepare for the Loss of a Pet

Let’s continue with the theme on the Rainbow Bridge, and how we can prepare ourselves for the loss of a pet. Death is inevitable. It is not something we like discussing because when we prepare for the loss of our pet, it makes it real. It makes it tangible. We need to talk about it, and we need to ensure our pet’s last days are filled with love and comfort

My 16 year old Alaskan Malamute, Roc, gave us plenty of time to prepare.  Unfortunately, my 18 year old, DSH, Aprilia, gave us only a couple weeks. Malamutes life expectancy is right around 12 years, but Roc lived well past his “expiration date”. As he aged, his muzzle greyed, his eyes clouded, and his hips gave him trouble. Near the end, I noticed he experienced seizures, and had accidents every day. When my husband and I saw that his legs would give out on and he couldn’t get back up, we decided it was time to call the veterinarian.

Aprilia, on the other hand, was healthy up until the last month of her life. A spry little girl with clear eyes, a clean coat, and who didn’t have any arthritis in her joints deteriorated quite quickly. I took her to an emergency vet when she stopped eating and looked to be constipated. A steroid shot worked for a couple of days, but her health quickly turned after that.  I knew I had to take her to the veterinarian when she was laying on the bathroom floor in a pool of her own urine.

Preparing for the Loss of a Pet -RocPreparing for the Loss of a Pet - Aprilia

 

Every pet is going to be different, but I hope these tips help you prepare for the loss of a pet at any stage.

Quality over Quantity When Preparing for the Loss of a Pet

One thing I had to remind myself of when faced with the question of euthanasia was if my pet’s quality of life was still good.  Was he or she suffering, or could we prolong their life for a bit more.

How do you determine a pet’s quality of life? The dictionary defines quality of like as “the standard of health, comfort, and happiness experienced by an individual or group.” My cat, Abel, was in the beginning stages of kidney failure. I knew for certain that if I didn’t let him go, he would likely pass away within a week. Because the likelihood of suffering was so great, I chose quality over quantity.

I did the same for Aprilia. Knowing she was an elderly cat and that she was truly suffering helped me make that decision. It was difficult, but again, her quality of life was more important.

Quantity is only the number of years your pet is alive. Our pets should live forever, right? Unfortunately, we haven’t found that magic pill or that new technology where we can keep our pets happy and healthy on a continuous basis.

And, as our pets cannot speak human (although, the videos of dogs saying “I wuv you” are super cute…) we need to put our pet’s needs ahead of ours. Don’t extend a pet’s life just because you don’t want to lose them. When you do this, you make it harder, not only for your pet, but it extends the grieving process for you.

Prepare for the Loss of a Pet

The time is near, and you know you need to look at options. Where do you begin?

Talk to Your Vet

The first step is to talk to your veterinarian. They will be able to give you information on keeping your fur baby comfortable, but will also give you information on how euthanasia is carried out.

They cannot make the decision for you; however, they will discuss all possibilities. In addition, a good vet will give you their honest opinion. Do not be afraid to ask questions or voice any concerns you might have. The veterinarian is there to help you, and they understand what emotions you are going through.

Research

Research is important as well. You are able to choose whether you would like to have a veterinarian come to your home or if you would prefer the euthanasia be done in the office. You can also determine whether you want to be present during your pet’s euthanasia and if you want to keep his or her ashes.

Create Happy Memories

Prior to your pet’s death, make good/happy memories with them. Some people have made bucket lists for their pet and captured their adventures along the way. Some people will take their pet and feed them their favorite meal or even special treats. Take pictures and talk to your pet about all the amazing things he or she has done for you.

Give hugs and kisses and maybe a few more snuggles. There are so many ideas you can do to help make a hard experience a little easier.

Be Present When Preparing for the Loss of a Pet

This is the most important key. Your pets love you unconditionally, and they would travel the earth to be by your side. Do not leave them to die on their own or in the arms of a stranger. They want to know that they are still loved by you and that you are there when it is time for them to cross over the Rainbow Bridge.

It will not be easy, I assure you…but it is extremely important that you are there with them until the end. When you are there with them, it eases any fear or stress they might have. It also allows your face to be the last one they see before they begin their journey.

Conclusion

This is a tough post to write because there are so many memories and emotions present. Preparing for the loss of a pet is devastating, but it is necessary to be able to make the right decisions in a tough time.

Keep the idea of quality over quantity in mind as you prepare. You will probably question yourself on if you made the right decision. You might even tell yourself they weren’t ready yet. Trust your gut on this one. Chances are you picked up on your pet telling you they were ready to go.

Most of all, remember your pet loves you and holds no ill will towards you. You are going to be harder on yourself then they are, but you will heal over time. And remember, they are waiting for you at the Rainbow Bridge.

You may also decide to remember their lives with physical keepsakes.  If you choose to take this route, you can find different items through Chewy, Amazon, or even great small companies like Comfort Connects.

I would love to hear your stories. How did you prepare for the loss of your beloved pet? Do you have any ideas that may help others?

Somewhere Over the Rainbow Bridge

I was sitting in church this morning, listening to a guest speaker talk on the subject of suffering. It’s not an upbeat discussion; however, it made me think on how we work through suffering when losing a pet. My question became how do we see our pets when their suffering is no more; when they cross the Rainbow Bridge.

The most common theme when listening to pet families talk about the loss of their loved one is that their pet has crossed over the Rainbow Bridge. This brings such a vivid, beautiful picture to mind.  I was curious how we came up with this phrase, what it means, and why we use it.

The History of the Phrase “Rainbow Bridge”

In an article that Washington Post published in 2018, the origin of the phrase is fuzzy, but it came to light somewhere in the 1980s. Rainbow Bridge was known as a poem written to help people through losing a pet.  Three people claim to have coined the term and written the poem, but it is difficult to tell who deserves the recognition.

Paul C. Dehm, a grief counselor in Oregon is said to have written the poem in 1981, and published it in 1998, but William N. Britton published a book in 1994, titled “Legend of Rainbow Bridge”. Wallace Sife, the head of The Association  for Pet Loss and Bereavement also lays claim to have coined the phrase and written “All Pets Go to Heaven” and his book, “The Loss of a Pet”. Yet another story states a couple who took care of gravely ill ferrets, wrote a poem for their friends, and the local veterinarian asked if they could use it in their sympathy cards.

Although we are unable to pinpoint the history of the phrase, we are able to see that since the 1980s, our pets have become more than just a pet. The poem helps us understand that losing a pet can bring such grief and sorrow. It also helps society accept a loss of a pet can be just as difficult as a loss of family member or friend.  Since the 1980s/1990s we have seen an uptick in pet bereavement gifts and cards as a result.

What Does Rainbow Bridge Mean?

The Rainbow Bridge is an overpass into a meadow between Heaven and Earth. The poem paints a beautiful meadow where our pet’s health is restored. They have no more pain, no more illness. They can run free to play with the other pets who have also crossed the Rainbow Bridge.  Our pets are warm, well fed, and have plenty of water to sustain them. It is a place of great joy!

The poem goes on to say that when a pet’s owner passes away, they are alerted to this new journey, and look for their owner with intent. The pet runs to the bridge to greet their beloved owner where they are reunited, never to be separated again. There are kisses and hugs, and the knowledge the pet never left the owner’s heart.  As the poem ends, both owner and beloved pet walk together over the Rainbow Bridge into Heaven.

This is such a beautiful image as we know the loss of our pet brings so much sorrow, but the belief that we will be met in the meadow by our loved ones brings so much joy and comfort. It means even though we let them go physically, we never forgot them, and they’re always with us in our hearts.

Why We Use the Term “Rainbow Bridge”

As our society has seen a continuous change in how we care for our pets, the term Rainbow Bridge has become an acceptable way to help people through the grieving process. The story resonates with people today. It helps them move through the grieving process, as well as provides hope.

According to the Washington Post article, a study was done showing that people who lose their pets can grieve as much as those who lose a family member. The level of grief was dependent on how the pet was perceived. The study showed that approximately 30% of the people said their grief was prolonged for six months or more; 12% had major life disruption after the loss of a pet. In addition, more than five percent suffered post-traumatic stress. This shows that pets have become so much more to us than before. It also makes sense they are more likely to be our companions, even our best friends.

Last Words

When I was younger, I thought the sentiment of a pet crossing over the rainbow bridge was rather silly. Why would they do that? Wouldn’t they just go to Heaven? Why would they wait for us? Now, especially after losing a few family members, I can understand why we choose to say they have crossed that bridge.

Our pets are not only cute fuzzy beings that rely on us to care for them. They are cute and fuzzy creatures who take care of us and give us unconditional love, which is much more than we can give in return. These creatures who we say we’ve domesticated bring so much more into our lives.

I want to meet Roc, Aprilia, Harley, Patches, and Abel in the meadow when I die.  I want to hug them and kiss them; to let them know how much they have given to me. But, I also want to thank them for the love and lessons taught. Then, we can walk over that rainbow bridge to Heaven, where we will be together again.

 

Rainbow Bridge
Sources Used:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/animalia/wp/2018/05/01/what-is-the-rainbow-bridge-and-why-do-we-think-dead-pets-cross-it/?noredirect=on&utm;_term=.b1380cef1d99

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rainbow_Bridge_(pets)