Funerals for pets becoming more popular as it's often hard to say goodbye

A pet grave in back garden.

The death of a pet can often be harder on its owner than even the death of a relative. So Reiki for pets, home euthanasia services and even cat wakes have become popular, writes Caomhan Keane

IRELAND has certainly moved on from Seamus Heaney’s The Early Purges, where ‘scraggy wee shits’ met their end in a metal bucket. Now pets, be they city or country, can meet their maker with a dignity unheard of, even when I was a lad.

“The whole area of pain management has improved,” says Dr Elizabeth McCollum-Ryan, who set up and runs Bowwout, a home euthanasia service that allows your pet to die in the privacy of your home.

“Most pet owners would of course prefer a natural death; that they will find their pet dead in the morning, rather than me come out to do the deed,” acknowledges McCollum-Ryan.

But when do you call time on an animal’s life? For Orla Fitzgerald, clinical director and head of veterinary at the DSPCA, mobility is key.

“Euthanasia is one of the hardest decisions the family is going to need to make. So long as they are not soiling themselves, their appetite is healthy, they can make it outside without help, then we can keep them comfortable. We can prolong life depending on the diseases nature, for a year to 18-months, performing surgery or therapies like chemo, acupuncture or hydrotherapy.” Some owners also opt for homeopathic options to help with symptoms.

But vets’ fees are an unfortunate but decisive factor. “It really determines what way you proceed. Chemo can cost thousands,” says Fitzgerald.

But inevitably, the time will come where the animal is suffering too much, his quality of life too diminished. According to vet, pet owners often make a decision to put their dog down often when they reach a point such as paralysis of hindquarters and incontinence.

“Animals like to be clean. When this happens, they themselves feel like its time to go,” says Dr Mc Collum-Ryan. Sometimes the owner will actually ask the vet if the time has come. If they concur, the owner will bring the animal home for a few days to get used to the idea and if their vet doesn’t offer a home service they often contact Bowwout.

“Doing it at home lessens the stress for the animal,” says Mc Collum-Ryan. “Owners want it to go as easily as possible for the dog. They don’t want to have to get it into the car and then drive it to a clinic that the animal associates with pain, injections, and operations”.

Often the owner themselves doesn’t want to walk through a waiting room full of people with healthy dogs, in tears. It all adds to the misery of the experience.

When a Bowwout appointment is made, McCollum-Ryan arrives at the house and after a cup of tea and a chat with the owner, they will take the pet to a place in the home that they are comfortable in, a couch, bed or maybe even by a tree out the back garden.

“I give them a tranquilizer. It takes 10-15 minutes to work. Then the animal is sound asleep. They won’t know a thing.” As it’s not always 100% possible to give the intravenous injection correctly the first time, vets sometimes have to poke and prod the animal a bit meaning some owners sometimes choose to leave the room.

When they return, McCollum-Ryan leaves them alone with the animal as it animal falls asleep peacefully and passes away.

Gillian McNamara runs Reiki for the Soul, who offer a service for pets. “Reiki is not just used in palliative care in animals. It can help with orthopaedic problems, arthritic hips and pain release after operations.

“But animals are instinctive. They have a knowledge about dying and are much more in tune than people are. Reiki helps them to pass on more peacefully,” says Gillian.

A non-contact massage where a person transfers their healing power through energy, Reiki provides pain relief in an emotional way. “Its relaxation, its comfort, its unconditional love. The comfort allows the pet to relax, to be free for a little while and owners get comfort from seeing and feeling their animals relax.”

Gillian always does Reiki as a house call. “An animal only relaxes in its own environment. I would sit on the floor with them, where they might lie in against their owner and I would use my hands over a particular area — the head, the heart, the stomach. Animals often present the area where an injury or illness is, showing you what the problem is. When they have had enough they get up and walk away.”

Alice Chau- Giguene runs Maow Care, a cat sitting and behavioral therapy clinic ( see below). She says that if owners face up to the fact that their pet is dying, they can control the experience. Chau-Giguene and Fitzgerald also believe this helps the grieving process afterwards which can be very difficult for some.

“If they put some thought into that moment [of death] , they can handle the closure as near to the way they want. Do they want it to happen at home? At the vets? Perhaps they want it to last until after the holidays, so someone can come home and say goodbye? People need to prepare for the aftermath of the death of a pet as much as they do the death itself.

“With children its important to tell them the truth. Maybe give them a teddy that looks like the pet, that will remind them of all the good times, “ Fitzgerald says. “The adult takes longer to go through the grieving process. And there’s a big concern when it comes to the elderly, whose only companion may have passed.”

Chau- Giguene thinks a wake can be a great comfort. “Have tea and cake, look at photos of the cat, when he was a kitten, when he was older. Talk with people who understand how much the cat meant to you.”

She also thinks you should limit access to people who might say unhelpful things, like “cop yourself on, it’s just a cat”, or “ I know someone whose trying to get rid of some kittens, shall I call them.” “Sometimes its best to take the day off work,” she says.

Often forgotten about are other animals in the home.

“Its important that they come to see the deceased pet, just to sniff them so they can understand what’s happened, so they are not looking for their mate. Pets can become depressed. So try to keep the routine as unchanged as possible. Do greater activities with the other pet, greater playtime and more affection.”

A dog or cat is sometimes the only family, not solely a member. “Its such an important part of a persons life. When they go, a part of their life is going too. We need to respect that,” concludes McCollum-Ryan.

MORE INFO - www.bowwout.ie & www.dspca.ie


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