Friday, November 19, 2004

Widowed Pets

Working in a hospital setting, I am not often aware of the smaller living beings that are left behind when a patient dies - their pets. However, one of my best friends recently adopted a cat whose human companion had died. Suddenly, I recalled a patient whom I had worked with when I was doing my home hospice clinicals as a nursing student.

I am very fond of animals. And as the visit to this patient's house occurred when I was still relatively new to hospice, I was almost grateful to disoover the patient's dog sitting anxiously by his dying companion's bed. Finally! Something I felt comfortable and confident doing as a student! As my preceptor worked with this family, I began to pet and comfort the family dog. It was clear the dog was distressed - his tale wagging at a nervous speed. He seemed to relax some with my affection.

I hadn’t thought about the effect of death on pets before this, but it was clear that this dog was upset. I wondered whether or not the dog understood what was going on. The patient's wife explained how close the dog and her dying husband had always been and commented that the dog was happier when visitors gave him a little attention. She showed me that she had set up the dog’s bed by the patient’s hospital bed, which was now set up in their family room. She had also arranged linens on a fold-out chair beside her husband’s hospital bed where she slept.

Pets, for those who have them, are part of our families. My pets are certainly distressed when I leave them even temporarily for a vacation, so I can only imagine how they'd feel if I was never to return. So often widowed pets are brought into animal shelters. To me, it seems almost an insult to injury - your beloved human companion has died and now we're going to lock you up in a cage while you grieve and expect you to look cheerful so people will want to adopt you. Kudos to you, Debra, for bringing that special cat into your life and giving her comfort as she adjusts to the loss of her former human companion!

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