Archive for the ‘pet loss’ Category

In Which I Lose My Cool at Work for the First Time in Quite Some Time but for a Pretty Good Reason

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

Jen came to the treatment room on a day not long ago and asked if I could explain the importance of vaccine boosters to a client.

Client education on preventative care?  That is my FAVORITE thing – honestly.

Jen said the client was yelling at Jan and had yelled at her.  Oo that was the opposite of my favorite thing.  That makes me stand in front of my coworkers with my arms folded but ready to punch.  And I am not a puncher.

I went up front and said, “Hey I heard you had some questions.”

The client said she was tired of bringing her puppy in for boosters, and she did not want to bring her for her last leptospirosis booster.

It IS a huge investment – of time, energy and money – to bring a pet for all of their preventative care, especially a puppy or kitten.  So I understood her frustration.  But she wasn’t just annoyed, or even planning to just skip the last set – she wanted us to change our policy, and tell her that what we were saying was important was not actually important.  She was very irate that we would not bend on this – this that is SO important to us.

For much of the team, including myself, wounds are still fresh over recently losing patients to preventable diseases.  After I tried for a bit to explain why each part of preventative care was important, she said “Well, I’m just tired of bringing her in!”

I said, “Wow.”  I left the room with my arms up.  On my way out I said, “Well I am tired of losing patients to lepto!”

I turned the corner into the doctors’ office and slowed down just long enough to find something soft to kick, quietly but firmly kicking the rolling chair…which rolled into a metal kennel, creating a huge crash.  Clearly, I was in no state to be around people, so I stormed outside and paced and muttered.  I stopped and looked up.  Jen and Allison were walking our Shepherd patient in the yard right next to me.  All three of them were staring at me sort of wide-eyed.  “Are you ok?” Jen asked.

I was not.

We have recently lost two patients to leptospirosis.  Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease of dogs and some other mammals – INCLUDING PEOPLE – that is treatable but sometimes fatal.  It is not a common disease in all parts of the country.  It is common in Omaha.  In Omaha, leptospirosis is a core vaccine for dogs.  Because we can vaccinate against lepto, this has become a preventable disease.

In infected dogs, lepto attacks and sometimes shuts down the kidneys and livers of dogs.  It is a horrible disease to have and a horrible way to die.  It is tragic to lose a pet to something that did not need to happen.  As every veterinary team member knows, when you fight hard to save a life, you become so bonded to that patient that if they do pass, a bit of you gets ripped out as well.

It turns out I may have been a wee bit oversensitive at the time I was talking to the puppy’s owner about lepto vaccines.  Jan (and, I suspect, the client) saw the entire ordeal as high spirited banter and was not offended in the least.  That is why they keep Jan up front and me (mostly) in the back.  Jan finished checking out the client and set up her appointment for her final puppy booster.

In this lepto story, everyone won, even the crazy doc.

Dear Client,

I am sorry I was a jerk.  You started it.  I mean…I am sorry.  Your puppy is cute.

Wisdom from Ann at Flowerama

Saturday, September 14th, 2013

We stepped into the Flowerama near the home where I grew up and where my parents still live. It is our go-to store in a sad situation. We always find exactly what we need. Always before we had gone to buy flowers or plants for families who had lost human family members.

One of the familiar, kind women came up and asked what we were looking for. “Flowers,” I said with my usual verbal aplomb. She laughed and asked what the occasion was.

I hesitated, sighed and decided the world can’t be changed if I never open my mouth…”My friend, a client, well, her Beagle passed away, and he was really sweet, and she’s really sad, and well…I just need to get her flowers.” I smiled with my teeth gritted thinking, “Don’t judge me. Please just sell me flowers.”

Here is what she said:
“You know, losing a pet can be as difficult as losing a person. They’ve not done one thing to hurt us, and even the people we love the most have, which can complicate our grief. When we lose our animal friends it tends to be just a straightforward sadness.”

Ann, I am sorry I doubted you. I was wrong in thinking the whole world needs to be changed. From right here, today, in the middle of your store surrounded by beautiful things and with your words echoing in my heart, the world looks just wonderful.


A Promise Kept

Friday, June 21st, 2013

I took her tiny furry head in my hands and put my forehead on hers.

“Honey, I promise to get you to heaven soon,” I said.

Together with her family and the rest of her medical team,

we gave up

(let go),

and I did.


The Balloon

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

“Nobody can be uncheered with a balloon.” -Winnie the Pooh

Last Monday we had more euthanasia cases than I have ever had in one day.  I love firsts.  And mosts.  The first time I did a Tru-Cut biopsy.  Yesterday.  True story.  The most cases I’ve had in a morning.  A couple months ago – 25, including phone consultations and prescription refills.  Would have gone faster if I hadn’t stopped to run to the desk and add tally marks to my notebook page all morning.  I couldn’t help it.  It was so fun.

Monday though, Monday was rough.  On the whole team.  Stephanie came up beside me while I was entering medical notes into the computer on the third euthanasia of the morning.  “Please tell me you don’t have another terminal case for me,” I said.

“No, I just wanted to see how you were doing.”

“Ok,” I said, “hanging in there.  You?”

“Yeah, ok,” she said, and we regrouped and had an even sadder afternoon.

As Kelly and I were standing over our last patient of the day, in her own backyard, her beautiful spirit free of pain, and her beautiful body appearing so peaceful, her friends and family left behind in shock and heartbreak, we had to be strong.  They needed us.

Euthanasias at home are even more heart wrenching than euthanasias at the hospital.  You see the layers of Real Life.

Another coworker joins her friends and you realize her late fiance was close to the family and so was she.  Everyone has gathered again to say good-bye, and your husband has come to help with carrying afterwards, and the lines between professional and family completely blur.

It happens in the hospital too, but if you need to stop and catch your breath, you can.  If you look up during a home euthanasia, you see the yard the pet loved, or a family picture on the living room table, and you just stay immersed in the grief with the family.

And you want to fall apart with them and grieve for them so it is not so heavy for them to bear.  Because there is so much sadness, you sort of absorb it like a sponge, but you have to carry the stretcher and you have to get back into your own pickup, and you have to get the pet and your team back safely and take care of the details of the body care and the rest of the things that you actually can shield her family from.

And you want to scream like you yourself have lost something so precious, but you  hold it all in – all you let through is the tears and the hugs, because they need you to be strong so that, just for this short time, they do not need to be.

Tonight my family was walking up to the building we thought our oldest’s daughter’s volleyball game was in.  I heard a scream like the one I had internally screamed at the end of that day of euthanasias.  I turned just in time to see a horrified child as her balloon floated gently up out of her reach and into the sky, becoming a pinpoint as she wailed.  The only ones in the area were her family and mine.  I caught my own sob before it became a wail to match that poor kid’s cry, and went inside.

The receptionist let us know we were at a building a block away from the game.  Hand on the door, I stopped and turned back.

This one I can fix.  I can fix this one, I thought.

In my ever eloquent manner I said, “Balloons.”  The receptionist looked up with a kind but confused smile.  “The balloons.  Were they from an event in here?  I mean, there’s a kid…”  I stopped and pointed outside to the little girl still howling toward the sky.  “A kid…she lost hers, I mean…”  I looked outside again.

“Oh, yes, we have more balloons!  I will call her teacher!”

“Thank you!” I said, relieved.  We left the building and headed up the block.

Mom was trying to get the screaming little girl into the car.  Her baby sister was already in her carseat, wide-eyed and wisely clutching her balloon with both hands.  Mom looked frazzled.  For the second time in the span of a few moments, ever as eloquent as I am extroverted, especially when making split-second decisions to be so, I decided talking to a stranger was more important than protecting myself from the discomfort of talking to a stranger.

I turned back around and approached the car.  I said to Mom, “Wait!  Don’t leave yet.  They’re coming.  I mean, you know, they’ll be here soon.  With another balloon.”

Mom stopped.  She smiled the biggest smile I had seen in a long time, sighed and said, “Thank you.”

“You are welcome,” I said and my eyes filled with tears.  Hers did too.  Her daughter still had a great supply of tears going, but she had stopped crying and looked cautiously optimistic.

I know.

I know how hard it is to see someone lose something precious and want so badly to just fix it.  To make things right again.

As we turned, almost out of sight, I saw a teacher run out with a balloon.  This one was green!  That one had been pink!  I stopped and held my breath, watching and waiting.  The little girl squealed with delight and jumped into the car, with as tight of a hold on her new balloon as her sister had on hers.

I remember what that first moment of panic feels like when you accidentally let go of a balloon outside.  My balloon string slipped out of my fist once after a visit to Grandmother’s Restaurant as a kid.  Once.  My kids have each done it once.  Never again.  You never want to feel that loss again.  When it happens to someone you care about, you want the hurt to stop as soon as possible.

Sometimes you can make that happen, and when you can, it is the best feeling there is.


Friday, August 10th, 2012

My brother Dave and Sara’s big beautiful Mastiff James died this summer.  He was one of my very favorite dogs.  He is the James of this veterinary blog that my brother set up for me years ago – Riley and James.  More importantly, he was James of the Nelson family and James who was loved by everyone who met him.

James Nelson December 2003 - July 2012


James developed Addison’s disease, and though we diagnosed him and treated him and even got him to the emergency clinic for the weekend during his first Addisonian crisis where he received stellar care, his blood pressure did not remain high enough for long enough to keep him going.  He fought hard for three days.  We didn’t think he should have to keep fighting so hard when he kept getting sicker, and his family let him go early Monday morning, July 23, 2012.

earn money writing online

I was able to spend one of his last days with him – the first day of his hospitalization while he was at Gentle Doctor.  As his friend, it was strangely nice and will always be one of my most precious memories.

And yet, he had a treatable disease that was treated well and a family doing everything they could to get him through.  As a sister and veterinarian, being unable to save the dog I love so much and spare the family I love so much that pain and loss is very hard.


James did not want me to go around the corner to the doctors' office and he did not fit comfortably in a "dog" sized kennel, so we hung out together in the treatment room - as it should be.

I am sorry I could not save you James.  I really tried, Buddy.  I love your family, and I sure love you too.

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It takes a village to save a Mastiff…and if he is not saved…the village is no less awesome for having shown up.  Thank you Friends.

Adam was petsitting James, and first noticed that James was sick.

Dr. Ryan helped me diagnose James and get him comfortable and set up for treatment.

She, Jen and Kelly took care of James with me ALL day and even did the most intense of the James-care in the afternoon so I could spend two hours sitting on my parents’ deck with my other brother Bill before he left town again.  That two hours in the midst of everything is now, in hindsight, a reprieve that is still getting me through.

Dr. Stokes, Dr. Bashara, Dr. Krapfl and Omaha’s Internal Medicine and Critical Care specialist Dr. Byers all weighed in to help with James’ care.

Dr. Porter got James set up at Animal Emergency Clinic, and she and her team took care of him all weekend.

Dr. Buhr at Animal Emergency Clinic met with Sara and her Mom and me and just sat with us a while, even though I am sure he was tired and busy and had a bunch of patients who needed him as much as James did.

Mom and Dad and Russ took care of me, even when they were taking care of Dave and Sara.

Mom and Sara’s Mom took care of everyone and Olive so Dave and Sara could be with James.

Dave and Russ and Dad and Bill left for a long-planned  fishing trip the day James became critically ill.  At the time, I thought James would make it and told Dave he should go.  Guys from the fishing lodge drove Dave to a place where friends from Omaha met him and drove him home.  He made it home and was with James – and Sara – when they needed him.

The ER team let me be with James and Dave and Sara at the end.

Becky got James’ family a very sweet card.

EVERYONE (yeah you!) showed up to say “Wow, this sucks.” and “I am so sorry” and “James sure was an incredible dog.”

He sure was.

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Thank you all.  You are the best.



Sometimes It Lasts in Love

Monday, November 21st, 2011

…and sometimes you have a pet.

I first heard the term “compassion fatigue” at a lecture by veterinary oncologist Greg Ogilvie a few months ago.  I was having trouble differentiating the term from “burn out” until I read up on both and realized I am most likely  struggling with both.

“Compassion Fatigue symptoms are normal displays of chronic stress resulting from the care giving work we choose to do.”  from Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project ©

This is directly related to giving compassion away and allowing yourself to become exhausted.  It is a narrow term that describes the possible effects of caring without adequately replenishing personal reserves.  Compassion fatigue is a condition that affects caregivers such as nurses, doctors, clergy, veterinary team members

burn out – “exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration” – from Merriam-Webster dictionary

This is a more general term describing the exhaustion caused by normal day-to-day work-related stresses.  Burn out can affect anyone.

I will always look stuff up and try to figure it out before I see a professional.  I know you google “dog” “snotty nose” “weird bark” before you come see me too.  We can’t help it.  And there is so much to be learned.  I really think that is okay.  I promise to call in the experts to help me solve stuff way outside my expertise if I get in over my head if you promise to do the same.

This week I had several euthanasia appointments, a few euthanasia consultations and more clients with pets who have recently passed away who I am trying to help transition from “I have an older pet who needs very involved care” to “I miss my friend.”  That has been my year too.  And the year of a very good friend.  And now, as of this morning, that has “officially” become the year of another very good friend.  Pet loss and sadness.  It isn’t like we didn’t know how the stories would end.  It isn’t like I didn’t know this would be a very significant portion of my career.

In my ever-faltering attempt to be a positive influence, I said to my team at work after a particularly sad day this past week, “And THAT is how God answers prayer.”

But do you know what?  Sometimes it is.

And do you know what else?  Things are probably going to get better.  They almost always do.

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Someone Like You



“Sometimes it lasts in love, but sometimes it hurts instead.”

I know this beautiful song is not about pet loss, but I still love it.  And listening to music is healing.  When Adele writes that one, I will post a link to it too. ♥

How Do I Love Thee?

Friday, May 27th, 2011

When we were newly married and I was trying to convince my husband that we NEEDED Max the Cat, my Mom said the words that got Max’s paw in the door. ..

“Russ, Do Not Make Her Choose.”

Russ is allergic to cats.  And guinea pigs.  And their hay.  Oh, and rats.  Mostly rats.  We have had them all.

By the time we had Fuzzy and Wuzzy (our 4th and 5th rats) he honestly could not breathe in their presence.  He just did not go into the living room, and if he did, we ended up in urgent care.  “You NEED to breathe, Finch,” I said, in a rare moment of logic over emotion.  He ended up on pretty strong allergy medications for the remainder of the rats’ lives.  He could not breathe well, and he ALWAYS felt miserable, but he did not die.

Crazy, huh?

You know what would be crazier?  If I insisted on a 6th rat…or a 6th and a 7th.  (You know, so Six wouldn’t get lonely.)

We adopted Fuzzy and Wuzzy (Hairless Dumbo Rex littermates) with the misguided hope that they would be less allergenic than their furry predecessors, ButtercupRita and Cookie.  Cookie actually ended up living with Mom and Dad because…yup, Russ could not breathe in her presence.

Fur does not cause allergic reactions.

Allergic reactions are caused by protein in dander, spit and pee.

HOW MANY years have I been telling friends and clients that very thing when they beg me to approve of their Sphinx Cat/Chinese Crested Dog-adoption-to-be because they are just sure hairless pets (or low-shedding pets, like Poodles) are hypoallergenic?  *sigh*  We were just sure hairless rats were hypoallergenic.

Not that that notion is totally misguided.  Some pets seem to cause less intense allergic reactions in people than others:  those with less hair slough less dander, are easier to keep clean and probably have a genetic predisposition to being less allergenic.


We knew better.  But we sure loved those rats.  I am grateful Russ coexisted with them for almost three years.  I will not ask him to do it again.

Thank you for not making me choose, Russ.

In honor of Russ’ kindness, I have written this poem.  My apologies to  Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  I am quite sure this is not what you meant your poem to be.

How Do I Love Thee?

How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways.

If we live sixty more years more or less

And you stay on your meds and hold your breath,

To the very end of our married days…


I love thee more than all the future pets

We’d get if we filled our house like we do–

Got one of each color or maybe two.

I’d love all these Finches-to-be, and yet…


I love thee more than all of our future pets.

We could have two or four rats at a time!

And rabbits and piggies, kittens and cats,

Just a rough guess, that’s about ninety-nine

Pets we could have were we crazy like that.

But we’re not, and I promise, I’ll be fine.

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The Goldfish Swam Out

Monday, May 9th, 2011

Apparently, saying “What harm can it do?” is as bad as saying “What is the worst that can happen?”

Right before I left to pick up the girls from school this afternoon, Abby’s goldfish died.  When I got home with one crying kid and one sympathetic kid, the girls went to change into play clothes, and I ended up with two crying kids.  Amanda’s goldfish had died while we were walking home from school.  The two little goldfish had been Finch fish for almost twenty-four hours.

What great little life lesson is supposed to be drawn from this part of the fish saga??  I dunno either.

This sucks.

Same song, second verse…

We went to Mom and Dad’s to snag two more goldfish from the pond.  I worried that even after just one day in the big pond, the fish would not be excited about indoor bowl life.

Dad decided that the girls needed bettas instead…much hardier than goldfish.  And so began the second verse.  Here’s hoping.

Grandpa truly saved the day, and I have two happy kids again.  I do believe Bubbles and Yellow Jello did what they were put on this earth to do.

Now we have Sea Shell and Coral.  I can do bettas…I like bettas…

The Goldfish Swam In

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

I did not mean to let it happen.

No more pets.  Ever.  That was mine and my husband’s rigid decree.  Our rodent corner is empty.  Our fish bowls and terrariums are long gone.  Even the butterfly habitat is empty.  Our huge, huge dog beds are missing the great big lovable mutt that took up most of both of them.  Joy the Puppy and Noodle the Poodle curl up in tiny sad circles in the middle of each.  Max the Cat is the only one who thinks we are finally down to a sane number of pets…or we would be if we got rid of those dogs.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”

Proverbs 4:23

We have decided to not be hurt any more.  We have stood strong through pleas (and offers) for kittens, puppies, guinea pigs, hamsters and gerbils.  No more.  Ever.

Today I got a call from Dad who had taken our daughters on a quick errand to PetSmart for wild birdseed and pond fish.  “The girls want to keep one of these fish, but we didn’t get food or bowls.  We’ll be home in three minutes.  Figure it out.”

No!  Dad!  *sigh*  Maybe.

I can do a fish…I love goldfish.  The girls are old enough to feed a fish and clean a fish bowl.  We had Dexter Goldfish for four years.  He was awesome.  They come when called, better than Joy the Puppy ever has…

The girls came rushing in happier than I have seen them in months.  My Mom loaned them a fish bowl (that I believe I had given to Mom when we said “No more pets!”)  I told the girls to pick the smallest fish.  Yeah, goldfish should have a tank and bubbler and filter (or a pond, Dad!) but I was three minutes in and was flailing.  I figured a little guy would do the best in a gallon bowl until we could get him settled in and all.  I just wanted to get him home and figure out what happened to my “no more pets” ultimatum.

Turns out they each wanted their own pet, one for each kid, one for each bedroom.  The goldfish are looking at me now.  They are super cute.  Their names are Bubbles and Yellow Jello.

Guarding your heart does not mean building a high, high wall around it that no one or nothing can get past.  Everyone knows that.  Even me.  I tried to do that anyways, and two little goldfish swam in.

Thank you Dad. Yes, I am having a wonderful Mother’s Day.  I say these little guys are the only exceptions to “No More Pets” for the rest of my years.  Others may say that it’s a start…Regardless, for today at least, what harm can it do to let two little goldfish swim in?



Coming Soon on Riley and James…

Friday, April 8th, 2011

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Skills for Communicating with Patients – Five Stars! This may be the most helpful book I have read from the  Veterinary Economics 25 Books List.  It is an excellent communication book written for MD’s, though the authors have worked with veterinarians too, which I thought was cool.  It is a medical school textbook and is taking me FOREVER to read!  SO worth it though.  I will review it for you as soon as I finish it!

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Summary of my Favorites from the Veterinary Economics 25 Books List – Very fun project…I am finishing the last two books.

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Anesthesia for the Pet Practitioner – Five Stars! This will be a two part review, the first part here and the second part on Wagging Tail.  Anesthesia for the Pet Practitioner is a wonderful veterinary anesthesia book that I have used for years.  The third edition was recently published by Banfield Pet Hospital, and that is the one I am reviewing.  It is also the best one yet!

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The Complete Cat’s Meow by Darlene Arden – Five Stars! OK, I just started this book, but it has a gorgeous Max the Cat cat on the cover and is written by one of my Very Favorite People AND Darlene mentioned me in the acknowledgements.  (Thank you Darlene!!)  What’s not to love??  Even though I am only a few pages in, I can tell it is also an EXCELLENT resource for cat lovers.  See, I can be objective! : )

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Love Wins by Rob Bell – Just kidding!  Different blog!  I do love it though.  The topics covered in this book are ones I have been struggling with and studying Scripture about for the past few years.  Just reading the intro sitting with Abby in the bookstore allowed me to breathe a deep cosmic sigh of relief.  Not that Rob Bell is the end-all authority on truth, or even claims to be.  He IS, however, very good at making a person think, and tackling Ideas That Shall Not Be Mentioned head on.  At least one Christian leader has been fired over saying he liked the book.  But I am a vet.  I like the book.  And now…back to pets!

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Why all the book reviews?

Life is still sad.  I miss Ebony Dog and Wuzzy Rat terribly.  I also miss Fuzzy Rat, Piggy Pig and Princess Gerbil.

Max the Cat is in the beginning stages of Chronic Kidney Disease.  Not always a big deal for an old cat, actually.  (You know, unless he or she is your cat, or…unless it is.)

But then, when Ebony first got sick, I was hoping that if and when we found the underlying cause of her Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia it would not be awful, but it was.  So I am still in a pretty rough season and having a sick cat is freaking me out a bit.  I am writing about all that, but trying hard to keep it upbeat here.

Even so, a Princess Gerbil Memorial is in the works.  She deserves one as much as the other four!  It is not her fault she passed away when I was too exhausted to write One More.  And she was super cute and kind of quirky, so I think you will like it!

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And finally…

Happy Heartworm-Free May!

And then…

I dunno!  A happier season maybe?  Just an idea…

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