Home vet care expands

At Home Pet Loss Services has expanded to offer resources and information about pet loss, pet hospice, quality of life, and grief support at homepetloss.com.  Created by Dr. Louise Mesher, DVM of At Home Veterinary Services (AHVS) — winner of multiple Spot Magazine Top Dog Awards, including the highest awards for End of Life Services and In Home Veterinary Care — the site is an extension of AHVS’s service and support for families facing difficult, end of life decisions for their dog or cat.  Learn more at pdxhomevet.com or homepetloss.com.

The journey of loss needn't be traveled alone


A little over a year ago, my world crumbled when I lost my dog, Jake. The joy in my days was suddenly gone. The void left was huge, empty and bleak.

Being involved in the animal community, the outpouring of sympathy was incredible.  The support in those first rough weeks helped me get out of bed each morning and lifted me slightly from a dark place, though the ache in my heart remained.  I felt lost and alone in my single-person household, even with the presence of my other pets.  Venturing through the days and nights without my constant best friend who had been by and on my side for 13½ years, I seriously did not know how to take the baby steps to heal.

Everyone experiences loss in his or her own way, and every journey through grief is unique, both in terms of time, and the process itself.

Luckily for me, and this community, the DoveLewis Pet Loss Support Program exists.  This wonderful local resource offers great tools free of charge for navigating the turbulent feelings after losing a beloved companion animal.  Enid Traisman, a certified grief counselor, is a treasure as a facilitator, therapist and friend during pet loss support groups held four times a month, and memorial art therapy workshops held monthly.

Being able to share “my Jake” and my emotions openly in a support group with others who understood my journey was validating.  Enid’s Pet Remembrance Journal helped me express and explore my thoughts and pain.  Still a work in progress, the journal has now morphed into the reflections and memories of a great dog — something I pick up and read when I feel the need for comfort, or to add to when special recollections arise.

Scene from the Service of Remembrance

Scene from the Service of Remembrance

While my attempt at creating a beautiful piece of art during a Memorial Art Therapy Workshop fell short, the comfort and understanding from strangers who seemed not so strange as we shared stories of our best friends, was calming and reassuring.  I plan to return, as a clearer view of a keepsake made with Jake’s ashes has come to mind.

Surrounded by others who understood my loss and the power of the human-animal bond, my spirit was lightened at the annual Service of Remembrance, presented by Dignified Pet Services in partnership with the DoveLewis Pet Loss Support program.  A delightful statue of a boy bending to kiss his dog’s head stood forefront, representing this most precious of bonds.  From the heartfelt words of the speakers to the beautiful music filling the space, the love in the room is embracing.  Lighting a candle for Jake, I said a silent prayer of thanks.  I watched his candle flicker alongside all the others for beloved animals lost (whom he was no doubt cavorting with) and felt my heart start to heal some.  This year, I will attend again.  Not only to honor Jake, but to celebrate him and all those no longer with us.

My eyes still fill and my voice breaks when I talk about Jake.  But having made it through this “year of firsts” there are more smiles than tears at his memory, forever embedded in my heart.

Vonnie loves Jake.jpg

Vonnie Harris is a freelance writer, and operator of Pet Stop Pit Stop pet sitting services in SW Washington.  She resides in Vancouver with Jessie (a yellow Lab), Pedro & Lorali (parrots), three chickens, and memories of Jake, her heart dog who recently passed on.  Vonnie is “the face of Spot” at many Portland-area pet-related events, and the voice of Spot in social media outlets.

The art of healing hearts


In the mid ‘80s, Enid Traisman, Certified Grief Counselor, began approaching vet clinics with the idea of facilitating support groups for people who’d lost their companion animals, the response was not welcoming.  “They could not relate to my request,” Traisman recalls.  “Death and loss were not subjects open for discussion.”

Fortunately, one of the doors she knocked on was DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital.  The staff was enthusiastic, and in 1986 Traisman became director of the DoveLewis Pet Loss Support Program, only the third of its kind in the country at the time.  The program has since expanded to include community services such as memorial art therapy workshops, a memorial tree, and online support, making the grief program a cornerstone of DoveLewis’s community outreach.

Enid Traisman

Enid Traisman

For Traisman, the growth of these programs signifies the importance of the human-animal bond and the necessity of providing a venue for people to grieve and share openly with others.  “The people who are attending group are connected to their pets on the deepest level,” Traisman says.  “There is no fear of ridicule so it allows a person to feel safe enough to share their own fears.  Also, hearing what other people have gone through provides hope and a light at the end of the tunnel.  They feel so much less alone and isolated.” 

Traisman also encourages people who are preparing for the loss of a terminally ill or aged pet to attend.  “It’s extremely helpful because people have really huge questions, so they’re able to share some of their concerns and get some really helpful ideas before the event.”

Memorial Art Therapy workshops have been a popular addition to Dove’s Pet Loss Support Program, allowing people to create artful mementos such as memorial candles, picture frames, fused glass pendants or paperweights with ashes — which can be so helpful for people working through their grief. 

“Research shows that art and healing come from the same source,” Traisman says.  “Creating art gives a voice and language to unknown feelings in a way that people can’t with words because the pain is so deep.  It’s a real shift from support groups where people are sharing their stories.”  She adds that no one need be an artist to attend — the crafts are designed to be simple.  In fact, workshops are presented in three sessions:  one for families with children 10 and older, one for teens and adults, and one for family groups. 

Throughout her tenure, Traisman has been inspired by the people who come together, during one of the most difficult periods of their lives, to find healing amongst each other.  “It’s like a big hug because it validates that emotional response to the death of a companion animal which, for those of us who have been blessed to tap into that and share that human-animal bond, know how much it hurts.”

Many people create altars to memorialize their pets.

“It continues to be such an honor.  I meet the cream of the crop of the animal-loving community, and, the board of directors and administration here at DoveLewis has supported the growth of the program every step of the way.” 

Traisman also greatly appreciates the partnership with Dignified Pet Services.  Owner Michael Remsing feels the connection is a natural one.  “It’s another way to give back to our community,” he says.  “Between the Pet Remembrance Journal, support groups, art therapy workshops and the Service of Remembrance, we’re able to take everybody full circle.” 

Learn more about grief support services available through DoveLewis at DoveLewis.org.

Help for the hardest decision of all

Dr. Karen Twyning has been helping families say goodbye for more than a decade.  © Jack Mueller

Dr. Karen Twyning has been helping families say goodbye for more than a decade.  © Jack Mueller

There is nothing more heartbreaking for pet parents than when the time nears to say goodbye.  That humans typically outlive their beloved furry loved ones means having to deal with painful end of life decisions.  Some people experience denial, avoiding learning, thinking or talking about final plans.  Others more actively pursue support for this difficult time.  Either way, the time does come, and deciding whether to let a loved one go naturally or to aid him or her through the process of euthanasia can make a huge difference for both pet and person.

Karen Twyning, DVM, has worked with thousands of families struggling with issue in the past decade.  As founder of the national organization Pet Loss At Home, Twyning has created a “growing national network of expertly trained mobile vets dedicated to private pet euthanasia in the comfort of their home.”  The organization also provides support, 12 hours a day, seven days a week, in the form of free discussions about quality of life, signs of suffering, and advice for when to euthanize.  Twyning considers the decision to euthanize “the last loving gift” we can offer our beloved friends.  She calls her work her life’s mission, saying it’s been her honor and privilege to gift families’ pets with “final peace at home.”

Drawing on her many experiences in this work, Twyning authored a guidebook in hopes that families might have a conversation about end-of-life decisions before the emotional turmoil and reality of losing their loved one arrives.  The Euthanasia Guidebook for Pet Owners offers tools and discussion points aimed at helping families prepare for the loss of a pet.

Short and to the point, the guide covers topics such as “End-of-Life Situations,” “Quality of Life Factors” and “How to Cope with Pet Loss,” including the subject of grieving.  Handled gently, grieving is discussed with sensitivity to the emotional impact on families, individuals, and surviving pets.

Perhaps the most comprehensive section of the book deals with preparing for euthanization at home, including services Twyning’s organization can provide, pricing information, and discussion of whether or not children should be present.  Also covered are how euthanasia actually works, and available options for the deceased pet’s body. 

Dr. Twyning does not approach these subjects lightly or in a manner that feels clinically detached.  Her love and devotion for her work is apparent throughout, as is her dedication to ensuring families of pets near death are emotionally prepared and that the animals in her care are tenderly cared for in their final hours.

The Euthanasia Guidebook offers valuable information and insight into this difficult process.  The 16-page booklet is available for $9.99 and can be downloaded at PetLossAtHome.com; a free flip-book version is also available. 

Preparing for the end . . . dealing with the loss

Ute with her soul dog Shiva during his last moments before passing.

Ute with her soul dog Shiva during his last moments before passing.

My first response when asked to write this article was, “Are you kidding me?”  Having lost my heart and soul mate dog just seven weeks before, I thought no way could I or anyone be prepared for this.  And in a sense this is true.  Saying goodbye to a cherished pet so interwoven in your life is crushing.  There is no escaping the hard parts, but they are part of the unwritten contract we all sign when we give our hearts and lives to these endearing furry or feathered souls. 

And while there is no way to be ready for the overwhelming sadness, painful emptiness and agonizing sorrow, there are ways to prepare.

Ute Luppertz, Animal Communicator and TTouch practitioner of Pet’s Point of View is expert on this subject, and offers her insights and suggestions for this difficult part of the blessed journey with our animals.

Luppertz says there are two sides — the practical and the spiritual — to address in equipping ourselves for this time.

On the practical side, it’s important to consider decisions such as best routes of treatment, palliative care, pain options, euthanasia, cremation or burial — all things that, when not dealt with ahead, can turn a tough time into a nightmare. 

As much as possible, get questions answered, have phone numbers ready, support systems in place, and all the difficult details handled ahead of time.

“Get things in place when you are cool-headed — before you can’t hold it together,” says Luppertz.  A prime time is before your pet arrives at late-stage terminal illness.  

I learned this the hard way.  My beloved dog went — in a few short days — from being a sweet old senior boy who was a little creaky to being gravely ill.  In the midst of the heartbreak I had to scramble with these “who, what, where and how” choices, not to mention tortuous “whys.”

Luppertz urges people to honestly examine their own sensibilities and reactions to pain to avoid projecting their own fear of pain and dying onto their animal.  Animals are great teachers and do not feel sorry for themselves.  “Let love run its course, not your fears,” says Luppertz.

While difficult, the last days, weeks or months are a sacred time in an animal’s life, and we can learn much from them about grace and dignity, and the process of dying and death.  “It’s important to be fully present — mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually,” says Luppertz.  Being present allows you to receive guidance for the animal’s needs and wishes, she adds. 

If there are other pets in the home, it’s helpful for them to be around for the end, Luppertz says.  Death is a part of life, and it is well-documented that cats, dogs and horses who see the deceased body of an animal friend will spend less time searching and grieving than pets who have not seen a companion’s remains. 

Every cultural tradition, religious or otherwise, has distinct protocols before, during and after death.  Luppertz suggests investigating different rituals to discover ways to honor your pet that feel right for you.  From wakes and burial ceremonies to journaling and spiritual work, the ways to find closure are many, and for most people they do help.

It’s often disconcerting when weeks after the loss the grieving pet parent discovers that for those who stayed near in the beginning, life goes on, and they’re less in touch.  This is natural, as the grief is the pet parent’s, and there’s no shortcut to healing.  It takes courage to face the pain. 

Allow yourself to shed the tears of love and find ways to memorialize and celebrate your pet that are wholly personal to you and as unique as the bond you shared. 

I’m not going to lie . . . it’s rough-going.  The memories are everywhere, my pain still so raw.  The worst part for me has been not being able to sense him as people said I would.  Luppertz advised me to let go of what I’ve been told to expect and just feel. 

“While the body is gone, his essence is still there,” she said. 

Being willing to stay open and feel the emotions (living in the moment as animals do) can provide comfort and allow the baby steps of healing to begin.   

“The language of the heart always speaks the truth,” says Luppertz.

Luppertz provides hospice support for both pets and their guardians, and is available for consultations.  She will present a workshop, “Journey of Souls: What Animals Teach Us About Aging, Illness and Death,” Saturday Jan. 5, 2-5 pm.  Register at NewRenBooks.com.  She also offers a monthly animal hospice support group, this month Jan. 10, 7-8:30pm, in SE Portland.  Contact Luppertz at 503-774-2986 or PetsPointofView@gmail.com.

Vonnie Harris is a freelance writer, and operator of Pet Stop Pit Stop pet sitting services in SW Washington.  She resides in Vancouver with Jessie (a yellow Lab), Pedro & Lorali (parrots), three chickens, and memories of Jake, her heart dog who recently passed on.  Vonnie is “the face of Spot” at many Portland-area pet-related events, and the voice of Spot in social media outlets. Contact her at vonnie@spotmagazine.net.

Roll out the red carpet

It’s time for Boutiques Unleashed!

It’s an evening of great fashion, fun and hilarity, and all for a good cause.  Pets and pet people turn out in droves for DoveLewis’ annual fashion gala, Boutiques Unleashed.

Every spring, hip pets and people take to the runway in the latest styles from Portland-area animal and human boutiques in support of the DoveLewis Pet Loss Support Program — celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.  The event happens Friday, April 1, at the beautiful Tiffany Center in downtown Portland.

Get crafty with Enid

Spot’s Mutt Mixer Feb. 4 features special guest Enid Samuel Traisman, M.S.W., C.T., art therapist and grief counselor at DoveLewis in Portland.

Known and loved locally for her work in art and grief therapy, Enid is perhaps best known for her free monthly grief support groups and free monthly Memorial Art Workshops at DoveLewis.   

Enid will have her “artist hat” on at the Mixer, guiding guests through an easy heart-shaped clay pawprint craft. This is a unique opportunity to “play” with Enid and, as anyone who knows her knows, she is a gifted, brilliant, joy of a human being with a huge heart for animals and people.