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Pets can be like family

Tue., April 17, 2012

Aunt’s loss requires appropriate condolences

Q. My aunt sent an email announcing the death of her dog and talked about it as she would a human death – a bit over the top, I think. I sent a condolence email in response, but do I need to acknowledge the death as I would when a person has died?

A. You may not be an animal lover, but for most people their pet is a trusted and faithful companion. Our personal pets become family. Just look at the Christmas cards you receive from pet owners. Often their dog or cat is included in the family portrait.

Dogs assist our community, too, when they function as service dogs for blind, physically limited or even depressed people. Hospitals welcome dogs as pet therapy for patients, and specially trained dogs detect drugs and explosives for law enforcement.

Our animals love us, unconditionally. Will Judy, founder of the National Dog Week Movement, writes jokingly: “Try to be the god on earth, the all-powerful and all-mighty your dog thinks you are. Never let him learn his mistake.”

As to the appropriate condolences, Lisa Begin-Kruysman, author and dog blogger, told EndNotes: “It is like losing a family member, for some even worse. So yes, the right thing to do is realize that your friend is feeling true loss and give him or her the full benefit of your condolences and sympathy.”

To judge your aunt’s reaction to her dog’s death as over-the-top may reveal how you would react to a similar loss, but it does not acknowledge her sadness.

If you do not want to send a card, write a check to an animal welfare agency or donate dog food to a local food bank – and tell your aunt. Many people, especially seniors on limited incomes, struggle to maintain their pets. Your gesture will acknowledge your aunt’s loss and contribute to the needs of your community.

Q. My dad demands that we never put him in a nursing home. Is this a reasonable request?

A. No. Your dad is likely asking this because he’s afraid of neglect or abuse if placed in a nursing home, a fear that doesn’t reflect reality in most modern care facilities.

“Unfortunately, we (only) hear about nursing facilities if there’s abuse or (money) stolen,” said Sue Salach, CEO of AgingInfoUSA, a Chicago-based firm that helps corporations with employees’ elder-care issues.

Salach recommends that adult children say something such as “I can’t promise that, but we’ll do everything possible to make sure you stay in your home. But you may need to be in a facility where people are trained to care for you.”

Why do adult children promise what they don’t want to deliver? Guilt.

“They feel their parents have always cared for them, and now they should care for (their parents). It makes people do things they are not trained to do,” Salach told EndNotes.

Sit down with your dad and together brainstorm a care plan, Salach advised. It will make him feel more in control of his future.

In some families, in-home help for an elderly parent has worked well. Less successful? When elderly parents move in with adult children.

The sibling who takes parents into the home often resents the other siblings, especially if the caregiving sibling gave up a paying job. The sibling’s primary relationships – to spouse and children – can suffer neglect.

And if the parent is financially supporting the adult child in any way – by paying the mortgage, for instance – it can delay getting proper institutional care if needed, because the adult child might be reluctant to give up the financial support.

“It’s a Pandora’s box,” Salach concluded.

To avoid opening it, don’t make the no-nursing-home promise.

Catherine Johnston, a health care professional from Olympia, and Rebecca Nappi, Spokesman-Review features writer, welcome your questions about what to do in times of illness, dying, death and grief. Contact them through their EndNotes blog at

Tags: EndNotes

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