Celebrating life, in all its furry forms

Cole and his service Dog, Bingo. Photo credit to the Bingo Hein Facebook page.

I’m a tried and true animal lover—my dog Chase is an amazing companion and, as I mentioned before, is an incredible stress reliever for me.

And as anyone who’s had a pet in their life can attest, they quickly become members of the family—so much so that when they become ill it can be almost as devastating as when faced with the illness of a loved one. So it makes sense that as we learn more about the care and treatment of animals from a medical perspective, we also advance our understanding of their end-of-life needs. This fascinating article details just exactly how some veterinarians are doing just that.

As the article points out, a lot of animals that receive terminal diagnoses have lots of time remaining in their lives, with lots of wonderful moments to be shared with their families. And just as the goal of human palliative care ensure that a patient has the highest quality of life possible and help them to celebrate the impact their lives have on others, so too can we do the same for the companion animals who’ve done so much for us.

I was especially moved by this piece on a Manitoba boy who created a Lick-it List for his ailing service dog. Sadly Bingo passed away on September 14th, but what a beautiful gift his family and strangers from all around the world gave them all. Talk about honouring that furry, but no less special, life.

Beating the palliative burn-out

One of the most frequent questions I get as a palliative doctor is, “How do you do it—day in and day out?” While burn-out certainly isn’t something that’s isolated to my field of practice, I will say that the toll this line of work can take on you both emotionally and physically is extremely high. Anyone who goes into this speciality and thinks they’re going to be immune to burning out probably doesn’t have a realistic understanding of what this line of work entails.

In fact, seeing families going through difficult times does, in many ways, give me an additional insight into what the effect is of this work on my own well-being. People don’t realize that emotions like grief take an incredible toll on your body. And one of the most important things I tell the families and friends of patients is that it’s incredibly important that you take care of yourself. We’re so focused on taking care of our loved one, that we forget that if we neglect ourselves we won’t be any good to anyone.

Obviously the best tact is to choose something that works for your personality and interests. The most important thing is that you aware that burn-out happens to everyone, and that you need to take steps to avoid it.

Coping mechanisms can include a huge wide variety of things: hobbies or crafts, reading, counselling, or just talking about your emotions, sports, movies, writing, cooking, listening to music.

It’s obviously a very individual thing, but the bottom line is that you make the effort to recognize that exhaustion and burn-out are normal, and that you should never ignore it. But you can do a great deal to help prevent it.

So what do I do? I’ve found that the most important things for me to do are to make sure that I eat well and get a full 8 hours of rest every day (this doesn’t necessarily mean sleep). It’s important that you have decompression time where you can not only unwind, but process everything that’s gone on during the day in a positive way. Then I make sure to get some physical activity during the day. For me, the best way to do this is to take my dog Chase out for walks. Not only do I get the exercise and fresh air that helps physically, but I also get the emotional benefit of a little ‘pet therapy’ from Chase (it’s no myth that people with tend to have lower blood pressure and cholesterol!).

And remember, never be afraid to ask for help. Palliative practioners and caregivers take a lot on their shoulders each day, it’s important to take some of that weight off whenever you can.