Ask Sassafras: An Aging Pet
Reader question: how do you prepare for the loss of an aging pet?
Credit: Lenore Koppelman
@henry_marie_elizabeth asked on Instagram: “How do you prepare for the loss of an aging pet 😥”
I’m not sure that any of us are ever ready for the loss of one of our elder pets. In particular, I believe that the loss of a pet is particularly hard for queer folks because for many of us our pets are the closest family that we have. I’ve had beloved pets pass away before and each time it’s incredibly hard. Similarly, sometimes it feels devastating watch a beloved pet starts to age, in my family of six (three dogs and three cats) half are geriatric. My eldest dog Mercury will turn 16 this summer, and two of my cats will be eighteen. Thankfully all are relatively healthy given their advanced age, but I know they won’t be with me forever, and each time one of them is at the vet I am consumed with fear that this could be the time that I lose them.
Mercury has been with me since he was six weeks old. When I got him I was only 18? This little dog has been at my side for every major development in my adult life from meeting my partner, moving cross country, graduating college, and the release of each of my books, buying a house etc. In a lot of ways, I don’t know who I am without this little dog and am terrified at the thought that one of these days he won’t be with me. It can be really easy to get overwhelmed thinking about him passing away.
My best advice for preparing for the loss of an aging pet is to first and foremost find a veterinary care team that you like and trust. When my partner and I had to put our dog Cosmo to sleep many years ago the veterinary office was rude, condescending and borderline homophobic. It made what was already a traumatic experience so much worse. Finding a veterinarian whose perspective you trust can be really helpful not only for making end of life decisions but also for supporting you in making medical care plans to support quality of life. It’s essential that our veterinarian and the office staff are comfortable with our queer family—it’s part of how I can make sure that my aging pets are as comfortable as possible.
The next part of my advice is sometimes easier said than done, but it is to live each day to the fullest with your beloved pet. Enjoy the good days (and work with your veterinary team to make sure that quality of life is foremost and that your pet is still having more good days than bad ones). Do things that your pet loves, do things that bring them joy, especially if those things are fun for you too. Mercury is happiest when he’s spending time with his family, so I always make sure that he’s included on outings with my younger dogs. I even take him on specific outings to places that I know he will appreciate and make sure that he has special one-on-one time with me because it makes him happy. It can also help to create a mini bucket list of things you’d like to enjoy with your pet while they are still able to. This was something that I casually did as Mercury started to age – it included things like taking him to a photo booth, and out on a boat (we did both a gay sailboat ride in Provincetown and a paddle boat). Just make sure that the things that you include on the list are things your pet will find fun and not stressful. I also recommend taking lots of pictures both on your outings and in your daily life. When I think about the pets of mine who have passed away, I’ve always wished for more photos not less.
May Favorites: This month my dog’s favorite new toys came from Planet Dog. I’m always interested in spoiling my dogs and I love Planet Dog’s toys because of their commitment to being eco-friendly (because what lesbian doesn’t care about the environment?) Planet Dog kindly hooked my dogs up with some toys to kick off the month and celebrate Star Wars Day (May 4th) from their Cosmos collection. These toys have been a lot of fun for the dogs to play with as my partner and I work in the garden!
Sassafras Lowrey is a straight-edge queer punk who grew up to become the 2013 winner of the Lambda Literary Emerging Writer Award. Sassafras’ books—Lost Boi, A Little Queermas Carol, Roving Pack, Kicked Out and Leather Ever After—have been honored by organizations ranging from the National Leather Association to the American Library Association. Sassafras lives and writes in Brooklyn with hir partner, and their menagerie of dogs and cats. Learn more at www.SassafrasLowrey.com
Art for this month’s column is from NYC artist and vocal LGBTQ Ally Lenore Koppelman aka The Cheeky Chipmunk. Koppelman is an award-winning body painter creates magical rainbow painting rainbow animal portraits! Learn more about her art here.