Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Careful adaptations

It can be hard to adapt to changes, especially when it means adapting to sad changes. It’s even harder for our furbabies who can’t discuss things or even understand what’s happening. I have strategies I’ve been forced to learn; I hope they’ll help others.

The first and most important thing to know is that dogs in particular can and do grieve the loss of one of their pack—human or animal. Even so, individual dogs can seem, or actually be, unaffected. Cats may mourn, too, but they’re less social by nature, so grief, it it’s there, may not be as obvious as it is with dogs. In either case, watching a furbaby’s behaviour can direct how we can help them.

The most important thing is to try and stick to routine: Feed them at the same times, take them for walks or let them out into the yard as normal. Treats are best given like normal, and no extra treats. Furbabies don’t tend to “feel better” just because they get a treat, even though they’ll no doubt like the treat.

While keeping normal routines, it’s also important to not move too quickly to remove the things associated with the one who’s been lost. My own advice is that when you do start removing things, do so as surreptitiously as possible.

Here’s how I’m doing all of this for Leo.

First, I haven’t removed the towel Jake was wrapped in, nor have I removed the blanket he was laying on when he died. I planned to start that this evening, beginning with the towel: When I let Leo outside after his dinner, the plan was, I’d go get the towel and put it in the laundry area in the garage. Then tomorrow I planned do the same thing with the blanket. One step at a time.

I left Jake’s bowl alone for a full day, but over the weekend I picked it while Leo was outside, did a quick wash by hand, then put it in the dishwasher. Later, I took the bowl out of the dishwasher after the drying cycle was completed, and quietly put in the bench to cool off. Later that evening, I put away the step stool Jake’s bowl was on while Leo was outside. The following morning, again while Leo was outside, I put Jake’s clean bowl in the garage with Sunny’s bowl (and this is where it’s obvious I’m a human: I can’t yet bear to do anything with those bowls).

The common thread in all this is that I remove things when they’re out of Leo’s sight. This works because they’re not stuff he’d normally pay any attention to, anyway. Removing the blanket may be challenging because he jumps onto the blanket box, and crosses that blanket, every time he jumps up to get on the bed. So, he’ll notice that it’s missing while it’s in the wash, and that’s precisely why I’ve left that until last.

One other thing I do is to try to make sure I give Leo plenty of attention. I’ve always done that, of course, but I’m making sure I do it. Part of that’s about sticking to routine, but also making sure he feels safe, secure, and loved amid the confusion and the unsettling events.

Still, I do make mistakes. The first night after Jake died, I put Leo’s dinner bowl in the kitchen, rather than in the lounge, where he’d always been fed (because he wouldn’t eat unless he was fed well away from the others). He didn’t want to eat. It took a couple more days, and some moves back and fourth before he adjusted to eating in the kitchen. We got there, but it was a slow process, and probably more difficult than it needed to be.

The bigger failure was tonight. I picked up the towel as I’d planned, but Leo came back into the house much faster than I’d anticipated (it was raining). He caught me moving the towel, so I dumped it on a different part of the floor, and he duly gave it a thorough sniffing.

Ultimately, the important thing is to do the best we can, not try to be perfect: No one’s perfect, obviously, and we’ll get some things wrong. As long as we try to make a furbaby’s adjustment to loss as easy for them as we can, and as long as we try to help them feel safe, secure, and loved, they’ll be fine.

One last bit of advice: All grief, human or furbabies’, is highly individual. There are no timelines or timetables, and things will take as long as they take. If we focus on helping our furbabies get through their grief, they’ll be fine. And so will we.


Roger Owen Green said...

For instance, most of your recent posts are of a piece. This is to say that the collective effect is much greater than any specific post. All of the last several posts (since the cooking piece) were about grief. Even your anniversary post is about grief. And you can explain it all at once, or even experience it all at once.

So it's useful.

Arthur Schenck said...

That's an interesting observation! I hadn't noticed, though I know there's been a lot for me to deal with lately, and September is my least favourite month, so it figures. As it happens, though, even the post about making brownies actually is related to the others, as I'll explain in an upcoming post.