Sophie’s Choice

The love of a pet is never ending, but the inevitable truth is our pets will leave us. I was reminded of this recently when  my sweet dog Sophie passed. She was bright and wonderful, and I sorely miss her. Through this personal loss, I decided to share a difficult – but important insight: How to approach the loss of your pet when she or he is sick and ensure our pets  don’t live in suffering and pain.

As the Executive Director of the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando,  I often get asked “How do I know if it is the right time?” This question comes when pet owners are considering euthanasia of a beloved pet due to illness.   A common response from people and professionals is, “ You will know.”  Candidly, this is not a particularly helpful answer. For someone who has a sick pet and wants to make sure they have quality of life and no suffering, “you will know,” seems inadequate.

Most people have heard the word euthanasia – but it is misunderstood much of the time. In the original Greek it means “a good death.”  Medically, euthanasia is the administering of the drug pentobarbital by a veterinarian, which causes your pets heart to stop in a few seconds. It is a quick and painless process.

Recently, with Sophie’s worsening physical condition, I faced the question, “how will I know?” I did not have an answer and I felt embarrassed. My beloved Sophie had become picky about her food, so I started preparing her meals. She would devour her grilled chicken and looked so happy. After about three weeks, she was no longer interested in chicken.

As she was approaching 12, I thought a visit to the vet was in order.  Her liver enzymes were very high, and I was referred to a specialist the following day. The prognosis was not good.  Options were discussed: injections, oncology consultation, chemo, and appetite stimulants.  I left the clinic with her by my side, heartbroken.

It was a long weekend and my sweet girl was not interested in eating. Even her all-time favorite food, peanut butter had no appeal. Our time together was ending. As she sat on the lounge chair looking at the yard, I considered euthanasia.  In my head, I kept hearing, “ You will know when it’s time.”  But, in truth, I did not know.  I certainly was not ready for her to leave. But was she ready?

As evening approached, I prayed for guidance, a sign.  Sophie was resting in her spot next to the bed all night.  As the sun rose, she did not get up to go outside at 6:30 like every day since she was four months old. She was more reliable than any alarm clock.  In that moment, there was clarity, the sign I needed.

I called Lap of Love, a wonderful organization that offers in-home euthanasia services. The woman on the other end was patient and understood that it was difficult for me to talk. There are other places that offer this service, including my own organization, Pet Alliance, as well as any veterinarian clinic.  For Sophie, it seemed best for her to remain in her favorite spot looking outside at the trees.

So, “How do you know if it is the right time for your pet?”  You know your pet better than anyone –their quirks, behaviors and tendencies.  Upon reflection, I realized the question I needed to have answered was “when will I know?” It is important to have as much information as possible regarding your pet’s health to make an informed decision.  Typically, you will not need to make an immediate decision – so be thoughtful and take your time.

A few hours before Lap of Love arrived, Sophie peacefully chose to pass on her own.

They came to the house and with such care and love, wrapped her in a blanket and took her to be cremated.  Her ashes were returned to me which requires an individual cremation.  There are other options, such as group cremation in which the owner does not receive the ashes, burial in a pet cemetery or at home.  For home burial you need to check local zoning ordinances.

Sophie was a wonderfully soft furred, mixed-breed dog that was as gentle and happy as any dog I have ever known. And while the hurt from her loss is deeper than can be explained, the nearly 12 years of sweeping up dog hair, chasing squirrels, nose licking wake up calls, greetings at the door, squeezing between me and a date on the couch, and the warm love that radiated from those milk chocolate brown eyes made every tear worth it.

I am fortunate to have many friends and colleagues who understand the loss of a family pet.  Know that your grief is normal and surround yourself with those that understand and are graceful when you need them to be.

In this situation, it was Sophie’s choice. Sometimes as pet owners, we have to honor our pet and make the loving and humane decision.

Another shelter dog will come my way one day.  I hope she is a sweet, furry brindle just like Sophie.  But whatever comes my way, I know my big girl would want my heart to be filled with joy again.

Pet Friendly Apartments: Five Questions to Ask Before You Sign a Lease

This is a guest blog post by Sydney, a Local Apartment Expert at 407apartments, an Orlando apartment search that helps renters find an apartment that meets their lifestyle and budget.

Whether you currently have a furry family member or plan to adopt in the future, it is important to fully understand your apartment community’s pet policies and fees. It is not difficult to find a pet friendly apartment in Orlando. There are hundreds of options to fit any lifestyle and budget. However, according to our friends at Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando, one of the major reasons that pets are surrendered to local shelters is because the place they choose to live will not accept their dog. This challenging situation can be avoided, so long as renters ask these five questions before signing a lease!

1) Are there any weight or breed restrictions?

Did you know that some apartments are more pet friendly than others? Your first and most important question should cover weight and breed restrictions. It is important to note that weight and breed restrictions are not an opinion of the management or staff of the apartment community. They are bound to these restrictions by their insurance policies or lease agreements. I know what you’re thinking, “But, how will they know?” After you sign your lease, you will be asked to provide documentation of your pet’s weight, breed, and shot records and they will be kept on file.

2) What is the monthly pet rent?

If you plan to live in a new apartment with pets, you’ll need to budget for the monthly pet rent. Common pet rents can range from $25-100 per month, per pet. The monthly pet rent helps cover any potential damage (think scratched doors or carpet stains) as well as the pet-friendly amenities you’ll enjoy throughout the community. When weighing your apartment options, keep notes about the monthly pet rents so you can make an informed decision on which apartment will best fit your budget.

3) Is there a pet deposit? Is this deposit refundable?

Most apartments will require a pet deposit before move-in in addition to the typical damage or security deposit. Pet deposits can range depending on each community’s policies. The pet deposit could technically be a fee, meaning that it will never be refunded. Alternatively, the pet deposit might be refundable after you move out if there is no pet-related damage to your apartment. The deposit could be for the entire apartment, or per-pet if you plan to have more than 1 animal. Be sure to ask ahead of time, so that you can budget appropriately!

4) Are there any restrictions on the number of pets allowed in each apartment?

You’ll want to ask how many pets are allowed in each apartment home. “Pets” can refer to dogs, cats, birds, and aquariums. Again, you might be thinking, “But, how will they know?” Apartments typically perform routine inspections throughout the year, or you may have a maintenance technician enter your apartment at your request in response to a work order. Trust me, you don’t want to find yourself trying to hide your cat and his litter box in the closet because you are over the pet limit. Set you and your furry family members up for success, and make sure you know how many pets are allowed before you sign your lease.

5) What amenities do you offer for pet owners?

Great news for pet owners, recently pet-friendly amenities have been in high demand among Orlando renters! Many apartments have installed dog parks, often referred to as Paw Parks or Bark Parks, and many of the new apartments in the area are being built with this highly sought-after pet friendly amenity. Some dog parks even offer pet wash stations nearby, with a platform, collar anchor, and hose so that you can give your dog a bath after exploring the park.

As you’re touring a potential apartment, you’ll want to keep an eye out for pet cleanup stations throughout the community. Check the spacing between the cleanup stations, see if they are stocked with doggie bags, and take note of whether the receptacles are clean and have been recently emptied. Some apartments in the area even offer doggie DNA services that help identify when owners do not clean up after their pet. Both of these features help ensure that the community will be clean of doggie debris, so you’ll never have to think twice about walking through grassy areas.

What are you waiting for? To kick-start your apartment search, you can check out this list of pet friendly apartments in Orlando. If you own a pet over 65 lbs. or are worried about breed restrictions, you can also check Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando’s Apartment Registry for a list of apartments in Orlando that have extremely pet friendly policies.

Myths and Facts about Spaying and Neutering

Myth: Female dogs and cats should have at least one litter before having them spayed.
Truth: There is no medical evidence to justify allowing a dog or cat to have a litter before spaying. In fact, spaying female dogs and cats eliminates the possibility of developing uterine or ovarian cancer and greatly reduces the threat of mammary cancer.

Myth: Animals become less active and overweight as a result of spaying or neutering.
Truth: As any animal matures, it is necessary for human guardians to adjust dietary intake to compensate for more sedentary lifestyles. Animals become overweight only when they are fed too much and not exercised properly.

cat with coneMyth: Behavior is adversely affected by sterilization.
Truth: The only changes in dog and cat behavior after spaying or neutering are positive changes.  Male cats tend to reduce territorial spraying, depending on their age at neutering. Neutered dogs and cats fight less, resulting in fewer bite and scratch wounds and lessening the spread of contagious diseases.  Male dogs and cats tend to stay home more after neutering because they no longer wander in search of a mate.

Myth: Spaying and neutering is painful to my dog or cat.
Truth: Surgical sterilization is performed under general anesthesia by a doctor of veterinary medicine. The procedure itself is not felt by the patient.  There may be mild discomfort after the surgery, but most animals return to normal activity within 24 to 72 hours.  The minimal discomfort experienced by dogs and cats that are spayed or neutered can be lessened with post-operative pain medications and is well worth the endless suffering that is prevented by eliminating homeless puppies and kittens.

Myth: Children should be allowed to witness the miracle of birth.
Truth: Most dogs and cats have their litters at night in quiet, dark places far out of anyone’s sight.  Besides, every litter of puppies and kittens born contributes to the thousands of unwanted dogs and cats who die every day across America in our nation’s pounds and animal shelters.

What Should You Do if You Find Kittens in the Wild? Wait & Watch

Spring means the start of kitten season, which also means a lot of well-intentioned people are finding young kittens and bringing them to shelters. In just 2-days, Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando received ten kittens less than one week old. When people find kittens in the wild, they believe they are doing the right thing and helping the kittens by bringing them to a shelter. However, it is always best to leave them be until you are sure the mother is not involved.

The momma cats can be stealthy and hard to spot. They may be in the process of moving the nest, searching for food or just hiding when they see a human. If you find one kitten or a few, hang back and observe to see if the mom returns.

The first two weeks of a kitten’s life are critical. They’re dependent on their mother’s milk to get the nutrients they need to survive. If you remove a kitten from its mother, it will be harder for it to thrive. The survival rate of kittens under two-weeks of age that are separated from their mom is less than 50-percent.

Experts recommend watching the nest for several hours before taking action. If the kitten or kittens are clean, plump and sleeping quietly in a pile, they most likely have an attentive mom and should be left alone. If they are abandoned, the nest will likely be soiled and they will cry continuously because they are hungry. It is not typical for a momma cat to abandon her kittens.

Kittens under two-weeks are especially dependent on their mother’s milk to get the nutrients they need to survive. This why it’s critical to be sure that the mother is not around before disturbing the kittens. If after several hours there is no sign of a mom, you can contact Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando to find out what to do next.

If a kitten has been abandoned, we have a team of volunteer foster homes that will do their best to care for the kitten.

Things to Remember

  • Do not remove kittens from a nest until you’ve observed it for at least 4-hours
  • If the kittens are clean, plump and content, it is doubtful they are abandoned
  • Kittens under 2-weeks of age that are separated from their mom have a less than 50-percent chance of survival even with talented and experienced caregivers
  • If you are unsure or have questions, call Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando at 407-351-7722.

Make the Gift of a Lifetime

Are you interested in making a gift that will have significant impact on helping pets in Central Florida? There is an excellent opportunity if you are a donor in your 70s who want to make a gift during your lifetime from an asset that would be subject to multiple levels of taxation if it remained in your taxable estate. It possible to give individual retirement account (IRA) assets to charity, free from federal tax, annually.

This means donors can give far more with less! This may be an attractive giving option for you if you are:

Over 70½ and now receiving minimum IRA distributions—but do not need the extra income.
Interested in making a significant lifetime gift to impact pets in your community.

The Pension Protection Act of 2006 permitted individuals to roll over up to $100,000 from an IRA directly to a qualifying charity without being taxed. In 2015, Congress passed the PATH Act, making permanent this unique charitable giving opportunity. Single and married individuals 70½ and older are eligible to give in this way from their individual retirement accounts.

Using IRA assets to make a gift during your lifetime, as opposed to giving via bequest in your will, enables you to experience the joy of making a major gift.

For more information on the Charitable IRA opportunity, please contact Cathy Rodgers at (407) 418-0904 or [email protected]