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Karen B. London
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Community Care
Supporting guardians of dogs with medical issues

My facebook news feed is full of dog jokes, stories, news, and pictures. Lately, it has also had an unfortunate number of medical scares on the canine health front. I’ve seen everything from joyous “It’s benign!” posts to “It’s broken, but at least she won’t need surgery,” to the more somber, “We appreciate your prayers and thoughts now that we know how serious her condition is.”

Anyone who has received bad news about a dog’s health is suddenly faced with many issues at once. There are obviously medical decisions and financial issues, both of which are beyond my areas of expertise. But people faced with serious medical problems in their dogs need other kinds of support and help that anyone can offer.

Sometimes the biggest help is just acknowledging that a friend is facing real heartache because of an ill family member. It’s also useful to bring in food (for the people!) because it can be so hard to care for yourself when you are busy attending to a sick dog, and sometimes people feel too upset to eat unless food is literally put in front of them. Caring for other members of the family—walking other dogs, picking kids up from school or bringing them to a play date at your house, filling in for a shift at work—frees up time and energy for a caregiver who may be overwhelmed both physically and emotionally.

Visiting for a strictly social call or just to listen to the latest on treatment and prognosis is often appreciated. This is especially true if the appointments and various care requirements mean that the guardian’s social life has been affected by having an ill dog. Offering to run errands may be just what a friend needs to ease the burden. Many people also appreciate help around the house such as yard work, cleaning, or even laundry, especially if the care has resulted in round-the-clock duties that have them seriously sleep-deprived and facing the challenge of attending to basic tasks.

If you have dealt with a serious health crisis with your dog, what have your friends and family done that was the most helpful to you?

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Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

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Submitted by Rebecca | June 14 2013 |

We just successfully supported our 7 year-old boxer mix through front leg amputation due to a soft tissue sarcoma. It was emotionally exhausting, physically trying, and somewhat financially draining. She is now, however, cancer free and hopping around on 3 legs with no problem at all. Two things helped us: friends and family checking in regularly and not judging us for dropping thousands of dollars on "just a dog" (our dogs are much more than that to us), and an amazing online community for families dealing with amputation, tripawds.com. That site was invaluable to us, from knowing that to expect, asking questions of volunteer vets who are available on the site, and just supportive sharing overall.

Submitted by Karen London | June 17 2013 |

I'm so happy to hear that she is cancer free, that you made it through the tough times, and that you had plenty of support, especially of the non-judgmental kind! I wish much happiness to you and your three-legged treasure!

Submitted by Rebecca | June 20 2013 |

Thank you :)

Submitted by Frances | June 15 2013 |

When I was struggling to hand raise a desperately ill puppy, the neighbour who walked my other dog and put a meal in front of me every day was a life saver. And when her dog was deteriorating with GME, while she was ill in bed with bronchitis and her husband was an invalid in the early stages of dementia, I carried her dog out every few hours, cleaned up the inevitable accidents, ensured everyone got fed, and somehow held things together until she was well enough to cope. I don't know how I would cope without the knowledge that I have family and friends to call on when things get really tough.

Submitted by Karen London | June 17 2013 |

There's nothing like a great neighbor. It's so great to hear that you were there for each other--amazing!

Submitted by Julie Isidro | June 18 2013 |

I had a personal experience with nursing our dog Haley through multiple surgeries for mammary cancer through most of last year. We ultimately lost her in October. We had amazing emotional support from friends and family, veterinary staff, and my manager allowed me to work from home through the worst of it. But a really incredible example of world wide support for a fragile little guy can be seen on the My Name Is Lentil site. Thousands of people have followed this pup with the cleft palate and lip, through his 4 months of tube feeding to his oral surgery last month. Lentils thousands of friends have prayed for, laughed and cried with his mom. I hope that when I am inevitably faced with caring for a very ill pet again, that I can remember how much people are ready and willing to help you get through it.

Submitted by Karen London | June 19 2013 |

Beautiful--thanks for writing! And condolences on the loss of your Haley. Clearly, she was greatly loved and cared for exquisitely.

Submitted by coupon | June 26 2013 |

This is our 2nd round with malignant mast cell tumor. Thankfully, my bf is now retired and is my girl's full-time canine care companion. His support and help , from attending vet visits to supervising mealtimes, mean everything to us. I'm grateful for that and more. We hope she'll remain healthy for as long as possible.

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