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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 Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer whose clinical work over the last 17 years has focused on the evaluation and treatment of serious behavioral problems in dogs, especially aggression. Karen has been writing the behavior column for The Bark since 2012 and wrote The Bark’s training column and various other articles for eight years before that. She is an adjunct professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University, and teaches a tropical field biology course in Costa Rica. Karen writes an animal column, The London Zoo, which appear in The Arizona Daily Sun and is the author of five books on canine training and behavior. She is working on her next book, which she expects to be published in 2017.

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