The experience of having someone you love grow old and helpless in front of you is very painful. And when it involves a four-legged piece of your heart, who has been a true and loyal companion, showering us with unconditional love and support, it can be a life-
Often pet parents behave like the ostrich, burying their heads under the sand, thinking that the cloud of our beloved canine family members does not exist. But the truth is that one needs to accept the inevitable; and one needs to be prepared to deal with the situation when it finally stares us in the face. This is what happened with Atul and Sakshi. When they got their dog, he was a pup barely a few months old. And before they knew it, age had crept up on him and things were not the same for any of them. “It was shocking how time just flew by with Sultan. It seemed like just yesterday that he would sprint like a panther in the huge park I took him to for his exercise. And suddenly I was walking faster than him,” says Atul. For Sakshi too, it was a very emotional phase. “He would jump and squeal and lick my face all over the moment I came back from school where I work. And it look me a while to realise that he would slowly wag his tail, make an effort to get up and greet me when I came back. Believe me my heart just broke,” she says. Sakshi is now alone in feeling like that. Many like her have difficulty in firstly realising that there are changes taking place in their canine companions and secondly in accepting that their babies have jumped years and grown old.
Signs of ageing
Experts say that it is important to be aware of the changes that dogs manifest—in their health, body functions and behaviour—in order to cope better. According to vets, most common symptoms of ageing in dogs are weight changes, loss of vision, hearing loss, increased sensitivity to temperature changes, urinary incontinence and loss of house training and changes in activity level and behaviour, to name a few. Besides these changes, dogs also become more vulnerable to infections and ailments due to changing food habits, lack of exercise and bladder issues. If one is not aware of the signs of ageing in dogs, it can sometimes lead to complications. This is what happened with Meera and Vikram, who were both exercise enthusiasts and would love to take their Golden Retriever, Mojo, along with them. “We didn’t realise when Mojo started growing old. And since we had always been in the habit of jogging with him, we continued doing so, little realising the damage it was doing. It was only after he started panting and getting breathless very soon that it hit us that he was getting older,” says Vikram. It was depressing for the couple to watch their beloved pet’s health declining day by day. They also realised that Mojo needed a lot more care and attention than ever before. “It broke my heart to see that he was not that active anymore and needed help with his movements. I still remember one day Mojo kept pawing me to take him out for a walk, but I was fighting a deadline and ignored him. That was when he lost control and defecated in the portico. He was so guilty that he wouldn’t look at me and I had to hug him and cuddle him for a long time to make him feel better. I learnt to be very alert to his needs and calls from then on,” recalls Meera.
Make it easier
Experts also say that while we can’t stop the ageing process of dogs, we can make it easier for them to deal with it by being more sensitive, more attentive and more aware of what is going on with them. Some professional help is also advisable at this stage. It’s good to consult vets to find out what kind of diet would work for the aging dog, what kind of supplements are needed and what kind of medical support can be provided to ease the health problems.
Extra bit of love
But what is needed the most at last would be an extra bit of love with care and affection that would be most valuable and the best medicine for our four-legged family members. Sometimes that makes all the difference to our canine companions as they enter the sunset phase of their life.
Have you ever wondered what the word ‘fostering’ that you often come across just as you open any animal welfare website means? Well, this article aims to answer some of these questions—What is fostering? Can you foster? How should one foster? and so on.
Fostering is the chance to open your home and your heart to a stray or an abandoned animal, be it a dog on the street, which in all probability would die, if you do not give him a chance to live. The animal would not survive on the streets, especially if he is very old or very young. You may think of dropping him off at any animal shelter; but, animal shelters in India, are terribly crowded places with many animals, many infections and very few people to look after them. A very young or old animal with almost no or diminishing immunity often has death waiting for him, at a shelter. Therefore, if not adoption, fostering is the solution.
Fostering is like adoption
Does the thought of saving a life make you smile? If yes, please read on. Let us relook at the definition above and answer some questions that may be running in your mind. What’s to be done, if you do not have a large home to keep the abandoned animal forever? What’s to be done, if you have limited time on your hands– say a week or ten days or a month of vacation? Can you still foster a stray? The answer is ‘Yes’ you can. Fostering is like adopting an animal, for a limited time, until the animal finds a permanent home. The animal organisation, which helps you foster your pet, will provide details about how long an animal needs fostering and when they will take him back on finding a permanent home. If you have a full time job, most organisations will not let you foster unless and until you have someone at home to look after the pet. Alternatively, as in my case, (I had a full time job in Mumbai and was living alone in a single room) they let me adopt a pair of siblings so that they keep each other company and keep themselves content and happy till I returned home. Fostering is a great way to save many lives instead of adopting just one pet. For most of us, the chances are extreme attachment to your foster pet. If you feel that your dear darling pet is now a part of the family, you can always speak to the organisation about keeping her.
How does one foster?
If you are a newbie, you may worry about this and wonder if you have it in you to foster. Talking to a few people who have undertaken fostering of pets would surely help. Turning to the animal organisation that is helping you foster would also help. Nevertheless, in case this is not available, understanding what it involves should help a lot. Learning about these factors would be a good idea: i) Health and temperament of the pet; ii) Special needs of the pet, in case he needs to be taken care of; iii) Type of food to be given (depending entirely on his age); iv) Potty training; v) De-worming – in case there is a need; vi) Vaccinations & check-ups by the veterinarian; and vii) Costs of food, medicines, and checkups involved and its affordability; and viii) Most importantly, if other family members are in harmony with your decision to foster a pet, they should be willing to support you in every way because this is a rescued or a traumatic life that we are talking about. Most pets take about a week or two to settle down in a new place. This will depend on individual temperament too. If the pet is one who has been emotionally or physically abused, then he will take a longer time to trust and bond.
What is in it for you?
Personally, I fostered, when I was going through an extremely low phase in my life. I just had my routine humdrum to look forward to. Fostering helped me focus on someone who had nothing to do with my life, someone whose needs I had to put above my worries, someone whose life depended on me. Moreover, someone whom I could not give up! However, fostering could be great even for the others if one gathers up the courage to take on the responsibility. Since these animals are mostly those who have been abused and have been rescued from the streets, they need a lot of attention, care and above all ‘love’. So, just sitting down with them on the floor, letting them climb over you, making funny faces, talking to them about anything and truly trying to understand them could make you feel light and stress-free. The shine in their eyes, with all the attention they get, and the immense growing love in their heart for you, is a double whammy. You forget your worries and they learn to trust again.
Fostering is indeed hard work
Fostering a pet or more is hard work. It is like taking care of children. You need to get up early to feed, you need to walk them; you need to keep them illness free and you need to ensure good physical development by providing the right nutrition and exercise. One aspect that cannot be overlooked is providing for their emotional development. Treat them with baby gloves, like you would be with a child. Understand them, respect them, meet their needs, which may be growing and changing. Love them and nurture them, like a mother would do to a child. Be happy and cheerful around them, pets can feel the mood of their pet parents. Never take out your frustrations or bad mood on them. If you are truly looking to feed your soul and looking to find fulfilment, forget the yoga, the meditation routines or the need to go away somewhere. Knock at your local animal welfare place and go ‘foster’! The rewards of saving a life are unparalleled. It takes a special person to foster; you need to tune in to their feelings and emotions. Are you up for it?
A special note
Never shy away from fostering a female pup or kitten. The female of the species is extremely gentle and sweet (though some may be boisterous!), less aggressive than the male species. There is no chance of any accidental birth, if they have been sprayed. If they have not been spayed, chances are that they are very young with not fully developed reproductive organs, so they will not give birth. I fostered two female pups who were not sprayed. I never had any issues with them. In fact, they are the best memories I ever had.
(Natasha Sharan, who currently stays in Belgium, blogs for STRAW (www.strawindia.org) that focuses on sowing seeds of compassion in the hearts of young people by conducting humane and animal welfare education programmes and workshops at schools and colleges. To know more, write at: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit: www.strawindia.org)
A road trip with your dog can be one of the best ways to bond with him. Let’s find out how to make it in a safe, pleasurable and memorable way.
From shortlisting a pet-friendly destination to preparing a checklist of essentials, you will want to leave no stone unturned to look forward to a memorable road trip experience for you and your dog. Keep the following list handy before you begin planning the road trip with your loyal canine.
Consult your vet to make sure your pooch is up-to-date with necessary vaccinations. Road trips may invite unwanted illness, if proper care is not taken. Go on short trips to see if your dog has motion sickness or is nervous about travelling. If so, check with the vet for medicines or supplements that can help your pet make it through long trips.
Plan bathroom breaks
Take a 15-30 minute break every four hours. Your dog will be at ease and more comfortable if he is allowed to take bathroom breaks frequently. This will also help him move around and adapt to the changing environment. In the meanwhile, stick to his feeding schedule as well. Keep plenty of water and dog food available.
Your dog’s bag
Carry a separate bag for your dog that contains the following items.
- Food and water bowl
- Chew toys (preferably, your dog’s favourite one!)
- Towel and blanket
- Seat covers
- Dry bath shampoo and brush
- Treats- preferably the healthy ones
- First-aid kit
The foremost precaution to bear in mind while travelling with a dog is never to let him hang his head out of the car window. While it may seem enjoyable, it can be extremely dangerous. Check your dog’s temperature regularly and adjust the temperature in the car to suit him. Don’t play loud music as dogs have far better hearing than we do, potentially causing discomfort to your dog. Most importantly, never leave your dog unattended or locked inside the car. With some upfront planning, traveling with your dog can be an enjoyable experience for both of you. So, go ahead and explore places and create everlasting memories with your best travel companion.
(Dr Ritesh Sood is Product Manager – Animal Health Division, The Himalaya Drug Company.)
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