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For many people, the death of their pet comes with many difficult decisions. Because each pet is different, as are his or her owners, options, feelings and coping mechanisms vary. Experts predict that over half the human population has a pet at home. The average life expectancy for pets is 15 to 16 years. Given these statistics, it's safe to say that a great number of people will experience the death of a pet at least once in their lifetimes.
The relationship between humans and their pets is often described by psychologists as a simple one—free of the complications that people experience in dealing with each other and full of unconditional love. This can often make the grieving process more intense when a pet dies. A pet is a constant companion, and facing its loss can be devastating. Angela, who is facing the impending death of her own cat, says: "Stones is my baby. I got her as a kitten and raised her right after I moved out of my parents' house. She has lived my adult life with me, and this is, by far the most 'adult' decision I've ever made. It's terrible, and nowadays I can't look at her without apologizing or crying."
Dr. Amir Shanan, who runs the Compassionate Veterinary Care facility and is one of the country's leading veterinarians on hospice practices, euthanasia and end-of-life conversations, urges grieving "pet parents," as he calls them, to consider all the options. "We don't have a lot of control over the fact that we're losing our pet," Dr. Shanan explains. "We still have control over a lot of things, and having that control can make a really big difference in how we experience the grief."
Dr. Shanan feels that working with a vet to explore options is the best course of action, such as providing pets with hospice care at home, acupuncture, and exploring holistic medicines to provide comfort to a pet with an illness. Dr. Shanan's Lincoln Park practice offers human-friendly hospital rooms for ailing pets that require constant vet care. The individual rooms have sofas for pet parents to sleep on overnight to be near their pets.