Readers say sick pets come first

Pet lovers and pet experts responded to a question about whether postponing a vacation for a sick pet was an obvious choice or an obsessive one. From e-mails and interviews, here are some of their responses:


I have seen people incur great personal sacrifice in order to accommodate their pet's needs. Many clients have cut their vacations short when the family pet fell ill. One couple flew back from France when it looked like their Chihuahua might succumb to heart disease. They spent hours sitting by the oxygen chamber with him. I believe it helped this patient pull through. Another family planned a special vacation for their golden retriever after she was diagnosed with lymphoma. They frolicked together at a lake resort for a week. The happy memories from that trip comforted them once she was gone.

Life must go on. Yet it is essential that we pause and reflect on the lives of our precious animal companions.

Kristen L. Nelson, D.V.M.

Scottsdale, Ariz.


Being with Tatianna, my 16-year-old Siamese, in the last minutes of her extraordinary life was not unlike how we had shared thousands of ordinary days. I was always there for her, and she was always there for me, loving me unconditionally. As Thomas Wolfe said, "I am a part of all that I have touched and that has touched me."

The last commandment of "A Pet's Ten Commandments" is this: On the ultimate difficult journey, go with me, please. Never say you can't bear to watch. Don't make me face this alone. Everything is easier for me if you are there, because I love you so."

Linda A. Mohr

Author, "Tatianna: Tales and Teachings of My Feline Friend"


As a business owner and a pet lover, I have had employees who need to take off time for their pets and I am 100% OK with it.

I have three dogs. For one in particular, a rescue pit bull that was found roaming the streets of Inglewood, I have a love so deep that it does not compare to any love I have ever had for a human.

Pets are part of the family. Not all children have two legs. Mine have four.

Beth Shaw



A 27-year-old cat is an extraordinary animal. I honor the reader's choice to postpone her vacation to be with her cat. I have a dog that is half that age, and while our bond is strong, I am inspired as I imagine the blessings (and sacrifices) around being with a pet for twice that span.

There is no "should" about stopping everything for an animal; there is only "choice." The reader can take faith that her next vacation will be all the more inspired for her present choice.

Larry Kay

Sherman Oaks

President and creator of , teaching kids to care for animals


If you have taken on the responsibility to be a dog or cat Mom or Dad, you must realize that you now have a four-legged toddler for the duration of its life. By accepting that responsibility, you have agreed (and hopefully desire) to give that animal love, care and companionship beyond his basic needs, through good times and bad. Just as a sick child or a sick spouse needs a little TLC to encourage him to fight and heal more quickly, so do Fluffy and Fido. Love can truly heal many ills.

Denise Fleck

, teaching pet first-aid


The year I met my husband, we were planning to go on a romantic getaway back east. (He was going to propose there I later found out.) But my cat's heart was about to fail. So we canceled our trip. Not only did I want to spend time with my cat, but I couldn't bear the thought of his dying while I was gone. He lived two more months, and I wouldn't have changed a thing. My heart still breaks thinking about him.

Christine Watts

Charming Pet Products

Westlake Village


Consider these statistics from the American Humane Assn.

* More than a quarter of dog owners include their pet's name on cards or notes.

* Most of us spend time telling our pets to get off the furniture, but in 40% of dog households, canines are allowed on the furniture. Nearly half of all pet owners give their pets an indoor bed.

Most dog owners I know are particularly proud of some aspect of their dog, in the same manner most parents are proud of the accomplishments of their children.

Greg Powers,

Director of Marketing

Camp Bow Wow


My husband and I are childless by choice, and until February of this year we were owned for 13 years by two ex-racing greyhounds. We always left them with friends when we traveled, and sometimes we took them with us. But as they began to face the deterioration of aging, we could not bring ourselves to ask our friends to make all the adjustments we did to accommodate our dogs' needs and give someone else who may not have felt the deep love we did the responsibility of their infirmities.

So for two years, we took separate vacations. We knew that if we were away and one of the dogs suffered an episode or died, we would regret it.

For both dogs, our vet came to our house, first for one and then, more than a year later, the other. Even though we do not consider ourselves super-sappy or overly sentimental, we stood in the kitchen and cried together. We laughed that we'd be able to go on vacation together again. ("Vacation? What's that?" my husband joked.) We wondered what we'd do with ourselves without the routine of daily dog care.

We're enjoying our freedom now, but we don't regret our life with dogs. We felt they had given their intelligence, loyalty and energy to us for more than a decade; we wanted to bless that canine gift of love for humans. If you love an animal, it overtakes you.

Sue Thompson

Set Free Life Seminars


I own and run a pet memorials website and talk to grieving pet owners every day. It is a very popular discussion, the controversial question: "Should we treat our pets like humans?" I often have people apologizing to me on the phone for being so upset over losing their animal companion or for having a hard time deciding what to write on their memorial.

What I always say is that love is love.

Colleen Mihelich


A person's decision about managing an ailing pet can be a deeply personal matter. One of my patients was single, with no children and her dog was everything to her. When her golden retriever became ill, she was comfortable with the idea of postponing her vacation. Quite simply, this is what she knew she needed to do.

The person needs to explore what they will be most comfortable with. Once they identify this, they can develop the right psychological and emotional plan for themselves.

Jay P. Granat, PhD.

Psychotherapist, licensed marriage and family counselor


There is no one-size-fits-all answer. I have seen families grieve for a pet much as they would grieve for a family member. Many would not leave an ailing pet because they would feel especially guilty if the pet died when they were away and might blame themselves for contributing to the illness and possible death if they view the cat is missing them and feeling more stressed in their absence.

Elizabeth Carll

Stress and trauma psychologist

Long Island, N.Y.


Pets have taken the place of the extended family for many who live alone in urban environments. In many instances, their health and well-being impact workers as much as the health of a family member would in other circumstances.

Acknowledging the situation with compassion is important. While I do not recommend taking sick days to care for an ill pet, I encourage caring about the personal lives of the people we know.

I, for one, would understand postponing my vacation to be with a close friend of 27 years to be there for the time of transition.

Dorothea Hover-Kramer

Author, “Second Chance at Your Dream”


I am an animal communicator and I deal with this type of situation quite often (See my sites and

A person sacrificing their plans to spend time with companions that have given them unconditional love is common. A person's bond and love for their pet is, in many cases, stronger than a "people" tie. An animal gives its full heart and love to each individual and with such a long life as this cat, Bob, has, the bond is extremely close and many do choose to spend more time than not with such a close love. An animal is indeed considered a family member now more than ever. That's partly because of the increased daily challenges people are facing and the feelings of being alone.

People are finding that animals do indeed understand, have emotions, souls and offer us unconditional love.

Paula Brown

Animal communicator


I would stop everything for my pet. I lost my 8 1/2 -year-old Rottie to cancer last June. It was like losing a family member. Casey expressed unconditional love for and brought joy to my husband, our two children and me. Losing her was devastating to the whole family.

I recently lost a second beloved pet. My 14-year-old cat Priscilla died of colon cancer. Again, this was very upsetting to the entire family, especially to the children. Priscilla had been diagnosed last September so we had a chance to spend time with her and prepare the children for her passing, but we are still grieving.

Jennifer M. Fitzgerald

Medford, N.J.


The story of your reader giving up her vacation so she could spend time with her cat should be applauded. Our pets are members of our family without question. Our pets forgive our inadequacies, make us smile, are always happy to see us, give us unconditional love. Frankly, we as humans can learn a lot from the animals in our lives.

I have heard many times, and I certainly believe, that our pets have a shorter life span than their human companions because they were born already understanding kindness, acceptance and how to give of themselves to others with their selflessness. We humans seem to take a longer time to get to that developed state of completeness. Our pets ask so little of us and give us so much back.

I learned that through my own experience; my dog helped me through an extremely difficult time in my life. Several years ago, I researched, wrote and produced a documentary called "Kids & Animals -- A Healing Partnership," which explored the reciprocal and positive healing benefits of animal-assisted therapy for children. The children and animals in the documentary faced extreme challenges.

I began to hear from parents and educators that children who watched the film came away with a feeling of compassion, acceptance and understanding when they watched animals reaching out to and accepting the children they worked with. The film's viewers began to understand that they should not fear children that were "different." After all, they saw that the animals loved and accepted these kids. It opened up conversation that none of us is perfect -- and there is no need to be. We all have something special to offer.

Animals show us each and every day that one act of kindness can change the world.

June Slain

Creator of Manadoob, which explores the special connection between animals and humans


Loving an animal is a different kind of bond. Even though parents love unconditionally, animal love is the purest kind of love you'll ever experience.

Hope Schultz

President of, an online resource for pet owners for health and well-being of their pets


The intense and uncompromising companionship, loyalty and unconditional love an animal family member provides often transcend what a person experiences with other people. It's not obsessive to show respect and gratitude for a relationship that has fulfilled and benefited you on every level -- physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. Stopping or curtailing your daily activities and attending to an ill or dying pet who has given selflessly through the years is the honorable thing to do.

Linda and Allen Anderson

Animal experts and authors


In many states there are strict animal cruelty laws. Not making sure your pet receives either the care or attention they need can be considered animal cruelty.

Hannah Dalton


I'm not sure about the rest of the world, but I know that I have dropped everything to care for my animals. I also think that with the growing number of DINKS (double income, no kids) over 30, the idea of animals taking the place of children is not so far off. I have a dog, Spunky, who is the light of my husband's and my life; we don't have children yet. We take her almost everywhere with us.

About three years ago Spunky got into some rat poison and the vet prepared me for her death. I sat with her in the vet's office for five days straight (including New Year's Eve and New Year's Day) just so I could be with her in case she died. Luckily, she pulled through and has her own Facebook page:,

Meredith Red

Santa Monica


My name is Helene King, and I'm the communications coordinator at Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital in Baltimore, Md.

As part of the Eden Alternative, a philosophy that concentrates on bringing quality of life to seniors in long-term care settings, we have pets that live at Levindale.

When one of our dogs, Rosie, died several years ago, we actually held a memorial service for her. We had people share their favorite memories of her (for instance, she loved being petted on her belly). We also made a plaque in her memory and put it under a tree here. It really helped the residents and staff with the grieving process. Rosie was a huge part of our Levindale family and was sorely missed by all.

Helene King

Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital communications coordinator


I'm also a devoted cat mom to two "furkids" and take my responsibility as a pet owner a bit more personally than others.

I was a latchkey kid growing up (not to mention an only child), so the only living thing I had when I came home from school was my cat. Growing up with boomer parents who were either keeping up with or trying to outdo the neighbors during the "material" decade of the '80s, I formed attachments to my cats because they were always there for me.

I got my first "very own" cat during my first year of college and had him for 12 years until he died of cancer, which nearly broke my heart. It took me three years before I could bring myself to get another cat, but glad that I did. He's 7 years old now, with another cat joining the family when he was just a year old, so I have my two.

My job had me on the road last year for almost 13 weeks, and I paid for a cat sitter to be there when I was gone; needless to say, I could have put a down payment on a Chanel bag or taken a nice vacation with that amount of money, but I feel that it's my responsibility as the parent and owner of an living creature that provides me with joy and love and who relies on me to take of his/her welfare.

Since I consider my cats part of my family, I would stop everything for them if they got sick.

Tracee Larson

Webster, Texas


I can totally empathize with your reader. In 2005, my wife and I had just moved from Orange County, Calif., to Orlando, Fla. We had been in Florida only a few months when our beloved golden retriever, Toddie, was diagnosed with cancer at 12 years old. Not having children, she was our world.

After a short remission, the cancer returned in mid-December. My wife and I were scheduled to fly to Oregon to visit family for the New Year's holiday. I actually got all the way to the gate at the airport and decided I couldn't leave Toddie, even though she was in the capable care of our veterinarian.

The airline was less than sympathetic, only giving me 90 days to use the ticket I was forfeiting as my wife left for Oregon and I drove straight to the vet's to pick up Toddie. Toddie died in late January. I never did use the ticket, losing the $600. Sometimes the heart overrules the head and the wallet.

Russell Trahan

Orlando, Fla.


My German shepherd of 14 years was very ill with complications related to a severe case of arthritis, not walking, not eating, bladder infections, you name it. I was due to go to the Outer Banks of North Carolina with my boyfriend and his family. I stayed home, and Kevin went with his family. I had no doubt that I needed to be with Smoky.

If I had left on vacation, I would have been unable to enjoy myself and no one could have cared for him in his delicate condition. Being with a stranger would only have made him and me more miserable. I think the answer to your question is easy. If you know it feels right for you, you will never regret the decision to cancel. And those that do not understand -- well, too bad for them.

Ana Sanchez


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