Sunday, November 11, 2007

Letter From God

A lot of silliness circulates on the Internet, but sometimes something truly beautiful shows up, including the following message that landed in my Inbox…

This is one of the kindest things I've ever experienced. I have no way to know who sent it, but there is a kind soul working in the dead letter office of the US postal service.

Our 14 year old dog, Abbey, died last month. The day after she died, my 4 year old daughter Meredith was crying and talking about how much she missed Abbey. She asked if we could write a letter to God so that when Abbey got to heaven, God would recognize her. I told her that I thought we could so she dictated these words:

Dear God,

Will you please take care of my dog? She died yesterday and is with you in heaven. I miss her very much. I am happy that you let me have her as my dog even though she got sick. I hope you will play with her. She likes to play with balls and to swim. I am sending a picture of her so when you see her you will know that she is my dog. I really miss her.


We put the letter in an envelope with a picture of Abbey and Meredith and addressed it to God/Heaven. We put our return address on it. Then Meredith pasted several stamps on the front of the envelope because she said it would take lots of stamps to get the letter all the way to heaven. That afternoon she dropped it into the letter box at the post office.

A few days later, she asked if God had gotten the letter yet. I told her that I thought He had.

Yesterday, there was a package wrapped in gold paper on our front porch addressed, 'To Meredith' in an unfamiliar hand. Meredith opened it. Inside was a book by Mr. Rogers called, 'When a Pet Dies.' Taped to the inside front cover was the letter we had written to God in its opened envelope. On the opposite page was the picture of Abbey & Meredith and this note:

Dear Meredith,

Abbey arrived safely in heaven. Having the picture was a big help. I recognized Abbey right away. Abbey isn't sick anymore. Her spirit is here with me just like it stays in your heart. Abbey loved being your dog.

Since we don't need our bodies in heaven, I don't have any pockets to keep your picture in, so I am sending it back to you in this little book for you to keep and have something to remember Abbey by.

Thank you for the beautiful letter and thank your mother for helping you write it and sending it to me. What a wonderful mother you have. I picked her especially for you. I send my blessings every day and remember that I love you very much.

By the way, I am wherever there is love.

Love, God

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Pet Food Dilemma

Part One: Commercial Pet Food

In March, 2007, Menu Foods recalled 60 million cans and pouches of pet food sold under dozens of brand names. As the story unfolded – and as a continuous trickle of new products were added to the recall list – a great deal came to light about the way pet foods are manufactured in the 21st century.

First, how many of us knew that companies ranging from Wal-Mart to Hills and Eukanuba farmed out the manufacture of their foods to a third party?

Second, how many of us knew that the ingredients in pet and human foods today come from all over the world, shipped in vast quantities from innumerable sources? This makes inspection and quality control impossible to maintain with any degree of certainty.

Third, why have so many pet food companies have been bought up by conglomerates that previously focused on the manufacture of human foods? The answer: What was once a waste stream (in the “expense” column) is now converted to a product stream (in the “income” column) as the by-products of human food production become pet food ingredients.

Fourth, why did Menu Foods delay 2 ½ months after it began receiving complaints that its food was tainted, before starting to issue recalls? And why did the CEO of Menu Foods sell 12,700 shares of his own stock in the company 2 ½ weeks before the recall? (Note that Menu Foods stock fell 45% in value the day the first recalls were announced.)

Fifth, why did all official sources continue to claim the “death toll” was only 17 animals when all other surveys and estimates put the number in the thousands?

The answer to all of these issues is the same: To maximize profit and to minimize exposure to lawsuits.

Part Two: Homemade Pet Food

It seems there should be a simple answer to the problem: Quit buying pet food. Make it at home from wholesome ingredients instead.

But it’s not simple at all. Americans tend to eat a wide range of foods – often in a rather random fashion – and we survive but we are often far from optimally nourished. We tend to take in an excess of calories, saturated fats, etc., and inadequate amounts of fiber and certain vitamins and minerals. The result is a number of diseases that could be avoided with better nutrition.

Our animal companions have very different nutritional needs from humans. If we feed them the same selection of foods we eat ourselves, the result will far worse for them than it is for us.

The most widely accepted standards for dog and cat nutrition are set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). AAFCO sets standards as to the amount of each nutrient that should be in a commercial dog or cat food in order for it to be labelled as “nutritionally complete.” Although I have a lot of quibbles with these standards, they’re the best we’ve got. Any homemade food should provide well above the AAFCO minimums for every nutrient on the list (without getting too close to the maximums, where known).

I have heard several veterinary nutritionists express dispair about homemade diets because it is so very hard to come up with – and stick to – recipes that meet AAFCO standards. More than one nutritionist has lamented what’s known as “nutritional drift.” That is, the caregiver follows the recipes diligently for the first few months, then starts to get more relaxed and inaccurate. Over time, the recipes “drift” away from their original balance to the point where the animal is seriously malnourished.

Having made all my dogs’ food for the past 5 months, I can attest to the fact that it takes a very large time commitment. And a diligence bordering on obsession, to avoid nutritional drift. I measure, weigh, calculate, label, wash, re-wash, and go through my vitamin-mineral checklist twice with every batch of food I make. And the batches are small – just enough for about two days – to avoid uneven mixing of ingredients and supplements. The entire time, I try to maintain mindfulness, so that the biggest ingredient is Love. My training in Traditional Chinese Medicine convinces me that the intention to feed well, to nourish my animals so that they thrive, makes the food actually do more for their health than if I were to cook absent-mindedly or in a rushed, stressed state of mind.

Part Three: The Dilemma

Most people want to feed their animal companions the best food possible, but don’t have the time or persistence to make food properly at home. What should they do? I am at a loss when my clients ask for food recommendations.

What do YOU do? Now that the shock of the pet food recalls has past, yet we still see new dog treats and dog toys getting recalled due to heavy metal or other contamination, how do YOU feel about buying commercial products for your beloved critters? Do you cook your own? Have you found a small company that you are confident is doing a good job making dog and cat food? Have you decided to go back to what you were feeding before the recalls began? Do you feel safe???

Friday, August 24, 2007

On the Value of Life

Carl A. Osborne, DVM, Ph.D., Dipl. ACVIM, graciously gave me permission to present here an article he wrote that was published in DVM Newsmagazine in August, 2007. Dr. Osborne wrote:

Here is a true story about the value of life. Its profound message rises out of the ashes of a potentially deadly fire, and the heroic efforts of man and animal. As you read it, ask yourself about the value you place on life.

She was just a stray, short-haired, nameless cat with five kittens, trying to make it on the mean streets of New York City. She had set up housekeeping in a dilapidated, abandoned garage, recently subject to a number of fires. She scoured the neighborhood for scraps of garbage to help nourish her growing brood.

All of this changed at 6:06 on the morning of March 29, 1996. A fire of suspicious origin quickly engulfed the garage. The cat family’s home was in flames. Ladder Company 175 responded and soon had the blaze under control. One fireman, David Giannelli, heard the kittens’ cries. He found three of them just outside the building, another three-quarters of the way across the street and the fifth on the sidewalk. The kittens were too young to have escaped on their own.

Giannelli noticed that each kitten’s burns were progressively more severe; apparently some waited longer for rescue as the mother carried them to safety one at a time.

The New York Daily News of April 7, 1996, gave this account of what happened next:

Giannelli discovered the mother cat in a nearby vacant lot, unable to walk without pain. The sight filled him with compassion. The cat’s eyelids were swollen shut, apparently from intense smoke. The pads of her feet were badly burned. There were second-degree burns on her face, ears and legs.

Giannelli found a cardboard box and gently placed her and the kittens inside. Though she couldn’t see them, she touched her offspring one by one with her paw, as if counting them, Giannelli said.

When they arrived at the North Shore Animal League, the prognosis was “guarded” (they could live or die, but at this time the outcome was unpredictable). Medication and intravenous fluids to combat shock were administered to the brave feline, followed by soothing antibiotic creams for her burned skin. She was placed in an oxygen cage to help her breathe.

The entire staff was anxious about the outcome but within 48 hours, the heroine was sitting up. Her swollen eyes opened. There was no damage to the sclera or corneas.

One of the tiny kittens died.

Now put yourself in the situation that faced this courageous mother: Despite her natural fear of fire, she entered the smoke-filled, burning building to rescue her crying babies. To go in once to carry out one or two of the kittens would have been incredible. But for her to put her life in jeopardy five times, each time suffering additional burns to her feet, legs, ears, and face, is difficult to imagine. The courageous feline was named Scarlett, because the extensive burns caused her skin to turn red.

What can we learn from this incident? Simply this:

The lives of all living beings, animal and human, are precious. I’m sure you will agree that none of us can create a living being. But we do have the capacity to destroy life – all life on this planet. Each of us who reads and contemplates this story has, in some way, the opportunity and obligation to sustain life. Before our actions directly or indirectly take the life of any creature, we should ask ourselves: What is our motive for doing so?

On Kindness

Practicing holistic medicine allows me to spend much more time with my clients than in the past. One of the joys is that I learn so much more about my animal patients.

A few weeks ago, I asked a client if her German Shepherd, Count, was the “nurturing” type. She responded with an example of just how nurturing he is. He always senses when an animal is hurt or ill and will stay nearby them. But he has the misfortune to live with a dog who dislikes him, named Lamar. One day Lamar came home sedated after a medical procedure. Count could hardly stay by and nurture his non-friend, so he quietly carried a few toys to Lamar and set them by his bed, then slipped away.

How many of us would be so kind?

On Animals, the Law and the AVMA

There are over 50 class action lawsuits pending against pet food manufacturers for the illnesses and deaths caused by adulterated pet food. But did you know that in most states, it is impossible to recover more than the “economic value” of an animal?

As of this writing, the New Jersey legislature is considering passing a law that would allow owners of pets harmed by the contaminated pet food to sue for loss of companionship, i.e., for “non-economic damage.” The maximum an owner could recover would be $15,000. Only two other states – Illinois and Tennessee – allow such lawsuits. Otherwise, U.S. law classifies animals as property, similar to any other object you might own.

Who would you guess is in favor of the proposed New Jersey legislation? Anyone whose animal was poisoned by what they innocently poured into a food bowl. Anyone who has euthanized an animal in fulminant kidney failure due to poisoned food. (Count me in that group.) And attorneys favor the legislation – some because they love animals, and some because they love lawsuits.

Who would you guess is opposed? Here’s the sad part. Of course pet food manufacturers oppose the legislation. They want to minimize their liability. But would you guess that the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is opposed? The New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association (NJVMA) is actively lobbying the state legislature not to pass the bill. The same organizations that are eager to promote “the human-animal bond” where it induces people to spend more on veterinary care are running scared from the redefinition of an animal as more than a piece of furniture.

That is, if a fabric cleaner destroys your sofa, perhaps you can recover for the damaged sofa, but not for the sentimental value it held. The AVMA and some state VMAs want it to be just the same if the food you buy destroys your dog or cat’s kidneys.

The NJVMA’s executive director, Richard Alampi claims that “although the bill is specific to animals that were harmed or died as a result of contaminated pet food, it’d be an easy jump to go from that to loss of companionship of an animal from other causes, such as a vaccine reaction or a surgery that did not go well and the patient died.” In other words, “Watch out, veterinarians will be sued next!”

On the other side of the debate, Dr. V. W. Koch (a veterinarian) pointed out in a letter to the editor of the Journal of the AVMA, the AVMA Guidelines for Pet Loss Support Services advise that “the human grieving process following a pet’s death is similar to that experienced by people who have lost a family member.” The Guidelines even suggest that pet loss support helpline volunteers need to recognize when a caller is grieving so deeply as to be at risk of committing suicide. Does anyone grieve that deeply when a sofa is ruined?