10 Emergency Steps I Am Glad I Took Before Boarding My Dogs
I recently returned from a four-week vacation and writer's retreat in Italy. While I was away, one of my dogs fell deathly ill AND the boarding facility had to be evacuated due to Hurricane Dorian. Below are the steps I was very glad I took in planning for worst case scenarios. At the time I thought they were overkill; they turned out to be exactly right. My story follows the steps below.
10 Steps Before You Leave
1. Choose your pet’s caregiver wisely. Whether a kennel or in-home sitter, they need to know your pet well and you must trust their judgement. You want to be certain they will recognize illness and act on it quickly, handling your pets as if they were their family members.
Two house sitters backed out on me fairly close to my departure time; this turned out to be the best for my dogs.
I boarded my dogs at Hot Paws Pet Resort, a local doggy day care and boarding facility they knew well. I found out later just how much their staff loved my dogs and could handle emergencies.
2. Plan for the Worst
Who will take over if your pet falls ill? Friend? Family member?
Can your pet sitter or boarding facility handle a crisis such as illness, death or weather emergency? Will your pet be their priority?
What if the vet recommended that your pet be euthanized? What criteria would you use to make the decision: cost of treatment; expected longevity; and pain and suffering.
How much are you willing to spend to treat an ill pet?
3. Identify two point people to handle emergency calls and coordinate all of your pet’s emergency needs.
The first person may be unavailable so it is imperative to have two.
Discuss every aspect of #1 above with both people and discuss how they would work together in an emergency. If they have to make a decision quickly and cannot reach you, they will be glad that they are working together to talk through the decision and not be faced with making it alone.
4. Express your wishes in a signed memo to your boarding facility or pet sitter and your vet.
Include contact information for both your point people and your contact information.
Include a brief paragraph about your basic wishes should your pet fall ill. Mine was: “[names of point people] will make any necessary decisions about the care of Dudley and Mia. They understand that I do not believe in allowing my pets to suffer or in prolonging an inevitable passing and will act on my wishes on my behalf.”
Give everyone a signed copy delivered in person (don’t assume your vet or boarding facility will receive an email).
5. Discuss emergency plans with your point people again a few days before you leave.
Be certain they know that you trust them absolutely.
Clarify when and how you want to be contacted.
6. Do you know what you would want to do with your pet’s cremains? Be sure your point people have that information.
7. If your pet must be euthanized, how do you want that carried out. It is very important to establish that in advance. If the time comes, you will be emotional and it will be hard to think through this decision.
Do you want it done at home or at the veterinary office?
Who do you want to be there in your absence?
Are there favorite blankets or toys your pet should have as they are passing?
Are there favorite foods you would want them to have before?
If you have multiple pets that are good friends, how do you want the remaining pet to say good-bye?
8. Leave your point people with funds: a credit card, a signed blank check, or enough cash to handle an emergency vet and any other issues.
Refer to #1. They must know how much you authorize them to spend.
9. Hug your pets before you go. Mine bounded into the play yard and I didn’t have a chance to say good-bye. I wish now that Mia had gotten that final hug from me.
10. If you live in a hurricane-prone area, or one with a reasonable chance of weather disasters, plan for how your pet would be evacuated from your boarding place or home.
Where will they go?
Who will take them?
How will they get home?
We had a good plan (friends who would evacuate the dogs with them). Because of the special situation with Dudley losing his best friend only a few days before, we ignored the plan when the kennel had to evacuate and the owner took Dudley to a safe place where he was justifiably spoiled.
My Italy Adventure With a Very Sad Turn
With a fabulous trip planned, arranging for my dogs’ care was a big part of preparation. Yes, I worried about what to pack and if my suitcase would be overweight and if I would be able to drive and negotiate the crazy Italian roadways, but I spent more time planning for leaving my dogs and having everything in place for their care.
Both dogs visited the vet a week before I left to make sure medications were in order and that they had updated records. The day before I left I also delivered signed copies of a letter with directives to both the vet and Hot Paws Pet Resort, assigning my good friend and neighbor as primary contact and my sister as secondary contact for emergencies. Both understood how I felt about pain and suffering and that I trusted them with the lives of my beloved dogs.
Dudley and Mia went to Hot Paws, a local daycare and boarding facility they love. Staffed by loving people and equipped with pools and fountains and play equipment and shade, it is a paradise for dogs. They bounded in to Hot Paws and the staff was warm and welcoming as always.
The younger of my two dogs, Mia, age 7, had begun having neuropathy issues and I was concerned about how she would do with the activity level and I let the staff know. She was taking medicine that seemed to be helping. It turns out that wasn’t her only problem, but we didn’t know it when I left for Italy.
From Venice, I learned that Hurricane Dorian reared his ugly head and people in my part of Florida were worrying. Then I had a call from Hot Paws that they were very concerned about Mia’s health and wanted to take her to the vet. They know her well and something was wrong.
I asked them to be in touch with my good friend, my #1 point person and another patron of the facility. She is one of those people who would never let you down, takes responsibilities seriously, and also happens to love my dogs. In the midst of planning for evacuation, she came to Mia’s rescue and coordinated with the vet and Hot Paws.
Naturally, I was very worried and admit freely that waiting for the news from the vet visit was difficult. I sensed that it would be terrible and it was. While sitting at a canal-side table with friends, enjoying a glass of great Italian wine, I received a text from my friend that Mia was in terrible pain, that she had confirmed this herself, and that the vet had diagnosed Mia with liver failure. She said she would not let her own dog suffer any longer than necessary. By her frankness, I knew not only that I had chosen the perfect person to be my liaison, but that Mia’s suffering had to stop.
My friend worked with Hot Paws to arrange for a traveling vet to come to my house the following day to euthanize Mia. I cried in convulsive gasps smothered by guilt wrapped in indescribable sadness. All I could think about was that Mia would be so confused and wonder why I had abandoned her. And I worried about her best friend, Dudley, who was always with her and in misery if they were separated.
After pulling myself off the pitty pot while walking along the canals of Venice by myself, I was able to see that Mia’s situation was not about me. Mia was in terrible pain and it was highly unlikely she was thinking of me at all, but well comforted by the amazing staff at Hot Paws and visits from my friend.
In Venice, a friend comforted me and gave me the wonderful suggestion that I write Mia a letter. Later that evening I wrote. It really helped me through the worst of the sadness.
Dear Mia - Thank you for all the love and affection you gave to everyone who entered our home. Your sweet nature set a high standard for all of us. Most of all, Mia, thank you for being the sweet and emotional dog that you are. Your loyalty, companionship and love have brought me much joy. Dudley and I will miss you so much.
Dudley and Mia were inseparable; if one had to go to the vet they both went. Unrelated, both are chocolate lab mutts adopted two years apart. Dudley is now 13 and Mia was seven when she passed. Mia was full-sized, ladylike and sensitive; Dudley got the short dog gene with personality traits of Napoleon, Eeyore, and Scooby-Do.
At Hot Paws, the staff mourned the news that Mia would be leaving and the owner made the arrangements for the traveling vet and worked with my friend logistics. I am told that several of their staff who loved Mia came by to see her the morning she left, just to say good-bye, even though they were not working that day.
One young woman who was particularly fond of Mia volunteered to transport her home and take some final photographs. She also brough Mia a last breakfast of forbidden food – McDonald’s – and gave Mia’s friends ice cream in her honor.
Dudley was able to say good-bye to her. I don’t know if he caught on, but they said he certainly was aware that something was very wrong with Mia. She hadn’t been eating and was in a great deal of pain. The kennel staff spent more time with him and tried to keep him occupied.
All of this happened while the residents of my town were boarding up to evacuate for Dorian. Mandatory evacuations were ordered so Hot Paws would close the next day.
My good friend arrived at my house and prepared Mia’s bed and her favorite blanket. Things went as planned. The vet knew Mia and she is a particularly kind and gentle person.
Mia departed peacefully and without pain. My friend texted me when it was over and I called her immediately, crying and needing to confirm she was now free. It was a hard call, perhaps worse for my friend who never anticipated having to do this or get involved to this level when she simply agreed to be my liaison. Her job became an enormous one and she handled it extraordinarily well.
"Your little girl is running free and happy again. She was surrounded with gentle hands and kisses and went very peacefully. I wish you were here so I could help get you through the pain. But know that Miss Mia is fine now." - from my friend and #1 point person
We comforted one another over the phone, both in tears and sad for the loss. Hers will forever be a different picture of Mia’s last hour; watching a pet die is so very hard and we certainly don’t expect to have to do it for someone else’s loved one.
Following Mia’s passing, the kennel evacuated for the hurricane and the owner, concerned for Dudley’s emotional state and safety, took Dudley with him. Dudley was in a home, surrounded by love – and lots of distractions – during the duration of the evacuation that turned out to be unnecessary. Dorian moved out over the Atlantic and my town never even lost power.
Dudley returned to the kennel for the duration of my stay in Italy. For more than two weeks he was there without Mia. I received regular updates about his progress, including pictures. He seemed to be doing just fine. But I still worried and every time I thought about Mia I cried.
My reunion with Dudley was sweet. He was so glad to see me and immediately hopped in the car and took his favorite place. Hot Paws plans to put a memorial plaque by the play yard for Mia.
Dudley was exceptionally excited to arrive home and I soon realized it was because he thought Mia would be there. He hunted in every corner of the house and in the yard. When he completed his search and was empty-pawed, he curled up in her bed and napped. He is doing fine. I gave Mia's favorite toy to her friend Jilly. “Snake,” is a long plush toy with several annoying squeakers, pictured in the toy hoarding photo of Mia above. Surprisingly, Jilly's Mom is still speaking to me.
Good planning and wonderful, caring, remarkable people ensured Mia had the best last day possible, and that Dudley received extra attention in my absence after her passing.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of each of the 10 steps above. Additionally, be sure to thank and generously gift everyone who was involved if the worst happens. Everyone who helped with Mia and Dudley likely did more than I will ever know and they bore burdens on my behalf that nobody should have to bear.
My hope is that no one ever needs this information.
Special Thanks to:
Hot Paws Pet Resort, especially Octavio and Maddie
Jilly’s Mom and my #1 point person and friend
My sister and my #2 point person
My friends in Italy who let me cry on their shoulders
Sandy, who encouraged me to write a letter to Mia
Dr. Mandy, who ensured Mia was free of pain forever
Dudley, the sweetest little brown dog there is