Monday, February 24, 2014

Book Review: Facing Farewell (dogs, cats, end-of-life decisions)

Facing Farewell*, by Julie Reck, DVM (Dogwise, 2012, 70 pages, $11.95)

Saying ‘Goodbye’ to your pet after a lifetime of memories: How and when. . . .

A Book You Need to Get Before You Need to Get It

Rarely does a dog book come along with the potential to help so many people (and dogs) as Facing Farewell can. The end-of-life decision that we often have to make for our dogs is never easy, sometimes paralyzing - even verging on the traumatic - and always comes too soon but Dr. Julie Reck’s book goes a long way towards putting your mind at ease, helping you make this difficult final decision by explaining the procedure and including worksheets for planning ahead. To call this book exceptional is an understatement.

The Most Difficult Part of Living with a Dog: Saying Goodbye

More than half of all American families have dogs and, since dogs have shorter lifespans than we do, most of us have to face the decision of goodbye but how and when are questions that can tear us apart at the time and lead us to second guess for quite a while afterwards.

A Little Book to Savor. . .

From the memorable cover to the delightful dedication to the “Commitment” pledge to the lovely quotes and meaningful photos to the useful worksheets in the appendix and throughout, Facing Farewell is almost a workbook in itself to help you make advanced decisions you can live with, not easily perhaps but well and with compassion, because you have thought things through beforehand. Your decisions will be made in plenty of time, with knowledge, care, consideration, concern, and kindness for your dog.

. . . in Five Short Chapters – Just the Right Length

Dr. Reck begins her book comparing our concept of life and death, living and dying, with that of our dogs’ – they feel pain but have no concept of death. A worksheet in this chapter helps us understand our life cycle and life span in relationship with our dogs and how quickly they age. For example, Sam came to me at age 7, so, being a golden retriever, he was about 63 human years old when he came into my life to live with me.

Chapter two explains the euthanasia procedure and choices, as well as decisions afterwards in layman’s detail. Reck put this chapter up front, believing that knowledge and understanding will help us cope better and make more appropriate decisions later. By focusing on the practical, the client can then work through the emotional more easily and wisely. Although I am one to need the facts and details and can understand the science and medicine, I also see some readers skipping or postponing this chapter and still keeping Facing Farewell on their bookshelf as a constant available resource. Reck writes this chapter and the entire book with warmth, understanding and calming acceptance of her clients.

But, How Will I Know When. . . ?

We want to relieve our animals of as much pain as we can whenever we can. We love them – we feed them, walk them, play with them, and take care of their health to the best of our ability. We want to protect them from pain just as we want the same for our children, but dogs (and cats) cannot tell us where it hurts. As a matter of fact, they have been conditioned over generations to hide their pain.

Pain is the subject of chapter three: how to recognize it in the head area, the body and limbs, and the hind end and tail of both dogs and cats. A body chart of both animals is shown with symptoms for each body part. Also included are assessment sheets to fill out periodically so comparisons can be made: e.g., “Is my pet in more pain now than he was two weeks ago?”

Three Categories of Best Friend

In the fourth chapter, Dr. Reck takes up the cases of young pets with serious medical issues, senior pets with terminal illnesses, and senior pets in general with charts to help you assess your sick or senior pet’s quality of life, again with several copies to help you determine the direction of change, if any.

The appendix contains additional worksheets and questionnaires to fill out with your veterinarian’s information, as well as space for memories of your best friend. Dr. Reck also includes questions we may not have thought about.

Top Five

Facing Farewell may just be the best twelve dollars I have ever spent! It’s on my list of Five All-Time Best Dog Books. Put it on your list, too.

*Although Facing Farewell is reviewed here as a dog book, it also pertains to our favorite felines, and contains sections and worksheets on cats.

Also of note (to be reviewed in the future): When Your Dog has Cancer: Making the Right Decisions for You and Your Dog, by Lola Bell (available through the same publisher, Dogwise, at

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