Quality of life. I talk about this topic almost daily. Defining what quality of life means for a pet and understanding how to monitor it are two of the most important aspects of hospice care.
I usually tell owners to try to think of three to four things that their pet loves to do or behaviors that indicate that their pet is happy and engaged. I offer ideas of what these might be - greeting people when they come to the door, barking at squirrels, or getting excited over a midday snack. I then ask my clients to keep a calendar. If their pet exhibits two or more of the selected signs in a given day, they mark the day as good. If their pet shows few or none of the signs, they mark the day as bad. If they reach a point at which there are more bad than good days in a given week, we start talking about the next steps.
People sometimes find it hard to pick three or four things, but I do not have this problem with my own dog, Madeleine. I know exactly what her quality of life markers are. For one thing, she loves to torment the Dachshund that lives above us. She watches for him from our windows and barks ferociously when she sees him. I have even seen the Dachshund’s owner hide behind a bush with him to avoid encountering us on a poorly-timed walk. Madeleine also likes to play with her stuffed weasel. It is a hand-me-down weasel toy that she has had for years, and she has rejected many brighter and squeakier toys in favor of its well-worn floppiness. But above all, Madeleine loves her morning toast.
She prefers white bread. She likes it freshly toasted and liberally buttered. She won’t eat it if it is burned. And she abhors rye. On the rare occasion that rye bread crosses her lips, she spits it out melodramatically and goes back to bed. But when the toast is just right, there is almost nothing more satisfying than watching her eat it. She chomps away at it with a look of utter joy.
A diabolical Dachshund, a stuffed weasel, and toast. I wish the things that make me happy could be so simple. But why aren’t they?
I have been thinking about this a lot. In our busy modern lives, it is easy to get caught-up in the perception that the more we have, or the more successful we are, the happier we will be. It takes effort to stop and appreciate the little things that have meaning and that make our lives worth living. I believe that, if we can identify these things - our quality of life markers - and put our energy into them, many of the societal ideas of what we need to be happy will fall away, and we will be able to enjoy every day just a little bit more. So, with this in mind, I began making a list. My entries include (but are not limited to) the first sip of coffee in the morning, hearing my husband’s voice when I come home after a long day, hearing a great story, and falling asleep with my cat, Virginia, leaning against me and purring.
This exercise has been really helpful. As you can probably imagine, my days can be emotional and can take a toll. But remembering my list and acknowledging the importance of these everyday pleasures seems to boost my spirits and keep me going. I highly recommend it!
This morning, Madeleine and I shared toast. I’ve been buying a healthy sprouted-grain variety lately. Madeleine doesn’t love it, but she tolerates it as long as it has adequate butter. I tore off part of the crust and offered it to her. She ate it with gusto. As I watched her, I could feel my heart lighten a little. “Toast really is wonderful,” I thought. And the two of us sat chewing in contented tandem.