National Pet Parents Day

April 15, 2011 at 3:17 am | Posted in Pets | Leave a comment
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Many of us love our animals as family and National Pet Parents Day is a way to honor that special bond.  The recognition was initiated by Veterinary Pet Insurance and this year is being celebrated on April 17. VPI has teamed up this year with American Greetings so you can send a free e-card to your pet parent friends. Or create your own celebration, whether a special treat, walk, or just some extra cuddling or quiet time.

As a Pittsburgh Celebration and fundraiser for the Animal Rescue League of Western PA, Heal from Pet Loss and Color Me Mine are hosting a painting party on Sunday, April 17 from noon to 6 PM.  Paint a cool food bowl, treat jar, picture frame or memorial plaque for your special animal companion.  $15 covers painting and firing time, refreshments and a donation to the Animal Rescue League.  There will be a wide range of pieces to choose from to accommodate various price ranges. Call 412-421-2909 today to reserve your two hour block of time.  You are welcome to bring your, hopefully, well-behaved pet, and enjoy an outing together!

As part of the fundraiser, I will be doing a CD signing of the award-winning Heal Your Heart: Coping with the Loss of a Pet with profits going to the ARL.  Consider having one on hand to give as a sympathy gift to a dear animal lover friend or family member.

More about my Tika

April 2, 2011 at 5:10 pm | Posted in pet loss, Pets | Leave a comment
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I was surprised to get an email from reporter, Linda Wilson Fuoco, from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Pet Tales column, who wanted to feature Tika’s story. Here’s the link, which includes information about Tika being featured on a sympathy card. $2 will be donated through the end of April to the two shelters Tika was connected with by talented artist, Bernadette Kazmarski, as part of my memorial tribute to Tika. The card under it, which was art inspired by my  CD, is part of the memorial donation too.  Here’s the direct link to Tika’s sympathy card.

In Memory of Tika Litzinger

March 22, 2011 at 3:25 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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Tika's arrival, 7/25/2007It is with intense sadness that I share that my sweet Tika of 14 years old left this world Saturday. For more information about her dear life and my heartwrenching decision of euthanasia, please go to my most recent Heal from Pet Loss newsletter.

Tika was just featured on an episode last Saturday, March 12 during an interview I had with Dogcast Radio about the benefits of adopting a senior dog.  I adopted Tika at 11.  The interview was done on February 2 before she seriously decline.  Click here to see background on the story or to hear more about Tika.

July 4 Therapy Dog Outfit

In addition to being featured on a radio interview, Tika was a pet therapy dog for three years which we stopped right after she started having problems in November.  The get well cards from the Children’s Institute patients brought me to tears.  Everyone just loved sweet Tika!

"No other eyes will look at you in quite the same way."

The artist of my Heal Your Heart CD featured Tika on a sympathy card, so now she is immortalized!  To further honor her, Bernadette Kazmarski from Portraits of Animals has agreed to donate $1.00 toward the Western PA Humane Society (where Tika was adopted) and $1.00 to the Animal Friends Pet Therapy Program (where Tika was trained) for every pack of six Tika cards people purchase in the next couple weeks.  She is also doing the same donation for a beautiful watercolor sympathy card which was designed from the CD artwork.

My last picture with Tika

Being a pet loss counselor doesn’t make this that much easier.  On Saturday night, I tried to listen to my Heal Your Heart CD and fell asleep right after the Bond of Love track since Tika and I only got two hours of sleep the night before.  I played the Carrick Fergus solo harp piece by my talented friend, Faith Stenning, which was soothing.  For each of my three dogs, I seemed to be attracted to a music piece that became “their transition song” and my grieving music.

May my sweet Tika rest in peace as she lives on in my heart as my “forever dog.”

Unconditional Love of Dog and God

February 15, 2011 at 2:04 am | Posted in pet loss | Leave a comment
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The Valentines holiday makes most people think of love.  Among other things it makes me think about the unconditional love of our animals.  As a pet loss counselor, I’m often asked why many people grieve more deeply for the death of an animal companion than for many human family members.  My answer is always: Unconditional Love.

My experience is more with dogs, but I think despite varying species personalities, animals are truly giving and there for us.  We don’t receive the judgment we might with other humans, and they love us despite our many frailties.

This weekend is also the anniversary of the death of my dog, Zep.  It was the Sunday of Valentine’s weekend of 2007 when I needed to make the unexpected decision of euthanasia for my 13 year old sweet dog.  It is hard for most of us to make that caring, humane decision, even if you are trained in pet loss grief.

So in honor of Zep and all special dogs, living or deceased, I would like to offer the following video tribute to unconditional love:

A friend and colleague of mine sent me this lovely piece produced by Wendy Francisco called “GoD and DoG”.  She found it comforting following the death of her own dog.  Regardless of your spiritual beliefs, you’ve probably heard the reference of DOG is GOD spelled backwards.  I think you’ll enjoy this perspective of dog love.

My tribute to the love of my dogs, Pepper and Zep, is the CD they inspired me to produce, Heal Your Heart: Coping with the Loss of a Pet.  I hope this and the other resources on my web site can help those dealing with pet loss transform pain into loving memories.

Dogs, Children’s Best Playmate in the Snow. (General Winter Safely Tips Included)

November 10, 2010 at 1:55 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

It does not matter the religion, because snow comes regardless. Snow is a staple in the winter holidays, as many of us wish for snow. People of all ages love to look at, and children especially love to play in it; often, they do not play alone. If they have animals (dogs mostly), they will chase them around in the snow. In many instances, children will hook their sled to their animals in the hopes their dog will pull them around, copying mushing. Mushing is a sport or transport method powered by dogs, which can be utilitarian, recreational, or competitive; however, for children, it is usually for fun.

The household dogs, for however long, are sled dogs to children, pulling precious cargo. Sled dogs are highly trained dogs that pull a sled, a wheel-less vehicle on runners, over snow or ice. There is something that attracts children to these dogs, which is seen in the classic animated film, Balto, based on a true story. Balto (1919-1933), a Siberian husky sled dog, led his team on the last leg of the 1925 serum run to deliver the diphtheria antitoxin. Gunnar Kaasen drove Balto and the rest of the team into Nome. The husky proved himself on the trail, saving the team on the Topkok River. He was also able to stay on the trail in whiteout conditions; Kaasen commented that he could scarcely see his hand in front of his face. Kaasen and his team missed the last sled dog team and had to take the medicine twice as far. At Nome, everybody gave thanks Kaasen and Balto, who became legends.

This is what children dream of when they play with their pets in the snow; however, some children are not aware of the risks that can affect your pets. Here are some winter safety tips for your animals.
1) Keep small animals inside. Cat and small dogs, who have to wade in the snow, will feel colder sooner than larger animals.
2) Do not keep animals outside. (Very old and very young pets are sensitive to the cold.) If any pets are exposed to the cold for a long period of time, they can suffer from two serious conditions: frostbite and hypothermia.
3) Never shave your dog in winter, as a longer coat will provide more warmth. If your animal is a shorthaired breed, a sweater may be considered.
4) Before you start the motor of your car, check under the hood. Cats can be injured or killed by the fan belt. In addition, you should never leave your animal in the car, because the car will act as a refrigerator.
5) Any ice patches should be avoided, because pets are just as vulnerable as humans to fall. Animals, with wet paws, cannot grip, and unlike cats, dogs’ claws cannot provide them traction. They can suffer from a pulled muscle or broken bones if they were to fall.
6) Be careful of space heaters, as the heat will be attractive to your pets. Keep an eye out to make sure that no tails or paws come in contact with flames, heating coils, or hot surfaces. Pets can burn themselves or knock a heat source over and put the entire household in danger.

There are countless safety tips for your pets in the wintertime. Tips vary depending on the landscape, so you should research before letting out your pet. In addition, check with your veterinarian to see if your pet is healthy enough. If you suspect that your pet is suffering from the cold, take her or him to the vet as soon as possible.

Written by: Heal from Pet Loss intern Cassie Valerio. Currently a senior at Carlow University.

Black Cats Haunted By Superstitions (and a Few Safety Tips for all of Your Pets)

October 20, 2010 at 3:17 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Halloween is a time for fun and excitement as children are trick or treating. Adults are having fun with their friends, celebrating the night; however, Halloween is not fun for everyone. Panther, a black Oriental, is kept inside during the festivities, because this night is not safe for him. He does not understand why he is not allowed to roam the yard on this day. He may meow all day, but his owner does not allow him out. She knows that this day is not safe for him, because she knows how people view black cats on this day, omens of witchcraft.

In different cultures, black cats are viewed differently. In Egypt, cats are worshipped. In Rome, cats are considered sacred.  In Great Britain, black cats are a symbol of good luck. In Scotland, a strange black cat’s arrival to one’s home signifies prosperity. In the English Midlands, a black cat as a wedding present is thought to bring good luck to the bride.

However, things have changed, as the black cat was associated with witchcraft in the 17th Century.  They were regarded as mysterious creatures with supernatural powers, and they were considered symbols of evil omens. For example, a black cat crossing one’s path by moonlight means death in Irish superstition. During the Middle Ages, superstitions had led people to kill black cats. It had become practice to burn cats in order to protect one’s home. Many societies had attempted to drive cats into extinction, as they believe witches were able to transform into cats, which had become a central belief in this country, during the Salem witch-hunt. This had led to death of innocent women and pets at the stake. As thousands of black cats were burned monthly throughout the world, it is surprising that the gene for the color black was not vanished.

Something similar to that is happening even now in America. Black cats have the lowest adoption rate, compared to other colors. During the month of October, many shelters refuse to adopt out black cats, as many pranksters harm them on Halloween. There are stories of cats being killed for pranks or for witchcraft. This is why Panther is not allowed outside on Halloween, even though he would have fun, giving out frights.

Here are some general tips for all pet owners for Halloween night.

1.       Keep all candles and Jack-or-Lanterns out of reach of all animals as they can burn themselves. A fire could be started if something were to be knocked over.

2.       Keep decorations high up, watch out for electric cords, and keep batteries out of sight. Brightly colored decorations are toxic to animals, and swallowed balloons or batteries can block/destroy an animal’s digestive tract.

3.       Be careful with costumes.  Do not dress up your animal unless you are aware that s/he likes it. If you do dress up your animal, make sure that the costume is safe.  There should not be any small or dangling accessories that could be chewed off.  Also, costumed pets should be supervised at all time.

4.       All candy and wrappers should be kept away. An animal can become sick if s/he gets a hold of them.

5.       For cats, keep them confined in a room for a few days before, during, and after Halloween. Black cats in particular may be at risk from children’s pranks or other cruelty incidents.  Pranksters often go on the prowl, looking for cats a few days before Halloween. Dogs, also, should be kept inside as well, because it is terrifying for a dog, who does not understand the weird noises and the strangely dress people. They could snap out at children in confusion.

I hope these tips are helpful, and you and your pet enjoy the holiday.

Written by: Heal from Pet Loss intern Cassie Valerio. Currently a senior at Carlow University.

Check out these links for more information for more safely tips and superstitions.

Black cat From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Cat Superstitions
Safely tips for Cats
Halloween Safety Tips for Animals

From Labor to Love: Man’s Best Friend in the Making

August 31, 2010 at 1:13 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Labor Day is the time for getting a day off from work, relaxing, and savoring the unofficial last few days of summer. Everyone’s wondering “when will the leaves begin to change their colors”, “when will the first algebra test be”, or “should the car be winterized”? But, it seems like Labor Day is not only a day away from the office, but a chance to let these worries fade away.

Since Labor Day is, after all, about acknowledging everyone’s hard work, it’s also a great opportunity to acknowledge one of man-kind’s hardest working companions: dogs. To appreciate how hard-working dogs truly are, a (brief) look through their history is essential, and interesting!

Humans and wolves would often hunt for the same prey, so it seemed advantageous to pair up. It is estimated that dogs split from wolves (most likely grey wolves) around 100,000 years ago, but no one knows if humans had any role in the process.

The working relationship between dogs and humans began around 14,000 years ago, believed to be in the Middle East. People needed help hunting and herding while in return offering dogs shelter, protection, food, and love. At Bonn-Oberkassel, a burial site in Germany dated 14,000 years old, humans and dogs were found buried together, a rather significant find since this is currently the oldest domesticated dog. In the Americas, the oldest known domesticated dog was found in Danger Cave in Utah. The remains are dated 11,000 years old.

There’s evidence of multiple breeds of domesticated dogs in Egyptian paintings and Roman mosaics, meaning that by this time, dogs were already an integral part of human society.

From the earliest hunting and herding responsibilities that dogs played, new roles developed. Dogs played crucial parts in wars and soon became a friend for children to spend time and play with.

In the first half of the 20th century, dogs were mainly kept outside and there was a difference between them and the rest of the family. However, in the latter half of the century, dogs moved inside. More recently, dogs are viewed as another member of the family; a sibling or a child. 71.4 million U.S. households (or 62%) have at least 1 pet, 77.5 million of which are dogs, according to a 2009-2010 survey.

Interaction with dogs has been shown to have health benefits, as well. Dogs are used as a form of therapy in hospital wings to help bring smiles to patients and shed some love, warmth, and happiness. Read this article about how dogs boost morale for long-term patients.

Today, dogs working for humans may not be as common as it once was, but they are still proving their loyalty and skills. Sled dogs, police dogs, and seeing-eye dogs are essential for our society to function, as well as being great assets. There is still a great dependence on dogs, and they still depend on us.

This Labor Day, take time off for yourself and, if you have a working dog, give them time to relax, too. Spend some time together and have fun with them. Scroll down to read about fun activities both you and your dog will enjoy under “Summer Fun for You and Your Pet”. One of our hardest workers also happens to be one of our best friends, so on this Labor Day, don’t forget to participate in the long-lasting bond between man-kind and dogs.

Happy Labor Day!

Written by: Heal from Pet Loss intern Sean Mikita. Currently a senior at Duquesne University.

Check out these links for more information on the history of dogs.

Your Chance to Make a Difference: International Homeless Animal’s Day

August 13, 2010 at 1:41 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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This year on the third Saturday of August marks an international event that once began as only a national endeavor. Since it became so popular internationally, and grew as a multi-country effort, National Homeless Animal’s Day is now officially named International Homeless Animal’s Day. The special holiday will be observed this year on August 21.

The holiday began in 1992 as an effort to raise awareness on pet overpopulation thanks to the International Society for Animal Rights (ISAR). The issue is very serious, resulting in four million cats and dogs in the United States being put down each year. That’s about one every eight seconds, according to the Humane Society of the United States. Every year, the number of dogs and cats entering pet shelters is around six to eight million. As we all know, this wouldn’t be an issue if all six to eight million dogs and cats were adopted every year.

Now that the holiday is international, events are even easier to find. Some typical activities at Homeless Animal’s Day include: candlelight vigils, microchip clinics to help keep track of your pet, “adopt-o-thons”, and animal blessings. For some information regarding animal blessings or candlelight vigils, check out

For you to become involved is rather simple. You could locate an event nearby and attend, and please help spread the word! Another option is to remember to spay or neuter your animal companion to help keep pet overpopulation under control. Perhaps the best way to participate would be to adopt a pet from a local animal shelter and give a homeless pet a loving home and family.

In Pittsburgh, some great shelters include:

The Animal Rescue League

Western Pennsylvania Humane Society

Animal Friends

All three shelters offer animal adoptions as well as low cost spay and neuter programs.

So, this year on August 21, please help to make a difference and end pet overpopulation. Contact an animal shelter near you to adopt a pet and welcome him or her into a warm and nurturing family. Mark your calendars and observe the holiday to end pet overpopulation. As Bob Barker would always say at the end of The Price is Right, have your dog or cat spayed or neutered.

Click here to read more about ISAR and International Homeless Animal’s Day, and locate an event near you.

Click here to learn more about pet overpopulation and ways to help control it.

Written by: Heal from Pet Loss intern Sean Mikita. Currently a senior at Duquesne University.

Summer Fun for You and Your Pet

July 17, 2010 at 4:23 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Everyone wants to head outdoors for some sunny activities during the summer, but once July hits, it seems like all options have been exhausted. Some summer activities that we love to do are also a great chance to bring your pet along for some exercise and fun. Think about it: we love to be outdoors, breathe fresh air, enjoy a splash in cool water, and to explore new places. Sounds like something any pet would love to do, too! Here are some great ways to switch things up and get outside this summer by bringing along your animal companion so they can take part in the fun, as well!

  • Go for a Hike: Hiking allows you, and your pet, to take in new sights, smells, and sounds all while getting in some great exercise. It’s different and more challenging than walking through your neighborhood, and probably a lot more fun. Call ahead to park services to see whether or not your pet can go off-leash and that pets are welcome. Bring lots of water for rehydrating and proper identification and a recent photo in case your pet runs off.
  • Go for a Swim: When temperatures reach brutal highs, what offers more relief than a splash in a pool or nearby waterway? Once again, swimming can be a great exercise for both pets and their owners, and is a summertime fun staple. Just remember to supervise your pet, give them a bath upon returning home to clean their coat from chemicals or buildup, and to dry their ears to prevent infection.
  • Go Camping: Like hiking, camping offers up a new experience every time because you never know what you’ll see or hear. Camping is a great way to spend time outdoors away from loud cars and pesky cell phones, offering relaxation for you and your animal companion. It’s always nice to get back to nature, and your pet will love being able to roll around in the dirt and leaves (and no muddy paw prints on the floor or carpet is something you’ll love!). Remember to call the park ranger’s office to ensure that the campground is safe for pets and pet-friendly.

Click here for a national listing of animal-friendly camping grounds.

  • Go for a Nap: Nothing seems more relaxing than taking a nap outside on a hammock under the shade of a tree. It’s a great way to wind down at the end of the day (or any time of the day, for that matter!) and to cool off. Your pet will love the idea of napping alongside of you and spending time together. It doesn’t require much activity, but napping is a great bonding experience for pet owners and their animal companions.

There are plenty more ways to have fun outdoors this summer with your pets, but half of the fun is coming up with new ideas for yourself! You never know how much fun (and exercise) you and your pet can have until you get out there and try it! So, enjoy these activities and get creative!

Click here to find a dog park in the Pittsburgh region, no-leash required parks, and dog park dos and don’ts

Scroll down for pet safety tips in hot summer temperatures under “How to Beat the Heat for Your Pets”.

Written by: Heal from Pet Loss intern Sean Mikita. Currently a senior at Duquesne University.

Fireworks, Cookouts, and Stress: How to Prevent a Stressful Celebration for Your Pet

July 1, 2010 at 6:59 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The 4th of July is that time when glistening sparklers, loud noise makers, and booming fireworks help ring in another year in the United States’ history for entire communities to enjoy. It seems like almost everyone has a cookout or two scheduled on their calendars to celebrate the anniversary with friends and family.

A natural thought would be to bring your pet along to share the fun with them. Most people forget that this is not the best idea in terms of your animal companion’s wellbeing. Below is a list of tips on how to handle cookout parties and thunderous fireworks, as well as some warning signs that your pet might not be enjoying the “oohs” and “aahs” that accompany a fireworks show.

  • It is best to simply leave your animal companion at home rather than taking them to see the fireworks display or to a crowded barbeque.
  • Make sure to leave your pet in a quiet and comfortable space in your house, making them more at ease. The cellar, along with something soft for bedding, makes a great retreat.
  • To help drown out the frightening booms of fireworks, leave a TV or radio on to distract your pet and to keep them company. Another good distraction would be a favorite chew toy or bone (one that won’t break into little pieces creating a choking hazard).
  • Do not leave your pet outside while you are away. Distress from the loud noises could make them more likely to run away. They also might try and squeeze through your fence, which could result in injury. If you put them on a leash or chain, they could easily suffocate themselves in their panic.
  • If you have noticed before that your pet becomes distressed by loud noises, then it could be a good idea to check with your vet before the 4th to come up with ways to lessen or prevent their anxiety.
  • It’s a good idea to have your pet’s tag information up to date, since pets are more likely to run away during stressful occasions, like a loud fireworks display.
  • Some general warning signs of distress: shaking, trembling, excessive barking/howling, excessive drooling, lack of appetite, attempting to hide or get away, and loss of control of bowel movements. If these signs continue long after the fireworks show, consult your veterinarian as something else might be bothering your animal companion.
  • In extreme cases, the anxiety and distress from persistent loud noises can result in the death of your pet, so take precautions in advance.

These tips could make the difference between an enjoyable celebration for everyone or a terrible holiday to remember. Thunder storms are another common occurrence during the summer months where these tips would also apply (another helpful tip for thunder storms is to rub a dryer sheet over your pet’s fur to remove static, a common cause of anxiety during storms).

So, apply these tips, stir up some lemonade, heat up the grill, and sit down in the park and enjoy the dazzling show to celebrate the birthday of the United States. You’ll enjoy the display while your pet will hopefully be at home relaxing. Happy 4th of July!

Written by: Heal from Pet Loss intern Sean Mikita. Currently a senior at Duquesne University.

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