Going Home; Finding Peace When Pets Die, by Jon Katz (Villard, 2011, 166pp., $22.00 US) is a sort of manual for pet owners on pet death and grief, and when it’s necessary, on the decision to euthanize. It’s so much more than that, though—it’s also a paean to our pets and our relationships with them. Indeed, Katz characterizes the grief itself as an expression of our joy in the animal’s life.
Since the book covers both natural and assisted deaths, stressing the need for preparation, it makes useful reading for owners whose pets are still living and healthy as well as for those already grieving either form of loss. Katz includes sections on children’s experiences of pet death, and this is also covered thoroughly in Dr. Debra Katz’s Afterword (which the publisher’s notes refer to as a preface).
Katz works three themes throughout the book. One, we are responsible for making choices that are in the animal’s best interests, not on the basis of what we want or what other people think we should do. Two, grief is normal and natural, and even a good thing, for it cleanses, heals, and stands as testimony to the love we had for our pet. Three, both the decision and the grief go best if we are prepared. What constitutes the animal’s best interests, and how do we tell? How do we grieve? And how do we prepare for deciding and grieving? The book addresses each in depth, including how to involve, prepare, and support the children. Katz approaches each task—which, as he points out, we commit to the moment we bring the animal into our homes and our lives—practically, spiritually, and compassionately. In doing so, Katz is incredibly generous, giving of himself in ways that few would have the courage to do in print. He shares his own grief, his personal failings, and his dreams (in chapters titled “Animal Dreams”).
Three of me read this book and we all loved it. The writer in me admired Katz’s ability to be both succinct and eloquent at the same time. This is the most eminently quotable book I have read in a long time—which is frustrating in a way because the publisher asks that nobody quote it yet as the ARCs are all uncorrected copy. (On which subject, this “uncorrected” copy is in better shape than some books I’ve seen in recent years that are in 2nd and subsequent printings—and still riddled with a ridiculous number of errors. My hat’s off to the editors at Villard.) I have resolved that dilemma by quoting it anyway, as it is just too good to pass up.
The clinical psychologist fell instantly and completely in love with the book. Its message of comfort, its exhortations to responsibility for our animals, its sweet photographs, and its moving stories all made me wish I could order a case of this book to hand out to grieving clients and friends.
And finally, the dotty old woman who still mourns Rosie, who's been dead now for three years, hesitated to even start the book. When it arrived in the mail, I wondered what on earth I had been thinking when I requested it! But I was hooked on the first page. I read it in fits and starts, on lunch breaks and sometimes when I should have been doing paperwork, and I cried every time I picked it up. Sometimes for myself, sometimes for my Rosie, and sometimes for Katz or for whichever animal’s death the current chapter was about. But I found it tremendously comforting and anyway, as Katz put it, “I would hate to have a dog or cat for whom I did not grieve.”
The three of us have only a few, small quibbles with the book. One, and really the only substantive one, is the psychologist’s, and it has to do with the title: I’m uncomfortable with euphemisms like that, seeing them as a denial of the reality of death. The animal is not “going home”. It is dead, not somewhere else—gone. If clients’ personal spiritual beliefs include an afterlife or rebirth, fine. But I am not comfortable leading with that myself, preferring instead to follow the griever’s lead. Another, and I admit that this is so small it borders on petty, is the writer’s. Katz’s otherwise masterful story of The Perfect Day is marred, in my estimation, by the mention of a camera by brand name and model. I had that one myself once, and loved it, but really. That was just kind of jarring. And lastly, the dog owner found herself getting worked up over some of the folk (not Katz) in the book who let their animals run loose, but that’s not a quibble with the book per se. Just be forewarned that’s in there.
Going Home will be available after September 27, 2011, and I highly recommend that if you have an animal, any kind of animal, to which you have become attached, you go out and get yourself a copy. Do it now, not when it gets sick or hurt or old. Buy one for a friend, too, while you are at it.