The Last Walk: Reflections on Our Pets at the End of Their Lives

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Overview

From the moment when we first open our homes—and our hearts—to a new pet, we know that one day we will have to watch this beloved animal age and die. The pain of that eventual separation is the cruel corollary to the love we share with them, and most of us deal with it by simply ignoring its inevitability.
 
With The Last Walk, Jessica Pierce makes a forceful case that our pets, and the love we bear them, deserve better. Drawing on the ...

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The Last Walk: Reflections on Our Pets at the End of Their Lives

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Overview

From the moment when we first open our homes—and our hearts—to a new pet, we know that one day we will have to watch this beloved animal age and die. The pain of that eventual separation is the cruel corollary to the love we share with them, and most of us deal with it by simply ignoring its inevitability.
 
With The Last Walk, Jessica Pierce makes a forceful case that our pets, and the love we bear them, deserve better. Drawing on the moving story of the last year of the life of her own treasured dog, Ody, she presents an in-depth exploration of the practical, medical, and moral issues that trouble pet owners confronted with the decline and death of their companion animals. Pierce combines heart-wrenching personal stories, interviews, and scientific research to consider a wide range of questions about animal aging, end-of-life care, and death. She tackles such vexing questions as whether animals are aware of death, whether they're feeling pain, and if and when euthanasia is appropriate. Given what we know and can learn, how should we best honor the lives of our pets, both while they live and after they have left us?         

The product of a lifetime of loving pets, studying philosophy, and collaborating with scientists at the forefront of the study of animal behavior and cognition, The Last Walk asks—and answers—the toughest questions pet owners face. The result is informative, moving, and consoling in equal parts; no pet lover should miss it.

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Editorial Reviews

Globe and Mail
“Using her experience caring for her elderly Vizsla as a springboard, Pierce, who is a bioethicist, explores the evolution of North American attitudes toward pets and their demise, while delving as deeply as she can into her own feelings as her dog Ody goes into decline.”
Library Journal
"Pierce has made an important contribution to the small body of literature dealing with aging and death in companion animals. . . . While this will appeal to a fairly narrow audience, it should be required reading for every pet owner. Readers will identify with Pierce's feelings of ambivalence, and see something of their own pets as they read about Ody's antics and challenges. Recommended."
Mark Derr
"Jessica Pierce takes a brave and honest look at the hardest decision all of us who share our lives with dogs must face—whether and when to put to sleep, put down, euthanize, terminate, kill our boon companions. She does not make it easier—it never gets easier—but she does succeed in cutting through the euphemistic obfuscation that so often obscures every aspect of the subject."
Marc Bekoff
"Decisions about how to treat an animal toward the end of her or his life are among the most difficult we have to make and it's our responsibility to do the best we can. Our companions trust that we will have their best interests in mind. In The Last Walk, Jessica Pierce considers all of the hard questions about sick and old animals. She seamlessly weaves in personal stories with scientific research to provide readers with an incredibly valuable guide—a must read—about when and how to end an animal's life in the most humane way possible. I learned a lot from reading this book, and I know others will as well."
Lori Gruen
"The Last Walk is an engaging tribute to the complexity of human relations to companion animals and the range of issues and concerns that arise for us as those companions' lives come to their ends. The nature of building relationships and forming families with companion animals who, in most cases, we know we will outlive, shapes those relationships in profound ways. Given the subject matter, it seems odd to say I 'enjoyed' this book—I was so moved by it at times that I wept—let me say instead that I was utterly gripped by this book and think it is a must read for everyone who shares their lives with animals."
Hal Herzog
"In The Last Walk bioethicist Jessica Pierce covers virtually every aspect of dealing with the aging and death of a companion animal—from doggie diapers to the morally complex and psychologically wrenching decision to euthanize a pet. This is an intelligent and deeply moving book that everyone who loves—or will love—an aging animal should read."
Barbara J. King
"The Last Walk rings with compassion for aging animals and charts a hopeful new course for those of us who care for them. With her beautiful 'Ody's journal' passages, Jessica Pierce made me feel close to her beloved and high-maintenance old dog. It was through Ody's challenges, and Pierce's on his behalf, that I came to grapple in important new ways with issues of pet aging and death. This book is revolutionary, and  I loved it with all my heart."
Open Letters Monthly
"The best nature book this year (and also the best dog book) is immeasurably also the saddest. . . . This great little book is not a happy reading experience—but for dog people, it'll be a massively cathartic one."
New Scientist
The Last Walk is a book that all loving pet owners should read. Nothing will make the prospect of ending a good friend’s life any easier, but at least it can help those awful decisions feel less of a stab in the dark.”
Publishers Weekly
Bioethicist Pierce (coauthor of Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals) is well-positioned, both professionally and personally, to examine the way the lives of American pets end. While conceding the limits to our understanding of what animals actually experience as the end nears, Pierce makes a compelling case that the negative phrase, “to die like an animal,” needs to be turned around, to mean, instead, “a peaceful, respectful, and meaningful death.” The prism through which Pierce makes her observations is her own family’s experience with the end stages of the life of their beloved dog, Ody. Pierce alternates between entries from her journal and broader discussions of issues familiar to those caring for elderly or ill humans, such as hospice and euthanasia; shockingly, the latter is the main cause of death for cats and dogs in the U.S. The author is unflinchingly self-critical, continuing, even after having Ody put to sleep, to struggle with whether fighting harder for him toward the end would have been more for her than for him. This sensitive exploration of a topic that even many pet lovers have likely not thought enough about is likely to generate discussions about what kind of death is owed to beloved animal companions. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Pierce (coauthor, with Mark Bekoff, Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals) has made an important contribution to the small body of literature dealing with aging and death in companion animals. The aging of our society has become a popular topic in recent years, with numerous books and articles on eldercare, geriatric medicine, and palliative care. Until now, little attention has been given to these same issues in the companion animal population. Pierce, a bioethicist, draws on her personal experience with a family pet and her professional experience working with animal behavior scientists and philosophers to provide a thorough discussion of what is known about animal aging and the best way to deal with ill and elderly companion animals. The book is in part a journal in which Pierce records the declining health of her beloved dog, Ody, and her reactions to his increasing helplessness, and in part a discussion of current and emerging options for the care of aging pets. Thoroughly researched and well documented, it also offers an extensive bibliography. VERDICT While this will appeal to a fairly narrow audience, it should be required reading for every pet owner. Readers will identify with Pierce's feelings of ambivalence, and see something of their own pets as they read about Ody's antics and challenges. Recommended.—Deborah Emerson, Central NY Lib. Resources Council, Syracuse
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226151007
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 4/4/2014
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 337,756
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Jessica Pierce is a bioethicist and coauthor of Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals.

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Table of Contents

1: Final Odyssey
The Ody Journal, September 29, 2009–January 15, 2010

2: Into the Open
The Ody Journal, March 14, 2010–June 3, 2010

3: Old
The Ody Journal, June 5, 2010–September 4, 2010

4: Pain
The Ody Journal, September 20, 2010–October 24, 2010

5: Animal Hospice
The Ody Journal, October 25, 2010–November 28, 2010

6: Blue Needle
The Ody Journal, November 29, 2010–December 7, 2010

7: Remains
The Ody Journal, November 29, 2011

Acknowledgments
Notes

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 8, 2012

    Highly Recommended from a veterinarian

    Ms. Pierce has written an amazing book about her last year's journey with her dog Ody. As a veterinarian who has practiced for just over 32 years, I did not think there was anything new for me to learn about death, dying and euthanasia. But after reading this book, I realized how wrong I was. This book is a gut-wrenching story about the author's last year spent with her aging dog who has some severe neurological problems. The issues she bravely puts out there for all of us to read are the ones that haunt (or should haunt) any owner of a beloved pet. Don't read this if you are looking for a feel-good book. Do read this if you will some day need to contemplate the euthanasia of your own pet, and do so knowing that you will have a companion to help you struggle through your own personal decision. If I could have my way, this would be required reading at every veterinary school.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 30, 2012

    Really Good Read

    I got interested in this book because I have an older dog and thought it would be a good read. It's really interesting because it talks about the ethics of how dogs and all animals are treated as well as making it personal by talking about her (the author's) personal experience. Don't have to be a huge animal lover to like this book.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 20, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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