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The Last Walk

Reflections on Our Pets at the End of Their Lives

The Last Walk

Reflections on Our Pets at the End of Their Lives

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.

Read an excerpt: "Final Odyssey."

272 pages | 1 halftone, 1 table | 6 x 9 | © 2012

Biological Sciences: Behavioral Biology

Philosophy: Ethics, General Philosophy


"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."

Mark Derr, author of How the Dog Became the Dog: From Wolves to Our Best Friends

"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."

Marc Bekoff, author of The Emotional Lives of Animals

"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."

Lori Gruen, author of Ethics and Animals: An Introduction

"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."

Library Journal

"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."

Open Letters Monthly

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.”

New Scientist

“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.”

Globe and Mail

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


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