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The Last Walk: Reflections on Our Pets at the End of Their Lives Hardcover – September 27, 2012

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The Last Walk: Reflections on Our Pets at the End of Their Lives + Goodbye, Friend: Healing Wisdom for Anyone Who Has Ever Lost a Pet + I Will See You in Heaven
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Editorial Reviews


"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)

"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."

(Hal Herzog, author of Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat)

"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."

(Barbara J. King, author of Being with Animals)

"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)

About the Author

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


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (September 27, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226668460
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226668468
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #564,098 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Michael C. Petty on October 8, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I have been practicing veterinary medicine for 32 years, but this book was able to teach me things about caring for an elderly pet and euthanasia that I did not know or consider. We have actually changed some of our euthanasia protocols after reading Ms. Pierce's book.
This is a gut-wrenching book to read; my first tears came on page 4. The second set on page 13. I finished the book in bed and had to sleep on a damp pillow. So if you are looking for a feel-good end-of-life book, don't read it. If you are looking for a fellow-traveler as you contemplate the euthanasia of your sick or elderly pet, read it and know you are not alone.
Probably the hardest choice for any pet owner is not the "if" of euthanasia, but the "when" and the time is different for every person. Not everyone would have lasted as long as Ms. Pierce with the responsibilities of being a caretaker for an elderly dog with obvious neurological pathology, but throughout the book I cheered her on, as I am sure Ody did also, and from my point of view the timing of the euthanasia was perfect.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Mary Elizabeth on October 18, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I could not agree more the reviewer Barbara King. I loved this book, found it intriguing, thought provoking and quite frankly....BRILLIANT. The negative reviewers were certainly quick to judge and it is obvious they have totally missed the point of this book. Or they simply could not handle(or maybe imagine?) someone loving a pet on that deep of a level.

What we don't have is the 14 years of heart strings attached to Ody. Pierce did not write this book as a "How To" manual on putting your animal down. This book opened my mind and made me see animals in a way I have never considered. Her theories/studies were intriguing, thought provoking and at times disturbing. They also made me question my decision for putting our dog down several years ago.

What this book made clear for me is how much we personify our animals based on what WE think they must be feeling. Interestingly enough, we do this with our fellow humans as well. Pierce breaks the barrier and opens up new possibilities on what your pet is REALLY going through with aging, pain and emotions (and much more). Yet these are not instructions, just studies and theories which help you develop your own opinion based on your moral values. People who do not think animals could possibly have feelings and emotions are going to be turned off by this book and by Pierce. There would not have been a "journal" because they would have put their animal down much earlier and could not have been bothered with taking care of their ailing pet. I am honest when I say, we put our dog down too soon. The care and cost became too much. In MY mind I wanted her to feel better. This book would have changed my perspective in a good way and I would not have been so guilt ridden for putting her down.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Dog lover on October 2, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Wow! I highly recommend this book - simply stated, there is not another one like it. It's sort of like a real life version of Marley and Me, with much more breadth and depth, and without Hollywood's polish.

Pierce takes a courageous journey into thoughtful, compassionate, and sometimes painful end of life issues surrounding her beloved animal companion, Ody. Anyone who has ever owned a Vizsla or other "high maintenance" breed will relate to, and will probably both laugh and cry with, the experiences and reflections into this revolutionary book.

READ this book if you are open-minded and wish to be more mindful and present of your loved animals, especially as they age. Read the book if you dare to face hardship, pain, and self-doubt that accompanies the loss of an animal friend. Read this book if you simply wish to get to know Ody, the chaos and humor that surrounded his life, and the thoughtful processes and insights it gave birth to.

DO NOT read this book if you are looking for an easy or step by step "how to" manual on pet death. Do not read the book if you want to laugh without crying. Do not read the book if you are not willing to face painful emotions and decisions that many pet owners deny or bury. Do not read the book if you wish to avoid being angry at times, perhaps at the situation or story in the book, or perhaps because the book strikes a personal, sensitive chord.

Pierce beautifully faces the pain and pleasure that Ody's life presented. She is honest, raw, and vulnerable in her writing. The book will not provide you with an outline of how to face animal companion death, although it does offer pointers throughout the text.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Barbara J. King on October 2, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I've read this book cover to cover and found a wonderful balance between focus on life with the aging dog Ody whom the author so loved, and a tackling of broad issues regarding animal aging that are so important to animal lovers. Pierce weaves skillfully back and forth between these two levels-- the intensely personal and the more conceptual/general.

Honestly, I couldn't recognize this book in some of the reviews here! Yes, Ody had some serious health problems as he aged, but I felt Pierce grappled with them responsibly and lovingly. As a person who rescues homeless cats and has faced numerous decisions about "when is it time" to opt for euthanasia, I might have decided to let Ody go a week or two earlier than Pierce did. But here's the thing-- that very worry, that anxiety for Ody and whether she was making the right choices (too early for euthanasia? too late?), is woven through the book by Pierce- she's brave enough to take on questions like this and reflect on the decision-making process. I loved that. It led me to respect Pierce so much, as a bioethicist and as an animal caretaker/companion.

The sections on options we ALL have-- palliative care for aging and sick animals versus euthanasia, for example--were incredibly helpful to me. Pierce isn't telling anyone what to do or how to think, but rather enlarging our perspective on topics that are hard, and emotional. I'm so glad I read this book -- my animals will benefit.
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