Before Daisy crossed the Rainbow Bridge in October, she spent her last 45 days experiencing things some dogs can only dream of doing. She met Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt, ate breakfast in bed, visited The Home Depot, enjoyed a steak dinner, and chowed down on a Starbucks Puppuccino—and that’s just the beginning. Her parents, Caitlin and Alex Moore, had even more packed onto her pet bucket list.
Daisy, a 14-year-old Chihuahua-Corgi mix, had dementia, and in early September the Moores made the decision to schedule Daisy’s euthanasia. It was a sad moment, but they used it as an opportunity to create a dog bucket list for Daisy to make sure she and they could enjoy her final days.
What Is a Pet Bucket List?
You’ve probably heard of the term “bucket list,” which gets its name for being a list of activities and experiences a person wants to do before they “kick the bucket.” The idea was popularized by the 2007 movie “The Bucket List,” starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson.
Similar to a bucket list for humans, a pet bucket list is a list of experiences that a pet will enjoy having during their lifetime. More and more pet parents are planning exciting adventures to make the most of their time together with their furry friends, especially when that time is limited by age or illness.
Why Make a Pet Bucket List?
Oftentimes pet parents create a bucket list near the end of their pet’s life so their final days together can be filled with happy, positive memories.
“Bucket lists help the owners feel like they have fulfilled every wish for their pet during the last few days of their lives,” says Erin Machek, DVM, at Southport Animal Hospital in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. “I think it helps the pet parents begin the grieving process and start the healing phase. They help the pet bond further with an owner that they already have a special bond with.”
How to Choose Your Own Adventure
The great thing about pet bucket lists is that the options are nearly endless. Here’s how to create a personalized adventure for you and your pet.
Step 1: Brainstorm
Start by writing down all of your pet’s favorite things to do: eating ice cream, swimming, sunbathing, riding in the car, etc. Then, get creative! Think about all the things your pet has never done, but might have a blast doing—and that you’ll enjoy doing with them.
“Think about what makes you both happy,” says Chris Bowles, who took his food-loving dog, Emma, on a “farewell food tour” in Chicago where they lived. Emma got to visit several dog-friendly patios around the city, and Bowles enjoyed their dinner dates together.
“It was incredibly fun and special,” Bowles says. “I would order some food for me and something for her. [Emma] loved the attention and eating human food non-stop. She went nuts over the ice cream.”
Step 2: Check with Your Vet
Once you have a first draft of your pet bucket list, review it carefully to see if you need to remove any activities based on your pet’s condition. It’s also a good idea to talk with your vet too, especially if you’re concerned about what your pet can and can’t do.
Dr. Machek advises pet parents to consider dietary restrictions based on health concerns, such as low-salt diets in cardiac patients, and physical limitations that may keep your pet from enjoying a particular activity, like a hike. She also suggests talking with your vet about ways to spot pain or anxiety to assess a pet’s a response to activities.
Step 3: Plan Your Activities
Once your pet bucket list is finalized, start planning your adventure. Depending on your pet’s health and energy levels, you may be able to check off several smaller bucket list items in a single day. Remember, it should be a fun, stress-free experience for both your pet and you!
Step 4: Get Help from Family, Friends and Your Community
Some pet parents may need a little help to achieve certain bucket list items—as was the case with Caitlin Moore and Daisy, who wanted to meet a celebrity. She tweeted Mayor Holt, who was more than happy to help Daisy cross off this item on her dog bucket list. And Caitlin’s friend donated the use of her car to help Daisy with another bucket list adventure—ride in a convertible.
Last year in Arlington, Virginia, another dog got the bucket list treatment—with the help of an entire community. Smoke, a local dog up for adoption at the Animal Welfare League of Arlington (AWLA), had been transferred there from another Virginia shelter. Shortly after he arrived, staff discovered he had cancer. They weren’t sure how much time Smoke had left, but knew he may not be adopted before passing away and didn’t want him to spend his last days inside the shelter. Chelsea Jones, communications specialist at AWLA, suggested creating Smoke’s very own bucket list.
“We sat down with the behavior team and the adoption team, the people who had hung out with him the most, and were like, ‘What would Smoke want to do?’” Jones says.
After posting about Smoke’s bucket list adventure on the shelter’s Facebook page, requests from the community came pouring in to contribute. The attention also helped Smoke find a new home, and his family continued to cross off items on his bucket list—including riding in a police car and a visit to Nationals Park, home of the Washington Nationals.
Step 5: Document the Memories
No bucket list adventure is complete without photos and videos to serve as a reminder of your fun together. Of course, be sure not to spend so much time behind the lens of a camera or on your phone that you forget the purpose of these moments—to spend quality time with your pet. Try to limit the photos and videos you take to just a few, or have a friend or family member join and document the experience for you.
“One of my favorite activities was taking pictures,” says Rachel Bodine, who created a dog bucket list for her pup, Maximus, before he passed away at 12 years old. “Although this activity was more for me, having recent pictures of him helped after he passed away. While they were painful to look at right after his passing, I love looking at them now.
Pet Bucket List Ideas
Need some inspiration for a pet bucket list of your own? We have you covered. But remember: Check with your veterinarian to make sure any pet bucket list activity you choose is appropriate for your pet.
- Eat a hamburger—with ice cream for dessert
- Spend the afternoon sunbathing
- Take a nap in your favorite chair
- Have a party with all your best friends (two- and four-legged)
- Get belly rubs from as many people as possible in a single day
- Go to a waterpark—or create a water park in your own backyard
- See a baseball game
- Go to a “yappy hour” (a happy hour for dogs)
- Play tug-of-war with your favorite toy for as long as you want
- Snuggle for the whole afternoon
- Roll around in the grass
- Buy the squeakiest toy you can find and play with it all day
- Go swimming
- Visit a nursing home and get all the scratches
- Get a head rub from the mail carrier
- Play with your friends at the dog park
- Run in a big field off-leash
- Go on a road trip—with the windows down
- Get pampered at a doggy spa
- Go on a hike
Treasure the Memories
The most important thing, other than having fun, is to treasure the memories you’ve made with your pet during their bucket list adventure. Caitlin Moore knows that she and Daisy were lucky to get this time together.
“It’s been a huge blessing to know the exact day we [would] lose her,” Moore says. “We [had] this unique opportunity that most dog parents don’t get to have and I will always be grateful for that.”