I want to talk to you about grieving animals, especially those who have lost a furry companion.
Here are some examples of what you might see.
Your pet might
What can you do to support your grieving pets? Here are some ideas:
Questions? Drop me a line. I would love to hear from you.
The bestest boy
Pablo was about to become a statistic. Why, you ask? He survived a few weeks in the shelter system of California, being one of the two breeds that are most commonly euthanized: pitbulls and chihuahuas.
Truth be told, Pablo’s life was saved because he was young, handsome and had interesting markings - and he is still handsome. On a cold December day many years ago he came to Oregon on a rescue transport from Los Angeles. There wasn’t any information about his behavior. Upon his arrival it became apparent that Pablo was quite reactive, some might have called him a freaking lunatic.
He was highly reactive towards other animals, especially when they were in motion. The local rescue organization wasn’t in a position to house Pablo away from other dogs. Due to his extreme behavior he was in a tiny bathroom all by himself. I was asked to foster him but I refused. Quite frankly I was concerned about my own pets’ safety. Eventually I caved and took him home for a short visit. Upon arrival at my house Pablo fell instantaneously in love with my dog Toddy who was the archetypal neutral dog, neither too needy nor too independent and most importantly quite indifferent towards other dogs. Because of Toddy’s calm demeanor I decided to foster Pablo short term. Oh boy!
Initially Pablo peed all over my house. He attacked my cats and couldn’t handle any movement in front of my living room window without screaming from the top of his lungs. He also couldn’t handle any of the emotional visitors of my pet hospice support group and screamed from the top of his lungs with them, too. Let’s just say that in the early days most people were scared of Pablo.
During the first few months Pablo received “therapy” - in the sense that I eliminated or reduced any triggers that could potentially flood his nervous system and shielded him from sensory overload as much as possible. We only walked in low traffic areas. Dog parks were and still are a NoNo. He was only allowed in the main house with careful supervision for short periods of time and then took a break to process - we did this many times throughout the day. When I had to leave, Pablo had the privilege of lounging in my bedroom listening to soothing music, safely confined behind a baby gate. He also received calming remedies and body work - and lots of praise when he did well. He had countless TTouch sessions and other energy work to help reduce his PTSD. And slowly, slowly he began to recover to the point that we could actually do regular dog training. The world became a safe place and over time the cats became his aloof friends. My dog Toddy remained Pablo’s idol and teacher until the day he died.
When I talk to clients who approach me about their pet’s behavior, some of the first questions I ask are these: Are you willing to be patient? Are you willing to break things down into manageable increments for your dog? Are you willing to learn together WITH your dog and learn about your own signals and behaviors as well as your pup’s?
It took about eight months for Pablo to release his habitual stress responses and to become a more balanced dog. Is he perfect? No, he still barks at the window expecting bribes from passers by. Other than that I am happy to say that he has become an ambassador for his breed. I love you, Pablo Potato Head.
The other day I came across one of my write ups about my first "official " hospice dog. I took her in right before Christmas several years ago. She would have been euthanized at the local shelter due to a myriad of health issues and her advanced age. Let me tell you that a lot of people rallied for Shanti so that I could tend to her. Shanti was also my first dog with advanced CCD - canine cognitive dysfunction. This was certainly no walk in the park for me, especially with regards to sleep deprivation. Would I do it again? Yes. Do I want to inspire you not to get discouraged when you have a dog or cat with high needs? Yes.
Meet SHANTI ~
In her own words.....
Wow, my life sure has changed! No more prison bars, no more loneliness, no more fear to be forgotten. Yeah! Consider yourselves licked in the face. I feel so much happier now. I have a huge appetite and get yummy food with some strange morsels in it - mom calls these supplements, whatever that is. I also get to go on long walks with my big dog brother Jonah. Boy, does he need to run to keep up with me. Life is GOOD. One of my aunties made a beautiful purple fleece coat for me for the great outdoors, since I am very fashion conscious and I also get cold easily. Besides that I do my daily job as a master lap warmer, and I am good at it.
Unfortunately my memory is not what it once was. I often get stuck in corners and for the life of me, I don't know how to get out of them. Who invented corners?? I also run in circles at night, many, many circles and I hardly ever get tired from it.
Life would be perfect if my heart wasn't as big as a baseball. The vet says that I have heart disease and a grade 5/6 murmur. You see, this makes me really uncomfortable and scared, that's why I have a hard time sleeping. My person has been very tired, because she needs more of a beauty rest than I do. At least that's what I think. These days she gives me a pill at night, she says it is a "sedative". I say, as long as it's yummy, I take it! I still wake her up in the wee hours of the morning and want to jump around and snuggle, then jump around some more, because it is so hard to be still. My other fur brothers and sisters are so calm and quiet at night. I wonder how they do it. Mom believes that my spirit is not resting at night because of my enlarged heart. I'd like to believe that my heart is big because it's filled with love and has grown in size because of it. One of our human friends did a strange - but I must admit - wonderful thing with me. It's called a soul retrieval. Do not ask me what that is, no idea. All I know is that I was more relaxed after that, which made my mom (and me) really happy.
After all these years of misery I am not treated like a dumb dog anymore, but like someone with a soul. They say, it takes a village. I say it takes an ocean of love, and love I gave and received a million times in return. What a blessing!
Shanti passed away in the Spring of the following year. Thank you so much for reading.
We often assign many different labels to dogs, such as being the “Alpha”, being submissive and so on. I don’t believe that a dog is always the alpha, for example. We might observe assertive or submissive, fearful behavior - depending on the circumstances and the stimuli.
My understanding is that there are two primary modes for dogs which affect behavior: the feeling of safety and the feeling of danger.
Behavior is very strongly affected by how safe an animal feels. Feeling insecure can aggravate fears, or cause them to develop. Insecurity also undermines the ability to learn, and the stress it causes can have physiological as well as behavioral consequences. A sense of safety is vital to overcoming fear.
You’re probably aware of the term ” from the neck up”. This also applies to our canines. The main sensory experiences happen in the head region: sniffing, biting, chewing, licking, and of course vocalizing. When a dog is very fearful, they are often not aware of their body below the neck. You might see a rigid posture, cowering, possibly lunging, not being on all four feet, to name a few.
So how can we create a sense of safety for our dogs?
Here are some pointers:
Here is my dog Pablo modeling a TTouch half wrap - a thunder shirt is too overwhelming for his nervous system. He wore this wrap frequently in first year of living with us because he got over stimulated in a millisecond by pretty much everything - sounds, people, other animals.
Over time Pablo learned to reset his nervous system.
Does he still get over aroused? Yes, but less frequently.
Does he still go into autopilot with a sense of danger? Yes, once in a while, BUT he recovers - quickly.
Pablo has learned to relax! And it goes without saying that I love him to the moon and back.
Need more help? Work with a pet professional.
And now go fetch!
The bond between children and animals
A wonderful discussion around the special bond between children and animals. This talk brings insight into how we can encourage and facilitate that bond while the animal is alive, but also how we may facilitate the death of a pet with ourselves and our children .
Ah, how many times am I being asked to communicate with someone's pet. People often ask me to tell their pets to do certain things or more importantly not to do certain things.
Animal communication is not about that. What is it about?
I'm not going to lie - sometimes I am frustrated with the labels that exist in the world of intuitive healing modalities, for example the label 'animal communication'.
Here are some important things to take into consideration if you want to tune into the inner life of your animal. This can refer to physical issues, emotional issues, and spirituality. When you read books about animal communication obviously they are all written in the English language.
When I talk about animal communication I would much rather prefer the term animal listening. So what do I mean by listening? I mean that we need to practice the rarest of arts - to be receptive to information that is not coming from a human mind.
It is also important that each one of us finds out what our best channel of perception is. For example, a lot of people see things such as auras, images, shapes, colors. Other people hear things and sentences or sounds and noises. Then there are those that are tactile - they feel and “see” things with their hands .
Do not assume that everything that’s written about animal communication will apply to you and your pet. For example there is a common belief that all animals communicate with images. That is often true, however much like us, animals might use many different channels. Some of these channels are in sync with our own channels of perception.
When I'm doing animal communication sessions, I am not actually "talking" to animals. I open my channels of perception and I expand my willingness to listen to the information that comes through without being in the way. This helps me to sense and feel into underlying issues such as pain, emotional stress and fear to name just a few. This creates an opening and an opportunity for action plans, for healing and peace, a space for evolution and growth for everyone involved.
I have witnessed over and over that our willingness to connect on a deeper level with our four legged companions can lead to greater physical - emotional balance and harmony. It can alleviate misunderstandings and reduce suffering - for both humans and animals, also at the end of life of our furry companions.
Let me stress here that I feel intuition alone is not enough. We also need to have solid fact based information about the DNA programs of dogs, cats, horses in order to discern what our human interpretations and projections are when we tune in with them. This enables us to understand to a greater extent drives and behaviors including those that we witness with chronic or terminal health conditions.
Please take the time to find out what your primary and best developed channel of perception is. It might be helpful to write things down as they come in and ask your pet for permission before you tune in. Enjoy your connection!
Sometimes we encounter things that change our life. For me some of these life changes have not been apparent right away as was the case when I began studying Reiki.
Initially Reiki was what I consider a " nice" activity. I was grateful to have it in my tool box to fall back on. I became a Reiki master and gradually began to incorporate Reiki into my healing work with pets.
Little did I know how important it would become for many of my animal clients with serious health issues.
So what is Reiki?
Rei-ki is Japanese for universal life energy. Wow!
It is an ancient energy healing technique that uses “hands-on” and also “hands-off” healing. Reiki can assist in relieving or reducing pain and discomfort by balancing the body's energy centers, more commonly known as the chakras.
There are three levels: Reiki I, II, III
In the Reiki I Attunement you learn about the philosophy of Reiki and learn how to do hands on treatments for yourself and for your pets. The Reiki II Attunement includes special symbols and teaches you to do distance Reiki sessions.
The Reiki III Attunement teaches you to become a Reiki Master.
For most pets I do Reiki distance healing, and many of my clients report that their pets are calmer and in less pain after a series of Reiki treatments. I have found that Reiki can be very beneficial when an animal is in chronic discomfort. Reiki can also speed up the recovery from a surgical procedure or an injury.
One of my clients, My cat friend Tiwi, who was terminally ill with lymphoma received distance Reiki treatments for several months and outlived his prognosis way longer than anyone expected. Most importantly he had a good quality of life until right before he passed away.
Another one of my longtime clients was my dog friend Stewart. His family wrote about how supportive the sessions were. I added their testimonial at the bottom of this blog.
Many pets prefer Reiki energy work that is NOT hands on, especially when they are painful. Please ALWAYS ask for permission to touch the body. Or let your pet show you.
What can you do if you are not attuned to Reiki?
Use your hands mindfully when you touch your pet. Pause and allow for moments of stillness, try to synchronize your breathing and observe what happens.
“Reiki has been absolutely essential to our dog’s comfort and rehabilitation. We have a dog that has been through the ringer as far as doctors and tests and medication and acupuncture and chiropractic and massage and protocols to no avail. He's our "special STEWART". No one can figure out what is wrong with him. We have weekly sessions with Ute with Reiki and I can tell you we can see a difference after her sessions with him. He sleeps more comfortably. The light in his eyes is brighter. We have been able to wean him off of harsh pharmaceutical drugs. She gives us valuable insight and helps Stewart with his comfort and gives him hope- gives us hope. “
You need to be the alpha.
And the list goes on and on.
Many years ago when my beloved soul dog Shiva found me, I had no idea how traumatized an animal can be - and here he was with me. Shiva's recovery became my main focus.
In the beginning Shiva was a total basket case. He was afraid of moving cars, men, noise, black shirts, uniforms, firecrackers, clouds in the sky, sun glasses, tall people, beards, hats, skateboards, getting into my car, getting out of my car, grass, wet surfaces. Pretty much everything!
In order to help Shiva become a well adjusted canine member of society I had to accommodate him. I had to unlearn many of the prevailing belief systems with regards to dogs such as the ones mentioned above. Shiva needed the space to make choices. He needed to feel safe enough to consent to any measures we took.
Shiva taught me to venture into unknown territory and see the world from his point of view. He inspired me to study holistic methods designed to help animals with severe trauma. Eventually the nearly impossible happened: Shiva became a happy dog.
Did he overcome every single one of his fears? Of course not.
Did this old beat up rescue dog learn new things? Absolutely!
Did his PTSD go down? Yes, significantly!
Was it a quick fix? No.
Would I do it all over again? In a heartbeat.
Boy, it was so worth it!
I kid you not when I say that SHIVA was one of my greatest teachers and the catalyst for the work I do today. SHIVA changed my life.
The Final Farewell
Saying goodbye to a beloved animal is one of the hardest things to go through in life.
When we receive a terminal diagnosis for our pet, many of us, at least initially, experience shock, trepidation, depression, and an anticipation of pain.
All of these emotions need to be acknowledged. The process of dying can be a roller coaster for both you and your pet.
So what can you do before things get tough?
Consider having logistics in place before the active phase of dying. You might want to have phone numbers and references ready ahead of time, such as pricing of euthanasia, cremation, after-hour services, and in-home veterinary services.
You might also consider having extra pain relief, comfortable beds, and heating pads on hand and setting aside a quiet space for your pet if you have a busy household.
While they’re hard under any circumstances, decisions on best modes of treatment, palliative care, pain options, euthanasia, natural death, cremation or burial can be an absolute nightmare if you are unprepared. Get questions answered and details handled before the active hospice phase.
Talk to your veterinarian -- often. Look for pet loss support or pet hospice groups in your area. Make a bucket list for your pet. Also ask yourself what kind of support you need from your family and friends to prevent burnout, as this level of caregiving is often emotionally and physically demanding. It’s also important to pay attention to your own emotional state and avoid projecting your fear of pain and dying onto your pet.
The biggest question many of us face is this: How do I know when it is time?
Remember, first of all, to trust yourself! You know your pets better than anyone else; you’ve lived with them for a long time.
With that said, sometimes it’s clear when the end is near, but sometimes it’s not. The common saying " You will know" applies often but not always. For instance, you may spend a good deal of energy pondering whether to delay euthanasia until things get unbearable or to choose a day when life forces are diminished but your pet is in a peaceful state.
Remember that not every pet stops eating altogether as their death draws nearer. Some will get quieter and sleep more, while others get restless. Some will withdraw and be less willing to engage with you, and you might see other behavioral changes such as defensive behavior, increased vocalization, or mental confusion known as sundowning.
End-of-life behaviors can be confusing. For instance, when you schedule a euthanasia time, you might see your pet suddenly be lively again. This is not only emotionally trying, but you might second-guess yourself and cancel the dreaded appointment only to see your pet collapse again soon after.
In Tibetan Buddhism, there is a beautiful description for this: “the last bloom,” the last thank-you from our pet, a final reaching out towards us, gratitude.
Here are some other pointers that might be helpful.
If you have other pets in your home, it's a good idea if they’re around for the end. Death is a part of life and it is well-documented that cats, dogs, and horses who see the deceased body will spend less time searching and grieving than pets who have not seen a companion’s remains.
If you have children, think about how they can be part of the end of life process in an age-appropriate way. One of my client’s two daughters were five and seven years old when their family dog, Zoe, died. They made a box for Zoe with things she might need: drawings, dog treats, gemstones, and a big key to open the door to Heaven. After Zoe’s passing the little girls received a special golden package in the mail with her ashes and spread it in Zoe‘s favorite places.
Last but not least: every cultural tradition -- religious or otherwise -- has distinct phases before, during, and after death. I encourage you to look into different rituals to discover the many ways you can honor your pet. From wakes and burial ceremonies to journaling and spiritual work, find the best possible closure for you and your family.
“All the love you created is still there. You live on -- in the hearts of everyone you have touched and nurtured while you were here… Death ends a life, not a relationship.”
Lost and Found
"Summertime, and the livin' is easy.
Fish are jumpin' and the cotton is high
Oh, your daddy's rich and your ma is good-lookin'
So hush, little baby, don't you cry......."
That's how the song starts and that's what we hope for.
But what if your pet gets LOST?
What are good ways to search for a cat or a dog?
Here are a few pointers:
How can we make the lives of our animal companions more joyful and focus our awareness on their experience?
This piece is with regards to our beloved dogs - cats will get their own edition in one of the upcoming notes - I promise.
Meditation with your pets
I would like to talk to you about MEDITATION with your pets.
I have personally shared meditation with my pets for many years and cannot imagine living without it.
Sharing our meditation practice with our animals affects them physically, mentally and emotionally.
They are very sensitive to our inner emotional and mental state.
Doing mindful meditation with your pet can help him experience peace and relaxation and also help with health issues and relieve discomfort.
It also helps us to connect deeply with ourselves and support the release of fear, worry and stress.
Just as our animals are affected when we are stressed or angry, when we meditate, they can sense our peacefulness and benefit from it.
Here are some tips on how to meditate with your pet:
The Beauty of Death
The beauty of death….
Why am I even talking about this? What, if anything, can be beautiful when an animal dies? You must know that all three of my old cats passed away within a time span of only five months last year. As you can imagine, that was a lot to process.
Did I grieve? Yes, absolutely! Do I miss them? Yes! What makes anything about this experience beautiful and meaningful?
Let me try to explain: The one thing that I have learned in my relationship with animals is that I am completely and totally committed to maintaining connection!
For me the relationship with my pets does not end with the death of the physical body.
This being said I do not want to convince you to believe this.
It’s not about avoiding grief, sorrow or devastation. It’s about creating a sacred space for the end of life. When we receive a terminal diagnosis for our pet, many of us - at least initially - experience a state of shock, trepidation, depression and an anticipation of pain.
All of these emotions need to be acknowledged. Fully. And the process of dying can be a roller coaster for both you and your pet.
So what can you do before things get tough?
Consider having logistics in place before the active phase of dying. You might want to have phone numbers and references ready way ahead of time such as pricing of euthanasia, cremation, after hour services, in-home veterinary services and so on. You might also consider having extra pain relief, comfortable beds, heating pads and the likes on hand and a quiet space for your pet if you have a busy household.
These are just a few examples of the many variables that may occur.
So what is the beauty of death?
For me it means that I love my pet with all my heart and even more so at the time of their sunset and that I remain present with them. Most of my own pets came to me as seniors, often from a shelter environment. Usually I don’t know how they grew up, where they were born and what happened during the early years of their life. During hospice I do a life review with them and create a bucket list if there is enough time.
In the life review, I share with my pets my imagination of
To prepare gently, deliberately and peacefully for the end of our pet’s earthly journey- as gut wrenching as it is at times - can be one of the greatest gifts.
Being in the trenches.
As you know, my big passion is facilitating end-of-life support for pets.
I deeply love my work: being able to support and guide my animal clients and their guardians through this sacred time. Over the years, many elderly dogs have joined our household. They received a makeover, lots of love and eventually passed with dignity. And my cats who have lived with me for a long time, watched the decline and eventual death of each single dog and remained serene witnesses. They continued to take care of their own business. You see, my cats (there are three of them) have always known that they are divine. They seem to remember that they were worshiped in ancient Egypt once. They lounge, they meditate, they groom each other and eat their favorite food - which can change on a whim. And I love them to pieces. I obey them, I adore them.
Then one day a few months ago, things changed. Just like that.
Wait! What? No, this is not possible. Cancer! One of my cats got diagnosed with cancer. How can this be? My cats are deities, they are immortal. My cats never die. They are not supposed to. But in physical time, they are actually old now. Old cats....wowza! I did not see that one coming. And before I know it, my cancer cat's companion stops eating. Three weeks into our new reality she gets diagnosed with kidney failure. Nowadays it is called chronic kidney disease, because that sounds better. The truth is that her kidneys are failing. Badly. Irreversibly. And then cat number three starts vomiting every night, always on my white wool throw so that I can find it. You guessed right, he did not throw up any hair balls. Turns out that he also suffers from a serious and fatal disease. Bam! All three of them. We have a special cat nursing station now with injectables, fluids and many oral medications and supplements.
Some of my friends feel sorry for me, wondering whether I can still do hospice support for my clients. Perhaps I should take a break? NO!!! I love doing my work.
Like so many of you, I am in the trenches. My cats were always there. Always! I grieve this new reality. I do research about their illnesses. There are moments of utter defeat, but the cats and I do what needs to be done. Anyone who was ever owned by a cat, knows that things happen on their terms. Period. My cats have decided to go along for the ride and patiently accept fluids and injections, however, oral medications only on occasion. We are getting acquainted with the new normal, with the fact that their bodies will give out eventually.
Me? I need to walk my talk step by step, take care of them, take care of me.
What is my biggest lesson you ask?
I know it sounds corny, but I am grateful in the midst of everything that I am experiencing.
I am grateful that these divine creatures are in my life and continue to do things exactly the way they CHOOSE to. It has been their decision to participate on this journey which slowly leads to one of the biggest cross roads of our lives. Does it make me a better practitioner? Yes, I think so. This humbles me. My cats are my teachers. They are my Zen masters.
Please excuse me now, I have to go and give subcutaneous fluids to my cats.