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.”
"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.
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….
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 maintain 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.
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 make over, 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 worshipped 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 knew 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, wonder 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.
Tips to build the bond with your pet.
Pet's Point of View LLC
P.O. Box 86024
Portand, OR 97286
PET'S POINT OF VIEW LLC services are for educational purposes only.
PET'S POINT OF VIEW LLC is not engaged in rendering veterinary medical advice or services.
PET'S POINT OF VIEW LLC shall have neither liability or responsibility to any person, pet or entity with respect to any loss, damage or injury caused or alleged to be caused directly or indirectly by the services rendered in a consultation.
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