If you choose to let your animal companion die at home...
First, talk with your vet to see if it's a good choice. Some illnesses are very painful, and it is easiest for the animal if he or she has help.
If your vet agrees, then set up a quiet spot where you think your friend would be most comfortable. Spend as much time as you can there with him. If he has some anxiety, there is a cream called Calming Essence made by a company called Ellon (it's similar to Bach Rescue Remedy cream) that you can rub into your hands and then soothe over his coat to relax him.
Make preparations for what you will do with your companion's body. Most choose cremation or burial. I have all my animals cremated and keep their ashes. One day, we will all be mixed together. This is what helps helps me ease my pain. Take a little time to consider what might help you. Don't limit your options. If it would make you feel best to have your animal preserved by a taxidermist, then that's what you should do.
Passive touch is a wonderful massage technique to help our animals make the transition. Generally, it involves four steps: ask the animal for his permission to proceed (you may get a sense that he does not want this intervention), establish your intent ("I would like this animal to use this energy as it best benefits him" is a good way begin), and use your intuition to find a place to lightly lay your hands. Keep them still and focus your thoughts on the love you feel for this animal. Honor his feelings. If he moves away, don't force him. When you get the sense that it is time to stop, thank your animal and remove your hands. (Dr. Michael Fox, DVM has a wonderful book called The Healing Touch that goes into this and other techniques in more depth.)
Don't try to feed him, but offer water in case he needs it. You can use an eye dropper to drip water (it can be mixed with a drop of Rescue Remedy liquid) into his mouth to help keep him comfortable.
Keep him warm. Stay calm. Make sure you breathe.
His breath may become more and more shallow, though he may still be conscious. His body may stiffen and release as his spirit leaves, and this may even continue for a little while after his death. He may give a few rough, gasping breaths. This is natural, so don't be afraid.
Dianne Stein, in her excellent book, Natural Healing for Dogs and Cats, says that it's best to leave the body in place for at least three hours to allow your companion's spirit to fully make the transition. I like to continue to hold and stroke it for a little while, just in case he's watching.
I've found that it's good for the other animals to see their friend's body before it's taken away. Some respond very inquisitively; others run and hide. Just like people, I guess.
Finally, give yourself some time to heal. Find people who understand your feelings. (Many cities have animal loss support groups.) Visit The Rainbow Bridge.
You may want to bring another animal into your life immediately. You may not. Just remember that the next animal who shares your life will be his own special being, and not a replacement for your lost friend.
Oh, and be open to seeing your animal companion again! He may visit in a dream that's not really a dream. Or you may actually see him right there in front of you. Plain as day. Trust me, it happens.
Interested in more things metaphysical? See The Rest of the Story.
is No Easy Way to Say Goodbye
I've lived with a lot of animals for a long time, and I've lost them many different ways. One died unexpectedly, in my arms. Two died alone at the vets'. Most have had to be put to sleep because of age related conditions; one because because of an incurable cancer he developed when he was only four years old. Last week, for the first time, we chose to allow an animal to die naturally at home. He was a cat named Soloman.
Each time I've had to make "the" decision, I've agonized about what to do. When? How? As I watched Soloman get close to the end of his life, I went through each and every memory, searching for the answer. What was the "right" thing to do? I was so afraid for him, so afraid that he would suffer.
was a huge, battle scarred cat when he decided to move in with us eight years
ago. In spite of the tyranny of the other cats, he'd always been the perfect gentleman.
I loved him for his undemanding affection and gentle ways. Over the past year
he'd started losing weight, and we realized that we were going to lose this sweet
old soul. Instead of putting him through all the tests we knew we'd agree to if
we took him to the vet, we allowed his life to end naturally. Would it have been
fair to put a sixteen year old cat through all those tests? Was it fair that we
didn't? You hear so much about "quality of life" that it starts to sound
trite, but this old man jumped onto tables and ate his special food with great
gusto every day right up til the end. I think that's the way most of us humans
would like our lives to play out.
Even so, it was a hard thing to watch. After two days when we thought every breath would be his last, only to find that he could climb a flight of steps if that's what it took to be near us, he finally allowed it to happen. He waited until I was with him. He looked up at me and then started the little convulsions and raspy breathing that I knew would come. I didn't want him to be afraid, but I couldn't keep myself from crying. This was a momentous thing that was happening, and I was watching this soul, this life force, take leave its mortal body on its own terms. It was one of those moments that seem forever frozen in time.
Being with Soloman in that moment, I realized that there is no right or wrong way to say goodbye. As long as we do our best, and do it with all the love we have in our hearts, it doesn't matter if our sweet companion could maybe have had another few good days if... None of the "what ifs" that we torture ourselves with matter. Our dogs and cats, horses, hamsters, turtles - any and all of the animals that we love - understand. They know how hard it is for us, and do not judge us by our decisions. We have to let go of the regrets because they do not want any part of their lives to cause us unhappiness. We have to send them on with a feeling of love and peace.
The first time I came face to face with death was with a little whippet named Bonnie Belle. My Bonnie. Her death was also my first experience having to make the decision to end a life. I'll never forget how she turned to me and looked deeply into my eyes as she died, and my heart still burns with that memory.
An amazing thing happened two days after Bonnie died. As I drove my regular route to work, and I knew this road like the back of my hand, suddenly everything looked different. At that moment I hardly knew where I was. The sunlight became a pure, indescribable golden glow and everything looked clear and beautiful. My entire body was filled with the most incredible sense of peace and love and joy. I knew immediately that this was heaven. I was experiencing what happens after we die, and it was Bonnie's gift to me. The feeling gradually faded over the next few days, but I will never forget the awe it inspired. Bonnie must have known that I needed some glimpse of the other side to help me deal with all the loss that was to be in my future. She gave me what was the most important gift of my life, but I stored it away, not knowing how to use it. Maybe I was afraid to use it because it was so perfect.
I suspect that we've all gotten that gift. Maybe it came to you in a smile or a purr or a wag. We need to understand that we can use it. It can give us the strength to go on when we don't think we can. It can allow us to know without a doubt that where they are going is a beautiful place.
It will never be easy, but I will always remember that Bonnie's gift is there whenever I need it.
Do They Choose The Time?
I think they do. They may not be able to choose whether they have to die, but I really think that animals have a great deal of control over the exact moment or have the ability to call us to them when they know that the time is near. We should never feel guilty if we aren't there when it happens. Our friend may feel that we should be spared the pain of watching him die. He may even just need to be alone to concentrate on what is happening to him. Either way, it is his choice, and we need to accept it gracefully.
Most of my animals have chosen a time when I could be with them. At least twice I "almost" wasn't (or "shouldn't" have been) there, but they either waited or made sure to let me know that they needed me.
The first time this happened was about five years ago. I was at a friend's house one night when I got the feeling that I should go home. It was about a half an hour's drive. I checked on the dogs as soon as I got there, and everyone was fine. I had only been home a very short time when I heard a noise that caught my attention. It was a normal noise - the sound of a food bowl falling onto the floor - something that was common with my enthusiastic eaters. I was brushing my teeth, but turned and ran to the sound, the toothbrush still in my hand. My dog Gulliver, was laying on his bed next to the bowl. I sat down beside him. He stretched his legs and neck and in an instant, he was gone.
We knew that Soloman was dying. I'd been staying close to him night and day, but every now and then I'd spend a little time away. I think the breaks were as much for him as for me. I thought that maybe he wanted to be alone when it was time. I was reading the paper and got a sense that I should go to him. He looked up as I entered the room and immediately began to convulse. He died about twenty minutes later. I have no doubt that he wanted me there. He had either found a way to tell me that he was ready or a way to wait until I was.
I believe that even the animals who have been put to sleep have made the choice. They communicated to me that they were ready and that they would like help. I merely followed their wishes. Though each time I doubted that I could allow this to happen right up until the vet inserted the needle, I walked away with a profound sense that I had done what that dog wanted. Only once did I doubt that I'd done the right thing. I felt one little dog wanted to go on her own, and that she wasn't quite ready. I just couldn't bear to watch that. It wasn't until after Soloman died naturally and at home, the way I thought she wanted, that I saw clearly that the most important thing to her was that I be there. She knew and accepted that I didn't have the strength to deal with her natural death at that time in my life, and she let me know that I didn't have to.
For those who have chosen to die alone, I have a sense that it was because they needed the privacy to complete their passage, so I try not to feel that I failed them.
It is said that the reason the antelope runs from the lion is not that he fears death, only pain. Animals are believed to accept death as a normal part of life, and so their experience of dying is not frightening to them. I can say that I have seen sadness in my dying animal children's eyes, but not fear. The sadness may be that they will miss me and know that I will also miss them - or the sadness could be that they see the fear in my eyes.
We need to trust our animal companions. They understand much more than we do about the mysteries of life and death. We have to relinquish our need to fear the passing of a life and instead look at it as a beautiful and natural process. Maybe then we will be able to approach not only our animals' but also our own passing with the faith and acceptance they have shown us.
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