When it is Time to Let Go – Dealing with the Loss of Your Pet
We associate the word ‘bereavement’ with loss, death and mourning. All of us who have loved an animal know that sometimes the sadness actually begins as we realize that our friend is getting older or perhaps is experiencing a chronic or terminal illness. The first tears fall when we realize that time is limited. While loss can be difficult and emotionally trying, especially if we are presented with a critical decision concerning our animal companion, ultimately it is a natural part of life. That is, after all, how animals view it.
A LIFELONG FRIEND
Like it or not, most of us outlive our animal companions. Having been blessed with the gift of many years with a beloved friend does not make it easier to say goodbye or let go. It is a bittersweet time, one that is not always understood by those who have not enjoyed the enduring company of an animal. At the Healing Animals Organisation (HAO) we believe that joy can be found in all phases of life, and we are able to help you and your friend walk this path together.
When we bring a new animal into our life, we sign up for the duration, and that is easy to ignore when a youngster is gloriously thriving and playing. Yet in the same way that he is dependent on us for food, shelter, love and healthcare, he is also dependent on us when the play is slower, the naps are longer and the walks are shorter. True love requires that we look with honest eyes upon our friend, and meet his needs at every step.
Care for the carer
To be truly present and willing to be a champion for our animals requires that we care for ourselves. It is important to be honest and to communicate our feelings to our animal friends. Being a source of calm, love and care is one of the greatest gifts we can give them. Though our journeys are intertwined, our pets are individuals.
Is your animal in pain?
When we are so closely bonded to our animal, our judgement may be too clouded with emotion for us to recognize whether he or she is in pain or discomfort. Our vets are experts who can guide us. If you notice your animal friend has developed any unusual behaviour your vet is your first call for care.
Put your pet’s needs ahead of your own
Our animal companions love us and want us to be happy. If their health fails and we become afraid of losing them, they may choose to struggle on, at all costs. This can mean that despite constant pain or infirmity they will fight to stay with us when they know we cannot yet let go.
It is important to stand back and consider whether this situation is developing in your home. Our animals are very proud, and to really love and honour your friend may require putting your desires aside. This acknowledgement is true, unconditional love, and the essence of true love never dies.
If your pet needs help to leave
We all desperately hope that we will never need to make such a decision for our pet. However, the hoped-for passing during a good nap is rare. The bottom line is that we all have to let go of something. As guardian to our beloved, the time may come when the question of euthanasia has to be considered with a vet.
Having done all you can for your pet throughout his or her life, you need to do all you can at the end to make it a smooth, gentle transition. Your ability to put your animal’s care and comfort before your own fear of loss is a great responsibility and also a great gift. It can be a decision that demonstrates the amazing amount of love you have for your pet.
Talk it through with your vet, your pet and your family. This can help reduce much of the anxiety, and you may find that it brings an understanding of what your animal friend feels and needs. You may find that they completely understand and actually welcome your help – they appreciate the fullness of a life lived well. A HAO Animal Healer can be especially valuable during this period. Healing and relaxation can replace turmoil with comfort and calm.
Choosing the time
If you make the decision to help your friend pass over, you can choose a time and place for a peaceful and even beautiful transition. If you choose to go to your vet’s surgery, ask them for the best time at the end of their day when you will have a peaceful space. Talk with your animal about what will occur, and explain that the vet is going to help them gently let go. Think ahead about taking a favourite blanket or toy.
You may tell your vet that you want to be present at the moment of passing, or if you feel you simply cannot handle this you can choose to say your goodbyes fully and let your animal know that the vet will give him or her ease. Remember that your animal friend will feel your anxiety, so do your best to focus only on the love, which is more powerful than all the rest.
If possible, consider letting your friend pass on in the bosom of hearth and home. You can ask your vet to come outside of surgery hours, family members can be present and your lovely animal will be surrounded by all the comforts of his or her life. You can have gentle music playing, and a home filled with love.
Whatever arrangements are made, this is another time when asking a HAO Animal Healer to assist you can be a tremendous help. Planning the passing, setting the environment and bringing a state of beautiful calm to all is a privilege that our organization always feels honoured to accept. Vets welcome the presence of a Bereavement Healer to help facilitate a calm environment.
Once your friend’s spirit has passed, you are left with the items they used and played with, and their body. You have several options. You may have already decided on burial or cremation – and whether you need to have the remains returned to you. There is no one answer for everyone.
If you choose cremation, you may decide between an individual or a group cremation. If you want your animal to be buried on your property you must choose a place away from underground utilities or bodies of water, and ensure you can prepare a hole appropriately deep for the size of animal. In the UK dogs and cats require a depth of at least 1 metre (3ft) and of course, larger animals need special consideration.
Celebrate your pet’s life
All beings have their time on this Earth. If you ever remember a day when your animal friend moped about and worried about yesterday or tomorrow, then by all means hold fast to your grief. If, however, your friend woke each day with a wagging tail or any other joyful hello, take the lesson and honour it with a celebration of the amazing friend who shared your life. Having a ceremony with family and friends to reminisce and laugh over silly antics, funny stories and special moments helps celebrate a life well lived and allows the healing to begin.
The ‘process’ of grief
People vary widely in the way they cope with feelings, and grief affects us in many ways. Anxiety, fear, agitation, restlessness, anger, blame, resentment, depression, shock and feelings of detachment are all very normal responses. As is guilt. With so much responsibility and the desire to do the right thing, we automatically question our judgement and decisions.
The phases of dealing with grief are highly individual, and some people also experience physical pain or illness. It is important to recognize that it is a natural way to deal with loss, to be kind to ourselves and allow time to let these emotions flow. Often the depth of the pain comes as a surprise, even to the most ardent animal lover.
Other family members go through their own individual process. Many children have a deep bond with their animal friend, and it is important never to lie to a child by way of explanation. Our animals are honest creatures; their journey is a wonderful lesson in love and life for us all. It is important to respect this and be truthful. Having someone to help us through this period can be of tremendous benefit.
Do animals mourn?
Do animals mourn their own frailty or mortality? Animals recognize that getting older and slower is a natural part of the life cycle, yet they do not bemoan this. It is much more important to our animals that we accept their abilities and limitations. To adjust the routine and environment to be ever more comfortable and restful is one of the best gifts we can give.
Do animals mourn another animal when it passes on? In many ways, yes, they do. They have shared the same home and time as you have, and when a companion dies the animals who remain demonstrate their own emotions as they adjust to the different energy in the home. What we often fail to see is that our own reactions of grief, and our inability to accept or let go, often cause real emotional pain in our other animals.
If we realized it, would we ever choose to hurt our friend simply by our own need to grieve? Again, having the help of a HAO Animal Healer can bring calm and soothing relaxation to all family members.
A gentle request
Please do not shun your other animals as you miss the one who has just passed; rather, draw them close – they are feeling the loss as well. Appreciate their uniqueness and let their unconditional love form a renewed bond. A HAO Animal Healer can help all family members during this adjustment by honouring and releasing the sorrow and finding the way to move forward together.
If you have no other animals, you may feel that you can never, ever open your heart to more guaranteed heartache. The pain of loss can be incredible, but balanced against the years of joy, would you honestly have said at the start that it was not worth the journey?
Give yourself time, and then consider what your animal friend would want for you. Having experienced your love and care for so long, their greatest wish would be to have another animal enjoy such an amazing life. It is never possible to replicate the missing friend, nor would you really want to, yet when the time is right, and the perfect pair of eyes gaze into yours, another animal may find their way into your tender heart and show you their magic.
Contacting a Healing Animals Organisation Animal Healer
The Healing Animals Organisation is a professional body of UK and international qualified healers for both humans and animals. Go to www.healinganimals.org to find a graduate in your area of the UK, Europe, USA or Asia. Many specialize in celebrating senior animals and in helping both humans and animals travel the last steps of their journey together. When enlisting the aid of a Bereavement Healer, a donation towards their time and transportation is welcome.
Case study: Keymos, the Warrior Dog
In the following case study, Susan, a graduate of my Diploma in Animal Healing, tells us in her own words about the incredible journey she undertook to save her two dogs, who battled a series of life-threatening conditions. Anyone reading this will feel truly inspired by Susan’s positive attitude, which she maintained even when times were tough.
There was an incredible bond of friendship between Susan and her dogs, and Keymos implicitly trusted in his mistress’s judgement call, time and time again. It was such an honour for me to work with this beautiful family of souls.
‘It was 2009, and I’d just attended Elizabeth Whiter’s presentation on Animal Healing at a talk in London. Everything she showed us made sense to me. Afterwards I followed her downstairs to buy her book, The Animal Healer. I was hopeful that she could help my dog, Shadow, who had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer.
‘I was also excited to learn that I could train to be an Animal Healer through her Diploma course. As I looked into Elizabeth’s eyes, I felt an immediate connection. I knew, innately, that one of the reasons my dog had got cancer was to put me on the path with this woman.
‘A few months later Elizabeth was treating Shadow, and I was studying with her. Although Shadow’s cancer diagnosis was quite advanced, with Elizabeth’s healing, the best possible nutrition and support, and learning to recognize and respect Shadow’s wisdom as he showed me his own self-selection, he exceeded the vet’s prognosis by 10 times. When he passed, I knew that we had done everything possible. It is a tremendous gift to have no regrets.
‘Six months later we got another cancer diagnosis, this time for our senior dog, Keymos. At age 12, he was diagnosed with Hemangiosarcoma. The odds were against us. His best prognosis was five months: if we were very lucky.
‘Because of Shadow, we were already feeding Keymos healthy, natural foods, as both Elizabeth and Dr Dressler, the US dog cancer vet, recommended. We had the best nutraceuticals, hope and healing. Keymos attended the Diploma modules and monthly healing evenings with me. Elizabeth’s students added Keymos to their healing lists.
‘My vet did not expect miracles, but at the six-month mark, he stood back and said, “Whatever you are doing, keep doing it, because he’s thriving.” We celebrated Keymos’s 13th birthday and stopped all conventional treatment. He was happy, healthy and well – a cancer survivor! I received my Diploma in Animal Healing, started work as a healer and I was on my way to recognizing my dream of working with and really helping animals.’
‘In his 14th year, Keymos encountered more challenges. First, he had laryngeal tie-back surgery. The cartilage in his throat had become brittle, making it difficult to breathe when he was excited. He had the recommended surgery, again supported by healing. Again, he sailed through.
‘Several months later he experienced two successive bouts of gastric torsion: a life-threatening condition. We rushed him to the vets on the first occasion, and with emergency surgery he was saved. Forty-eight hours later his stomach began to turn again. I remember the scene at the overnight emergency vet office vividly. Keymos being prepped by the nurse, while the vet, who I’d never met before, advised me that she could operate, “if that is the option we wanted to take”.
‘For a moment I thought she had some new, innovative treatment up her sleeve, so I asked her what she meant. “Well, he’s a senior dog and he’s been through a lot this week. You may just want to let him go.”
‘I took a deep breath, looked at my dog, at my partner, Dave, and looked back at this woman. I said, “I understand that is your opinion, and I respect that you needed to share it with me. You do not know this dog. He’s a fighter. Our job is to give him every opportunity to heal. It is his decision whether he takes it or not. So, I am asking you to operate, but before you take a step towards him, I need you to get on our team. I need you to have the energy of ‘come on, boy, let’s get you through this’.”
‘She blinked and nearly took a step back, stammering, “Well of course we always aim for survival.’ I said: “I know, but I need you to hear me, and I need to know that you are really aiming for recovery.”
‘Two years earlier I may not have questioned her opinion, but I had learned so much. This was Keymos’s journey. Twenty-four hours later in the hospital, his vital signs dropped, and he wasn’t expected to pull through. We stayed with him, talking to him and giving him permission from our hearts to go if he needed to go.
‘Our need to keep him with us was secondary to his choice. Elizabeth and dozens of healers were sending him healing energy, and as we lay next to him through the long night, his vitals started to rise. When dawn broke they were back to normal and he was looking for breakfast. The nurses who had monitored him all night were talking about the “medical miracle” that had occurred. Two days later he came home.
‘Later that year, a disc in Keymos’s lower spine compressed: more surgery, more healing. There was never any doubt that he wanted to be here, so we did what you do for family. We loved him, took him to hydrotherapy, walked him with a special cart to support his back legs. With that cart he ran and played stick with us, and tug with our other dogs. He still led his pack, only now he had wheels!
‘By this point he was a senior lecturer in his own right at the Healing Animals Organisation. Students learned from him the dignity and gentle energy of a senior dog; that age is not a disease. His 15th birthday came, then his 16th. Our motto became: It is not the dog in the fight, it is the fight in the dog.
‘Just after Christmas 2013, Keymos passed away in our arms – peacefully, painlessly, and with complete ease. It was simply time for the warrior to stop. We rejoiced through our tears, knowing it was right. Having no regrets.
‘Life and death are personal journeys. Shadow, Keymos and Elizabeth have taught me that loving animals means respecting that their lives are their own. My animals are not “mine”: I am merely blessed to share my life with them. Whatever form healing takes, whether medicine, food, surgery, prayer or play, it should always be offered with love, and the respect of the animal to accept it, or not. We would ask for no less for ourselves.’