The Death of a Pet
With every pet, there comes a time when no therapy, holistic or conventional, can stave off the inevitable. No one who hasn’t lived with a pet can appreciate how painful the leave-taking is, or how profound the mourning. Nor does the experience grow any easier from one pet to the next. I’ve lived with cats and dogs for nearly forty-five years, usually several at a time, and had to deal with the deaths of more than a dozen—sweet creatures all, who took joy in every day of their lives and brightened my own life with their loyalty and love. Each loss hurts as much as the last. In most cases, an owner suffers the added pain of having to serve—so it can seem at the time—as his own pet’s executioner. Choosing euthanasia can provoke guilt, remorse, and often doubts. Is this really the right time to have my pet put to sleep? If heroic measures give him a little more time, should I choose them instead? Do I want to pay the thousands of dollars those measures cost? Can I be so heartless as to let financial considerations determine whether my pet lives or dies?
I can’t help you avoid the difficult issues surrounding a pet’s dying and death. What I can do is to share some thoughts about pets at the end of their lives, and the owners who love them, that may help you make decisions more easily, and to experience the leave-taking, when it does come, with less sorrow and anxiety. If I can manage to convey what I feel, from what I’ve seen at the clinic and experienced at home, you may even find yourself applying a word to the death of your pet you never expected to use. Celebration.
I’ll say more about that word later on in this chapter. But let’s start by considering the pet who still has a chance to live longer, either by enduring a gradually worsening condition or by undergoing a complex medical procedure. His owner has no time to think about celebration. He needs to know what to do.
If his pet is being treated by a conventional veterinarian who recommends a complex procedure, an owner should at least solicit another opinion from a holistic veterinarian. As these pages have shown, holistic therapies with very sick patients are often less invasive than those of conventional medicine; they may be less expensive, too. If the conventional veterinarian advises euthanasia, all the more reason for another point of view. A conventional veterinarian’s judgment may be very wise indeed. But as several case histories in this book underscore, the call for euthanasia occasionally proves premature. At the least, holistic medicine is worth a try when a pet’s prospects have been declared hopeless. At that stage, as I tell worried clients, there’s really nothing to lose.
If a complex medical procedure does seem capable of prolonging a pet’s life, I urge owners not to let their guilt—and their love—prevent them from making a rational decision that takes every factor into account. If I see a sixteen-year-old dog with terminal cancer who might gain two or three more months of compromised life by a complex operation, I’ll tell the owners, bluntly, that they should at least consider not going through with it. The dog may be debilitated by the surgery, and will probably suffer residual pain, which, added to the discomfort he already feels, will leave him miserable during those extra three months, if he lives that long. Is this the kind of life that God or nature intended him to have? I don’t think so. Let’s try something noninvasive.
As for cost, it is a factor that no owner should feel guilty about considering. I personally feel that it should never be the factor for either owner or veterinarian. If it is for the owner, he’ll live to regret his choice. (For couples, a euthanasia decision based on money often becomes a bitter issue.) I suppose there are veterinarians who will let an owner’s lack of money determine the decision, but I’m certainly not one of them. I’ve never put a pet to sleep because his owner lacked the money to pay for his medical needs. (In fact, the foundation I’ve started is dedicated in part to helping finance the care of pets, especially those with cancer, whose owners can’t afford proper therapy.) But sometimes money becomes an entrapping factor. Owners who spend $2,000 on conventional therapy and still have a very sick pet may feel that much more obligated to spend additional thousands of dollars, both to justify their investment and to make it all come out right in the end. Sometimes it just can’t come out right; sometimes they may be unwilling to acknowledge that they can’t afford to keep spending money this way, and that the consequences for their own lives will be catastrophic, both financially and emotionally. I do what I can in each individual case, listening until I begin to understand the circumstances. In all, I know that money is a factor, one that must be recognized and balanced against the others.
If money provokes one kind of guilt in owners, a reaction I call “If/Should” leads to another, often as painful and potentially long-lasting. Every owner desperately wants to do all he can for his pet. His love for his pet is pure; so is his intention. Yet as carefully as all his decisions are made about treatment, his pet will eventually be confronted by an illness or condition he cannot overcome. That’s life—and death! Unfortunately, an owner tends to blame himself at this point. If only he had chosen that other course of treatment…. He should have recognized those telltale symptoms so much sooner than he did. Then, he anguishes, often for years, his pet would still be alive. But for every course taken, we can imagine another: an “if” and “should” not pursued. That’s needless self-punishment; it is, in fact, neurotic behavior. All we can do is make decisions that seem best at the time. And in cases where death really is imminent, there is no “better” decision than the one you chose to make. Don’t dwell in the house of ifs and shoulds. The fact is: you can’t second-guess death.
When a pet is in little or no pain and his illness isn’t severely impeding a life-sustaining function—like breathing—I’ll work toward natural passage, which is to say letting the pet die peacefully when he’s ready, preferably at home. Sometimes, if he’s been in the hospital and I’ve sent him home to die, I’ll get a baffled call from the owner two days later. “He’s getting better!” he’ll report. “He’s almost normal again!” The miraculous recovery, when it does occur, may in part be a result of giving the remedies time to take effect. But also, as we saw in Chapter Nine with the little white poodle named Shiki, a sick pet put into a veterinary hospital comes to feel depressed and abandoned, which has to affect his condition. Restored to his family, he may just find the energy and hope to fight his way back to health.*
Euthanasia is never preferable to a natural passage. If a pet is suffering, however, it seems as merciful a choice to a holistic veterinarian as it does to a conventional one. One injection of a very strong anesthetic, usually sodium pentobarbital, will end a pet’s life painlessly in one or two seconds. (Usually, by the time the first cc is injected, the pet is already gone.) For a pet who’s really suffering, with no hope of feeling better, euthanasia comes as a blessing. The question is: How do we know when a pet has reached that stage?
I wish I could put a nice neat chart on the opposite page showing exactly when a very ill dog or cat should be euthanized. Across the top would be numbers to indicate the animal’s age. Down the side would be every disease we’ve discussed, in various shadings to show degrees of severity. In the appropriate box for your pet would be one of two words: Yes or No. All the uncertainty removed. No more second thoughts. Unfortunately, every case is different. The hardest decision you will ever have to make concerning your pet will always be an individual one, not quite like any other, and you will feel, as a result, conflicted about what’s best. At the same time, I’m convinced you can make a decision untroubled by doubt.
How? I have a rule that’s stood me in good stead throughout my practice. When a client calls me and asks if he should have his pet euthanized, I’ll say let’s discuss it. Usually, as the conversation unfolds, I’ll know it’s not yet time to put the pet to sleep. Why? Because a client who’s asking questions is still in doubt. So I’ll suggest to the client that we talk again in a few days after advising him on some treatment to help his pet’s symptoms. If when he calls back he says, “It’s time,” then I’ll know it’s time, too, and I’ll agree. I’m just the veterinarian, the outsider to an intense, emotional relationship that’s lasted the pet’s whole life and probably a decade or more of the client’s own. The communication about ending that relationship is between them. They have to decide between themselves. And when the owner makes that decision—really makes it—there’s rarely any doubt. The exception is when those questions are accompanied by a dire report—of bloody stools, of severe vomiting, labored breathing, and other symptoms that suggest rapid and irreversible decline in the patient’s condition. In those cases, I’ll nudge the conversation toward euthanasia, hoping the client is the first to actually come to that conclusion.
Granted, this is a rule with exceptions. Occasionally, I’ll encounter an owner who’s so emotionally attached to his pet that he’s lost the capacity to conduct that communication, and may, as a result, keep a deeply suffering pet alive for his own emotional needs. Then I’ll say, gently but firmly, “You must let go.” Far more often, an owner comes to sense that his pet is tired of suffering, that his vital energy has drained away, that he is, with some instinctive awareness, ready to cross over.
Still, euthanasia is a difficult decision, and inevitably we hesitate about making it. Do we really have the right to decide if an animal should live or die? At first, the decision may seem beyond our scope. How presumptuous of us even to consider it! But what, really, are we bringing to an end? Only an animal’s physical suffering. Your only intention is to do good for your pet. The prospect may cause sorrow; it may bring lingering grief. But it should not provoke guilt, anxiety, or even confusion. And when it’s done, the reward, invariably, is relief.
In other words, if you feel anguished about euthanizing your pet, understand that the anguish is mostly yours—and not so much your pet’s. You have a rational awareness of death; your pet doesn’t, which is also to say that he has less fear of it. He lives more in the present than you do, and if he’s presently suffering, he realizes instinctually what he needs to do. And I doubt that he blames you for the decision you’re making. He loves you completely and irrevocably; he can’t imagine not loving you. If you locked him in a closet by mistake and discovered your mistake three days later, he’d bound out of the closet, wagging his tail, still loving you. (Lock a family member in the closet by mistake for even an hour, and, believe me, you won’t get that love when the door is unlocked….) Can you really think that he would resent you now? If you do, just remember: That’s what you think, not what he thinks. He’s not the one who tries to deny the reality of death by cloaking it with mourning, funerals, and black limousines. You are.
Often, even owners who understand this feel a fierce sense of obligation to accompany their pets to the clinic or hospital where euthanasia is to occur, and to be with them during the procedure. This, in my experience, is not necessary. Just as an owner need not imagine that his pet is nurturing feelings of betrayal, nor should he think that his pet will feel hurt that he’s not there for the pet’s final moments. Remember: Animals in the wild go off on their own to die. They want no other being with them when they do; for them, this is a private and solitary act. If we have to deprive them of that dignity, as creatures in our urban society, we can at least respect their inclinations enough to say our goodbyes at home.
If possible, I suggest that an owner then have a friend drive his pet to the clinic for euthanasia. This is for the owner’s benefit, too: as painless as euthanasia is, an owner doesn’t need to have that memory. It can actually blot out all the fond memories of his pet as a vigorous being and leave him haunted by sad associations. Over the years, I’ve had clients who’ve had more than one pet euthanized, and handled the leave-taking both ways. So many times, they’ve called to say that not going to the clinic with their pet, or just dropping him off with goodbyes already said, worked better for them in the end. Still, paradoxically, a natural passage at home can be more comforting to a pet and his family. If the owners view it with the right attitude, it can even become the start of that curious word I mentioned earlier: celebration.
Years ago, a dear client, a young man who had a form of Hodgkin’s disease, showed me a lot about celebration. He went out to Arizona with his fiancée to try a new kind of therapy, and had to leave his beloved old golden retriever behind. His parents cared for the dog back east, and at Smith Ridge, we checked her regularly. The client responded so well to the Hodgkin’s therapy and to the Southwest that he decided to settle there; by then, we knew his dog had cancer, and we were battling it. “Just keep her alive until I can get her out here,” the young man said. The dog made it through an intense surgery involving the removal of her spleen and part of her liver, and poked along in passable health until she turned fifteen, when she headed gently into an irreversible decline. “I can take her now,” he reported. His parents put her on a plane to Arizona. Within a day or two of being reunited with her owner, the retriever died. The owner wasn’t surprised, having heard our reports, and he chose not to dwell on the sadness of his dog’s death. Instead, he arranged for a desert funeral service with a local tribe of Native Americans. At dawn the next day, they lifted up the retriever’s body onto a celebration pyre that burned for hours while they all chanted and sang. It was, as the owner told me later, a celebration of the dog’s spirit, not a mourning of the dog’s physical life. And the owner, whose own sense of mortality had been sharpened, clearly, by his battle with Hodgkin’s, said it was one of the most incredible days of his life.
If you live in a less rural setting, funeral pyres and Indian ceremonies may not go over well with your neighbors. But a simple burial service in a back garden can become a celebration, too. My coauthor, Michael Shnayerson, and his wife, Cheryl Merser, buried their terrier Annie a few days after New Year’s in a spot within sight of their kitchen windows. “Light was one concern,” Cheryl reports of the spot they chose. “When it was cool, Annie would seek out the sun, then seek out the shade in the heat. Shelter was another; she was tiny, and we didn’t want a plot too exposed.” The place they chose was sheltered by a lilac, in a corner of a garden bed set off by railroad ties. As Michael dug the hole and Cheryl held Annie wrapped in a favorite blanket, both were in tears. Yet by the time the burial was completed, they also felt grateful, even happy, that they could put Annie to rest in a place so close to them. Early that spring, Cheryl planted Annie’s corner with flowers as vibrant as Annie had been: primroses, forget-me-nots, pansies, and a fragrant daphne. As they came into bloom, the flowers became an ongoing form of celebration: not of Annie’s death but of her life and spirit.
Almost every natural passage of a pet I’ve witnessed has affirmed that belief for me. Often, as a pet dies naturally, his back arches and his legs go out straight, almost as if he were adopting a yoga position. At this point, the physical body is actually discharging its electrical neurons. As it does so, the energy, or chi, that was the pet’s vital spirit is released. I can’t tell you that I see it issuing upward. But I sure can feel it. And so can owners who’ve also witnessed it as their pets died. It’s like a bolt of electrical current that displaces the ions around it as it shoots upward, as tangible in its way as the white light that so many people on the brink of death have described upon their return. Just before and during this phenomenon, a pet may appear to be suffering. Sometimes he may even have a tremor, or emit a howl of seeming anguish. In fact, these reactions are just physical, secondary to the electrical discharge (a process called “depolarization”). The sound is nothing more than the reaction of air passing through his larynx as his body contracts. By the time his back arches, spiritually and consciously the pet has crossed over, so that what appears to be a flexing due to pain is merely the final passage of his spirit from his body to the spiritual world.
One of the most vivid examples of this, for me, was the death of my ex-wife’s dog Kico, at fifteen years old. Kico, a little white poodle, had had a great life despite the development of tumors in his old age. He’d remained a pain-free, happy dog with a healthy appetite. Suddenly he stopped eating. Somehow, Quenya and I just knew that Kico would die that night. So she slept with him in our bed, and, to give them space, I slept on the living room couch. At about 2:15 a.m., I suddenly woke up and went running into the bedroom. At the same moment, Quenya woke up, too. Within ten minutes, Kico died: his body arching up, in a reverse curve, his tail and head up, his legs splaying out. Then, just as abruptly, he relaxed.
As soon as that happened, it began to rain. It rained nonstop until about 11:00 a.m., when we had a garden burial service of our own, right outside the house. Just as the service began, the rain stopped. We put Kico gently into a freshly dug grave; when it was filled in, we planted a perennial on top. With the last shovelful of dirt, the rain resumed. It would keep on, steadily, through the day. “It’s okay,” Quenya told Kico, without any sadness now. “You’ll be okay. And it’s okay for you to come back to us.” And truly, we both knew he would be okay.
So often, in the hours after a pet dies, his spirit seems to hover nearby. Other pets in a family seem preternaturally attuned to this: creatures who science tells us are incapable of comprehending death go out to a new grave, lie beside it, and solemnly cross their paws over the freshly turned dirt, communing, I’m convinced, with the spirit of their newly departed friend. I can’t tell you how many times an owner who’s lost a pet has told me, too, that he’s felt the pet brushing against his leg, usually the first night after the pet’s death. (So common is this feeling that I now counsel clients, in advance, not to think they’re hallucinating if it happens.) Nor is it unusual for a pet’s spirit to make itself heard through telltale sounds. Two sisters I know suffered the loss of Max, one of their shelties. They were watching television one night soon afterward, and heard a knock at the dog door—the same exact knock their shelty had been accustomed to making. When they checked, they found nothing. They even called their neighbor, who had a perfect view of the yard. The neighbor saw nothing. Astounded, they called me the next morning. “You won’t believe this …” they started. “Well, maybe you will.”
My own most startling experience occurred, in fact, during the writing of this book. Only three weeks before Christmas 1997, I’d adopted Terry, a little Pomeranian, by responding to a Humane Society plea aired on a local television show. As my friend Meg and I started out for home with him, we noticed a road sign for Tarrytown; that was how Terry got his name. In just three weeks, I bonded more closely with that little dog than any, I think, I’d ever known in my life. There was just something about him. Then, on Christmas Day, he was killed instantly by a car.
I guide so many people through the deaths of their pets that I’m rarely rattled by the experience. This time, though, I was devastated. I buried him in the other side garden, across from Kico, and then I called my friend Dave, who’s always good for advice when I’m down. Dave heard me describe how Terry had been hit by a car right outside my house.
“Here’s what I perceive,” Dave said. “Terry was just flying around having a great time, and suddenly—boom—his body died. And without his body as a reference point, he’s confused! He doesn’t understand what’s going on. You have to go back to the spot where he was killed and get in touch with him. Not verbally but—on the level of thought. Let him know what happened. And then guide him to safety. You’ll know the process worked when you feel a weight lift off you.”
At first, when I tried, nothing seemed to happen. I felt sort of foolish, to tell the truth, standing there by the roadside late on a cold Sunday afternoon, trying to commune with a dog spirit. I started walking back to the house, and then I thought—no. Do it right. So I tried again. And this time, the strangest feeling came over me. Not just a feeling of peace or relief but giddiness. I walked back to where he was buried and just laughed as I stood by the grave, because I felt Terry’s presence right beside me. It was just as if I were taking him for a walk and actually saying “Come on, boy.”
That night, I fell asleep on the couch with the Christmas tree lights on. I got up at about 4:30 a.m., and at first I felt sad, remembering Terry’s death. Then I looked on my mantel, at the four Christmas socks I had put there, one for each of my pets. Suddenly the one we’d put up for Terry started playing “Jingle Bells.” Now mind you, it was one of those socks that’s got a little electronic chip in it which does play “Jingle Bells”—but only when you squeeze it in the right place. I was lying on the couch when it started playing. At first, I thought nothing of it. I stayed there, and then, ten minutes later, it started playing again! I got up, finally, and went over to make it play the song by squeezing the sock. Nothing happened—until I bent Santa’s arm ninety degrees, as the toy was designed. How could this sock have started playing on its own?
I’m a sane person with a reasonably high IQ. I wasn’t hallucinating, or sleepwalking, or drunk. Terry’s spirit was in the house, that’s all there is to it.
“Death is like taking off a tight shoe,” writes Pat Rodegast of Emmanuel in her book. “Even when you’re dead you’re still alive. You do not cease to exist in death, that’s only illusion. You go through the doorway of death alive, and there is no altering of the consciousness. It’s not a strange land that you go to, but a land of living reality where the growth process is a continuation.” I like that passage enough to have inscribed it, many times, in condolence cards to clients whose pets have died.
A lot of owners ask me if their animals have individual spirits, and if so, whether those spirits can evolve and reappear in other life forms. I certainly think so, and here again, Emmanuel puts it best: Of course they have evolving spirits, he says. “Consciousness must create what it is from the posture of its own existence. When a consciousness expands, it will grow to where it can reach beyond its present understanding into greater wisdom. There is no end to evolution. You, yourselves, will evolve into beings far more brilliant, far more beautiful, and far wiser.”
I’ve heard tell over the years from several sources that animals come from what’s called a group spirit or soul, and that upon death they lose their individuality. Having lived and worked with so many dogs and cats, getting to know them as well as I have, and hearing so many accounts of their return, I believe that animals definitely have individual spirits. Are their spirits like ours? I think they’re less complex. Humans have greater intelligence; the power of the animal spirit is its simplicity. We make ourselves miserable with our fear of death, and have an almost constitutional inability to live in the moment. Our pets have no vices. They love without qualification, exhibit loyalty and courage, have no fear of death, and live every moment fully for itself. Who’s purer?
In that spirit—forgive the pun—consider this lovely passage posted on the Internet and credited to “Anonymous.” One of my clients sent it to me as a tribute to a beloved dog, Bailey:
If you can start the day without caffeine,
If you can get going without pep pills,
If you can always be cheerful, ignoring aches and pains,
If you can resist complaining and boring people with your troubles,
If you can eat the same food every day and be grateful for it,
If you can understand when your loved ones are too busy to give you any time,
If you can overlook it when your loved ones take it out on you when, no fault of yours, something goes wrong,
If you can take criticism and blame without resentment,
If you can ignore a friend’s limited education and never correct him,
If you can resist treating a rich friend better than a poor friend,
If you can face the world without lies and deceit,
If you can conquer tension without medical help,
If you can relax without liquor and sleep without the aid of drugs,
If you can say honestly that deep in your heart you have no prejudice against creed, color, religion, or politics,
Then, my friend, you are almost as good as your pet.
To which I’ll add just this: if pets ruled the world, I have to believe that it would be in better shape than it is today. We’ve applied scientific intelligence to the earth—and all but destroyed it! How smart are we, anyway, to destroy our own home?
Emmanuel, for one, has no doubts about the higher purity of animal spirits. I went to hear Pat Rodegast lecture once on man’s struggle up the mountain of spirituality, and how he’s just beginning his climb “out of the valley.” When she invited us to ask questions of Emmanuel—which she relayed to him psychically, or so she said—I asked if animals have spirits, and if so, how those spirits are different from human spirits. “Animals definitely have spirits,” Emmanuel relayed back through Rodegast. “In fact, the animal spirit is already on top of the mountain we are ascending.”
Most of us, when we first consider the prospect of a new pet to replace our “old” one, feel sharply conflicted. The very idea seems disrespectful to the pet we loved. That pet was an individual being, unique on this earth. You don’t bring in a new one to take his place as you’d buy a new sofa to replace the one you carted off to the dump. And what about us? We can’t just transfer our love from one animal to the next. Anyway, no pet could be as loving, intelligent, and communicative as the pet we recently lost.
I sympathize with those feelings, but in my experience, both personally and professionally, they’re misguided. Getting a new pet, rather than not, has proved to be, without exception, the right decision to make. And the sooner the better.
Consider, first, that in so doing, you’re probably saving that next pet’s life, or at the least assuring him a happy home. Not enough people in this world are willing to take on the responsibilities of properly caring for a pet. You are—and so you should. Moreover, having read this book, you’re in a position to keep a pet healthier than he’d likely be in many other pet owners’ homes. If you can make such a positive difference in another being’s life, don’t you want to do that?
You may feel unwilling, or unable as yet, to open your heart to a new pet, but as strongly as you may feel that, you are—fortunately—wrong. Start looking, and I promise you that sooner than you can imagine, you will find a pet you can love (or, more correctly, he will find you). When you do, you may also experience the phenomenon that proves to me, if any doubts remained, that pets do have spirits. I refer to the experience so many owners have related to me, and that I’ve had myself, of finding their departed pet’s spirit alive and well, residing cheerfully—and knowingly—in their new pet.
When our little white poodle Kico died, my ex-wife Quenya and I felt too glum to replace him immediately. Several months later, a woman came to Smith Ridge with a standard poodle named Bernie suffering from lymphatic cancer of the intestines. As treatment got under way, I saw the woman and her dog regularly. When she mentioned that she also raised small white poodles, and took out a snapshot of a young litter, I was amazed. “They really look like Kico,” I told her. Quenya actually chose one of the pups, a small female, to have the breeder bring back to show her. Instead, weeks later, the woman brought up a different pup, a male who, upon entering my hospital, made a beeline to Quenya, who happened to be sitting in the back office. Before she even realized that this was the breeder’s dog, she exclaimed, “This is my dog! I want him!” As soon as we brought him to the house for the first time, he went zipping down the front yard, put on his brakes, and stared at Kico’s grave site. Then he went into the house and felt right at home. “That dog doesn’t just look like Kico,” my ex-wife said. “That is Kico.” More important, Clayton, as we named our new dog, simply removed the sharp feelings of grief which we’d lived with since the loss of Kico. How can you mourn the loss of a pet who’s back in your life?
More recently, after Terry was killed, I decided to look for a Pomeranian to replace him. Because the clinic was consuming most of my time, I asked two of my employees, Meg and Julie, to follow up on an available litter in Pennsylvania. The two drove down one day and met the puppies’ breeder in the town nearest his house. He directed them to follow him. As his car swung out ahead of theirs, they gasped: the breeder’s car had a bumper sticker that read “Another Goldstein.” The slogan, as it turned out, referred to a car dealership. Or did it? At any rate, the puppy they brought home not only looked and acted like Terry but had the same taste in music. This is Kooper, my newest family member. And it’s true: with his arrival, our sense of loss over Terry has lifted.
By coincidence—or not—as I was finishing this chapter, I ran into a client named Angela Porpora at a business meeting. Angela had owned Wrinkles, the Rottweiler whose cancer I described in the introduction. So fast-growing was Wrinkles’ rectal tumor, despite two cryosurgeries, that I’d had to put her to sleep. “You won’t believe it,” Angela said as she greeted me, beaming. “Wrinkles is back.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, a bit warily.
“My new black-and-white cat,” Angela said. “His name is Michael. Michael is Wrinkles.”
At first, when Angela brought Michael home, she’d thought of him as a cat to replace one she’d lost to feline AIDS a few years ago. Anyway, he was a cat. There seemed no reason to assume a connection, spiritual or otherwise, between a black-and-white cat and a dead Rottweiler dog. Soon enough, however, Michael began to make the connections himself. He started playing with a stuffed animal toy in just the way Wrinkles had. He slept in Wrinkles’ spot, batted Angela’s legs with his paws just as Wrinkles had done, communicated with her as Wrinkles had, and even ate the same dog food Wrinkles had eaten, having shown no interest in the cat food first given him.
“That’s when I started thinking about the essential connection,” Angela explained. “Michael was born April 1, 1997. Wrinkles died six days later. Yet you know as well as I do that her spirit had started to leave her several days before she was put to sleep. The transfer of souls took place within that time, I’m convinced.
“All this time, I haven’t let go of Wrinkles,” Angela said. “In fact, I haven’t washed my sliding glass doors in the bedroom because Wrinkles’ nose prints are still on them, and I didn’t want to lose that last connection with her. But you know what? I’m going to wash those windows now.”
All pets die. All pet spirits, I truly believe, fly free when they do, into a sphere we can’t begin to understand or perceive; in time they reappear in other newborn pets. And if we, as the stewards of those newborn pets, can feed them well and care for them holistically, we can ease their journeys through this next life, as they, with their utter delight in the world, ease ours.
Death, for most of us, is the hardest reality we have to face. Because animals’ life spans are so much shorter than ours, their crossing over offers us the most extraordinary lesson, one we learn with every pet as we ourselves age. It may be that the most profound benefit of having a pet is that we come to understand better the experience of death, and, perhaps, lose some of our fear of it in the process. When our pets die and other pets come into our lives, the lesson becomes that much more inspirational, one that truly calls for celebration: death, our pets teach us, is necessary for new life to appear. Both for our pets and, eventually, for us, too.