End-of-Life Care for Pets & Their People
In Pet Hospice
What do Animals Want?
My Dad had just died when Eli, my eleven year old ginger tabby, received the diagnosis of heart failure. He sat wrapped like a furry burrito in my beach towel at the clinic, being the best boy, as the veterinarian delivered the news. “We can euthanize him now, if you like.” If I like, if I like…My head spun, my heart went into a fixed and locked position. “No, we will be going home now, thanks.” And with no idea what I was doing, yet following my instincts, I took Eli home to die.
I sat with Eli that night and said, listen here, you are going to go in your own time, at your own pace, right here at home, and I will not be euthanizing you. Do you hear me? Do you understand? This is what we are doing. I could almost hear him say, “Okay Mum.” And that’s exactly what we did, together.
For a week or so Eli was the best boy, sensitive to the core. He was loved on by Ashami, his adopted brother, who lay with him most of the time and Harleigh, the busy Min Pin, who slept with his arm draped over Eli. The scene was magical. We played music, lit candles, and used homeopathy and some light aromatherapy to treat his ever-changing symptoms. My veterinarian was also a homeopath, so we were fortunate.
People came to pay their respects, because Eli was loved and adored by everyone who met him. All of his bones were good. He reacted poorly to pain meds, so we put them aside. He didn’t seem to be in any discomfort as the fluid built back up around his heart. His gentle breathing changed to accommodate and the homeopathics helped greatly. I pondered at home pet euthanasia briefly as I watched his quality of life decline, but I realized I was witnessing a new level of well-being emerge, that of living while dying.
One night as I administered a homeopathic remedy that would help with moving him gently towards his transition I said, listen here Eli, I’m going out to watch some television, but if you need me just holler. As I sat watching T.V. he cried out. Within seconds I was back in the bedroom, holding him tenderly, as his front legs stretched out like superman, while his neck arched back. Suddenly, like a candle in the wind, he was gone. His energy circled the room a few times and then swept itself away. It was otherworldly and not sad at all.
Fast forward ten years, the conversation about natural end of life and pet euthanasia still needs much airtime. People make an error in judgment when they hear you are a proponent of hospice assisted natural end of life for animals, assuming that you are against pet euthanasia. Nothing could be further from the truth. Being for something does not mean one must be against something. We are pro pet euthanasia, pro choice, and always in favor of the best interests of the animals. If all choices are not on the table for end of life for companion animals and their families, we are failing at getting out the information that the animals are calling for, and we are diminishing the circle of life that is yearning for compassion, expansion and joyful expression, even in the letting go of physical form.
At end of life, discerning what is in the best interest of the animals regarding pet euthanasia and pet cremation can be challenging while assessing and maintaining quality of dying along the way, with the help of the medical and non-medical team. Families who are offered the education, resources and support for the many choices available, have the unique opportunity to support their pets at end of life and can create a plan of care that supports their beliefs, goals and values. This plan can be subject to change whenever necessary. But when it comes to the animals, what do they want and what are they capable of and how do you find out?
The conversation around suffering is important. We often hear, I don’t want my animal to suffer. Generally when this topic is investigated one might discover that the animal is not suffering as the pet parent had imagined. Because of its physical appearance and the changes that accompany end of life, suffering was assumed. It is important to discern who exactly is suffering. When more education is applied to end of life care for animals, owners become empowered to make fresh decisions based on new information, and the path of least regrets opens up.
If we as humans came to live out the full gamut of experiences of life and death and everything in-between, why would that not hold true for animals? At what point did we assume that animals came here to by-pass their dying experience? What makes us so sure they cannot do it with grace and ease, if they and their families are supported and quality of life is maintained?
We cannot work effectively and evolve as beings if we come from a place of what’s always been done is good enough or is the best practice. Life expresses itself in countless forms – dogs and cats are just two of those amazing forms. These animals and their families deserve a choice if one is possible, so they can show us their resilience, not just in life, but in the sacred act of dying. Their people deserve access to education, resources and a team that supports them, while being a trusted, unbiased source for assistance when and if needed.
What do animals want? Ask them. Find a way and don’t look back.
Softly I must go now, pad, pad
As I remember your face
The sun against my blustering sky