Updated: Feb 11
This week’s blog and podcast is on the topic of our beloved pets. We are going to explore this idea that we emotionally want our pets to live forever even though we intellectually know that is not possible. We are also going to discuss how we can reframe our time together with them in a way that can empower us and make us feel good. Lastly, it is important to understand that unlike humans, we do have options available to us to make end-of-life care more compassionate and comfortable for our pets, so we really might want to consider taking advantage of them.
Okay, let’s begin with the fact that if all goes well, we are going to outlive our pets for sure! This is not a problem. The alternative would be that we would be dying and leaving our pets behind, and I am pretty sure we don’t want that to happen! I understand this concept now but did not get it at all when I found my first dog Harry in a pet shop around 14 years ago. Harry was a cockapoo with amazing Andy Rooney eyebrows, a long body, and a big nose. He was kind of cantankerous, did not really want to be held, and did not really like anybody else but me. God, I loved that dog! I still do actually. One of the reasons I chose him in particular was because of the long-life span usually associated with Cockapoos; they can live up to 18 years old! At some level, I really believed Harry would live that long so when he got sick and died at the age of 8, I was absolutely devastated. I truly had trouble accepting the reality of the situation because I did not think he was supposed to die so young. It’s sort of like when the weatherman predicts beautiful weather, but it rains instead. We think, no! I made plans outside because of the forecast and it is not supposed to be raining! We think something has gone wrong. Eckhart Tolle tells us in A New Earth that rejecting reality only causes suffering and boy was he right. If we can truly accept that our pets are not meant to be with us forever, we can approach the time we have with them in a way that is so much more empowering.
There are so many ways to reframe our thoughts regarding our lovable fur-balls, but I am going to limit them it to the ones I find most helpful given the limitations of this post. First, how about instead of dreading the day we have to say goodbye to them, we actually learn to stay present and enjoy the time we have with them? Wouldn’t that be a good place to start? Us humans always want to worry about the future and how awful it might be, and this just robs us of the present moment where there are currently no problems at all. Thanks, but no thanks, ego and brain BS! Instead of giving into those fears and negative emotions, why not choose thoughts that feel so much better on purpose? I didn’t know that was an option when I had Harry, but you can be sure I am doing that with Ginger and Basil. For example, there was a time when I first got my current pups that I would worry about what would happen to the other one when one of them got sick or died. It was heartbreaking to me when I would think that thought because they are so close and love each other so much. I would actually cry and find myself fretting over it and they were just puppies! Guess what? Not useful!
What might be a more effective thought for me to utilize? I will share a few that work really well for me, but you have to find your own thoughts that work for you. You will know if it works by the way you feel in your body when you think it. I often rely on “sometimes life just sucks and there is no escaping that whether we are humans or animals”. Another thought that works for me is “life is 50/50 and all living beings are going to experience both good and bad”. I also talk to my pups with a heart full of love about how our time together on earth is a temporary gift, but that we will be connected to each other forever. I choose to trust that even though they don’t speak English, they understand the energetic message I am sending them. I remember when I first got the pups, they both got kennel cough and Ginger had to go to the ER for pneumonia and they were only 10 weeks old. I was freaking out because I had just lost Harry a month and a half before that and could not believe I was dealing with another sick dog (insert Law of Attraction here). Anyways, I did not know then what I know now. I tell Ginger and Basil all the time that it is a huge gift to be able to take care of them throughout their lives and it will be an absolute honor to help them exit this world in the most peaceful and loving way possible. You might be thinking I am a little whackadoodle by now, but stick with me because believe it or not, this brings me great comfort. My approach to being a pet mom now enables me to stay totally present with both of my pups and love them with my whole heart. It makes it easier for me to accept when they are sick or if we are having a bad day because I don’t turn it into a big drama like I did with Harry. My new thoughts permit me to accept reality which means I suffer way less than I used to. I emotionally accept now that I have limited time with my pets. I am going to thank my lucky stars when they are healthy and that we can go for our long walks that we love so much. I am going to practice gratitude every day that I had the intuition to pick out the two best pups for me and enjoy them while I can.
Now we are going to talk about the differences about helping a beloved pet at the end-of-life vs helping a family member or friend to exit this world. This is important information to consider because our pets do not have to suffer needlessly. Now I understand that this is very subjective, but I want you to consider that sometimes we keep pets alive for ourselves and it is not in their best interest. I am not saying that we cannot do that, but I think we have to be honest with ourselves about the way we are thinking and the results that we create because of that. I believe the Universe gave us this gift (lesson) and opportunity to say good bye to our pets, so that we can learn more about ourselves in terms of how we deal with dying and saying goodbye to anything or anyone we love.
For example, I want to share the situation that I was faced with when my Harry got really sick. Harry was diagnosed with Protein Losing Enteropathy (PLE) which is basically leaky gut. It was a chronic condition that continued to advance, and the doctor said it would eventually kill him. He was in and out of the hospital a few times but, the last time he was there he was super sick. PLE keeps dogs from absorbing protein in their guts and also causes pancreatitis. This would mean tons of pain for Harry, excessive vomiting, fecal incontinence and jelly like stools. Oh my gosh, it broke my heart to see him in so much pain. Even worse, was when I took him to the ER on a Friday for the last time and they wanted to keep him there…in a crate!!! Harry HATED crates so this was really hard for me. I did it though because he was in so much pain and I thought that was what we should make the priority. I remember they called me from the ER the next day to say Harry would not eat and they wanted to give him a feeding tube. They said he still had a decent chance of having some quality of life if they found the correct dosage of medicine for him. They recommended I do it, so I said yes. I immediately questioned that decision after I hung up. Luckily, they called about 30-minutes later to say Harry stole another dog’s food! We were ecstatic and hopeful that this meant Harry could possibly recover and stay well for a while. I was also enormously relieved that I did not put that tube in my poor Harry.
Now, I have to say, I can handle end-of-life situations better than the average person. I can sense when it is time to say goodbye to humans, and I trust my intuition with that 100%. I am usually the one who initiates a hospice consult before anybody else is quite ready for it. What can I say? I just know when the end is near. Yes I find it sad to say goodbye, but it is far better than watching them suffer. With Harry it was a little different because he got out of the hospital and came home and was doing fairly okay. I mean he was not great, but he was not visibly suffering either (important to point out because dogs try to hide their pain). I had a long talk with my vet, and he told me that it was inevitable that Harry would end up back in the hospital, and that it was just a matter of time before he died.
At this point, it became clear to me that I had some decisions to make. I specifically point out that it became clear to me because somebody else who deals with end-of-life differently may have not even be thinking like I was in that moment. I want to be clear, there is no judgment about that, we are all just different in how we deal with death. My 20 plus years of working in the hospital and being with loved ones who have died, lends to me having an easier time accepting death. Somebody else might not have even accepted that their dog was terminal yet or feel the same responsibility that I did to minimize how much he suffered. Some people just want to have as many days as possible with their pets and care more about that than quality of life. Some people don’t want to be responsible for ending their pet’s life even two seconds before they think they should. Those are usually the pets who die at home. My biggest fear was that he would have to return to the ER and get crated again which was just an unbearable possibility. I just knew absolutely that there was no way I was going to let that happen. And I didn’t. I spoke with my family and made an appointment for the vet to come to our home that following week. I was leaving for a special trip in two days that I could not cancel or reschedule, and I could not take the chance that something would happen while I was gone. I remember it like it was yesterday. We were on the second-floor deck of our home where Harry used to wreak havoc on the neighborhood. It was an absolutely beautiful day with blue skies and a light breeze. It was just me and Harry. I wanted it that way. I held Harry in my arms and literally felt him float into my heart as the life left his body. (OMG, I am bawling right now as I recall this). The pain I felt that day was so intense, and the sadness was so overwhelming I thought I might die with Harry. I didn’t though. And I have never experienced guilt or regret around that decision to take his life that day. They only thing I feel is absolute love for him and gratitude that my little Harry never had to suffer again and get so sick that he had to be crated and kept away from me. What a beautiful memory for me to be able to cherish.
In conclusion, as much as we would love for our pets to live forever, we must accept that they will not. If we can truly accept this reality, we can stay present and manage our minds in a way that can reduce our suffering when they become ill, or when it is time for them to leave us. In return, we have options to reduce our pet’s suffering at the end of their lives and should consider doing that when possible. There is no right nor wrong way to deal with losing a pet, but we want to be clear about how we are thinking because that determines the results of how they exit this world. Meaning however it goes down, the goal is to like our reason for why we made the decision we made so we will be able to live with that decision long after they are gone. Join me in The Brain BS Podcast to discuss this further.