This is a picture of Mia. Her death was a catalyst for my ordination as a Buddhist nun. That story forms part of a book we are compiling, working title "Loving Your Pet Through Life and Death", about providing palliative/hospice care for your pet at home.
Do you have a story to share? Read on.............
For many of us pets form part of our families. Their presence in our lives enriches us in countless ways: companionship, comfort, playfulness, activity, security. They offer us on a daily basis an immediate and intimate relationship that touches our hearts. When we are sad, they come to us, eyes round and moist and offer a lick of hope. Or they wag their tails jubilantly as a reminder that laughter and play are good for our health. Curled on our laps, purring and soft, they touch that tender place of inner contentment. For each of us, in some unique way, our pets shape and expand our lives.
In return, we care for them. We offer them a place in our homes and hearts, soft beds to sleep on, good food to eat. We watch for signs of illness or injury, like every parent, and take them to the vet when extra care is needed. We stroke and groom and throw toys and go for walks and get up to let them out and then again to let them in. We worry if they don’t come home as night falls, listening attentively for the bark or the scratch or meow that tells us they are safe. We take countless photos, and send them proudly to friends, wanting to share their antics and beauty.
And some day we will face, inevitably, the fact of their death. Perhaps we will find a lump on the leg of our dog, and learn it is a cancer without a cure. Or she will age gradually, becoming deaf and lame and slow, in a journey the outcome of which is final. A car may hit her as she dashes across the road, and bloodied and broken she hauls herself into the roof for safety. Each of these scenarios has happened to me. Just as for us as humans, the potential of how death could come is indefinable and unknown.
There is no easy way to embrace the prospect of losing a pet who has offered us a life of joy and companionship. As soon as awareness of impending death touches us – whether it be moments or months until death arrives – we feel a grief, the beginning of a loss that ripples across each day. We measure and treasure the moments we have, the cuddles and walks and nuzzling we share. If needed, we carry them into the car or out to the lawn and a patch of sunshine to lie in. We watch tenderly, and protectively, and worry for them, about them. We do not want them to suffer at all.
Traditionally, very often, a decision is made that their quality of life has diminished so greatly, that the true act of kindness is to become the agent of swift death, and euthanize. Having loved them so dearly, we want to prevent their pain, and our anguish, during the process of separation. To ‘put them to sleep’ or ‘out of misery’ is seen as a great kindness, and to do otherwise is considered cruel.
This is an understandable choice that reflects the deep bond of love we have for our pets. But there is an alternative, which honors this love and allows it to deepen until the moment of death. It is not cruel or heartless; the suffering, as for dying people, can be minimized by treatment and care. It is not about abandoning our pets at this time of change and critical need, but about loving and caring for them so they may die naturally, in their home, with us. This is not such a radical choice, and one many people make - although often then receiving harsh criticisim for being cruel.
Most people who make the choice to allow their pets to die naturally at home express gratitude at the opportunity to care for and love their pet through this time of transition. It is a reflection and extension of the deep love and commitment they have shared with that same beloved family member during the healthy years.
The no-kill rescue where I live and work is compiling a book on this subject. It will include information from a qualified vet, who also uses acupuncture and chinese herbs, who has specialised in hospice/palliative care for pets. It will also share the wonderful stories of people who have made this choice and want to let others now what it meant to them, and to their pet, to allow him or her to die naturally at home.
Have you ever made this choice? We would love to hear from you. Suggested length is 1200 words max. You can email us at email@example.com, or go to www.tarasbabies.org for more information. Closing date is fluid, though May 1 sounds good!