As a holistic vet, both as a practitioner and a consultant, many of the pets that I work with have been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Most of the caretakers have been moved towards a more expanded approach to dealing with the health situation for their pet. I tell every single pet caretaker that this requires a change in mindset.
I remind them that every individual that has a body will die and although we don’t like to think about it, at some level, we accept that. Our physical body is form, organic in nature and will eventually stop functioning. “Dust to dust,” as some say.
I tell the caretaker to imagine that there is a mark on the calendar and that this mark represents the day that the pet will die. We certainly don’t know what day that is, but it is there and nothing that we can do will stop that from happening. Just allowing that truth to sink in gives us peace. We stop resisting that that will not be changed, no matter how hard we try.
If we accept this truth then we have a choice. That choice is how we want to spend the remaining days. It comes down to choosing to be afraid of impending death or to choose to be joyful of life in the present moment. You can imagine how the difference of the feeling you will have from either choice. I tell the pet caretaker that if they accept that death will happen and decide to focus on the joy of life in each moment then there is a switch from fear to love and in this experience, wonderful things can happen.
Many years ago I worked with a veterinarian, Ed, who had a lovely Labrador Retriever. Ed brought this fellow with him to work every day and any place that he and his wife would go. One day, he told me that his old dog had splenic cancer. He was going to do a surgical exploration to determine if the tumorous spleen needed to be removed or if he needed to euthanize his dog. He asked me to assist him with the surgery.
The protocol was pretty simple at that time. We would surgically explore the dog’s abdomen, look at the tumorous spleen and look at the other organs to see if the cancer had spread. If the cancer had spread, the prognosis was poor, often the life expectancy was days to weeks. We would usually euthanize the dog on the table and not allow it to wake up. If the cancer had not spread, then the spleen would be removed and the dog was allowed to wake up and we would tell the client that the prognosis was 2-6 months.
When we opened his dog’s abdomen it was clear that the cancer was everywhere. It was all over the spleen, liver, intestines and regional lymph nodes. My heart sunk when I looked at the invasiveness of the disease. Ed paused and became quiet. After a few moments, he started to surgically remove the spleen. I politely asked him what he was doing and reminded him that he was going against protocol. He looked at me and said, “I can’t put him to sleep. He is my dog and I just can’t do it.”
The old Labrador recovered from surgery and actually lived for several months before he reached the mark on the calendar. It was what Ed told me afterwards that etched a mark in my heart and in my mind. He said, “Knowing that he was near death, I spent each moment with him in this awareness. I felt genuinely grateful for every day that I had with him. It was the best experience I have ever had in my life.”
When we take the time to be genuinely present with our pet, drop all agendas, actions, intentions and expectations, we are with them completely. We are in a state of presence that is so intense that the barriers between us and our pet seem to come down and we sense a deep interconnection. I call this the heart to heart connection. We have this potential with everything we encounter. We usually don’t experience this because we are not in the present moment at the time; too busy doing instead of being.
Our young granddaughter spent some time with us several years ago as her Dad was in Afghanistan with the army. It was late summer and the back yard was full of fruit. She had picked a bowl full of fresh strawberries and was chomping away in delight. I asked her to do something for me. I told her to eat the strawberry slowly and just taste it without thinking. She followed instructions and when I asked her to tell me about the strawberries, her eyes lit up and she said, “It was so good.” Then I told her to think of her room back at her home while she was eating the next strawberry. She did as I asked. When I asked her how that strawberry tasted, she said, “It wasn’t as good.”
When we put our full awareness in the present moment, life becomes beautiful and we feel fulfilled, whether our pet is sick or our father is at war. It is a spiritual truth.
Why do we want to wait until the vet tells us that our pet will die soon to realize that all bodies are mortal and will die? The mark on the calendar is there and we need to be aware of it right now; for our pets and ourselves. Make this time special, make it in awareness of the beauty and wonder of life itself. Do this by devoting time each day to spend in complete awareness of the moment, whether it is being with your pet, eating your food, doing your work or walking in nature. Each moment is divine and a gift for you to experience. It is up to you how you want to spend that moment.