I have been a veterinarian for almost forty years and I must admit that I am not real excited about the way the profession has moved over the last decade or so. There is one thing that I am happy about and that is the introduction of hospice care for pets.
Many veterinarians and veterinary techs have taken to the road to work with clients that are dealing with terminal pets, setting up programs that will provide an easier transition. Most of these protocols include addressing pain and comfort, relieving stress and preparing the caretaker for the ultimate decision as to when it is time to let go. It also allows the pet to become adjusted to the veterinarian being at the home when it comes time for euthanasia.
Because the veterinarians and their technicians use conventional therapy, most of these pets receive lots of medications, including anti-inflammatory drugs, analgesics, anti-depressants and others. We certainly don’t want our pets hurting but we also don’t want our pets so drugged that they are not allowed the remaining time with a clear mind and loving expression.
Please don’t think that I am overly-criticizing this approach because most of the vets have solely been trained from this perspective. Many of them teach their clients gentle massage and other hands-on techniques that benefit both pet and caretaker.
If we can accept that this is going to happen, preparing for transition can be one of the most important experiences that we have in our lives. It offers us so much opportunity to have an experience that can be tremendously beneficial for us as well as our pet. We have become so conditioned to fear death that we often deal with this period in a time of fearful emotions such as worry, anxiety and grief that we miss the opportunity to make it a beautiful experience that we may treasure the rest of our lives.
I love telling the story of Dr. Ed, the vet who I worked with for several years. He was a dog man and absolutely loved his dogs. He was not only a veterinarian, but also a Labrador trainer and he spent most of his time away from the clinic working with his dogs.
Ed brought his old Labrador to the clinic every day. The gray-muzzled gentleman would sleep on his bed in Ed’s office and the only time we knew that he was there was at lunch when Ed would take him out for a walk.
One day, Ed came to me with anguish in his face. He told me that he had felt a tumorous spleen in his old Lab’s abdomen. We both knew that it was likely hemangiosarcoma, a malignant cancer that would surely cause his death.
During those days, before ultrasounds, we would do exploratory surgery in order to know what was going on in the abdomen. In the case of splenic hemangiosarcoma, we would enter the abdomen, look at the spleen for verification of cancer and then examine the rest of the abdomen for evidence that it has spread. The first place that it would likely spread was the liver, so we would look at the liver for evidence of cancer. If the liver was covered with cancer, the standard protocol was to euthanize the dog and not allow it to wake up. Statistics told us that these dogs had very little time to live, usually days to a couple of weeks. Recovery from the surgery would also be a negative factor for the cancerous dog. We are very grateful that we have ultrasound these days and do not have to go through this protocol.
Ed asked me to participate in the surgery. After making the incision, we began to explore the abdomen. The spleen was extremely enlarged and close to 100% of the splenic tissue was infiltrated with cancer. We then moved the spleen out of the way and looked at the liver. It too was infiltrated with cancer. Not what we had hoped to find.
Ed paused and I could hear him breathing. A few minutes passed and he began to clamp the spleen vessels and I knew that he was starting to remove the spleen, not according to our usual protocol. I looked at Ed’s eyes above his surgical mask. “Are you sure you want to do this?” I asked. “I can’t put him to sleep. I am not ready,” he answered.
Ed’s old Labrador lived another four weeks and then Ed let him go. A few days later Ed came to me and wanted to talk. He told me that the four weeks that he had with his old dog were the most precious and meaningful time that he had with him in his entire life. He did not regret for one moment having made the decision he made during surgery.
Ed had the wonderful opportunity to be with his dog in a unique state of mind. He knew that his dog was going to transition and he accepted that. Instead of grieving, he chose to spend the time in gratitude and appreciation. He told the old dog how much he loved him and how grateful he was for the unconditional love that he gave him throughout his life. He connected with his dog in a deep, deep way that he had never connected with anyone or anything in his life. He had found unconditional love and he and his dog were in harmony; unconditional love expressing itself through two loving individuals.
Hospice time should not discount this opportunity. Love, and only love, is the foundation of healing. This does not mean that it will cure the cancer, although it might, but it brings awareness to the Truth and that unconditional love is what we all strive for, both in the giving and receiving.
Hospice time is not just for the pet. It is for the caretaker as well. It is a time to connect at a level beyond understanding.
Here are a few things that I would recommend to do during this special time:
- If you meditate, do a short meditation to clear your mind and bring you to the present moment. If you do not meditate, just sit for a couple of minutes with your eyes closed and watch your breathing, allowing any thoughts that arise to pass.
- Devote this time to your pet and no one else. Your pet came into your life to serve you and offer you experiences to learn more about yourself. It is your time and your pet’s time together and no one else. No phone calls, no interruptions.
- Take a few minutes and stroke your pet. Look into your pet’s eyes and feel the appreciation you have for the time that you have had together. Tell her how much you love her and let your emotions flow. It will open your heart and you will have a “heartfelt” feeling which is actually an energetic connection with your pet at a deep, soulful level. Be in that space as long as it persists.
- Close your eyes again and think of some of the wonderful experiences that you have had with your pet. Smile both internally and externally. See in your mind, your pet playing, free from pain and disease. See you interacting with your pet during those times, reliving the experience. Memory is nothing more than bringing a previous experience into the present moment. The mind doesn’t know that it is not happening. Relive it completely.
Repeat this as often as you can during the day, remembering that you need to stay in the present moment for it to be effective. This means no thoughts about the past or no thoughts about what might happen in the future.
Some other things that I recommend to do with your pet:
- Hands on participation through healing touch, gentle massage, range of motion exercises, etc. Always from a loving perspective and not with an agenda.
- Try to use natural remedies instead of drugs if possible. This will allow your pet to be with you in the moment and not experiencing side effects of the drug therapy. Consult a holistic vet for natural remedies instead of drugs.
- Use essential oils if you are comfortable with them. Diffusing calming blends during time with your pet is a great way to relax into the moment. If you are not comfortable using them with cats then don’t use them, use Hydrosol blends instead.
- Reiki. All animals, including humans, benefit from Reiki. Reiki classes are offered online and I highly recommend you learn this energy technique as it will benefit you and your loved ones at all times, including the hospice period.
- Stay positive, focusing on loving appreciation. If you feel your mood shifting and beginning to have negative emotions, stop, close your eyes, focus on your breathing and start thinking about something that will make you feel better immediately; previous play time with your pet, your child’s smile, dancing with your partner and so on. YOUR energy state is the most critical component of this time together. If you are not positive and loving, you are not serving your pet.