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...it's also a time of many questions, much suffering and unfortunately even of wide spread incomprehension by our fellow people. 'But it's just a dog...'!
At this point I would like to share some thoughts with you, create impulses and maybe offer you a completely new perspective if you are open minded. I would like to show you how to prepare your dog's last journey as a loving moment, where you also can experience comfort and deeply insight and maturation.
At first remember that with your dog you've got a friend at your side that loves and trusts you steadfast. Does anyone may honestly answer the question whether our partner, children or parents accepts us the way our animal does day-to-day? It bears our moods without complaint, lives its life like we want it to, accompanies us trough every imaginable life situations and will always love, respect and protect us with a pure heart and absolutely uncritical. For who can offer such comfort to us?
Consequently it should be obvious to offer a loving, understanding and caring companionship to our animal at its time of death and if possible the time before. We love our animal – it certainly shouldn't be difficult for us.
How do animals understand dying?
For us the death is one of the biggest taboo topics in our society. But some native people and faith communities know how to deal with the death in a loving and natural way.
In our local culture the death still is connected to thoughts full of fear and worries. Worries concerning material losses, fear of some unpleasant form of death, seperation from families and the basic idea on the life after death.
For animals the death means something completely natural. The cycle of birth and death shows up as an eternal ring of giving and taking. Bounding up with pain as well as greatest happiness. In full harmony with nature and naturalness animals do calmly and peacefully accept illness and dying, which gives them the incredible ability of letting go and completely devoting themselves to this situation.
As it is also outlined by some religions dying can be understood as some kind of movement from one room to access a new one. Our animals do understand death in this way.
I believe you will agree with me, that this is an indescribably beautiful thought as it means never really loosing what we love. There will be a reunion somewhere in eternity to which we may look forward to with love and joy.
Your animal is dying...
You know that your animal suffers from some severe illness? Or it already is very old?
You will asstist and accompany your dog through this hard and sorrowful time. You will be torn between the grief of loosing your animal and the wish to support your companion. Billions of thoughts will accompany you through the days and nights. There will be worries whether you may recognize how your animal feels and if you would be able to help your dog the way it wishes or even expects you to.
You truely love your animal and if you try to be open to initially strange things you may experience a strong inner maturation through the time of terminal medical care. You will rise to this occasion by gathering endless wonderful experiences for your further way. You only have to allow yourself to let go of human perception and try to fully succumb to your dog's communication without any restriction. Animals aren't 'mute beings'. Animals announce themselves distinctly.
Anyone who knows how to consider, observe and analyze with loving eyes will be able to understand and take this form of communication into account. By this means you will become a true fellow, a reliable partner and a confident companion for your four-legged friend during the time prior to its death and even afterwards.
When a disease progresses it even becomes more evident, that our beloved companion slowly strikes off into his new existence.
Perphaps you notice that your animal becomes more and more tired. Resting periods become longer and deeper. Your dog will increasingly establish contact to you. In many cases he will seek to be near you and its eyes will follow and look at you with love. In this way your dog gives you the signal that times draws near when he will need your help. At this moment you will begin to make first small 'preparations'. You will check the respiration and temperature of your dog more often. You will prepare a particularly cosy place where the animal finds its favorite toy, blanket and pillow. This place should be in close proximity to you. If your dog has problems to move, please ensure that water and food is reachable.
Some dogs prefer to withdraw before its death. This desire is quiet naturally and needs to be respected. A separate room, where the dog could withdraw if needed, may be enough. But sometimes the animal even wants to be outdoors. Those who have a garden of its own, should also respect this request. A warm blanket at the dogs favorite place ensures a soft and cozy bedding. This place will be picket by your dog itself and mostly is located in a quiet corner beneath trees or bushes.
Usually you will clearly identify the visible signs, which show you that the end is near. The dog doesn't eat anymore and after a while it will also stop drinking. Please dab water on the nose and mouth of your dog with a wet cloth.
If we think of our body as a 'soul house', we will understand that there is no need to eat and drink anymore. At the time of death, your dog will wipe off his body. You can imagine this the same way we throw off a piece of clothing to dispose it because we do not need it anymore.
Your dog's breathing will become irregular and weaker. The animal starts breathing 'inwards'. For us this state seems threatening, but it should be considered as what it finally represents: the dog ceases its metabolic processes. The breathing sooner or later will no longer be required as well. The oxygen supply will be decreased.
At this stage many dogs become nervous. They become restless and begin to aimlessly wander around. Sometimes the dog lets out moaning sounds, but that not necessarily is a sign of pain. That's when homeopathic remedies are useful.
Create a quiet environment for your four-legged companion. Sit down next to you dog and read to him. You can choose a fairy tale or an other 'soft literature' as for example 'The little prince'. Probably it shouldn't be the business section of a daily paper or a thriller. Reading aloud has two wonderful effects: you are concentrated and therefore distracted a little bit and the familiar sound of your voice will feel pleasant and calming for your dog.
Talk to your dog about beautiful common days. Assure your dog your deep love and affection. Apologize for perhaps having inflicted pain or suffering at some time. Resolve situations that may cause conflicts or bad conscience for you after your dog has died. Your dog will understand and forgive everything that perhaps has to be forgiven.
Play quiet and calming music for your dog. Some dogs really have some kind of preferences. One of my own dogs loves Vivaldi and relaxes with this music very well.
Also the smell of rose petals is percieved to be pleasant for dogs at this stage. Maybe you have an aroma lamp at hand to vaporize rose oil?
Take your time for your words of farewell and let for example your kids quietly say goodbye as well. But please ensure a peaceful and calming atmosphere during the whole time!
Please be heavily concentrated on the signals your companion sends to you, because it is necessary to make the decision whether you provide euthanasia or whether your animal wants to tread this path alone and especially is able to do so.
Many dogs die alone at night. It might be explained by the need of self-determination and the wish to reduce the pain for its human as much as possible. Your dog needs to be able to leave its body by calmlysending its soul on its way. The inner balance has to be preserved. Please take this into consideration!
Euthanasia – yes or no?
You now are already communicating with your animal and might be able to read its signals to decide whether your dog needs help or wants to tread this path alone. Before taking a hasty decision on behalf of euthanasia, please reconsider this decision carefully!
Consider te following scenario:
A very close person of you receives the diagnosis cancer – incurable. Imagine it would be legal to provide assisted suicide. Would you immediately vote for assisted suicide or would you wait until this person tells you: 'I can't take this any longer. I'm not dying without help – so please help me, now!'. Like in this example you also have to consider, if and when your animal needs help.
Help always might be necessary, when:
Please let your dog euthanise at home in its familiar setting. Hold your animal in your arms, calm it down. Provide a feeling of endless gratitude, love and cozy warmth to your dog. Tell your dog all the words you want to give it on its upcoming path. Do not be embarrassed to let go all of your feelings. Let your dog take this path at rest – so please be ready to let go. Accept your pain and permit it to occur.
If you are overstrained by this situation (what would be truly comprehensible), look for someone who can stay with you and your dog. It might be helpful to pick someone who is not that close to your animal as you are – an outsider with an understanding for this special situation.
If it is not possible to let your animal die at home, please try to also realize as many of the points mentioned above as possible even in the veterinary clinic. Most veterinarians show understanding and will give you the needed time to practice your farewell rituals! Please remember: We also don't want to die in an anonymous clinic and therefore wish some familiar atmosphere to cause a state of love and comfort.
Your animal died...
When your animal died at home, please leave it laying on this place for half a day. Place a waterproof base underneath a cozy blanket. It it absolutely natural and it can happen, that the body loses body fluids after death. Please, light a candle standing at the window.
Your animal will release a huge amount of energy after its death. In us humans it's the same. Please lovingly cover your animal up with a blanket (head uncovered). You can also lay a flower or favourite cuddly toy next to your animals body.
If at all possible, please sit next to your animal. If there are other animals belonging to your family, let them say goodbye as well. Farewell rituals are very important in regard to the understanding and acceptance of your further animals and therefore essential!
Maybe you will have the opportunity to experience an unheard-of miracle and may be able to see how your animal leaves its body! Go along with it and accept that you probably may see something, that other people – outsiders – won't comprehend. Internalize this experience with great love and gratitude. Wish your animal a safe journey and a wonderful life in this new dimension. Let your animal leave with dignity, love and peace. Please open a window and become aware that the soul of your animal left for its journey. Even if your animal now is absent in its body, it will never leave you. Perhaps you even may experience little signs of its continued presence?!
Allow yourself to accept the great and barbarous mourning. But also internalize that your beloved animal is well off again. Remember the good times, you had together. Additionally, please also allow thoughts to occur that remind of hard times. Read the story about the rainbow bridge and look forward to a reunion that will – eventually, but for certain – will happen!
One half day after the death of your animal you now can focus on the funeral. Referring to this I presume that you will always decide against a rendering plant!
...will make the farewell easier for you and may help to overcome grief.
That's why I now want to suggest a few recommendations for – as I think – wonderful rituals:
Invite friends, that knew your animal. Sit together and let everyone tell a little story from the life of the animal. Remember its preferences, little effronteries or even common solutions of conflicts.
Create a 'memory jar'. Collect beautiful and marked stones. Write a characteristic of your animal on each stone. Perhaps preferences as well. Write short sentences on the stone to communicate with your animal in eternity. Collect the Stones into a beautiful jar and keep them as lasting memories. You also can lay the stones down on your dogs grave. If you incinerated your dog, you can even lay the stones on a place in the forest or garden, where your animal loves to stay and was happy.
Write your dog a long and loving letter. Tell your dog everything you need to say. Fold this letter into a small boat and let it float with the stream of a river when the sun is coming up. Additionally you can also send flower petal on its way.
Maybe you wrote down your thoughts you had through the time of terminal medical care? Complement those notes with your feelings that occured in the immediate time of death and the time after. Create a beautiful photo book with photos of your beloved animal and write down all your thoughts and notes.
You did an incredible, invaluable and loving service to your animal. You let it go piecefully...!
Well, for you a hard time begins and you will painfully miss your companion every second of the first days. Please internalize that your beloved animal always remains on your side, because you were 'its human'.
Unfortunately we often are refused to perform the final service of love to our animal, for example when it dies because of an accident.
Please free yourself from potentially appearing thoughts, that you could have prevented this death or that you may have denied this described way of teminal care. Your animal will understand and forgive! Even after its death you can cherish your animal with many loving gestures and good thoughts.
Please always consider: Only the forgotten are really dead. But you will never forget your animal and it will keep on living inside your heart.
I wish you force, insight and strength. I wish you many good thoughts and a pieceful time of farewell with your animal!"
© 2010, Dr. rer. biol. vet. Daniela Koppenhöfer