“I come into the peace of wild things, who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.”
from The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Barry
An eclipse of darkness cascaded ever upward, downward, outward, across the universe unfolding, rainbow colors streaming, soaring, swirling light; casting luminescence, across all darkness, for a moment, for a glimmer, for an instant, all is bright. When departing from an earthly form, after passing from the physical, where we lift up higher things and then become them; a flash of brilliance fills the cosmos, in the honor of our service, a revelation of love’s ever-present light.
Leʻa’s seventh birthday is, or would have been today; November 13, 2017; the day I return to penning her legacy. The pet memorial service delivered her cremains yesterday, filling solidly an attractive cedar box. Leʻa lived to play games, and was constantly inventing new ones. She played the toy game, the in-and-out game, the pork hide game, the keep away game, the upstairs game, the bite-the-spraying-water game, the talk pretty game, and more. She made everything fun, and a little bit magical, and whether blaringly or quietly, Leʻa filled the moods and moments with her joyful, stubborn style. I really notice them now — now that she is gone. Don’t get me wrong, we always enjoyed her sweet uniqueness and stuff, but now they’re screaming through the crevices and the holes she left behind!
I have been trying to figure out how to finish up Leʻa’s Legacy, and decided to fill her final post with love, joy, and hope. This is what she wants. This is who she is. So I will do my best, with Kathryn, Malu, and Leʻa’s help, to share some relevant poetry, education, and resources.
“When a dog offers you his heart
Accept it with a smile
For his love will last a lifetime –
Which is such a little while.”
from Unconditional Love, Author Unknown
To Flush, My Dog, By Elizabeth Barrett Browning
The decision to euthanize a pet is a very personal, private matter that we must live with when they are gone. It is crucial that the family alone arrives at an acceptable conclusion after carefully considering its values, beliefs, and priorities. We can, and should, obtain information related to our pet’s condition, potential for recovery, quality of life, recommended treatments, things we haven’t yet tried, etc. from a trusted vet, veterinary specialist, experienced other, and the internet. It is also really helpful to focus on being mindful at times like these. Our pets may be offering us an opportunity to grow spiritually as they are nearing the end of the life of their current physical form. We can spend a lot of time with them, touching them, connecting with them, and tuning in to the sentience of their life force. We will learn a lot about them, and perhaps ourselves as well, by doing so.
Some may want to keep them alive as long as possible, some may want to end it as soon as they learn of their pet’s condition, and others may want to avoid the decision altogether. It is important, at times like these, that we identify any lingering personal issues that could be coloring our perception of our pet’s situation. Once pinpointed, we can factor them in in order to remove their prospective biases from our considerations. For example, if we have unresolved loss issues related to a former pet or other loved one, then they could be distorting our perception and judgement in the current situation. If we feel guilt, shame, or regret about how we handled a prior loss, then we may be trying to compensate for it by either overdoing it or underdoing it now (to counterbalance previous decisions). Or if we have the ego issue of wanting to be right, then we might have a hard time being flexible when receiving new information about our pet’s condition. We may want to just plunge ahead with our original decision, to avoid the potential for seeming, to ourselves and others, like we were wrong. Yes, believe it or not, some people let such primitive egoic fears make their life and death decisions for them. Some wars, like the Viet Nam Conflict, were started for this very reason. Since our pet’s condition could change radically and repeatedly without notice, it is important that we prepare for this possibility whenever dealing with a sick or injured pet. After performing our due diligence, gathering all relevant data, connecting with our pet, meditating about it, and factoring in-out our personal stuff; and after taking the time we need to say our final goodbyes; we can schedule the euthanasia with calmness, clarity, and confidence. The decision is ours, and ours alone, to make.
It may be helpful to ask ourselves a few questions, especially if we are willing to be completely honest with our answers. “Is my Baby Girl suffering?” “What is her quality of life really like?” “Is she getting better or worse?” “Is she still able to enjoy our time together?” “With certain treatments, could she get better?” “Can our family afford the cost of her care?” “How long can we continue caring for her in this way?” “If we do keep up this level of care, what are her chances of improving?” “How is her condition impacting our family’s quality of life?” The answers to these questions are, in part, contingent upon our values, beliefs, and priorities. So it might be a good time to clarify these as well (which could be another gift from our loving pet’s condition).
There are a number of resources that pop up in a Google search about euthanizing pets. This one seems pretty balanced and practical pursuant to relevant questions and considerations. It may be a little biased in the direction of relying too heavily on your vet. So as long as you factor this in, and consider the vet a valuable resource rather than final decision maker, it offers useful guidance during this difficult time. Figuring out where it will take place, who will be there, what kind of ceremony or celebration you will have, and what will happen to your pet’s remains are some important things to figure out, if possible, before the day arrives (since our powerful emotions during those final hours may make it hard to think, communicate, or make important decisions).
Geist’s Grave, by Matthew Arnold
Narrow Flame, by Linda Gregerson
Losing a pet can be one of the most painful things we ever experience. Having been born into a family of dog breeders within which I always believed that animals are as valuable as humans, I discovered, early on, just how gut-wrenching such a loss can be. When losing human friends or family members, due to Harley brake failure, breast cancer, violent assaults, medical malpractice, medication allergies, or heart disease; I often felt noticeably less than when losing a pet. As a child I felt a little confused by this, and sometimes guilty about it, and didn’t really tell anyone because I was afraid it meant there was something wrong with me. I didn’t really notice others expressing the levels of grief I felt when a cherished furry friend had died. But over time, and as I developed spiritually; I noticed others gushing rivers of grief, needing to take leaves from work, and really missing their pets when they were gone. It started making sense to me, until it began making even more sense in still other ways. Our perspectives will evolve, if we let them.
Pets, especially dogs, want to please us, are fiercely protective, remain loyal when humans don’t, comfort us, and are always there. They fill the empty spaces in our minds, hearts, homes, and lives with joy, love, and companionship (if we let them). Most humans, even those we love so deeply, are not as involved in our day-to-day lives as pets are. We are also more responsible for the care of our pets than we are for most humans, so may feel more regret, guilt, or sadness due to the “if only” syndrome, and our sense of responsibility when they are gone. And if we were single, and lived alone, our pet may have played a much larger role than we realized. They could have represented a deceased or imagined partner, a lost or desired child, a best friend, or even a parent (especially if the pet had previously belonged to our parent). Sometimes it takes a while to sort out all the feelings, and figure out where they are coming from.
The circumstances surrounding our beloved pet’s death may also play a big role in our emotional response to it. If our doggy buddy lived a long happy life, gradually slowed down, and then just fell asleep and didn’t wake up; it would be much easier to handle than if they were hit by a car, suffered from a painful disease, were abused by a negligent vet, or poisoned. If we were consistently responsible in their care, losing them would be much easier than if we failed to provide for their safety, nutritional demands, healthcare requirements, pack needs, or exercise essentials. If we neglected or abused them, then this would tug on the heartstrings of our humanity, generating remorse, regret, guilt, or shame to remind us, like the conditioned memorandum of a hot stove to our fingers, the next time around (if we let it). Negative emotions are like neon signs, pointing us toward their release, if we pay attention to the truth of what is causing them and learn the lessons they are endeavoring to teach.
As I evolved further, I began realizing that the ways we respond to loss are reflections of ourselves, our spiritual development, and the degree to which we are focusing on the spiritual vs. the material in whatever occurs. As we grow, our perspective on loss will change. I believe that purely negative emotions are either related to a real or perceived threat to our lives, or a trick that is being played on us by our ego. At a higher spiritual level, we experience only the awareness of truth, love, joy, and peace. While we were caring for Leʻa during her last days, I noticed a deep, dark abyss my mind was trying to drag me down into, and found myself on its precipice a time or two. So I quickly focused on my love for her, my beliefs about the cycles of life, and her joyful spirit; and then sensed only joyous, radiant love with a twinge of “sadness” that felt positive, not negative. The shivers streaming through my body felt like poignant joy, and this “sadness,” which felt more like compassion, was an aspect of the joy. In a future post I want to try to distinguish between purely negative emotions, and what might seem like negative emotions that are actually part of our spiritual awareness of truth.
This Dog, by Rabindranath Tagore
Pet Resources: Where To Go If You Need A Second Opinion, Specialist, or Alternative Perspective
Dog, by Lawrence Ferlinghetti
When it comes to the healthcare of a sentient being, never simply trust someone because they claim to know something. Even if they did come highly recommended based on past experiences, things may have changed. Most credentialed providers would be capable of routine maintenance services, like administering shots or handing out monthly flea medications, but when it comes to actual procedures, perform your due diligence. Ask your vet a number of questions. Is the recommended procedure really necessary to resolve my pet’s health concern? If you are uncertain, and question the vet’s decision; obtain a second opinion or consult a specialist. You want to first confirm the diagnosis, before verifying the need for the procedure. For pets, x-rays are themselves a procedure, because of the process required to obtain them. If a vet says they need to anesthetize your dog to x-ray them, don’t do it. The only reason dogs should be anesthetized for an x-ray is when they are so aggressive that there is a risk of harm to the x-ray team. Ask the vet how many total times they have performed the procedure on your type of pet within your pet’s age range. Then ask them how many times they have done it during the past year. Ask them for a detailed description of the procedure, the equipment and techniques they would use, their support staffing plan, where your pet would stay before and after the procedure, who would be monitoring them, and whether or not you could wait while it was happening. Ask them what their success and casualty rates have been for the specific procedure. Ask these and any other questions you may have. If your vet doesn’t want to answer them, or provides insufficient or contradictory information, then: 1. find another vet, 2. obtain a second opinion, or 3. consult a veterinary specialist. You might want to consider alternative, holistic, or naturopathic vets as well, at least as an adjunct, since most of their methods are safer, less invasive, and more focused on healing (in this post, we will use the terms alternative, holistic, and naturopathic synonymously).
Following are some commonly used alternative veterinary medicine techniques:
Lists of Holistic Veterinary Medicine Practitioners
Here are links to a number of providers by healing genre:
🐾 American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association
🐾 Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy
🐾 Animal Veterinary Chiropractic Association
🐾 The Chi Institute’s Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine practitioner directory
🐾 International Veterinary Acupuncture Society
Below is an explanation of what a veterinary specialist is, along with information about when and how to use them. There is also a search feature at this link.
Veterinary Specialists by Specialty
Here we will learn about the different specialties, and what each of them can do. You can locate one by using this Find a Veterinary Specialist Tool.
🐾 Board Certified Veterinary Cardiologist
🐾 Board Certified Small Animal Internal Medicine Specialist
🐾 Board Certified Large Animal Internal Medicine Specialist
🐾 Board Certified Veterinary Neurologist
🐾 Board Certified Veterinary Oncology Specialist
🐾 Board Certified Veterinary Surgeon
A Popular Personage at Home, by Thomas Hardy
“I am in favor of animal rights as well as human rights. That is the way of a whole human being.”
by Abraham Lincoln
Photo credit: Alternative Shrink