Compassion, coincidences, and connection: My animal hospice journey
When I was asked to write about my journey into the world of Animal Hospice Care, I felt excited to start, but then realized that the road has been long, winding, and very much guided over the years by many coincidences. If you believe that there are no such things as coincidences in our lives, then you’ll probably come to the same realization as I – that this IS my path and I was born to be here!
And so, this is a very much abridged version of my life’s story, which began in 1946. At the tender age of 5 years, I announced I would become an animal doctor and an air hostess lady. I didn’t quite achieve both, but came very close with a two-and-a-half-decade airline career, ceasing with my husband, Richard’s work transfer to California – something we’d both coincidentally anticipated from the moment we met at 16!
The next leg of my animal hospice care journey began with a simple but huge revelation. It came suddenly, as only a fleeting thought can. This fleeting moment would change my life. Many of us have long dreamed of saying these words as we reached our forties: “I know what I want to do with the rest of my life!” With mounting excitement, I announced that I wanted to start a cat sanctuary, where the animals would live freely in our house and be loved and cared for all of their days, until, suddenly slowing my speech, I realized sadly that maybe, just maybe, this was a pretty tall order for Richard. To my utter surprise and delight, he merely said – in his very calm fashion – “Well then I guess we had better start house-hunting right away.”
And so, the road to BrightHaven and animal hospice care began. From that moment, it moved swiftly.
Coincidence stepped in again when I got a job at a local veterinary hospital as a receptionist, working for Doug Coward, DVM. He became my amazing friend and mentor and the sanctuary’s supervising veterinarian. Doug helped me learn about the wide variety of ailments brought to us by the old, infirm or disabled cats who had become my focus – of course gradually joined by a myriad of dogs, horses, toads, pigs, a raven, ducks, geese, and chickens!
Around this time, we formed our first basic BrightHaven menu for animal care and animal hospice care:
Love, Diet (conventional) – Diagnostics – Drugs to address symptoms of the disease – drugs to address the next symptoms – supportive fluid therapy – more and more diagnostics – euthanasia.
Time passed and more coincidences appeared in perfect synchronicity in the shape of Vicki Allinson – animal communicator, holistic nutritionist, Reiki practitioner – and more! Vicki was a Jack of all Holistic trades, leading (or maybe dragging) me into an understanding of the natural way of dying! Following Vicki came internationally renowned Dr. Christina Chambreau to open our minds to classical veterinary homeopathy by offering a lifesaving miracle and then Greg Tilford to share his extensive knowledge on the healing abilities of herbs.
The holistic approach blew us away as we experienced improved health of body, mind, and spirit in all animals – especially those approaching the end of their lives! Our original menu remained, but with some substantial twists as our mindset pivoted to an integrative way of thinking:
- Diet changed from kibble to raw, meat-based
- We learned the practicalities of daily caring for the elderly, infirm, or disabled from a large and very mixed family of animals, caring for more than 600 over the years
- Holistic medicine brought new levels of health
- Diagnostics and the use of drugs very much lessened
- We realized that healing is required not only for a return to wellness, but also to provide balance emotionally and physically for the dying process
- A natural process to the end of life mostly replaced euthanasia, which had been our accepted end of life protocol
We learned so many lessons from the animals themselves on the difficult topics of grieving, pain, quality of life (for both living and for dying!), suffering and especially dying. By this time, I had started to share stories of our animals’ lives and deaths with the BrightHaven network. I found that people were soon writing to demand them and questions about death and the dying process, and wanting to understand the amazing longevity of both cats and dogs at BrightHaven – especially Ollie the Dachshund at 24 years and feline Frazier at 34 years. I found myself pushed into the world of animal hospice education by all the questions and requests for help, thereby beginning the BrightHaven Education Program.
You may ask – when did you begin to formally practice animal hospice care? I had been doing animal hospice care for years, but never thought to attribute that name to our work. To me, hospice was almost always associated with dying and death - and my world had become all about life and living to the very end of it with grace, joy and dignity. Happily, I finally realized the two were one and the same – leading me to join the International Association for Animal Hospice and Palliative Care (IAAHPC) and meet my other very special three Animal Hospice Group founders – Amir Shanan, DVM, Kathryn Marocchino, and Michelle Nichols.
And so, my friends, my philosophy is simple:
In daily life, I turn to the wisdom of our animals, who already seem to know, understand, and live by the laws of nature, healing, and our true connection to each and every other being.
I try to make life simpler, in the realization that time is not of the essence. Now is.
Holistic healthcare provides the tools I use to help harness that greater universal energetic force which we honor, and about which we still yearn to learn more.
One has only to see the change after a carefully prescribed homeopathic remedy, or an anxious or painful animal relax when offered that warm energy of Reiki for which we are able to act as conduit, to know a force greater than ours is at work. I truly believe animals have a natural understanding of universal energy and often use it to help their human friends and each other. During end-of-life care, I believe our groups of animals lying together in love are also offering and sharing in that universal healing energy, and wonder if this may be a part of the reason our animals seem to die in peace and with dignity.
Please show us all that you like this article by sharing, commenting, and/or giving this a "LIKE" on Facebook. Photo in post (header): Gail, Richard, and Lily (courtesy of BrightHaven).