What Can You Live With?Oct 29, 2021
|Elizabeth Allen is a writer, poet and blogger who writes books about her life with animals. She is a student in our Animal Hospice Practitioner Certification Program through Animal Hospice Group, bringing what she believes is more accreditation to the field of animal hospice. She has supported pet parents with end of life decisions and bereavement support for the past fifteen years. You can check her out at The Caretakers Animal Care.|
What Can You Live With?
For The Love of Animals | Written by Elizabeth Allen
When I think of animals I think of their names and sounds, their soft fur and buttery paws. I imagine warm animals, happy animals, safe and loved animals, all with choices, personalities, preferences and desires. I think of families, cooperation, living together on this planet for the sheer enjoyment of it. I think of shared experiences through good and difficult times. I think of learning who we are through animals and them learning who they are through us, and if that is even possible.
Just because animals cannot speak words does not mean they don’t speak. If you have spent any time at all with them, you will know that they are constantly speaking to us in the universal language of intelligence, love and cooperation. If we could pause a while and abide in that space that opens up with receptivity and wonder, we might come to learn that words are sometimes the greatest distraction from communication. Animals are our greatest teachers in this regard.
Look at the animal movement today – people have all types of animals as companions. Pigs snuggle up and watch television with the family and their pets. Birds hang out with cats. Coyotes snuggle with the human and frolic with the recently rescued calico kitten. People bring animals to work, the store, and on vacation. Some people will refuse a social invitation if their pet can’t come along. The animal farming movement is changing every single day as we recognize the horrors of their lives. People are making informed purchases based on their values and beliefs about animals and aligning their choices with the same integrity they give to other areas of their lives. Grocery shopping has moved to a more mindful experience, as we think about each item we purchase and the effect it creates in our world. It is clear – animal lives matter. But when it comes to the end of their lives, do they get the same attention they deserve, or are we still slicing their lives into digestible and indigestible pieces, according to expired human values, out-dated information and universal misconceptions?
It feels like this time on earth is a most perfect time to move into a deeper understanding and conversation about the nature of animals, their desires, their emotions, their complex lives and try to find out, as best we can, what they want and how to honor their abilities, strengths and wishes at every stage of their life, including the end.
The animal living experience inherently includes the dying experience. We can see from the human hospice perspective, that one cannot judge the quality of dying purely from a physical point of view. The same must be transferable to other sentient beings, however difficult it might be to discern. Yes, it is natural to want to pick up the phone and schedule euthanasia because it’s hard, and you are alone, and your beloved companion animal looks emaciated, and you both had a rough night. But the question we must ask ourselves – are these reasons enough to end their lives? And if we don’t know the answer to this, how do we employ others to help so we don’t make a decision we will spend the rest of our lives regretting?
The human hospice movement continues to be a great resource for animal caregivers, as so much is transferable and applicable. Unfortunately, animals can’t directly answer our questions, and because humans make end-of-life choices on their behalf, we must endeavor to communicate regularly with the clinical team and decide ahead of time what our values, beliefs and wishes are for our companion animals when they reach this stage. What are our lines in the sand? When do we make these important decisions and with whom? And who do we call when we just don’t know?
We have found that discussing these vital topics with a qualified practitioner can be priceless – before your companion animal is at the stage where they need intervention. This very often is your veterinarian, but it can also be a veterinary nurse, hospice practitioner, chaplain, grief counselor or a trusted mental health practitioner. This can assist the families in traveling the path of least regrets as they move through the final stages of their companion animal’s life. Keep in mind that lines in the sand can move, and a plan that honors that possibility is valuable. Making high-stakes decisions about your animal’s health and well-being during end-of-life care is no simple task and can require a village - there is so much help available and you don’t have to go it alone. And if there is no village, one can be built - together.
Your best endeavors as loving pet parents will be to bridge the gap between the terminal diagnosis and your animal’s transition, with the best care that you and your family, your finances, your time, your beliefs and wishes align with. What matters is that you reached out, got help, made a plan, and moved forward as best you could, utilizing experienced help, inspired action, honoring of the human-animal bond and compassionate self-care. It will never be crystal clear, but it will be something you can live with, and your animal companion wants that more than you can possibly know.
To be sung in their own, good time
In the joint venture of the last note
Never yours, never mine
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