I remember as a child when my Mother called my name, there was only one thing I was supposed to do and it was to go directly to her, taking no short cuts or diversions along the way. It was a calling I could not deny for if I did, there would be a price to payer voice had the ability to reach into houses and around street corners like nothing else. It was indeed one of my Mother’s many talents. And as I have grown up I’ve encountered other callings for example a calling to go out into nature, to reconnect to Mother Earth or a calling to go rescue another animal or a deep inner calling to eat too much chocolate. No matter. This is what we do. But the calling of all callings, for me, has been the one to hold the hand of the animal caregiver who is taking care of a sick, old or dying animal. There is nothing else on this planet that connects me to the higher good of all than this calling. And a calling it is, for I hear nothing else above or beyond it. I may divert my attention to other things for a while, but this is the career and path that was chosen for me long before I chose it. It is in its purest and simplest form – it is service.
Animal hospice is gaining more attention these days and the reasons are many, but I believe as we become more complete human beings and more connected to our primary purpose on this planet, a by-product of this expansion is a deeper connection to animals – the guardians of beings. And with that deepening connection to our pets, comes an elevated level of care for them, particularly end of life care – for we want for them what we want for those we love and ourselves – a peaceful, painless, love-filled exit. This expanded level of care for our companions starts when we take them home, knowing there is no cure. A brave step to be sure, and the stage when the reality of things really starts to kick in. But if we look deeper into the moment and get the support we need, we realize, even with no physical cure in sight, there is much healing to be had for both human and animal, if the right support is provided.
Palliative care for animals is less work than one might imagine, but the grief can start at anytime, even in the most unlikely of places. Mine started in a supermarket as I was reaching for something I started to cry with no idea what had brought it on. Being strong for too long – alone probably. I needed to let somebody in. Hospice care for animals can pull you in many directions, directions you didn’t even think you could go, expanding and shrinking your world in equal measure, and this is when a bit of pet grief counseling can be priceless. For in the presence of somebody who knows what you are going through, you find a place, somewhere between sanity and insanity where you can reside for a while and feel human and normal and most importantly – not alone.
Grief counseling for pet owners is part of my calling, as we start to prepare for the inevitable. We begin to talk about things like time, finances, family support, pet euthanasia, assisted and unassisted end of life, spiritual belief systems, transition and life after pet loss. A caregiver who is allowed this freedom and support can find an inner strength they didn’t know they possessed, a strength that will guide them right up until the last minute, allowing the last breath to be as love-filled as the first.
A caregiver who has not walked this path before can be unfamiliar with the natural dying process and might judge the situation from a limited perspective, concerned that the animal might be suffering and of course, when supported by qualified professionals, the caregiver learns new ways of looking at illness and the end of life process. To allow the caretaker to remain peaceful enough internally to perceive the animal’s wishes is one of the most necessary yet challenging aspects of providing hospice education.
There are many kinds of grief and many stages of grief, and anticipatory grief sometimes can go undiagnosed. It can get lost in the busyness of life. Unexpressed, anticipatory grief can cause a spiritual malignancy for many an animal caregiver, whereby quality of life scale for pets can become quite diminished. But when supported, an animal caregiver in the throes of animal hospice and end of life planning for their beloved pet can experience something far deeper and fulfilling that expected, and it is within this circle of expanding love and compassion and qualified support, that deep bonds are formed and unforgettable legacies are made. A time when we can come face to face with an exquisite empathy that never burns out. And this is my simple wish for each human-animal partnership that exists, and this is a calling I know my Mother would support.