Last spring, two of my dogs seemed to become old overnight, and a third lost his eyesight. Since my dogs usually live to be fifteen to seventeen years old and these dogs were only tennish, I was not emotionally prepared for this to happen.
Yes, I was deep in DENIAL. I did not want to see any signs their physical bodies were aging. I did not want to face the fact my dogs would probably die before I did.
At this point, I know some people abandon their old dogs out in the country or dump them at an animal shelter. Not even considerations for me.
Other people run to the vet and spend a lot of money pumping their dogs full of prescription drugs. Or pay thousands of dollars for surgeries that might buy a few more months, but could go awry and end the life of a furbaby on the operating table.
I've been down this road a number of times. I've lost track of the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of dollars I spent on medications that may or may not have helped my aging canines. I also invested in surgeries for a couple older dogs. One surgery bought me two more years with my beloved fifteen-year-old Border Collie. Another surgery for The Adored One (a Lab/Rottweiler mix) when he was ten gave us five more years.
Did I do this because I wanted other people to know I was doing everything I could to keep my dogs alive as long as possible? Or because it was truly what I thought was best for my canine companions? Considering the emotional place I was at the time, probably a mix of both.
Then I discovered energy healing, starting with Reiki, and wanted to use all natural remedies. My doggies and I experienced some miracles doing this. Until we once more reached the aging dog stage, and I could see their physical bodies were uncomfortable.
At that point, I started blending energy work, natural remedies and, sparingly, medications from the vet in a crisis.
Over my decades-long journey with dogs, I came to realize caring for older dogs is an honor and a privilege. Much of this realization has come directly from my beloved furbabies since I have gained the gift of communicating with animals.
When I was growing up, seeing our family dogs through their transition was part of my dad's role. When transition time came for the first dog of my adult life, I didn't think I had the strength to watch the euthanasia process that would end the continuous cycle of seizures that had claimed her. For a long, long time I carried shame, guilt and regret for abandoning her with strangers at the end of her life. From that time, I vowed I would always be with my beloved furbabies until their last breath.
My dogs have also given me the knowledge that each transition is as unique and personal as the relationship between dog and human.
Goliath insisted I needed to go through the process of dying with him. And so I did, warning him I wouldn't let him suffer. In his last few days, I cared for his physical body. I gently turned him from one side to another so he didn't develop sores from lying in one position for too long. I swiped fresh water into his mouth and cleaned the urine out of his fur. I woke up at 2:00 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving and knew his physical body had drawn its last breath. I cried and hugged that body, but I also knew his spirit wasn’t there. His spirit was still with me, but closer than ever, bringing me an overwhelming sense of peace that we had experienced wonderful things and learned together and loved. Yes, especially we had loved.
On the other hand, my Sophie tried to make me promise to help her cross the Rainbow Bridge. Bred as a war dog, this Giant Schnauzer knew the survival instincts in her physical body would keep hanging on. In her last months, she developed a tumor at the base of her tail that wouldn't heal. Sophie started telling me her transition time was near, but we had already pulled off a miracle or two, and I wanted another one. Her physical body became sadly emaciated, no matter how much I tried to feed her and what goodies I tempted her with. Finally, she refused to leave the vet's office, insisting it was time to go Home. I reluctantly agreed, as she knew I would, and she was gone in an instant.
The transition of my other beloved furbabies has also been as unique and special as my relationship with each of them.
The one thing in common is caring for an older dog truly is an honor and privilege. It tests your patience, your courage, and your ability to go without sleep, as well as disrupts any routine you ever thought of having.
And lest you start developing an egotistical self-righteousness of what a wonderful, self-sacrificing person you are to help this doggie live a few more days or weeks or months, their physical body dies in spite of all you have done.
As you stumble around in grief with your heart shredded, you may also realize you have been through one of the most incredible spiritual experiences of your life. This cycle of life and death, which can seem fragile and far too short, is not only about our physical bodies and the time we share here on Earth.
The real story is about a spiritual connection that cannot be broken by "something as simple as death," in the words of my beloved Stewart. He should know. Less than a year and a half after his sudden death in the midst of a seizure, he rejoined me and our canine herd in a different, healthy doggie body full of enthusiasm and playfulness.
Looking back over my decades of living with canine companions, I know it's not only an honor and privilege to care for an older dog, but a dog of any age!