Archive for Euthanasia

Maya’s Wisdom on Death and Dying

It was a year ago at this time that this lovely lady, Maya, started her dying process. It alarmed me and took me to the edge of my capabilities at that time of witnessing pain and death in another being, so I euthanized her, not because she asked me to, but because I didn’t know what else to do. She has taught me so much since her death, and when I asked her today what she wanted me to say, here’s what came to me.

“We all live. We all die. Allow us to live. Allow us to die. You do not need to expedite our death. Our body already knows how to die. Let us have those dying moments. So much happens there that you cannot see, but only feel.

If we want something from you, we will let you know, but first you need to know what dying looks like and the natural shut-down process the body goes through. If we stop eating or drinking or start losing weight, we are preparing to go. If this is new to you, it can be alarming. It is easy for fear to take over. That is why it’s important to be educated on what dying looks like. Then you can distinguish between what is normal when dying, and what is us asking something of you.

When in doubt, observe, relax, breathe, feel and embrace what is happening. I know this is a tall order, but it’s where you can connect more deeply to us in our moment of passing from this world to the next. You do not need to fix it, nor make it go faster. It takes as long as it takes.

Some deaths are quiet and peaceful, others are dramatic with a lot of energy. A lot of energy does not automatically equate to being painful, but it can be disconcerting to the observer. If pain is involved, ask us how you can help. Do not assume we want you to euthanize us to get rid of the pain. All living beings are capable of feeling many emotions at the same time. Do not let pain blind you to all of who we are in that moment. We are multi-faceted and complex. We are more than just the experience of pain.

The biggest gift you can give us is to hold the space for our last moments on earth and listen to us. What we have to say may surprise you. You do not need to “figure anything out”, but rather, breathe, relax, feel and let nature take its course. It is called dying. It is normal. It is ok to witness it and allow it to happen. If we need something from you, we will tell you. Every being on earth will take this journey at the end of their life. Let us too.”

“Quality of Life” – Fact or Fiction?

“Quality of life” is another common phrase we all hear regarding end of life decisions for our animals. The idea is that when quality of life changes and is deemed poor then it is time to euthanize.

Here’s where this idea does not resonate with me. Determining “quality of life” is a judgment by the human about another being. When I judge I am operating from my personal experience, education, beliefs as a human. I close the door to any input that might give a different perspective, including the horse’s. Yet, when I rehab senior horses I’m always looking for ways to stop judging them and start listening to what they have to say.

Here’s another problem. Many times I hear of people deciding to euthanize their animal when they stop eating.  Who said the animal is unhappy? Stopping eating is simply the body in the process of shutting down. There’s no need to eat anymore to live if you are preparing to die.

What about the animal whose demeanor changes? Many times people decide to euthanize right there because the animal just doesn’t seem to be as happy. Is that the case, or perhaps the animal knows their death is approaching and they are allowing it and preparing for it? Sometimes in humans a few weeks before death their demeanor changes too. Their life force is simply getting ready to leave this world. That’s not a crisis that needs to be expedited. It’s simply a reality that animals know how to allow, and we can too.

Animals are so connected to the natural world, and death is the final chapter of life on earth for everyone, people and animals. What would happen if we allowed it when it approaches, when there’s nothing further we can do? It is in allowing death to occur that we are supporting the natural life of the animal to its very end. What a gift we can give them.

It is not easy, and takes tremendous courage as the caretaker to allow an animal autonomy in this very last chapter called death and dying.

I’m always looking for ways to give the senior horses in my care more autonomy. Maya really challenged me on how far I could go in allowing her autonomy. I went as far as I could at the time, and that is all we are ever asked to do. My question now becomes, how much more autonomy can I give the next horse now that I’ve learned even more?

Present Moment, Boundaries and Dying

I recently heard an interview with an animal communicator on the topic of “Peaceful Transition for Pets and Families”. She made such a clear and truthful statement about euthanasia to the effect of: people find it very hard to determine when to end their pet’s life.
 
When I heard that, I thought to myself, no wonder there is such a struggle. I can’t imagine contemplating that question. It is completely opposed to everything I believe as a human.
 
For me, in rehabbing senior horses that question never enters my mind. My entire focus is “How can I help you, the horse, to be fully alive today?”
 
Horses live in the present moment. They are masters. My goal is to be more like them. They don’t fret about the future and what might happen or not happen. When it actually arrives, then they deal with. Not before. That is how I kept my sanity during Maya’s 3 months of rehab.
 
Of all the senior horses I had rehabbed I knew there was a real possibility that her life would end with euthanasia simply because of all the medical intervention and management going on. However, I did not focus on trying to determine when I should end her life, but rather, I focused on the many holistic treatment options we had. Physically there were big challenges going on, and yet, emotionally she had such a bond with my other horse, no way was I ever going to cut that short by ending her life.
 
For three months on a daily basis we approached the present moment together. I’m not going lie. It became incredibly difficult. I cried often. At one point I handed it all over to God, I couldn’t do it on my own. Ironically the day after I did that the tide turned for the positive for about 2 weeks. Through all of this she was so content with her herd.
 
Then the day came that dying was now in the present moment. I didn’t need to go looking for it. It approached all on its own. Since it was now in the present moment, I would deal with it. At the time, I had no more tools that I was aware of to help Maya and her pain level was very high. The only tool the vet had was euthanasia. I had always thought there would be a way to make the animal comfortable, or at least take the edge off, and then they could die on their own, but that was not the case here. That was my line, and we reached it. In that present moment, I had clarity that it was ok to euthanize her.
 
Taking another being’s life still went against my values, so I began my research project on death, dying and pain management so my line for euthanasia could be even further away.
 
I share all of this because we all have our own boundaries based on our own values and beliefs. There is clarity at the boundary, and as we learn more that boundary can move.
 
One more time, I’d like to thank Maya. It was never my plan to be discussing this topic at such length, but that is where she has led me. For all of you with animals, let them lead the way. It is one incredible journey.

What about pain and dying?

In the flurry of activity of the past few days, I was asked the following question: “How do you respond when someone believes that as caretakers of animals we are responsible to ensure that the animal doesn’t suffer pain any longer than is absolutely necessary when death is inevitable?”

Here are my thoughts, and I share this not to make everyone think like me, but to simply offer the perspective I have come to through experience. I encourage everyone to search inside themselves for what resonates with them, even if it differs from me.

And here is the lovely lady who has given me the courage to speak my truth.  Thank you, Maya!

1. I don’t ever try to convince someone otherwise of their own beliefs. Instead, I educate myself on why something does not resonate with me.

It does not resonate with me that death is the solution to pain. Here are two of my favorite articles that speak to this: https://spiritsintransition.org/leaving-life-rhythm-nature/
https://guardianangelhospice.com/medical/the-last-few-days/. There are also additional resources on our resource page.

It is in the human world and hospice care that I found the most information about managing pain and dying. Hospice workers deal with it all the time and do not have the adverse reaction society typically does when it comes to animals, pain and death.

2. I can also say that my experience with Maya really was the worst of the worst pain experience while dying. There was no gray area. It was intense, and at the time, I did reach the limit of what I could handle, so I did euthanize her.

However, if I really listened to her she knew all hell was breaking loose, but she did not want to die. She just wanted me to show up and be. In fact, all of her surrounding herd members were simply holding space for her. No one was freaking out.

For humans, it’s the fear of pain, and the fear of witnessing pain that is a huge trigger. To actually have the courage to go into this area and not hold it away, and not make it go away by euthanizing immediately will reap a huge reward–the ability to truly listen and be present with another being in their moment of transition from this world to the next.

3. When it comes to rehabbing senior horses my only goal is to listen to them. What they say goes. My goal is not to “get rid of pain at all costs”. For some people their goal is “no pain”, and if that’s the primary goal, then I understand why they euthanize so quickly.

We are both operating from different value systems. In the end, we all do the best we can. My only purpose in sharing my experience is so that people know there are many ways to handle death and dying, and this is the way that resonates with me.

The Body Language of Dying

3/9/19

I just had a realization from talking to people who have euthanized their pets at the end of their lives that the way they knew it was time was the pet stopped eating, or there was a change in their eyes or demeanor, for example. Then when I talk to people whose elderly parents had died, they described similar signs that their parent was slowing down in the last year of their life, or two weeks before they died something changed in their demeanor or in their eyes, or they don’t eat very much, and when death is days away eating can stop all together since the body no longer needs sustenance for living.

What’s interesting to me about all these signs is that they are signs of their life on this earth coming to a close. Death is approaching, and this is what the dying process can look like. It doesn’t necessarily mean that death needs to be expedited and done right now, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that they want to die right now. Rather, it is a natural process every living body, whether animal or human, will take at the end of their life.

Then I realized, no wonder I’ve never had an animal tell me it was “time” because when I see these signs I see them as information that the natural process of death is approaching, not a sign for me to need to expedite the death and dying process.

Reflections on Death, Dying and Euthanasia

Chaco and Maya

3/1/19

Maya has been sending me on all sorts of tangents on the death, dying, euthanasia and grief topics, from holistic medicine, to traditional western medicine, to wild horses, to horses in domestication, to pain, pain management in people, in animals, hospice, palliative care, etc. Have I left anything out? My biggest curiosity is what do people or animals do to handle the situation when there is no fix and pain is involved.

It has been a fascinating exploration, and what I’ve come to realize is that there is no one answer, and everyone is different. When I really delve into these topics I come to the core of who I am and what I believe about God, life and death. When I go there, I realize that I don’t need to make euthanasia part of my value system.

My whole goal in rehabbing senior horses is to discover who they are, and to support them in being fully alive. And when their death comes, to support them in that natural process as well. I do not need to fix “death”, nor do I need to expedite it. But what is possible is to hold that sacred space for the transition all beings will take all on their own at the end of their life on earth, both animal and human.

To let go of judgment of what death should look like and how fast it should be, and how much pain should or shouldn’t be there, and instead embrace what is before me, no matter how difficult. I do not need to force that last breath in the name of pain management, but rather, breathe with them holding that space as they take their last breath when their body determines. I also have many more holistic tools to assist in witnessing the dying process than I did when I chose to euthanize Maya. Do I ever want to be in that situation again? Absolutely not. However, when it arrives for each senior horse in my care, I will be there holding that space and listening for as long as needed.

Thank you, Maya, for giving me an education I never wanted to have on death, dying and euthanasia. It would have been much easier to never have horses and avoid this topic all together. But you keep asking me to expand my boundaries of what is possible, and how much love and listening is humanly possible even in the most dire of circumstances. It hurts like hell, but it most definitely makes me a more compassionate and understanding human being.

In the words of Temple Grandin, “animals make us human”. Love to you Maya.

Death, Dying and Fear

2/18/19

More wonderful information on what the process of dying in people and animals looks like. This part particularly stood out to me:

“Fear of making our beloved horse friend suffer in pain is the number one concern haunting us and causing us to euthanize. What is overlooked when we are so preoccupied with this noble concern is that many animals would rather be in pain than no longer be alive. We probably all know humans who are in considerable pain, yet that does not automatically mean they want to die right away. Indeed, it is often the witnessing observer who is suffering the most.

If we can let go of our preconceived notions of what a life still worth living ought to look like, of how quickly dying ought to be happening … if we can let go of all of that and more, it brings us closer to perceiving what the animal’s preference is.”

Here’s the full article.

Hospice and the Dying Process

2/17/19

Maya continues to peak my curiosity. In my research on death and dying in horses, I have found very little information on palliative care. It seems the only palliative care is euthanasia. (Only in alternative/holistic medicine have I found any sort of palliative care that I could adapt for pain management in a horse). Unless the dying process is quick and immediate, or not witnessed by humans, then euthanasia very often enters in, especially if there is pain involved.

All of this is understandable, however, what I’ve learned from rehabbing senior horses for the past 10 years is that they have their own experience of the world, and I’m sure they have their own experience of death and dying, which is a normal process everyone, people and animals will go through at the end of their life. Since our western culture has an aversion to pain and the process of dying, it is uncommon for horses to go through their own process of dying and there is very little literature on it.

So I turned to the human world and found the article below. What I find fascinating is the different points in the dying process that can be hard on the people witnessing the death. I can definitely relate to that from my experience with Maya. Just being aware of these things before being in the moment of witnessing a dying process is hugely beneficial.

Witnessing Maya’s death was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and yet I would do it again in a second. Thank you, Maya for continuing my education.

The last few days: What to expect

Caretaking in horses

Chaco and Maya

2/3/19

When I look back on Maya’s short time with me, I want to take a moment and acknowledge Chaco, my first rehab case who came to me 10 years ago. He was on his last legs and on the verge of being put down by his previous owner. When he came to me, we changed everything from diet/nutrition, living environment, exercise, etc. Today at 36 he is healthy, doing well, and still the leader of his herd.

When Maya came last summer they instantly hit it off. When her health took a significant dive in August, it was Chaco who was with her every moment of every day and night. I made daily trips to take care of her, and that soon became twice a day, and the last week she was alive it was three times per day. What strikes me is that Chaco was never not with her in some way. I know what a toll it took on me. I wonder what effect it had on him. It gave me great comfort that he was with her when I was not there.

The week she died I offered her free choice herbs that were anti-inflammatory and pain relieving. She did one sniff and a tiny lick, but it was Chaco who ate them like candy. Those same herbs today in the dead of winter, when I would think Chaco might want some for himself (being a senior horse that might get a little stiff in the dead of winter), he isn’t interested. It gets me thinking, did he have a symbiotic relationship with Maya, and took them on her behalf? Just something I keep in the back of my mind. Maybe one day I will know the answer.

After I euthanized Maya, her body remained on the property for 3 days due to logistics. Today, I am so grateful for that because it was three days of Chaco still choosing to be by her side even in death. Whenever I arrived on the property, I always found him in proximity of her, even when there was a stench. The morning Maya’s body was picked up just before daybreak, Chaco stood at attention, facing what was happening. Within moments her body was gone. He resumed eating. I never heard him call for her, like I have seen happen with other surviving horses after the death of a horse. My guess is that he knew she was dead, and he knew she was gone, and I didn’t hide anything from him – even her body being picked up.

Here’s to Chaco and the amazing gift of himself to Maya and being there for her every moment of every day. A calm, steady rock who created a level of security and companionship for Maya. What more could one want. Thank you, Chaco!

Illness and Happiness: They can co-exist

Maya and Chaco

Maya is ever the teacher. When I began rehabbing senior horses over 10 years ago it began with addressing physical needs, which in turn helped the emotional needs of the horse. I wasn’t as aware of the emotional needs of a horse when I first started, but each horse that came to me opened my eyes a little further to the emotional lives of horses. Soon the emotional well-being had equal value to their physical well-being when I went about rehabbing a senior horse.

With Maya, it strikes me, this juxtaposition: she was sick and she was happy. Those two things can co-exist. On a physical level, she deteriorated over the long-term. On an emotional level, she hit the jackpot when she became instant friends with my other senior horse.

I understand why people euthanize animals when they do, and why the previous owner was going to euthanize her. Taking care of a sick horse is no easy task, and that’s an understatement. I would never do it, unless I was called by God to do it. Then it’s all hands on deck, which was my experience with Maya. I couldn’t solve her physical health issues before she died, but I could give her an environment where she was happy.

In my ideal world I would be able to give her both emotional and physical well-being. But we don’t live in an ideal world. In fact, it can be rather messy at times. It’s in those moments of mess where I ask myself, what do I have to offer? All I had was myself and the little oasis for retired senior horses free to come and go as they pleased. For Maya, that is what she wanted. Her instant bond with my other horse, Chaco carried her right through to the end. On an emotional level for her, I couldn’t have planned it better myself.