Animal Hospice Compassionate Crossings would like to share with you answers to the most common questions asked of us about our work and the human bond with animal companions...
A. We are not an actual place. We are a service, providing comfort and support with a listening heart.
A. As fellow animal lovers, all of our volunteers recognize the depth of pain experienced when an animal companion has passed on. We provide compassionate and experienced support before, during, and after the death of a beloved animal companion. We do so via telephone, postal mail, and email. Additionally, we direct people toward appropriate reading material, and encourage them to share their feelings of love and loss surrounding their animal. Upon request, we also provide suggestions for planning/conducting memorial services.
A. At AHCC we do not believe that anyone has the definitive answer to this question. Many times it seems that an animal is in a state of peace about its passing. An animal may reflect the attitude of its human companion and if the owner is inconsolably sad, the animal will be in distress because of the sadness it sees. The more we are balanced when facing our animal's death, the more calmness we will see in the animal. The kindest thing to share with the animal during its illness and passing is a continuous attitude of thankfulness for all that they have shared with us, whether it is a few months, or many years. We must thank that being for sharing its time on earth with us. That seems to help an animal to stay calm during this process, depending upon the reason for the passing.
A. Many times when our animal companion is sick, we internalize their condition to be a reflection of their feelings towards us. Animals, especially some cats, are very private and prefer to have their own space when they do not feel well. This does not mean to avoid or ignore them, but to be respectful of their needs during their illness. These actions do not mean that the cat does not like you, it merely means that he appreciates his solitude and chooses to not be so social with his humans as he may be when he is well. If your sick cat acts outwardly angry towards you, do not respond in a negative manner. Tell your cat that you understand that he is feeling poorly and that you love him and will do all that you can to support his comfort during the time of his convalescence.
Q. I have a household pet dying of cancer and none of the other animals will go near him. Is this normal?
A. Just as with people, there are different ways that creatures act when they or another is sick or dying. Many people avoid visiting a loved one that has cancer because they choose not to share that experience with the sick person for a variety of reasons that others may not understand. Our job as animal lovers is to not judge the other animals' response to an ailing animal. Our job is to support all of the households' animals in whatever way serves each individual best. If the family animals are avoiding the sick animal, we could choose to spend quality time with the sick animal so that it does not feel left out of the family, and continue to be kind to all of the other animals. We do not know of the interactions and the requests between all of our animals and our job is to honor each individual need as compassionately as possible.
A. Many people working in animal related fields or those sharing an intimate relationship with animals believe that animals grieve. Many animals have been together for years and the loss of a close friend known to animal behaviorists as "preferred associates" can move them into a state of depression and sorrow, not unlike the experience that human family members are feeling. We recommend the human that felt a love for the deceased animal sit and share with the grieving animal about the loss, holding the animal, sitting next to it, or across from it, whichever is accepted by the animal, and tell them 'exactly' what happened to their animal friend. We tell them very slowly and explain all of the details of the loss as closely as possible. Many times this seems to be the beginning of the grieving animal's healing. Whether the animal understands your words, sees images through your thought processes or feels your emotions is not to be debated here. We at AHCC believe that the barrier between species is lowered through this type of clear and honest sharing. If the animal had slept with its departed companion in a room separate from the rest of the family, their person may now want to find someway for the surviving animal to share a closer relationship to the human family during this time of loneliness. Plus it may be a good idea to allow the surviving animal to sleep with or play with something of the departed animals. Be it a sleeping pad/bed or favorite toy. If your animal friend continues to show signs of grief for an extended time, you may decide to contact an animal practitioner or a veterinarian for flower essences or a homeopathic remedy for grief.
A. Every situation of loss is different, depending upon the personality of the animal owner, and the circumstances under which the animal passed. Many times the best thing to do is to be VERY available to the grieving person. To hug them and cry with them or just say, "I am so sorry, how do are you feeling?" and then just listen. Do not give opinions about death or loss, or about your past losses. Be present and express sincere concern through your listening and care. Bringing a small bouquet of flowers, as a token of your shared sorrow may be welcomed. If the animal has been gone for awhile, ask the person if you can bring them some soup or something light to eat. Do not offer advice. Each person grieves in their own extremely personal way and the most important part that we can play in our friends healing, is to let them know that we care.
A. Children may express a more open grief then than adults do. They may cry and be so upset that the parent may be concerned for their well being. Since a child can express their grief more openly, they will usually pass through all of the stages much faster than an adult. The most important support that an adult can give to a child is to validate their feelings by asking with deep sincerity about how the child is feeling and to listen to all of their descriptions without trying to gloss over or fix any of the pain. Let the child express and cry as much as they need to. Hold them if they accept the comforting, and share your own sorrow and feelings of confusion. It is important to be authentic with children about our grief so that they get of sense of the grieving process and how healing begins. Talking about the animal's life and the joys that it brought to the family, sharing thoughts about the companionship of the animal and bringing into conversations the good things about the animal's life many times will help the child. Adults should not try to change or end the conversation because of the pain that it brings up in them. This may is a very important part of a child's growth. How children learn about love and death with companion animals often will set the stage for how they deal with love and loss as an adult.
A. There is no right or correct amount of time to grieve. Each person will grieve as long as they need to. Depending upon the circumstances of the loss, the healing time may be long or short. If a person has a busy life and other things to fill the space left by the departed animal, healing may be rapid. If the animal was the primary focus of the person's life, it may take a very long time to heal through the loss. If you feel that your loss is keeping you from caring for yourself, and that you are unable to focus, possibly it would be good to seek professional help from a caring counselor or minister that understands the depth of the animal human bond. To think thoughts of gratitude for the relationship that you shared with the animal, besides the feelings of loss, help to maintain a balance that allows healing to take place when you are ready.
A. There is no way to compare one loss with another. Many people share a closeness with animals in a way that they have never experienced with another human. Animals may feel safer to love, because they love us back unconditionally and will never reject or judge us. Many times, we do not know of the depth of love that we feel for a companion animal until it has departed and then we are devastated. Each loss that we have in our lives seems to compound past losses. Unresolved losses from earlier times in our lives may be suddenly pushed to the forefront of our mind making this new loss almost unbearable. To compare one loss to another serves no purpose in our healing. Each loss is to be honored and given as much time for healing and grieving as needed.
Q. I feel that I have gotten on my friends and family's nerves. They all say I should be over this by now. I don't think I ever will.
A. We believe there isn't a time limit on bereaving. We all process at different rates. It is our goal to keep compassion foremost.
Q. I do not believe in an afterlife but my husband does and he thinks our dog is going there. What do I do?
A. When we have had a terrible loss in our family, it is not appropriate to discuss philosophy or religious ideas about death and afterlife. Each person needs to find a place where they feel the most comfortable with their belief to help them deal with the pain. As a family member or friend, our job is to support each person in their belief so that their individual healing may begin. It does not really matter who has the right answer to a question about death and afterlife. The most important thing is that each of us is able to find a way that makes sense to us so that we can go on. We often find that by keeping the focus on ourselves and our own feelings we can let go of other's opinions a little easier. When we are dealing with a loss many of us will try anything to help, it could be important to remember to take their love and leave the rest as many of us process grief differently.
A. We cannot control other people's responses to pain and loss. Many people who say things that are unsupportive at the time of an animal's death or disappearance have never had a deep relationship with an animal. They are not being cruel, they just do not have the capacity to understand how a human can love and mourn for an animal because it has never been their experience. Our only way of dealing with such insensitive people is to try to avoid situations where they are able to give their 'advice' to us. It is very difficult to be around people who do not understand the animal/human bond when we have just experienced the loss of a beloved companion animal. In some cases, the insensitive person may be a member of our household and we are unable to insulate ourselves from their thoughtless remarks. Spend time with close friends who do understand how sorrowful you are at this time. Go for long walks in the fresh air. Spend time where you and your animal friend had shared happy moments. Reflect on the joy that the animal brought into your life. Know that everyone shares only from the level of their understanding about love. While it will not make someone else change, our realization of their lack of feelings about animals and animal/human relationships will allow us to not give too much weight to their unconscious words.
A. If you are having trouble continuing with your everyday life since the loss of a companion animal, it may be very helpful to seek help. Help comes in many forms and each of us must choose what type of support would best suit our needs and our personality. There are excellent grief counselors in the human grieving field. We feel that most of these compassionate professionals are well suited toward animal grief. Contact the person and ask if they have a practice that supports people grieving the loss of an animal. Many people find that reading 'pet loss books' helps them to begin the healing process. **See the 'AHCC Library' on this site. There are many web sites that support people by sharing animal stories to help us to not feel so alone in this process. **See 'AHCC Sharing Stories' on this site. It is also important to take good care of your own body during this time..to walk outdoors, to spend time in nature, to honor the need to be alone and to cry. The loss of a beloved animal is a very deep experience and you need to give yourself permission to grieve and recognize the depth of your love and of your loss.
A. This is a question that many people are afraid to acknowledge because it is a question that some 'non animal lovers' do not understand. A person that has never had a deep love with an animal cannot understand how someone can be so devastated when their animal dies. If we are surrounded by people that do not understand our despair, which can be VERY deep, we may have a tendency to question our own validity with these types of feelings, and that may make us feel 'crazy' in a way. The most important thing to acknowledge during this devastating period, it that you just lost something that you loved very dearly. It does not matter what type of an animal it was, it is no longer in our lives, and we are now suffering and grieving, not unlike when someone has lost a human companion. To understand these feelings, find 'like minded animal lovers' to share your sadness with. People that have loved and lost companion animals will help you to realize that you are perfectly normal and that this is the grieving process. We believe there is no right or wrong answer here. When we love we have emotion without rules and therefore it is important to grieve in any way that presents itself.
At some time in the future, you will begin to adjust to your life without your animal friend. It is not an easy task, and it is one that all of us that love animals have to experience.
Be gentle with your expectations of yourself and live one day at a time, as you begin to heal.
A. The first thing to do when a companion animal is missing is to search the area where the animal was last seen. Call several of your friends to help. The more people looking in the beginning of the search, the better. Many times, someone will take a 'stray looking' animal in and care for them. Post signs in the neighborhood where your animal was last seen, with a photo of the animal if possible. Ask people in the neighborhood to be on the look out for an animal of a certain description. Email and facebook can be swift and effective. Call the local radio station and ask them to describe your animal and ask for help in its recovery. Place an advertisement in the lost and found section of your newspaper and lastly call and take posters to your local veterinarians and Animal Shelter. If you pray, ask friends to pray for your animal's safe return. Some people feel comforted by calling a reputable animal communicator. Calling a minister, priest, counselor, or therapist, can be very helpful in a time of such sorrow.
A. This is a very personal question, as each one of us has opinions formed over time and experiences. We at AHCC believe that there is no right or wrong answer here. We feel strongly that as long as we follow our hearts lessons and come from love we are always led to the truth. Sometimes when there doesn't seem to be an answer to our questions, we can ask in the silence of our meditation, then we must let it go and trust that we will be answered at the exact time we need it the most. During AHCC meetings and discussions, it is evident that most people involved at a very deep level with companion animals, have a strong belief that animals have souls, just as humans do.
A. At AHCC we do not recommend anything. We are open to discuss all options, with the idea that you make the final decision. Many people find comfort in having a 'place' to come to, to sit with and honor their animal. Some people do not want a specific place for the animal's remains because it causes them too much grief to 'have' to return to the site and visit. Some people feel guilty if they do not visit enough later on and wished that there was no longer a 'place' holding them to their departed friend. Other people may be concerned about moving and having to leave the animal's grave in a far off area. A good personal gauge is to think about how you feel about your human friends who have passed on. Did you spread their ashes, have a burial, or have a gravesite for them? How comfortable is it for you to visit? These are very individual and important choices.
We are open to discuss all options, with the idea that you make the final decision." We here at AHCC feel that it is important to "Trust" that your feelings will guide you perfectly.
Q. When there is no hope for recovery from illness or injury, should I euthanize my animal and, if so, how will I know when it's time?
A. The question about euthanasia is a personal one. The most important thing to be very sure of is that the decision is yours! Many people that are close to you, your family members, your friends, your veterinarian, or people that are used to influencing you, may tell you what is the best for your animal. Many people will use as a guideline the question of human suffering and use themselves as an example, as, "If I am at the end of my life and my body no longer is functioning, and if I were in great pain, with no hope of recovery, I would wish that I could just be put to sleep, rather than suffer so much."...this is the type of conversation that we must have with ourselves at this time of our companion animal's illness. Questioning ourselves like this, will let us make a decision that fits our beliefs and our understandings of correct action in regards to the idea of euthanasia.
The question of when is it the right time for euthanasia is one that each of us decides in our own way. We suggest sitting with the ailing animal and be very quiet. From this place of quiet and peace, share with the animal that the illness or old age is irreversible and that you are open to hearing or feeling what the animal's wishes are about the future. Not always, and yet many times the caregiver will get a feeling from the animal such as: 'I'm fine for now, let's wait awhile', or 'I'm very tired and ready to go', or a variety of impressions or feelings that will help you with the choice of the decision. If you do not get a feeling from the animal, then it is a choice that you must make. There is not a hurry, unless the animal is suffering, and many times, waiting one or two days, and spending quality time sharing with our animal about the love that we have shared and expressing gratitude and thanks to the animal for the relationship enjoyed, will put you in a clearer space for decision making. Ideally, we all wish for the animal to pass away in its sleep. If the animal is very old and not suffering, this may be your choice, on the other hand, a painful, wasting illness like some forms of cancer would seem almost cruel to allow the animal to suffer. This is never an easy time, and it is a very important part of our relationship as caregivers and stewards of the animal kingdom.
We have chosen here to insert this poem; author unknown.
If it should be that I grow frail and weak,
and pain should keep me from my sleep,
then you must do what must be done,
for we know this last battle can't be won.
You will be sad, I understand,
but don't let grief then stay your hand,
for this day, more than the rest,
your love and friendship must stand the test.
We've had so many happy years,
what is to come can hold no fears.
Would you want me to suffer? So,
when the time comes, please let me go.
Take me where my needs they'll tend,
only stay with me until the end,
and hold me firm and speak to me,
until my eyes no longer see.
It is a kindness that you do to me,
although my tail it's last has waived,
from pain and suffering I have been saved.
Do not grieve, it should be you,
who must decide this thing to do.
We've been so close, we two these years,
Don't let your heart hold any tears.
A. To be present during the euthanasia process is very personal and no one can or should suggest what is the appropriate action during this time. Some people feel that to hold their beloved animal during the procedure, and to be with he/she for the last breath is a very important part of the total relationship shared. Many animal clinics offer in-home euthanasia. Know this is an option; seek availability and prices well in advance. Some people know that they do not have the emotional ability to be a part of the process and choose to say goodbye and leave before the veterinarian gives the injection. Another person may choose to have the animal driven to the veterinarian's office by someone else and to say goodbye at the house. Another may leave the entire process up to a friend or a family member and not participate at all. These examples are given with no judgment about what is the right thing to do. There is no right way when making such important decisions about a beloved animal we shared our lives with.
Our decision cannot be reversed once the animal has been injected. It is very important that we have all of the facts about the euthanasia process from our veterinarian and that we completely understand exactly, as closely as possible, what we may expect to happen and how it will be to be present or not. Again, many times there is not a big hurry to make these decisions and it is very important that these decisions are completely ours.