One morning, after a particularly "grim" night shift, the ER veterinarian gave me a pep slap on the shoulder, smiled, and said, "Your Rainbow Bridge is going to be standing room only!" I will forever cherish the image that came to mind. By the time I finished my four years at the local emergency clinic, and several months with Auburn University's Veterinary Teaching Hospital, I was WELL VERSED in all things death, dying, coping, and not coping.
I had seen and heard and felt it all...
The box of sick kittens that the shelter couldn't take.
The stray dog with a collar and no tags that was hit by a car and wasn't going to make it.
The aggressive dog that was shot by a police officer after it bit a child.
The cat who was riddled with cancer whose owners insisted on hospitalizing until natural death occurred.
All of the animals whose owners just couldn't deal with those final moments.
The pigeon that was run over by a distraught bicyclist.
The turtle that was run over by a distraught college student.
The man who wore a variety of t-shirts to commemorate his cat's death anniversaries.
The man who dug up his girlfriend's cat and decided it should be cremated after having the epiphany that it loved the fireplace and hated the cold.
The woman whose pet communicator told her that her beloved dog jumped straight from this world into the waiting spirit lap of her recently deceased mother.
The girl who made a loving music video tribute to her dog on the internet and included a picture of me in the montage.
The couple who made me a mix tape of songs that reminded them of their dog.
The woman that called me just to talk when she found herself missing her sweet little one for over a year.
The mother who scattered her dog's ashes on her son's grave even though it was against the law.
The lady who got her dog taxidermied.
The man who sent out samples of his dead cat for cloning.
The family who presented their deceased member in a wooden box filled with flowers and tied with a silk ribbon.
The thing that surprised me the most was that I really cherished the opportunity to help families and pets get through the dying and death and coping process. I have so many personal stories to share, so many tips and tricks, so much empathy. Every situation is different and I don't think anything is weird. I find it an honor to be able to assist. I've learned to see the magic in all of that sad, and I've learned that dying pets have so much to teach us about ourselves and about how to be brave.
This has all culminated in a strong personal interest in hospice care for pets. During my career I have encountered situations where families didn't have time to give what they felt was appropriate care to their elderly or sick pets. At times they would decide to euthanize their pet even though they admitted that if they had more time or skill, they may have continued longer. So many pet owners are unsure of how to measure quality of life or how to make modifications that could make life easier on their elderly or ill pets. Many are also unsure that they will know when it is "time".
People often ask, "What is hospice care?" Hospice begins when acceptance of a terminal outcome is reached. Diagnostics cease, invasive treatments tend to cease, and the focus turns to supportive care, monitoring, and maintaining quality of life. Quality of life is determined by assessing a patient's Hurt, Hunger, Hydration, Hygiene, Happiness, Mobility, and More Good Days Than Bad (Villalobos). Patient comfort is paramount until natural death occurs or the family decides to euthanize.
As I transitioned into my training to become a Certified Canine Rehab Practitioner, I took an in-depth online course in palliative medicine and hospice care and found it fascinating! I learned additional assessment skills to build on what I had already learned in practice. I learned that there were things I had never even thought of that can be implemented to make caring for the dying easier for patient and family alike. I was reminded that so much of caring for the dying and their loved ones is just in listening.
That's where my curious relationship with death currently stands. We're friends now. I recognize its place as a part of life, and at times it can be a great blessing. It does not discriminate, it does not hold a grudge, it does not do anything out of spite. Sometimes it is not meant to be understood. We do not know with any certainty what comes out of this chrysalis of death, but that is part of the beauty of the ultimate metamorphosis. If you look at it the right way, you will see a part of that within yourself when all is said and done.
If your pet is facing that last walk toward the Rainbow Bridge, I would be honored to help your family in any way I can. I'll be there before, during, and after, for as little or as long as you need, and I am happy to coordinate care with your veterinarian. Please don't hesitate to get in touch.
Thank you for sharing this deeply personal journey with me. The blog returns to lighter fare next Sunday!