I’ve wanted to share this story for a while. Three years ago yesterday, I held Bear, singing to him as he took his last breath. Three years and there is still a huge hole in my heart some days, while at the same time I feel him all around me more and more.
Bear was my heart dog. I have had other special animals in my life, but this was my soul mate. He was my rock through the ups and downs of life. He was the ONLY one in my life who matched my energy, the only unconditional love. And my grandmother.
I am so grateful that I has so many years with him. Hugs, adventures, laughter, tears. Like so many other major parts of my life, Bear was on my Healing Touch journey as well. I found Healing Touch for Animals and took my first class when Bear was 12. I was looking for a holistic way to support him as he aged. At 12 he still had a lot of energy and was in good shape. Bear attended classes with me and always walked with a bouncier step after each class – he loved receiving the energy work and making new friends.
Gradually over the next few years, Bear began to slow down a bit. It started to take a little effort to go up and down the stairs in our house to go to bed. He got up a little slower after sleeping or being on a long walk. I switched to a wonderful holistic vet and he got acupuncture and herbs. I added supplements to support his joints and started using essential oils with him. He still went pretty much everywhere with me. We changed our annual beach house rental to a home without stairs so he could come with us. I knew it was probably his last beach vacation when he had a lot of trouble walking on the sand. But, every once in a while he would surprise me by suddenly running to make friends with a dog. On the advice of my holistic vet, I stopped vaccinating. Walks got a little shorter; I had to convince him it was time to turn around because I knew we still had to walk back home. I knew the day was getting closer. Every time we talked about end of life care in class my good friend who also lived with a senior dog and I would look at each other and the tears would flow. He was 16 the first time I thought was the end happening as I took a short road trip to my best friend’s house. Bear reacted to the summer heat on the car ride and when we arrived, he was having trouble getting up and his breathing was labored. My friend and I sat with him, helped him outside and cooled him off with water and prayed. A lot. With tears streaming down my face and hugging him close I told him it was okay if it was time for him to leave. I’d be okay. I’d miss him like crazy but I’d be okay. I didn’t want him to suffer or to stay here for me if it wasn’t best for him. Those are the hardest words to say and mean. He chose to stay and recovered. My friend drove him home for me in her car with the air conditioning on and I bought cooling pads to prevent future heat sensitivity.
Bear rebounded pretty well but continued to lose muscle mass. Eventually he could no longer get up the stairs to the second floor, and then stopped sleeping on the sofa. I made adjustments as he continued to lose strength and had potty accidents: an orthopedic dog bed (his first – he’d always shared my bed or the sofa), experimenting with ways to prevent slipping – dog booties (he hated those), yoga mats on our hardwood floors and various ramps for the 2 steps off the back deck. Eight months later I came down one morning to find that he couldn’t stand up at all. With tears I cancelled my appointments for the day, physically helped him get outside to pee, and prepared to say goodbye. I did Healing Touch for him and told him again it was okay for him to go. He got his strength back and pulled through. Intuitively I felt he wasn’t going to make it past his 17th birthday which was in 5 months. Eventually I added washable waterproof pads on his bed and at the end, an air pressure relief mattress – the kind used for people to prevent pressure sores. I bought cheap area rugs and threw them out when I had to from accidents. I made choices to prioritize his care, choosing to skip trips because I wanted to be nearby, and then finding a new pet sitter when the treasured sitter who he loved was no longer able to physically help him outside.
Thoughout this journey, I worried, prayed and second guessed myself. Even though I was practicing animal communication and was intuitive, I recognized that I was too close to the situation and relied on a trusted friend to communicate with Bear. Many, many times through prayer and my friend I asked if he wanted me to call the vet for help, if he wanted help leaving by euthanasia, if I was doing the right thing, if he was hanging on for me when it wasn’t good for him. As hard as it was to let go, I didn’t want him to suffer. I did not take him to the vet. I felt he was simply dying of old age, and I didn’t want to put him through the trip or testing when I wasn’t going to treat at this point anyway.
There was lots of judgement. My family thought I was being cruel by not euthanizing him. This broke my heart but I KNEW I was doing what Bear wanted. Defending my actions was hard and exhausting. I was grateful that I had the patience, the time, the resources and the understanding to support him. I recognized that it was hard for people to see him getting thinner and weaker and having accidents in the house. I was grateful for my friend who came over to carry him out to pee and cleaned up accidents without judgement when I needed to be somewhere (or needed a day away), and my friend who communicated with him and prayed and sent healing, who listened and gave me hugs when I cried. There were lots of ups and downs, which I now know is what the stages of dying look like. I wish I’d had that information then. There was no one to talk to about this.
What brought me some peace was knowing what he wanted, and being able to do Healing Touch for him and to see him feeling a little better after each session – clearer eyes, better mobility and seeming lighter. Towards the end I was doing Healing Touch daily for him. One day he didn’t eat his dinner, and the next morning I knew this was the end. I called out of work and slept by his side, and spent the whole day with him. We sat outside in the sun, and I sang to him. When I’d stop singing, he’d lift his head and try look at me until I started again. After several hours, I carried him inside to his bed and laid next to him. I could see his breathing change and his gums getting lighter in color. I told him it was okay to go, it was beautiful where he was going and that I’d be okay. I told him I’d always love him and talked to him about who was waiting for him. I was still singing to him and holding him as he took his last breath and I felt his energy leave his body. I don’t think I have ever cried so hard. Yet, it was also so incredibly beautiful to share these last moments with him.
I am so grateful for every moment I had with him. Providing hospice care often wasn’t easy. I was tired and didn’t have much support from those around me. But I wanted to be there for him for all the times he’d been there for me, and I wanted to follow his wishes, whether that was euthanasia or hospice care to the end. He taught me about unconditional love, and that the process of dying could also be beautiful in a spiritual way. Our incredible bond only became stronger. He helped me overcome my long standing fear of loss. I didn’t know at the time, but he was also preparing me for supporting my grandmother through hospice the following year. I still miss him with all my heart, and at the same time feel he is everywhere around me now.
I wanted to do something to honor himBear and help others find peace during this part of their animal’s journey. I’ve been working on different ideas for three years, and finally I have found the way that feels right. I hope that this group becomes a safe place to share, to laugh, to cry, to find help, peace and support for everyone who finds themself approaching the end of their pet’s journey here on earth.