Death, a conversation about it, the word itself, or a thought, use to be hard for me, really hard. I use to call it my life’s lesson, to understand that in death there is completion in the circle of life. It is the finality of it, death is not a side effect, it cannot be changed, it cannot be altered, it is out of my hands. That was hard for me. But over the years, and since we have had our farm, I think that it has become of part of my experience, especially since having a farm. Is it easy saying goodbye? No, not for me, but just like birth, death is not easy, it is complicated in a way that I have no words for. And as I have already said, it is a finality.
My dogs were so important to me, they held a deep place in my heart that very few ever get to enter. We knew each other so intimately, intensely, and lovingly.
Being a part of another beings death is in fact being a witness to their life. And I am learning.
For me, with my dogs, I was there with them until the end, the very end, to be part of their remaining life, and be with them as they entered death. I sit and write this with a semblance of composure, but in those moments, it took every ounce of courage I had to hold myself together. A powerful place to be, a humbling place to be.
So I breathed in and out, and found that courage to support my dogs, honor their life on their terms, give them the comfort that they needed, and to be there spiritually, emotionally, and physically for them. To be present and whole for them, with no other intention.
I have been asked to describe my experiences with my dogs while they were actively dying. There are some good articles out there, please make sure to google them. These were my experiences, not to be judged as good or bad, but what it is like to support an actively dying dog. This is detailed so if death bothers you, or you are not in a good place, I wouldn’t suggest reading any further. This is for those that want to know what it was like for us, for either their own knowledge, or to share with those that might need it.
Dogs go through stages just like we do, developmental stages. From birth, to puppy, to scampy adolescent, growing into a young adult, a full adult, and then senior before you know it, slipping into geriatric, then the hospice stage, and then actively dying and onto death. The complete circle. A soul.
HOSPICE MONTHS – When my dogs entered their hospice months our house became more gentle, more caring, and more attentive. Help was needed when negotiating stairs, and sometimes just getting up from the cushions. There were short walks out and about in our neighborhood, but mostly just to go and sniff and pee on everything.
Extra massages for achy joints, extra time spent basking in the sun, and extra time preparing food that was nourishing but also agreed with their aging system.
We started to change their raw diets to home cooked meals more and more as it seemed ‘warmer’ foods were easier on their system. We also gave them Herbal Aspirin and Inflapotion to help with joint comfort, and a better more restorative sleep. My Gran Dames were never wanting.
We were also attentive to keeping them mentally stimulated. Short sessions of find it games in the yard, some of our treibball games of walk ons and waits, easier tricks, fetch where they could walk on, and time amoungst The Boyz, Story and $eeker.
It is not uncommon for an older dog to throw up a meal or have diarrhea every now and again. More common and more often than when they are younger, but nothing to be alarmed about, just yet.
ACTIVELY DYING – Then one day you notice that your dog didn’t throw up just once this week, but rather most days. And then you notice they are either drinking a ton of water, or not at all. And then you notice that their hind end is super wobbly or they cannot get up at all. And then you look into their eyes, and life’s story about death is right in front of you.
FRANNY started to actively die about two days before her death. She started to slow down, she refused food, drank a bit, but wanted to be very close to us where ever we were in the house. She became quiet, wanted our hands on her at all times, and was slowly and gracefully letting go. I didn’t go to work those last couple of days.
The night before she died my kids had a scary movie night for Halloween with all of their friends. Franny had known these kids since they were 2-3 years old and now they were big full on teenagers. So we carried her into the room were they were, and she sauntered through the group of about fifteen, wagging her tail slowly, and visited with each person. None of them knew she was dying, I didn’t tell them, and it made it even more special to watch each one of them get on the ground to say hello as they always had, hug her, and ask her how her day was going. There was so much love all I could do was watch. Franny laid down in the middle of this group and watched the movie with them as she had done for over a decade. These were her peeps!
The next day she was short of breath, and had a hard time laying down. We built her a slanted platform so she could rest on an incline, and this gave her comfort.
Towards the end of the day and into the night she was relatively comfortable as long as we were close by.
And then she threw her head up, and started looking desperately around the room for us. I was only inches away, but her eyes were longingly looking into a distance that was far beyond me. I put my hands on her face, and my nose on her nose, but she was panicking and looking through me. She couldn’t find me even though I was there.
Her panting started and became labored. We couldn’t reach her veterinary so we drove to the Emergency Veterinary. As they prepared to give her the injection to help her pass, she died in that moment, on her bed, with all of our hands on her.
We drove home, and placed her under the moon, on a cold October night, in her favorite place in the garden. The next day my husband took her to be cremated.
I wish she would not have been in so much pain in the end, but it was short, no more than ten minutes. I was there to honor and witness a life lived fully and without apology. She was a bold and intense dog, and made me the trainer I am today. I miss her each day, it just comes up in different ways.
OCEAN started to actively die about one week before her death. She was such a strong willed dog, that even as she stopped eating, and was becoming weaker with very little control over her hind end, nothing stopped her from playing with The Boyz in the yard or playing fetch.
Ocean’s veterinarian came over and took a look at her in the afternoon. Ocean could no longer stand or move her back end, she had stopped drinking and eating the night before, and was panting from pain intermittently. Her Veterinarian said her heart was still beating like an Olympic athlete, and that she truly believed Ocean wanted to be in control of her own death. She has known Ocean for ten years, and knew her well. She was fully aware of how strong willed Ocean was, and how she didn’t like being messed with.
Ocean did receive an injection for pain and an anti inflammatory. Neither contained a sedative.
For the better part of the day Oceans eyes were bright and full of life even though her body was beginning to shut down. She was on a pillow on the deck in the sunshine on a warm February day. She would gaze out, watch the Boyz play ball, look at birds, and then rest a bit. She did this throughout most of the day.
As the air began to cool, we moved her inside on her bed, in the family room. She seemed to become super agitated as the evening went on and couldn’t get into a comfortable position. This is when the look in her eyes changed. They became distant, dull, and longing. She was still very much awake and aware. It seems like when this happens, a dog is focusing on their own death, their own transition, there own end.
As she became weaker her tongue would fall out of the side of her mouth, and what caught us by surprise was the colour. It was turning a deep blue purple colour from the lack of oxygen, as her body was slowly shutting down. She would then take a breath and have control of her tongue again, and this continued until the end. We also noticed that she smelled different. Her personal scent was always sweet and intoxicating. You could bury your nose in her fur and get lost there she smelled so good. As she was close to death her body went from her normal sweet scent to a deep earth scent.
We gave her some space and this helped. The kids went to bed, Spore slept on the sofa in the same room, and I went into another room. Story went up and smelled Ocean and walked away, $eeker wouldn’t go near her. I’ve always heard that it is hard for a person to die if their loved ones are close by but I have never experienced that until Ocean’s death. As we moved away and gave her space, she settled in better and found a comfortable position. She would pant a bit here and there from what I gather as discomfort or pain. She would lift her head a bit, and then find a comfortable position again.
At 2am my husband came and got me and said that he woke up, she was looking at him, took a deep breath and then died. She died in the very space she spent her first night in our house twelve and half years ago. She had so many concerns in her life and at the same time so much talent. She was brilliant, and she was tender. She was my conundrum. And I loved her to the moon and back. We were there to support her death on her terms, and I am glad that I could do this one last thing for her.
Ocean was also laid out under the moon light, and the next morning as we took her to be cremated it started to rain, her favorite weather for just about everything, a good sign.
STORY – Story was honest and true his entire life, he never complained about anything, and this was him until the day he died. He was our first truly naturally reared dog. He was born, he lived a very full life, and he died of old age, not disease. He laid down on his pillow and slept on and off, peacefully, for not quite two days in the family room where we all were over the holidays, and died peacefully in his sleep. There was no longing or panic or pain. It was a life fully lived that naturally let go.
$EEKER – $eeker was our second naturally reared dog and died on his own terms much like Story. He was doing chores in the morning, and then went to lay on his pillow in the family room under the Christmas tree. He was peacefully sleeping all day, and when my husband came home he wagged his tail but couldn’t get up. My husband laid next to him and they both fell asleep together. He gently died during the night next to my husband, a natural death of old age, not disease.
SOMETHING TO CONSIDER – There are many ways to die, and many ways to help your dog die. It is something to consider as your dog begins to age. What you want to do for them. It is between you and your dog, and this is where you need to find that courage to trust what is best. It is not for others to judge you, because it is about the final parting words, the last chapter, the last good bye between you and your dog. And that is all that counts.
With Love, Nancy