"The experience we call death occurs when the body completes its natural process of shutting down, and when the spirit completes its natural process of reconciling and finishing. These two processes need to happen in a way appropriate and unique to the values, beliefs, and lifestyle of the dying person. When a person enters the final stage of the dying process…the body begins the final process of shutting down, which will end when all the physical systems cease to function. Usually this is an orderly and un-dramatic progressive series of physical changes which are not medical emergencies requiring invasive interventions. These physical changes are a normal, natural way in which the body prepares itself to stop, and the most appropriate kinds of responses are comfort-enhancing measures." – hospicenet.org
Everyone who has shared life with animals has, at one time or another, faced the inevitability of their death, and been consumed with uncertainty over wanting to do the right thing.
Death for humans is rarely by euthanasia, although for animals that is accepted as normal; we have the powerful privilege of ending our animals’ lives for them if or when we deem fit to do so. The way an animal concludes life is our personal decision, but there are many opinions based upon culture, belief or spirituality. One must make one’s own choice, perhaps with the aid of discussion with both friends and professionals, but mostly with one’s own heart—for such a decision must always be made with, and for, love. Such a commitment is possibly the single most painful choice one must make in life, and many things must be taken into consideration.
Pain, suffering and quality of life issues must play their part, along with family trials and suffering as changes are accommodated in daily life to sustain hospice care…something that all families are not able to do. Human hospice care, resulting in a peaceful and dignified death, is widely accepted as normal, and perhaps it will be the same for animals one day, should personal circumstances allow. Mother Nature, in her wisdom, designed the processes of transition both into and out of the body, and yet death remains a journey feared by many.
Human hospice concentrates on daily life being the best it can be, and is very open to the use of drugs as well as alternative therapies—in other words human hospice is open to what works! BrightHaven also has a “what works” policy: our animals live in peace and dignity and die the same way. It has taken many years for them to teach us this pattern that they so readily accept and it is our desire to share it. There is an old saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” which is what we do—and maybe that is why we see miracles of healing so often, for renewed life as well as for peaceful journeys.
Many of our animals appear to be approaching death, only to experience a resurgence of life and wellness, and miraculously live on. Maybe, just maybe, it is because they not only have the will to live through and against some extraordinary odds, but also that we see them as healed and well, and allow for that possibility in our minds. In-home hospice care followed by a natural death is but one of the options available and is the BrightHaven chosen path. Although we call it “natural”, the process is fully supported by our team, both staff and veterinarians—mainly classical veterinary homeopaths, who are on call in case of need 24/7 as the time approaches. We also use other philosophies of healing and care at this time, including animal Reiki, communication, flower essences, essential oils, TTouch, Jin Shin Jyutsu and more.
As a modern-day society we tend to the belief that euthanasia is the most humane thing we can do for our animals if they have been diagnosed with a terminal illness, or have reached a point in their lives when we perceive them to be in pain or suffering. Prior to BrightHaven, we too followed this path, yet deep inside began to question what we were doing. And so began an amazing journey.
Through the work of some wonderful people, as well as our own learning process, we soon became aware that, for the most part, animals actually did not wish to be euthanized, and would prefer to die naturally, in peace and dignity, at home. For them death is altogether a part of life, as natural as birth, although they are more attached to a death shared in love rather than fear, whether it be natural or by euthanasia. We gradually came to terms with our fears surrounding death, although, in spite of this knowledge, we still experienced feelings of guilt, uncertainty and fear of doing the wrong thing.
Since those early days we have witnessed hundreds of transitions, and it has not always been easy. This brings us to where we are today and the belief that we have not been given the right to take the life of another sentient being. We follow the path of a natural death in love and dignity where possible, in most cases without the use of conventional medications, but with a mind open to accepting change.
Death is not generally a quick process unless one is dealing with an acute situation or severe injury or accident, and it cannot be denied that indeed there are times when one of our animals nearing his/her final transition feels pain, which we need to address. It is also important to note here that there may be times when very deep pain and suffering are clear and euthanasia may be deemed appropriate. But for the most part pain can be addressed by expert palliative care, and the animal allowed to transition in a comfortable environment with loving guardians in attendance.
We have seen animals die both peacefully and also in agony during euthanasia, and others fight to stay alive. So many animals who have been recommended for euthanasia have come to BrightHaven and recovered, to live on some for years. It is almost unbearable to think they may have been euthanized. We have thus been taught to honor the circle of life and death, and have come to respect the process of transition as completely natural—as natural as that of birth itself, the circle of life thus becoming complete.
"Death is not the extinguishing of the light… It is the putting out of the lamp because the dawn has come." – Rabindranath Tagore
Gail Pope founded BrightHaven in 1990. BrightHaven’s mission is development and application of holistic senior and special needs animal care, and animal hospice and its philosophy of care. Day to day costs are enormous: please consider making a donation to help out.
Please note: The information provided here is intended to supplement the recommendations of your veterinarian. Do not disregard veterinary advice or delay treatment based on information on this site. Nothing can replace a complete history and physical examination performed by your veterinarian. -Dr. Jeff