Is our pets’ transition harder if we force the decision?
A wonderful client and friend, Lil, wrote to me after reading my story about my son’s dog, Peanut the Pit Bull. I helped with Peanut’s transition after her kidney disease caught up with her.
Lil shared, “I often wonder if I have the right to decide when it’s time. Am I denying the animal the time they need to transition? I believe animals are far more advanced than humans when it comes to transition and humans tend to muck everything up by making things WAY more complicated than necessary.
“I have had three occasions where I was ‘planning’ on putting down three different chickens. Each time things ‘didn’t work out’ and they died naturally. This made me wonder. Should I be stepping in or just let them be? We never want to see our babies suffer, but I have a real hard time ‘playing God’ with this concept.“
Are you OK with how and when you let your pet go?
I’m delighted Lil asked me how I felt about whether it was right to end our animals’ lives! It’s such an important topic. We feel worried and feel guilty about letting our animals go. We wonder if we moved too soon or waited too long.
The animals I’ve worked with let me know whether they’re ready to go or they want to stay longer—but I have to ask. Most don’t volunteer this information. Even if they’re ready to go, some are willing to hang around on the planet until their person is ready for the end.
We’re their guardians
Here’s my personal view – as their guardians, our animals gave us permission to take care of them, even at the end of their lives. I think people make good end-of-life decisions when they ask:
- “Is my animal enjoying life at this point?”
- “Can they do what they love (running, eating treats, or whatever it is)?”
- “Are they physically comfortable?”
If we’re completely honest with ourselves, we will know whether our pets are enjoying life or just existing.
Should we let them make the decision?
Liliane’s chickens were ready to go, and they intuitively picked up on her intention. I believe they took matters into their own “feet,” which was pretty awesome. From my experience, most of our dogs and cats let us make the decision.
Here’s why I’m OK with making the decision: it’s not really the end of life.
Since I know animals survive death as humans do, I don’t have the sense of losing them completely. Their spirit lives on. I would personally be delighted if the decision was made to let me go after I couldn’t walk, talk, remember to eat, remember my family, use the bathroom, etc. Not to mention if I had continuous pain along with the loss of the fun stuff of life.
Are they mad at us?
The animals I have connected with after they died did not carry grudges about how and when they died. They were incredibly forgiving. Of course, I work with people who were caring guardians throughout their animals’ lives. If the animals were in pain or were physically handicapped, they delighted in leaving their worn-out body and experiencing themselves “healthy” and whole again.
Letting them go for aggressive behavior
Animals that are put down because of aggression may need more help transitioning. They’re physically healthy, so leaving this earth was not on their minds. Sadly, I met a few whose aggressiveness put other souls in the family at risk. For some, there seemed to be a physical glitch in their brain that triggered aggressive behavior. Families who love their animal in spite of the aggressiveness also need help finding peace over the loss.
A particularly disturbing story
Ralph (not his real name) had attacked his family and was given up to a shelter as a result. The shelter asked Ana Melara of Grace Dog Training & Behavior to help Ralph. Ana contacted me to see if Ralph could change. You can listen to our discussion of that session here. Ana reported that Ralph improved after my session with him.
Sometime later, on my way to Safeway, I had the most startling panic attack. I felt incredible fear and lightheadedness; I couldn’t catch my breath! My heart was beating a mile a minute! Luckily, I had just parked the car, ready to go in.
I NEVER get panic attacks. Having witnessed them in a family member, though, I knew what I was going through. I called Sensei Victoria Whitfield, and together, we figured out Ralph was reaching out to me as he was being put down. He was confused, upset, and panicked because he wasn’t expecting to die.
Knowing what was happening, I stopped fighting the feeling. Instead, I fully connected to Ralph to bring peace and comfort to his body and soul. He understood he was getting a chance to reset in the afterlife. He relaxed and let go.
I checked in with Ana afterward. The family had taken Ralph back and was not interested in working with Ana to help him. We both have a sense that Ralph was okay as he worked through his aggression in the afterlife.