On The Death Of Animals

Someone told me they had to put their beloved eight-year-old cat to sleep quite unexpectedly. One day she was there, the next she left. My friend is in agony. We discussed a woman of our acquaintance named Moya, whose adored dog died. Moya dug a grave for her dog and then crawled into it for a time, so great was her sorrow. I understand that. My friend also told me how conflicted she was about animal euthanasia.

I am as well.

As many of you know, my own sweet Bailey, a rescue pup who’s been with me since 2010 will, I’ve been told, not be with me much longer. He has a tumor on his lung, and one on his liver. He is terrified of all vets for reasons that have to do with something that happened to him before he found my husband and me. Therefore, we have decided not to submit him to the horrors of surgeries and chemo, etc. I don’t want his final weeks to be a whirl of terror and pain. We consent to being with him until the end, in whatever way that comes. We have already had several months longer with him than we anticipated, and hope there may be a few more months. But we don’t know.

Bailey the Rescuepoo telling me it’s time to stop work and go for a walk.

There is no human I have loved more than I love this dog. He is, as Edith Wharton said of her pup, the heartbeat at my heels. I suffer from depression, and he has saved me. I haven’t been medicated in years. I honestly don’t know how I’ll survive his passing. I pray he will go gently, just stop breathing one night when he’s curled up behind my knees, but there is no way of knowing.

Like my friend, I am conflicted about euthanasia. In Buddhist teaching dogs, like humans, do a dance with death. Approach, step back, approach a little closer, step back, approach even closer, until there is no stepping back. It is believed this transition procedure is important for all beings.

On the other hand, how can a peaceful transition be managed when the dying person/animal is in pain and/or filled with fear? And so we provide relief, the end of pain and fear… that is a gift, I think, although a profoundly difficult one.

It is heartbreak, and unavoidable heartbreak, either way. What an awesome (in the weighty sense of the word) responsibility we agree to when we enter into deep relationship with an animal, knowing we will probably outlive them.

I admire the liminal space Moya (who crawls into the graves of dogs) lives in. I aspire to live there myself. When I think of her stepping into her dog’s grave, I feel myself doing the same thing, lying my bones over those of Bailey.

A reminder that to fully feel grief is to be part of life and in that agony of grieving we are not alone.

Both my brothers died from suicide (as many of you also know)… and there are many other deaths as well, as there are for all people. No one escapes it, do they? And now, at this period of my life, I am entering a season of many more losses, including eventually the loss of my own life. I am struggling not to struggle, if that makes sense.

Someone wise told me that grief never, ever, grows smaller and that we have two choices: 1) ossify around the stone of grief and be defined by it forever, or 2) allow our hearts and souls to grow larger, wider, more open, so that there is more space around the stone, more space for love, for movement, perhaps even for joy. The stone remains, and perhaps, in fact, because of its eternal, piercing stab of pain, the contrast between that heavy grey thing and the light-filled space around it makes both holy, sacred, and filled with grace.

I hope that’s true. I will try.

I send love to all who grieve. I grieve with you.

21 Comments

  1. Susan Glickman on November 19, 2022 at 11:02 am

    Oh Lauren, I feel this as well.

    My beloved Toby – who will be 18 in March if he lives that long (not likely) – has stage 3 kidney failure and although he is doing unbelievably well for a very senior dog with such a deadly condition, and has already survived pancreatitis, his love of life and equanimity cannot armour him against the inevitable. Every day is a struggle now, as I have to time all his medications both with and without food, and he doesn’t really want to eat until the evening, and the things I used to tempt him with, like cheese, are forbidden.

    My mantra is that I don’t want him to suffer. I just pray I will recognize when HE has had enough, because I can never have enough of his companionship.

    in sympathy
    Susan

    • Lauren B. Davis on November 19, 2022 at 11:36 am

      Oh, Susan, it is hard, so very hard. Ground-up pills are served in a base of Gerber baby food morning and night, which is the only thing I can do to persuade Bailey to take his medicine. He doesn’t look for food before evening, either. We must, like you, limit anything too fatty. I long to give him anything he’ll eat, and at some point I probably will, but I’m still trying to keep him here a wee bit longer. Although he sleeps most of the day, when he does rouse late afternoon, it’s like nothing is wrong.

      No suffering. No suffering. That’s why we didn’t pursue draconian treatment. I wouldn’t want that for myself and don’t want it for him. Time may be shorter, but suffering will be less (I pray).

      In sympathy with you, as well. xo

  2. donna-lane Nelson on November 19, 2022 at 11:28 am

    The pain is a tribute to Bailey, whose later years were paradise because of what you were able to give him. Thinking of that won’t eliminate the pain but it will help you carry it.

    • Lauren B. Davis on November 19, 2022 at 11:37 am

      Thanks, D-L. Taking it one day at a time, looking for joy.

  3. Sharon Tyson on November 19, 2022 at 11:56 am

    Dear Lauren, i’m a fan of your work and my book-club members loved recently reading and discussing Even So. Your blog posts are so real, your willingness to write about your feelings and experiences resonate for me, and i’m sure many others as well.
    As you write so beautifully in this post:
    “A reminder that to fully feel grief is to be part of life and in that agony of grieving we are not alone. …. I am struggling not to struggle, if that makes sense. “ i feel the same way.
    Thank you, Sharon T.

    • Rita WOEHLCKE on November 19, 2022 at 12:08 pm

      Searingly honest and tender. As usual💜💜

      • Lauren B. Davis on November 19, 2022 at 12:38 pm

        Thank you, Rita. Very kind.

    • Lauren B. Davis on November 19, 2022 at 12:37 pm

      thank you so much, Sharon.

  4. Roberta Rusciano on November 19, 2022 at 1:53 pm

    Thinking of you, Lauren and hoping that you will be able to leave some space for more love.

    Robin

    • Lauren B. Davis on November 20, 2022 at 8:43 am

      Thanks, Roberta. There is always love. Much, much, love.

  5. Lally Cadeau on November 19, 2022 at 5:56 pm

    Lauren, I hope Bailey does what Louis did, just come close to my chair and stand there. And when I questioned him about why, he continued standing still and staring at me intently. He had never, in 12 years, done that before. So, with a friend’s help, I took him to say goodbye to Robin, then to the vet, and when he saw the cloth she had laid out for him, fell upon it with a low groan. He was so ready. They do know, which somehow eases the process. 💐

    • Lauren B. Davis on November 19, 2022 at 6:12 pm

      Oh, Lally, that just makes me cry. How blessed Louis was (is) to have you. Thank you.

  6. Linda C. Wisniewski on November 19, 2022 at 6:02 pm

    My son’s 15 year old cat quietly passed during the night. His 2 year old dog spent days wandering around the house looking for her. Animals know love, and Bailey has felt your love and returned it. Wishing you strength and ease through this process.

    • Lauren B. Davis on November 19, 2022 at 6:13 pm

      Thanks, Linda. Yes, they do know. That’s for certain. I hope we can all pass quietly in the night. No muss, no fuss, no bother.

  7. Pamela Capraru on November 20, 2022 at 3:44 am

    Thank you for articulating this particular grief so well. When the time comes, if you need to help him onward, I found a mobile vet in Toronto who came to the house. My cat Layla died quietly, in the comfort of home and in my arms. I will always choose this way from now on.

    • Lauren on November 20, 2022 at 7:53 am

      Thank you, Pam. Here in Princeton I have also found a vet who’ll come to my house if I need her. Sigh. It’s her entire job, helping pets pass without pain. I can’t imagine.

  8. Ron Davis on November 20, 2022 at 10:32 am

    Beautifully expressed my love. Ron

    • Lauren B. Davis on November 20, 2022 at 10:33 am

      thanks, my love. And thank God for you. We’ll get through this together.

  9. LeeAnn Boyd on November 29, 2022 at 5:12 pm

    We love you, Bailey. So glad you have had all these extra days. Cozy sleep, cuddles, sniffs, walks…
    Lauren, there are no words, but I have had two beloved pets euthanized ,cradled in my arms. I seem to be okay with it. I grieve, but always feel like I am honouring my sacred trust to always take care of them. I feel the grief, but not the guilt. I hope your heart tells you what Bailey needs from you. Reading about the special bond between you and Bailey has been one of the most beautiful things I have experienced. You have each grown and blossomed from that special connection, and that never dies.
    Love, LeeAnn and Yankee.
    ( Yankee doing very well, another miracle of many bonus days after a terminal diagnosis)

    • Lauren on November 29, 2022 at 6:01 pm

      Thanks so much, LeeAnn. You and Yankee are inspirations to us. xo

  10. Anne Moore on November 30, 2022 at 10:27 pm

    Oh Lauren, I have just been walking where you will be walking, and there is really nothing I can say to make it better. I am nearly 4 months out from Willa’s death, and the thriving has finally begun, but the wound? I don’t see any “healing” there yet. The anguish can be triggered still, and lay me low. I have to choose not to dwell on it, and that works most of the time. Especially the part about euthanasia, being the one to ring the “death bell”. It violates my deepest desire to honor life and do no harm, especially to one to whom I made a commitment to protect her life. I can hardly live with myself if I think about ending her life, and yet I felt it was the best choice, the only choice made with selflessness and thoughts only for her ease. It took all the courage that I had. For days she had wanted to eat, but could not, due to the medications, and that was suffering to her. It also would have been more horrible to let her drown in her lungs the way the vets described it to me. Yes, I would have loved to find she had quietly died pressed into my back in bed while we were sleeping, but it was not an option. And by planning in advance I was able to avoid having to spend her last hours rushing her to the vet, and was able to control the environment of her passing. I had to book ahead for an appointment with the loveliest vet ever, from an animal hospice group, who came to our house. I had Willa quietly resting on our bed, with soft music playing, in deep relaxation. To my surprise, Willa leaped up and ran to greet this sweet stranger, wagging her tail and giving her kisses! That memory brings me such comfort. When it was time I motioned her back to the bed and without hesitation she trotted right back up, found her comfortable spot, and lay down in complete surrender and contentment, happy to be surrounded by us, with Paul and I stroking her and murmuring love to her. She never raised her head up again, just surrendered to the bed and the moment in what looked like complete willingness. I was amazed at that; it could not have gone better, and she slipped away so gently, like a breath of air. It did not make the grief one bit lighter for us, but that was not the point; it was for her. I had also arranged with the pet crematorium 30 miles away that we would drive her there (her body sprinkled with flowers and wrapped in her blanket) , and I carried her into the building in my arms. It made me feel like I was still caring for her, going with her as far as I could, and it gave me comfort to find how lovely and caring the staff was there. I share all this just because it helped me to read how others had been through it and see that there are many ways, and we can choose. My heart is with you as you walk this walk, your footsteps and Bailey’s, together, through your dread with great courage and determination to be there for him in great love, above all. And then to endure the aftermath. I have no anodynes to offer. Maybe just that I still do not feel parted from Willa in my heart – her presence here around us is still strongly felt, but I do long for her in physical form, although no longer all the time. Still, 4 months out I have survived, and have begun to thrive most days, and I believe you will. I hope that you will take good care of yourself; it does make a difference. I am sending my love to you and Bailey and will keep a candle lit for you in my heart.

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