Blessing The Bridge,dogs,cats,horses,hospice
Animal Hospice
The hospice movement for people began with a handful of concerned individuals who felt no one should die alone, or without as much comfort and support as possible. Death and dying, too often viewed by health care professionals as failure, has long been a subject and a reality that is avoided, shadowed in misconception, and even denied. One person with whom I spoke said that he "didn't like being around death," and didn't even like to hear about someone - human or animal - dying. When I asked him, "What will you do when it's your time to die?" he said, quite seriously, "I don't plan to show up." While such an attitude may seem humorous, the fact is, it is one held by the majority of Westerners. The result is a serious lack of understanding, compassion, and assistance for those, especially animals, who are, inevitably, making such an important journey.
And a journey it is - one friend refers to dying as "Simply changing worlds." Another astute person, now 90 years young, speaks of her beloved cat dying and "Going to get his new assignment." For the animal embarking on such a great journey, dying can be an adventure, a release from pain and suffering, and a joyous stepping forward into expansiveness. Undeniably, as the friend left behind I, personally, will suffer the loss of my animal's physical presence. But I can give her one last "hospice gift" while she is in transition, and another gift that will continue indefinitely once she has left her body. To do so only requires that I dig deeply into my heart, set aside all previous notions regarding death and dying, and open my mind to all the limitless possibilities of life as it moves without cessation beyond the physical dimension.
The animal hospice movement is very new, but very strong. Following the path of its human-oriented predecessor, this movement has begun with a handful of concerned, dedicated individuals, but is rapidly building into a nationwide one that has its central goal, total well-being of all animals, physically and spiritually, in life, through dying, and beyond death.
In my experience, the gifts I offer my animal companions follow a certain process. Once I accept that my animal companion is obviously moving into the dying process, I consciously offer my full presence and attention to her, willing to assist her in the most appropriate ways. This is the first hospice gift. If I am working with another person or family, and their animal friend, I will offer the same presence and attention, and invite that person or persons to join me in this work. And this will include:
Use of color and sound or music that eases pain and fear.
Chanting of sacred sounds which, through thousands of years of use, have proven helpful in situations of severe illness, death and dying.
Pain management under the supervision of and consultation with the animal's personal veterinarian.
My physical presence in a supportive, quiet manner, encouraging the animal in her journey, reassuring her that it is okay to leave her body, and that she will be met by helpers on the Spirit side, the next world to which she is traveling.
And, if she is struggling to leave her body on her own, or is in severe pain (as, for example, with advanced renal failure or cancer), helping her release through veterinarian-assisted euthanasia.
As an animal hospice volunteer assisting the family of an animal companion, (and "family" can consist of one person) my work would include emotional and practical support of their needs. Such needs encompass:
Being a quiet "ear" for their concerns, grief, and other emotions.
Running errands, getting medications etc. for them so that they can be with their companion.
If the family has to be away at school or work for many hours of the day, my spending a few hours with the animal. This eases the family's concern that their companion is not alone, at least for part of the day.
Making lunch, coffee or tea, for the family - being there to share it with them, making sure they get the nourishment they need as well.
Going with the family if euthanasia is chosen, being the driver and the supportive presence before, during, and afterward.
Helping with a memorial service.
Over and over I receive letters, calls, and emails from individuals who have lost a beloved animal friend, and felt completely alone in the whole process. Family and friends will offer kind words, but then expect that person to get on with their life immediately, to adopt a new animal and forget the one who has just died. Again, mortality - one's own, and that of others, is a subject to be avoided, or gotten through as quickly as possible.
"Life belongs to the living" is just one commonly used phrase that people often say to those who have just lost an animal friend. The idea, I presume, is that the animal has now gone on somewhere or at least is no longer "here." Therefore, it is time to put grieving aside, face reality (as defined by - who?) and get back to the business of living. "It was just a dog (cat, horse etc.) is another frequent phrase thrust with annoyance at someone grieving for the emptiness in their life. Such phrases are perhaps well meant, but are, nonetheless, cruel and harmful.
So the second hospice gift I give to the animal who has left, and to other people who are grieving, is a complete change of attitude. And this gift goes out now, in memory of and gratitude to, Oliver Reynolds, a beloved terrier who graced my life for many years. He taught me well about life and living, despite his previous abusive situation, disabilities, and eventual blindness. And he taught me well about dying, death, and beyond that point of departure.
The first evening after Oliver left (he was euthanized) I stood in the kitchen, sobbing. No other animal companion has touched me as deeply as he did (and still does!), nor was any other's passing as painful as his. "Oh Oliver," I cried, "I miss you so much!" Then, clear as light, in my mind I heard in a sad little voice, "Well, I miss you too, you know." I was stunned. Of course, he was separated from us - and grieving that separation just as intensely as I was! How could I have been so selfish? Oliver, from his Spirit side of things, continued, asking me to celebrate where he is now, and the wonderful aspect of his unending journey that he was about to embark on. Be glad for me, he asked. Don't bind me to the Earth plane with so much grieving. He was honored that I missed him, but would I please also feel joy for him as well? I promised to do so. And tell everyone else who has to say good-bye, he continued. Such a practice would not only help the one moving on, but the people left behind.
Life is not limited to what we who populate Earth, experience here. Life may, indeed, belong to the living, but the living exist beyond the point of physical death, when the soul leaves the body. Time and again the animals who have shared my home, have returned to assure me of their continuation. After-death communication from humans to their families is well accepted as valid everywhere now. Why not with animals? And so hospice work includes:
Immediately after the death of an animal, sending strong, steady messages that it is all right to move on, to find the light and go towards it. Know for that animal, that guides and guardians are waiting to help them, and tell them to look for those helpers.
For oneself, and with others who are grieving the loss of an animal companion, sitting quietly in contemplation, meditation, or just stillness…
Allowing oneself and helping others to be open to signals and signs from the one who has left. These may include brief thoughts, mental pictures, sensations of a paw on the knee, or a soft movement of air, significant dreams, even unusual colors. Sometimes it will be opening a book to a meaningful passage… the ways are endless by which they will try and communicate, especially if the person desires a signal or message.
All of the aspects of animal hospice noted here, are common to much of the human hospice movement. Being a practical assistant helps me cope with the impending departure of my companion. Being a spiritual or soul assistant to that animal, helps me as well, reminding me that our connection is eternal. And both aspects of animal hospice work, applied to others, not only support, assurance, and comfort, but helps in the overall education regarding animals as conscious, sentient, intelligent beings in their own right.
If you are interested in starting an animal hospice program in your community, please feel free to share this with your veterinarian and with anyone who tells you their animal companion is gravely ill and/or dying. If the animal has already died, support can still be offered. There are many resources available now, in print, audio and video, as well as many hotlines and support groups. They are easily found on the internet - many will be listed on, or linked to, this site. Please visit often for updates and new information regarding animal hospice and after-death communication with animals.
If you are interested in animal hospice work with your own animal family, or in your community, please feel free to contact me with ideas, suggestions, brainstorming, or support:
Rita Reynolds P.O. Box 145 Batesville, VA 22924 Email:
PLEASE VISIT OFTEN! On this site you will find the latest information on animal hospice and after-death communication with animals from leaders in the field, as well as related books, print magazines, web sites, audio and video tape and CD reviews and recommendations.

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