Leaving this Life, in Rhythm with Nature

by Ella Bittel

Sandy Rakowitz of One Heart Healing Center, Virigina, at the head of the the senior gelding, "Sunny", who is lying on the ground

Hospice care for pets provides natural alternative to euthanasia

The typical perspective in today’s society is to quickly put an end to what we perceive as our pet suffering and having lost quality of life. However, there are other ways to view nature’s way of bringing closure to a lifetime in a body.

Consider the common suggestion of putting a horse down when it no longer eats. While a slowed appetite may have been observable for months or years before the actual dying process starts, in the last days of physical life it is normal for the dying to stop eating entirely. From our perspective, it may seem as though they are starving, but from human hospice we know that the sensation of hunger simply ceases to exist. When the body is not going to use the energy provided by the food anymore, why would it want to bother eating? If there are signs of discomfort in the digestive tract, several healing modalities can be used to prevent or soothe colic symptoms, including homeopathy, acupuncture, herbs, probiotics and essential oils.

Pain and the Will to Live

Fear of making our beloved horse friend suffer in pain is the number one concern haunting us and causing us to euthanize. What is overlooked when we are so preoccupied with this noble concern is that many animals would rather be in pain than no longer be alive. We probably all know humans who are in considerable pain, yet that does not automatically mean they want to die right away. Indeed, it is often the witnessing observer who is suffering the most.

If we can let go of our preconceived notions of what a life still worth living ought to look like, of how quickly dying ought to be happening … if we can let go of all of that and more, it brings us closer to perceiving what the animal’s preference is.

Senior Care is Essential

Anyone who has taken care of an aging horse knows this can be quite involved. Hospice care can be even more so, though the timeframe will be much shorter. Actions required can change from day to day and hour to hour. It will pay off to have gained experience with and confidence in therapeutic modalities such as acupuncture and homeopathy, and to have found professionals who support us in choosing the best approach for the individual circumstances.

We may need to separate our elderly horse from its buddies to ensure it will get all the food it wants while eating more slowly than anyone else in the herd. Supplements and therapies considered “high maintenance senior care” are often what is necessary for a horse to reach the age when it can die naturally. A horse who is unable to get up on its own (due to structural issues such as arthritis) presents a major logistical challenge leading to euthanasia, even though the animal’s internal organs, including the heart, may still be working well. The extra TLC invested to maintain physical mobility can pay off greatly, adding months or years to our horse’s life.

Hospice Explained

When all the great care has made it possible for your horse to reach its full life span, eventually the horse is likely to stop eating. This can go on for a number of days in which the body tends to use up all its remaining reserves, oftentimes resulting in a marked decrease in weight. Unless there are signs of distress, no further action may be required for as long as the horse is still getting up on its own, other than making sure your horse stays dry and warm, can easily get to food and water IF desired, and is not bothered by bossy herd members. Make sure your horse has sufficient and clean bedding in which to lie as comfortably as possible. Hopefully, you can spend some quality time just being with your animal, expressing your love and gratitude for all it has brought to your life.

Oftentimes, however, we go into emotional turmoil instead. It is engrained in our being to want to provide nourishment for our animal friend. Unless you have familiarized yourself with the natural dying process, chances are you won’t let the horse get past this stage, even though it may be going right along with the process, with no desire to die any sooner than it would on its own.

There seems to be a common notion amongst those inexperienced with hospice that dying should go faster than it does. We may find ourselves thinking, “Why is this taking so long?” Life in a body is rather complex, and unless the heart fails, leading to a sudden death, it can take some time to bring all physical and subtle energy processes involved to a closure.

Sandy Rakowitz of One Heart Healing Center, Virigina, kissing the senior gelding, "Sunny" on the head as he stands beside her eating from a metal pot

Hospice Can be Learned

Caring for the dying is an art, and unless we prepare for it ahead of time, chances are we won’t feel up for the task. It will seem daunting to us rather than sacred. Whether the caretaker is aware of it or not, much happens in the last days and hours of a dying human or animal, in terms of getting ready internally for the great passage. It is a privilege indeed to wave our loved one off, not holding it back, not trying to rush it, embracing the process and the farewell.

Sandy Rakowitz of One Heart Healing Center, VA, came close to euthanizing “Sunny” several times during the winter of 2006. Instead of going with the standard considerations and putting the senior gelding down, she opted for hospice. Palliative care provided to allow Sunny a natural death instead made it possible for Sunny to recover and celebrate his 36th birthday in spring 2007. Though one should not hold hopes for a recovery when providing hospice, this is one obvious benefit of doing it: If we misjudged what the life force can still do in terms of healing, it won’t necessarily be lethal.

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