Swany’s Story by Bunny Morrow
The gift of providing animal geriatric and hospice care comforts both the giver and the receiver. But there can be challenges along the way – even a vet visit can turn into one. There are many opportunities to apply what we have learned and to grow even more.
Swany, a female Black Labrador, came into my life when she was just a pup, and I told her then that I would care for her the rest of her life – that was my commitment to her. We were blessed to be best buddies for 16 years. She was such a character – quite mischievous most of her life and there are many “Swany Stories”. One story dear to my heart is of the time leading up to and including her passing and the vigil I held afterwards.
I actually had prepared for Swany’s death six months before she died when she was scheduled for a needed surgery. Given her age, 15 1/2 yrs. old, the risk of anesthesia and the unknown cause of her more frequent passing out, it was uncertain she’d make it. Working together with Ella I had already become involved with hospice care for animals. I decided to spend some time with Swany the night before that procedure, going over her life in conversation with her, showing her photos of her with all her favorite humans, looking at her assortment of collars we still had from her puppy-hood and letting her know she might be going to a different “place” and not to be afraid. I thanked her for all she’d brought into my life – the friends, the laughter and the unconditional love.
Swany not only recovered from that surgery, but actually came out of the anesthesia easier and sooner than from previous ones due to Ella having suggested that given Swany’s age I ask the vet this time if they could just use the anesthesia mask to put Swany under and not use a pre-op sedation injection.
Six month later my sister, who lives a couple of hours from where I live, asked me to house, dog and cat sit and she said bringing Swany along was just fine. Even though she had been having passing out episodes again I was not concerned about taking her on the trip as she was otherwise doing well.
The day after we arrived to house sit, Swany became sick and though able to walk, she was getting weak and wasn’t much interested in food. She had diarrhea, one of my sister’s dogs had it to. When a heat wave settled in over LA and then finding some blood in Swany’s urine, the challenges started feeling overwhelming to me. That we were out of town unable to see Swany’s regular vet did not make it any easier.
I made a number of calls trying to find a vet who would be willing to test a urine sample if I collected it and brought it in so as not to have to put Swany in her more and more fragile condition through the angst of a trip to the vet. No one would check the urine “without seeing the dog”, so I reluctantly took her to my sister’s vet. It was not a comfortable trip for either of us. The floor was marble and slippery and I, with my bad knees, had to kneel down and support Swany under her belly. The vet still would not just examine Swany and test the urine, but insisted x-rays were needed to rule out possible kidney stones – something I learned later could have been done if NO infection would have shown in the urine sample.
In the moment, against my gut feeling that I did not want her x-rayed, I let them do it, not finding the strength to stand my ground. I did request clearly however that due to Swany’s back condition they needed to support her legs while doing the x-ray, as we had learned the hard way from a previous procedure. There were no stones – the urine sample revealed it was an infection. And they did NOT support Swany sufficiently during the x-ray. Consequently she could barely walk the next couple of days and I felt horrible for even having taking her there. I learned so much while caring for Swany and this was a hard lesson. The results of my choices during those challenging moments brought me invaluable experience on what to do better next time. For one, if I had to take a geriatric dog that has trouble standing or walking to a vet’s office, I’d take a piece of carpet with me to ensure good footing and a comfortable surface to lie down on. Even more important, if I felt uneasy at all about any suggested procedure, I would say no, at least until I could have some quiet time away from the vet’s office to evaluate the situation and talk it over with someone who is experienced with how to prioritize to accommodate the special needs of an animal towards the end of it’s life.
I continued to care for Swany during the following week. She was walking again but still not interested in anything I would cook for her and I finally “got it” and told her she didn’t have to eat again if she didn’t want to – and she didn’t.
Guided by my dear friend Ella who was still in the process of writing the seminar SPIRITS in Transition, and having assisted her in providing hospice for another friend’s dog, I was able to use the experience, suggestions and tools for geriatric care and hospice to make Swany more comfortable through her final days. And the action of doing that helped me so much to begin to process her impending transition.
Swany died naturally and peacefully – a gift to us both – just as I was putting her into the car to bring her home on the last day of house sitting. Ella and I had planned to meet and take Swany to the beach one more time on the way home and I had just dialed Ella to say we were leaving LA. It was a comfort to have Ella “with us” as Swany took her last breaths. I stopped at the beach anyway, as I had told Swany earlier in the day that we would, backing the car toward the ocean and opened the back hatch and we sat for a few minutes and then continued home. Knowing that it could now take up to 72 hours for her body’s subtle energy system to complete it’s transition, and as I had pre-planned to do, I held a three-day vigil for her with the help of my dear friends. This was an amazing experience and truly powerful in helping me to process the loss of her physical being. Her spirit remains joyfully in my heart forever.
I will be eternally grateful to SPIRITS in Transition and the beautiful process it enabled me to gift Swany with in her aging years, through her transition, and the ongoing gift of completion and peace I continue to receive from having been able to give that to her.
Thank you Ella, Momo and Plouche for SPIRITS in Transition.