Being Present is an Active Choice

Posted on October 15, 2018 by Lynn Henderson

I had an old dog – an old dog with old dog issues. I had lots of well-meaning friends and many options for what “I could do next’ for my old dog. I was well-versed in all of the things I COULD do medically to try to ‘save her’, or at least prolong her life. I am blessed with brilliant friends, and I am blessed with loving friends – but my best friend throughout this portion of my pet-parenting journey, was my personal counsellor. 

I would think I knew what I wanted to do for my dog, Koda. I had a sense of what I wanted and what I could imagine she might want – we can never know – but we make these choices out of love for them and that is the best we can do. I became overwhelmed by all of the ‘help’ I was being offered with respect to how I could ‘manage’ the issues with Koda. 

I spoke to my counsellor often about my grief journey. I see her routinely just to screw my head on straight as the work that I do is emotionlly difficult and it wears on me.  I know that I am good at it – that’s why it wears on me. I am proud to tell you all that I see a mental health professional regularly – (but that soapbox is for another day).

I would sit with her and discuss my fears about losing my dog – my fears for my child in trying to help her understand this loss, and my fears for myself – in losing a companion that has seen me through vet school, the coming and going of a marriage, the birth of my child – start of my business, the rebirth of my life after divorce…

I felt like I wanted Koda to pass on her own – yes, I am ‘the euthanasia veterinarian’, but I wanted her to just pass in her own time – on her own journey – with nature….This is what I so commonly hear from clients at almost every end-of-life visit – and now I get it. 

I wanted her to be at home with me – I didn’t want an audience. I wanted to have my sadness – my heart ripped open as she passed, in private.

But I began to feel conflicted about my course of ‘treatment’. You see I had tried pain medications for her weakening hind end, and to address any pain she might be feeling from the tumour we knew was in her abdomen.  But Koda had stopped eating, and getting medication into her was extremely difficult. I could not hide the pills in yummy treats and sneak them in, and without food in her belly, what I did manage to get in made her feel worse. I had liquid concoctions made up to squirt into her mouth – and God love her, she let me do it, ears down to the side and that look they give you. She would let me drip the fishy liquid in – but it didn’t seem to help and I felt the tug at our bond every time I forced this on her. So I stopped doing that. Koda would occasional eat beef jerky from the gas station, or crackers form my daughter – but proper food was off the table – no liver, no chicken, no ice cream – she just didn’t want it. I worked with anti-nausea meds, appetite-stimulants – and eventually got to the point that she was on nothing – We were in a holding pattern. 

I sound like I was at peace with it all – and at some level I was. Yet each day that went by where I didn’t actively pursue a CT scan, or surgery to take the tumour out, or insert a feeding tube to pump food into her – I felt like a bad veterinarian. I should be DOING something – I should be active! I should be using the resources available to me in my friends and affiliated clinics!!!! If anybody SHOULD be doing something, it was me! I was failing at pet-death!  That was my self-talk. 

So I would sit with my therapist – and dive into the guilt and the tearing feelings I had about my choice to sit and DO NOTHING… And she said the words that changed my state of mind – that saved me from the guilt and the self-doubt. “You are choosing to sit with it – you are choosing to  allow Koda to have her journey. The choice to NOT do those surgeries and tests is not a passive choice – it is an active choice. You are actively and consciously CHOOSING to be present with this journey – and to honour the bond you have with your dog. T0 honour the choices your heart made for this journey before you allowed anyone else’s opinion in”. 

Her advice was to sit with the decision I had made in my heart for my best friend. To sit with it, and politely inform well-meaning others that you are no longer seeking medical advice – that you have a plan, and you are actively pursuing it. So I did – and I found peace with it.

Koda passed on September 12th, 2018 after 15 years as my copilot.  I don’t have any regrets. 

(….So that’s just a bit or wording for your tool kit if it helps you on your journey. )




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