On Death and Dying
By Barbara Janelle M.A.
Death comes to every human and every animal. For humans this change is fraught with tremendous fear and grief because we have largely forgotten that we are spiritual beings engaged in earth school exercises. Animals have a stronger awareness of spiritual essence and they recognize that death is simply a continuation of the spirit; it is not a huge issue for them. For animals living in service to humans, some things can affect this comfort level—relationships with humans, human fear and grief, and sudden death through accident or unilateral human decision.People who call communicators about their animal’s leaving usually want to know several things. Is the time of leaving near? Should a veterinarian be involved to euthanize the animal? Is the animal in pain? What does the animal want? When I am asked to do this kind of communication, I must be centered so that the owner’s anxiety does not affect or overwhelm my ability to connect with the animal and receive information clearly. I check several things with the animal:
a) The first is an early sense of strength or weakness in the animal; this is an indicator of life force and overall physical function.
b) I ask to see or feel the animal’s grounding (connection with the Earth) – the length, thickness and number of roots and/or some aspect of energy flow through the field. A healthy body is very well grounded with a lot of energy flowing through it.
c) I check how much of the body the spirit of the animal is occupying. Often animals that are close to dying are only in the upper part of the body and not in the feet and legs. Some may actually be floating above the body connected to it and the Earth by the merest energetic thread. Some animals do trial runs, leaving the body (without breaking the energetic grounding thread)and returning to it a few times both to see how that is and to give their owners some warning of their leaving.
d) I ask whether the animal is still engaged in living service to their human because this is a strong indicator of a will to live.
e) I assess the level of physical comfort that the animal is experiencing, and while I am at it, I may do a walk through the body to assess its overall health and function
f) I ask the animal what its wishes are
Life is engagement with the Earth, with the physical body and with other beings on the Earth plane. Dying is a process of unweaving and releasing these relationships.
Living in Present Time
Many people expect and hope that a consultation will give predictive information. However, an animal live in present time and in most instances the information that a communicator receives is based on present circumstances.
Case History: Changing Circumstances. The owner was away from home attending a week-long workshop. Her husband called to say that their very elderly dog was not doing well. She asked me to check in with the animal and when I did, the dog said it was planning on leaving this life very shortly. The owner decided to go home later that day. The dog recovered and lived for another several weeks.
In my experience, animals do not lie. They do live in the moment however, and things can change quickly. Perhaps it was having the owner return home that encouraged the animal to live a while longer, or maybe some other factor (change in diet, medication, etc. shifted something). I don’t know because I did not check in with the animal again. I have learned to trust the timing on leaving
Occasional glimpses of the future tend to come in large frameworks, e.g., a sense that an animal will live to a ripe old age, a sense that the animal will lead the owner into very important experience/work, a recognition that at a certain age the animal will begin to bloom and demonstrate very remarkable qualities and skills, etc. There may be a time frame for leaving this life, stated in general terms.
Case History: The Elderly Dog. The woman called to ask about having surgery done on her 12 year old dog to remove a non-malignant growth on the neck. My own thought was the dog was too old for this, but when I asked the animal, he replied, “I will live one year without the surgery. With the surgery, I will live one year in much greater comfort.” I relayed this information to the owner and she decided to have the surgery done. The dog lived comfortably for one more year.
The Timing of Death
The timing of an animal’s death is usually significant. It may be when the owner is best able to handle it, or it may be at a time and in circumstances that present huge learning opportunities. An animal walks a portion of life with its human and it is important to recognize this and the profound lessons of that time. The animal’s death may signal a significant change in the owner’s life, and it may open the way for another powerful animal teacher to enter.
When a human loses another person who is close, e.g., a spouse, and is so stunned that they cannot grieve, a dearly loved pet may die a short time later. In grieving the loss of the animal, the human can reach the grief over the loss of the person.
In some cases, an animal may start to leave and then recognize that the owner needs more time to be able to accept its dying.
Case History: Chloe. Chloe was a beautiful Standard Poodle, greatly loved by her owners. When she developed lymphoma, they arranged for her to receive chemotherapy at the local veterinary college. However, the final treatment killed off almost all of her white blood cells and greatly impaired the function of the red blood cells. Chloe was sent home with the expectation that she would die within 24 hours. The owners were very sad. During a Therapeutic Touch treatment, Chloe told me, “I am trying my very best to stay.” To everyone’ surprise, Chloe did survive and lived comfortably for another 8 months.
Near the end of that time her health began to deteriorate. In one of her regular TT treatments, Chloe asked me to tell the owners that she did not want to suffer pain. They heard this and took her to the vet to be euthanized. Later they told me that they could not have accepted her leaving earlier. Having those additional several months with her gave them the time they needed to be able to release her.
Many owners ask if the animal wants veterinary assistance to leave, and if so when should they take the animal to the vet. I ask the animal to give a signal if and when it wishes veterinary help, and I make the point that humans need big clear signals.
Case History: Blue. My friend Ellen Edmondson has a small retirement farm for horses in Ontario Canada. She told me about a 30-year old mare named Blue who went down in her stall one evening. The owner and veterinarian came. The mare looked to be at death’s door. The owner knelt down beside her and said, “Now Blue, I need a clear signal. Do you want to die now?” Blue opened her eyes, looked at the owner and got to her feet. She lived for several more years.
Sometimes the signal may come from another animal. Ellen had a Husky who always gave her clear signals about a horse’s impending death. If Ruskie stayed with the horse, Ellen knew the situation was very serious. If Ruskie left the barn, Ellen knew the horse would recover.
It is important to recognize that the opportunity for learning may be present for the veterinarian as well as for the owner.
Case History: Sam. My horse Sam lived to be 33 years old. He got thinner and thinner as he aged and I frequently asked if he wanted veterinary help to leave. Sam always replied that he was still enjoying his food, the feel of the sun and life. The morning he died, he had a good breakfast and then went out and lay down. Ellen called me and I called my vet. Sam had been one of Geoff’s first patients and when he left Sam gave a gift of gentle closure to the three of us.
Sometimes an owner has issues around euthanasia or for some other reason finds this extremely difficult to consider. Any being that is alive has some spiritual and energetic interaction/grounding with Earth. Death is a release of that energetic relationship. I talk with the owner and together, we ask the animal and the Earth, who is a conscious living being, to gently unweave their energetic ties. This helps the dying process proceed and can lead to an easy natural death.
Emmanuel, who is channeled by Pat Rodegast, says “Death is like taking off a tight shoe.” (1) I have been with animals and people as they have died and have felt the sense of joy and expansion as the being leaves the body. The spirit seems to leap strongly upward and there is a sense of great brightness too. I have heard horses in a barn herald the moment of an animal’s death with loud whinnies, and I have seen electric lights in a vet’s office flicker the moment an animal leaves its body. There is no sadness in this, but rather a sense of salute and celebration.
In most instances, dying is not an issue for animals because they know spirit lives on after death. There may be physical signs of struggle as an animal dies but that is the body trying to function. The spirit of the animal is already out and free.
A veterinarian friend told me of her view on euthanasia. She said that when we domesticate animals we interfere with their ability to die naturally. There may come a time in the life of a domestic animal when we must help them out of this world. It is a responsibility that comes with domestication.
Animal Issues around Dying and Death
The only times I encounter issues in animals around dying are when there is still intense connection to the owner’s emotional state, or when death has come so suddenly that the animal does not know that it has died.
An animal may respond to its owner’s strong emotional state by trying to prolong its dying process. If the animal is in physical pain, this can be very difficult for all concerned. Sometimes an animal will ask me to help the owner move to an acceptance of its leaving so it can be released.
Case History: Jake. I was asked to work with Jake one cold winter evening. The horse was standing when I entered the arena, his eyes clenched shut in obvious pain. He had a twisted intestine and had been in agony for four days. Two vets had advised the owner to put him down, but she could not do it.
Friends held the horse while the owner, stood thirty feet away, frozen in her own pain and unable to touch the horse. I started TTEAM work on the ear acupressure points to reduce discomfort. Jake went down and lay quietly. He was beyond the point where an operation would have helped him even if the owner could have afforded it. He’d been in severe pain for several days, although by now that was felt more as pressure because he had shut off contact with much of his body. In my first few minutes with him, Jake made it very clear to me that he wanted to leave. My job was to help the owner to release him.
After some Therapeutic Touch work, I went to the owner and asked her to tell me something about Jake. Her answers came in single words.
“Tell me something about this horse. How old is he?”
“How long have you had him?”
“Did you ride him a lot? He looks like a very athletic horse? What did you do with him?”
I moved back to the horse and continued my work. Then I spoke to the owner again, “Think of a time when you had a lot of fun with Jake. What was a time of real pleasure for both of you?” Her face lost its controlled smile. The color drained away.
“The time we won the red ribbon.”
And the tears came. Jake sat up and looked at her. He got up on his feet. She walked over to him and began to work on his ears. Jake’s eyes opened wide and he looked at her with deep intensity and trust, and he sighed.
A few minutes later she made the decision to have the vet come and put him down. She continued to work on his ears and Jake remained quiet until the vet arrived. The owner released him with love and Jake died peacefully.
The issue of release is a big one for most of us. This owner could only release Jake when she felt her love and pain for him. I believe that one of the things we are here to do is to feel our emotions, particularly love. Animals are artists at reaching our hearts. In this case, a question triggering a memory of joy helped the owner’s heart to open.
Working with Jake and his owner was one of my early experiences in helping a human feel emotion deeply enough to be able to release the animal with gratitude. I did not plan to do this; I simply followed the promptings from Jake. “What did this one teach you?” “What gifts did he bring to your life?” This is the basis for my “Celebrating Animals’ Lives” seminar that I lead every summer at Camp Gone to the Dogs in Vermont. Owners may be so swamped in the pain of loss that they cannot go beyond it. Recognizing the gifts and finding a way to express gratitude to their departed animals shifts the pain and helps them go on with life.
Case History: Ruskie and Joe. An owner decided suddenly to have her elderly horse put down. The animal was not told of this, nor was Ellen, the farm owner, informed until the vet arrived and told her what he was there to do. The vet euthanized Joe in front of the barn near the basketball hoop. For three days, on each trip to the barn Ellen’s dog Ruskie went over to the area looked up at the basketball hoop and barked. Joe was hanging around up there, quite puzzled about the whole situation. I told him he was out of his body now and could leave with our gratitude for all the joy he brought to our lives. Ruskie stopped barking immediately and never went back to bark at the hoop again.
Case History: Palmer. The owner called to ask for a consult with her dog Palmer. When I checked in with Palmer, I found him joyfully leaping around her head, but quite puzzled as well. The story emerged that he had been attacked and killed suddenly by a large neighborhood dog. Palmer did not know he was dead. When I explained what had happened, he was pleased to have the puzzle solved.
Sometimes the spirit of an animal or a human can hang around for a long time if it does not know that it is dead. Informing the spirit of its physical death enables it to proceed with its next work
Do Animals Grieve?
A question that arises frequently is whether animals grieve another animal’s or a human’s passing. In my experience, an animal may feel loss and emptiness that fairly quickly becomes confusion about its duties in life. In a household of multiple dogs, for example, all have specific duties and roles that have emerged through game playing and agreement. If one of them dies, the others will try to take on its duties as best they can. The owner will see a period of jockeying around this until things are worked out. (Role changes may occur if a household moves, and also as animals age.)
An animal whose human dies can be quite lost and unsure until another person appears who the animal can serve. Humans will tend to interpret what they see through their own feelings and experiences, and therefore call it grief and sadness. From the animal’s perspective, change has occurred, life continues on in its myriad forms, and the big issue is that of shifting service to another human with possible changes in duties.
There is a big difference in the ways that humans and animals function. The human brain is more complex and can entertain thoughts of past and future. Animals live in present time. It is one of the gifts and abilities that they bring to life on Earth.
Some animals may continue in service to their human for a period of time after leaving their bodies. Other’s work is completed at death and they leave to move on to other experiences.
Case History: Dragon. Victoria had three black labs. Dragon was the primary leader and as he aged became the wise old man. He maintained order and clarity in the household and his steadiness gave the others confidence and support. When he died, Victoria continued to feel his presence and it was apparent that the two remaining dogs did as well. When the new pup, Courage, entered the household, Dragon was still around overseeing the shifts. Even now, two years after his passing, he is still present and holding the heart of the household.
Many clients ask, “Will my animal come back again?” I talk to them about my own understandings and experiences. The High Self or Magnificent Overriding Spirit of the animal has many attributes. The spirit chooses a selection of those attributes to bring into a physical body; at death they return to the whole. When an opportunity for life comes again, another selection of attributes is made and brought into the physical form. There may be some overlap in attributes that the human recognizes – a kind of sweetness or audacity, and perhaps even mannerisms, noticeable enough that the person says, “This is my much loved animal returned to me.”
However, there are always new characteristics added to the mix. Certainly physical appearance will vary to some degree. Where the original form may have been very curious, this animal form may now pensive. Both forms may give the same feeling of deep wisdom, and the new form may bury its toys in precisely the same place and same manner as did the old one.
The gift for the human is a sense of continuity. The challenge is not to reject or resist the changes, but instead to understand that the new attributes come because the human too has changed and is now to be supported in different ways by the Being that is the animal.
Case History: Wimsey and Magic Bailey. My cat Wimsey was very smart, curious, and people-oriented. Two years after she died, Magic Bailey came into my life. Both were black although Wimsey’s body was smaller, finer and more fluid in movement, and she was female. Magic is male, very big and somewhat awkward in his body. There was a moment in that first week, when I held Magic and knew he was Wimsey reincarnated; I recognized the ancient wisdom, focus, and determination of the overriding powerful teacher. The personalities are quite different but the sense of being subject to the same demanding trainer is still very much the same.
Spirit in One or More Physical Forms
In most cases, the Being that is the animal is a unique spirit, but occasionally I will come across an animal and its human who are actually the same spirit in two different bodies. In a few instances, I have encountered a spirit in three and even four bodies simultaneously.
Case History: Chris and Sunny. Chris asked me to check in on her mare Sunny who had died a few months before at the age of 22. The mare’s death had shattered Chris and it was difficult for her to even talk about the horse. As I worked with the mare, she showed me an image that I described to Chris: “Sunny is standing behind you, her head over your shoulder and she is very close to you.” As I watched, the image became clearer. “She isn’t behind you; her chest seems to be in your chest.” The image became clearer yet. “Her heart is your heart. You both have the same heart!” “You are both the same spirit!” “No wonder you felt that a part of you had gone missing when she died!”
Case History: Rochester. The man asked me to see his dog that had a malignant tumor in the jaw. I thought my work would involve doing Therapeutic Touch, and teaching the owner basic TT and Tellington TTouch. Instead I was greeted abruptly by the dog. He marched up to me, looked into my eyes, turned and sat in front of me facing his owner and said, “Tell him we share one heart.”
Men don’t cry, you know
–except the voice wavers
and the eyes are afraid to blink,
because tears will form.
Men can’t cry!
The English Bulldog said,
“Tell him we share one heart
We are one–we belong.”
He blinks this away
–and two days later,
asks me to explain.
“Some dogs and humans are closer than others.
Some dogs are so devoted,
so clear in their commitment,
as is Rochester,
that it is as if you share
and feels him take this in.
It went deep….GOOD!
This truth removed the mask
and allowed him to choose
to release Rochester,
Before the pain of cancer went too deeply
Case History: My Cat Fudge. Fudge was feral when I rescued him after three dogs had chased him into a stream. It was a joy to win him over and see him blossom in my home. A couple of years later, I was out of the country when he was killed in the laneway by a neighbor’s car. My first day home, I sat in the living room feeling how much I missed him, and moved into meditation. Fudge stood clearly in front of me and I watched as he wound himself around me and then melded into the female aspect of who I am. And I understood that he was indeed a part of me: we were the same spirit.
Celebrating Our Animals Lives
I have been a member of the teaching staff at Camp gone to the Dogs in Vermont for 15 years. Every year I offer an evening seminar for people who are grieving the death of a pet. Grief is a powerful experience and it is possible to get caught in it to the point where depression becomes paramount. Also in this culture, we are not permitted to grieve our animal’s passing for more than a day, even though that animal may have been the center of our lives. This seminar offers people a chance to speak about their animals, explore their stories and recognize the awesome gifts that they offered.
I ask for the animal’s name and a physical description, and give the person a chance to briefly tell how the animal died. Then I ask, “How did this animal come to you?” Every owner has a story and with its telling, the recognition that the animal’s coming was no accident. Indeed, the owner understands with amazement that animal was meant to appear at the time it did and the way it did.
I ask for stories, “Tell me something that the animal did that made you laugh.” “Was there something the animal did that annoyed you?” “What adventures did you have together?” “What part of your life did the animal walk with you?” “What did the animal teach you?”
“Describe in single words or short phrases your animal’s character.” When this is done, I ask the owners to put “I am” in front of each of those descriptions and through this see how the animal mirrored so much for them.
Then in meditation, I ask the people to invite the animal to come into their minds and hearts, to see the animal before them, and to tell the animal whatever they want it to know. And they are to thank the animal. After a pause, they are to receive whatever the animal gives them in return.
As homework, they leave the seminar and go to look in the evening sky. Quite often one star stands out and the feeling of the animal’s generous spirit is present.
Animals: Guides, Teachers, Bringers of Joy and Love
When an animal enters our life, we start on a journey filled with adventure, learning and love. The animal reaches deep into us and changes us in ways that can hardly be described. We grow in love. And upon their leaving, we are lost, devastated. Over time, we explore the story and see the meaning, and stand in awe of these remarkable beings. What an honor they give us when they walk a part of our lives with us.
Mary and Tide Say It All. Mary Merchant lives in Ontario Canada and she called to tell me that Tide her big Collie had just died. Mary had been with Tide when he was born, and held him in her arms when he died. Her husband was away, and she buried Tide herself. When I work with people around the death of an animal, I try to ask questions that lead them to recognize how much the animal brought to them. As we talked, Mary said, “Tide always liked just being around.” We were nearing a finish, when Mary said, “I get it!”
“As Tide appears at heaven’s gate, St. Peter asks, ‘What did your owner teach you in this lifetime?’
Tide responds happily, ‘She taught me to do a very straight sit!’
‘And what did you teach your owner in this lifetime?’ St. Peter asks.
Tide says, ‘I taught her about birth and death. I taught her about the importance of being. And I taught her about love.’”
- Complied by Pat Rodegast and Judith Stanton, Emmanuel’s Book, Bantam Books, New York: 1985