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When We Know Better, We Do Better.

Hello, sweet listeners!

By the time this episode rings through your ears, I will have finished my Companion Pet Death Doula training.

I was drawn to this course the moment I heard about its existence from a client, a veterinarian who specialized in End of Life Care and who was part of the faculty at one point. .

It is almost ironic to me that I, Nicole, who was so afraid of death and dying when I was a child, ended up serving animals and their people as the animal gets ready to transition.

Losing one of your animal companions can be the hardest and most challenging that happens in your life. Animals are so often our best friends. They do understand us on a level that humans never will. They always want the best for us and so, no wonder we lose it when we lose them.

In the course we explored the history of End of Life Doulas. So fascinating, only in the last century did it become a practice to support people during their last hours rather than segregate and keep them away from society as they take their last breath.

Then we moved on to caring for others compassionately and without attachments. As a happy fixer of other people's problems, I sank deeply into the concept of allowing people to experience their own grief and loss without any interference that could take them off their journey. And how to be there, in service, present and available to the person so their journey is not lonesome.

And then we moved on to the animal part. Several End of Life Veterinarians spoke about the level of engagement, the back and forth, the precise observations and the hard messages they need to convey while trying to help the owner to come to a place of peace when euthanasia is pending and executed. I have a new appreciation for veterinarians, especially those specializing in this work. I'd say that those specializing in it probably don't see it as work but rather as a purpose.

What was comforting for me was that I always know what the animal thinks as the animal falls ill, or prepares for death. While some of my fellow students were inuitive as weell, several did not use that innate skil to get the animal's perspective as the end nears

In situations where the animal is still alive, I work with my client to develop a plan that addresses the animal's needs and wishes. For example, I recently consulted with a client whose horse was due to be euthanized in two days. The horse asked to be laid down on something soft, like a blanket or snow. And when asked, he declined the presence of a healing practioner, the horse only wanted his person present at the transition.

By being prepared and having a plan, my clients feel less stress and fewer concerns as the end nears. While the sadness of losing a beloved animal can't be erased, having a clear plan in place can provide comfort and peace of mind.

Of course, there are also situations when the animal has already passed, and the owner learns about my work afterward. Quiet often, we wish we had done something different at the end of our pet's life. It's natural for humans to question our actions, but the stakes are higher when deciding on another sentient being's life. Therefore, if you can, I highly recommend we connect with your animal beforehand to understand any needs and wishes that will support you and your furry face during this difficult time.

My final homework for the course was to reflect on my own experience with the death of an animal. My journey of loss and what I gained from it.

I want to share this story with you as it marks the moment I realized that animals are my teachers.

Around 2002, I bought a new horse. Not long after my horse, Easy Lovin' Okie, a beautiful bay Appendix Quarterhorse, arrived from Georgia, he colicked.

(Horse Colic: abdominal pain, cramping, potential blockage, or twist of the GI tract.)

With the help of a veterinarian and pain medication, he recovered. But soon, I realized that colics were part of Okie's and my life. After a few more colic episodes, one gutwrenching event required surgery. Okie's intestines had twisted and blocked his gut.

The surgery went well, and for a few years, Okie was better.

We moved from Eastern to Western Massachusetts. We had pastures and space and hoped that that would heal Okie's gut.

But eventually, colic episodes resumed.

Throughout this, I researched for reasons and how to resolve the issue.

If we weren't trying some new food, I was researching the perfect blanket. If I wasn't adding a new supplement to Okie's diet, I at least ensured he ate extra salt when the weather got colder so he would drink and keep his gut moving.

My life revolved around Okie. I would only leave town if the weather was predictable and vacations were scheduled only during the summer.

During a particular bad colic episode, our holistic vet and I decided on exploratory surgery as our last option.

Okie and I drove to a small clinic in Southern Massachusetts where our vet would assist the surgeon. As the surgical suit was prepped, I was standing with Okie inside a stall, explaining to him about the upcoming surgery, how it would be done, and the sole purpose of it, which was to alleviate the constant pain and agony he was going through. We hoped to pinpoint the root cause of his distress.

After two and a half hours of surgery, the vet tech called me in.

"It doesn't look good," he said on the way into the operating room.

When I made eye contact with our veterinarian, whose eyes were peering over his surgical mask, I knew.

There was no hope.

The veterinarians explained that Okie had more than twenty-five pounds of Entheroliths, gastric intestinal stones, adhered to his colon walls. They had collected some but soon realized several were tearing the colon wall as they removed them. There was no way to take them out without puncturing the colon along the way.

Several of those stones were lying on a tray. They were brown, porous, like lava stone. I picked one up. It had weight.

"He carried 25 pounds of rocks in his belly," I asked.

The vets nodded.

"How does this happen?"

They explained that Entheroliths form within the colon and can obstruct the intestine, resulting in colic. They can form due to many factors, including diet, breed predisposition, and/or management practices. There was no clear answer to why some horses develop enteroliths, and others do not.

I immediately thought of Okie's brittle hooves and that he never grew a winter coat. It appeared that, for some reason, he could not process his food. I saw a visual of minerals collecting in his solon, forming bigger and bigger stones that caused his colics.

And there I thought I could heal him with the right horse blanket.

In all of this, I felt so lucky that Okie was at a small hospital where I could be part of the process and stand right there in the operating room, seeing my horse, my main squeeze on the operating table. We released Okie directly from euthanasia, and I took some strands of his beautiful black mane and tail and kissed and loved on him again while the staff cleaned up.

I took a few of the rocks—a reminder of the moral of Okie's story. Sometimes, we are not in charge. We can care for our animals with the best attention and intention. Still, ultimately, they have their own journey, disposition, and DNA.

After losing Okie, there were days when I felt guilt-ridden I hadn't done enough and asked for too much. One day is burned into my mind. On that particular day, when I noticed Okie was colicking, I loaded him in the trailer, took him to a trail, and walked and trotted him, me running next to him. Hoping to 'loosen up the impaction' or 'get his gut going.'

To think Okie carried 25+ lbs. of rocks in his belly and still willingly followed my suggestion makes me cringe. Makes me cry. It makes me so sorry that I didn't know better.

I love Maya Angelou's quote: "Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better."

But there were other feelings, too. A sense of relief for sure. I knew Okie was no longer in pain. I stopped watching the weather channel like a hawk for any impending temperature change that could affect Okie's gut.

And there were also times when I felt so relieved that I now knew there wasn't anything I could have done to help Okie.

About eight months after Okie's death, I was driving down a country road, reminiscing about him. As the truck rumbled and the green pastures rolled by, I missed him terribly and wondered about our relationship and how it had evolved. I had hired trainers and instructors to help me "train" my animals and build better relationships with my horses and dog, but something remained unresolved and unsettled. As profoundly as I had loved this horse, I felt a more profound connection was available, but I didn't know how to get there, and now it was too late.

Amid this pondering, Okie's image popped into my mind, along with a message: "Don't ask how I can come to you. Ask how you can come to me."

With this statement came the understanding: the animals were not my problem — I was.

I had spent too much time in my head trying to do it "right" when I needed to connect heart-to-heart.

I immediately pulled the truck over to write down Okie's exact words.

"Don't ask how I can come to you. Ask how you can come to me."

This quiet moment on the side of the road struck deep and changed my life and my career. In the weeks following the epiphany, again and again, I considered the question: "How could I meet my animals where they lived, in the now?"

And that will be the premise for my work as an End Of Life, a transition Doula. How can I meet your animals and you in the now during the most difficult time?

I know I can't take your pains away.

But I can promise to be there with you on your journeys …

I will be present.

I will listen.

I will be in service so you and your animal feel less alone in your experience.

Until next time.

Much love to you!


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