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It’s All About Love and Support, and It Starts with You!


BrightHaven President and Founder Gail Pope is putting the finishing touches on an important booklet called Following Your Heart: Navigating a Terminal Diagnosis. Her wish is to help you walk this often-challenging path with a deeper sense of peace, confidence and clarity.

***UPDATE:  This booklet is now available!***

Caring for animals who have special needs, are chronically ill or are at end of life can be physically and emotionally draining and may result in burnout or other health issues. Therefore, the caregiver must make self-care a top priority.

Here’s an excerpt from Gail’s chapter entitled “It’s All About Love and Support, and It Starts with You!”

Woman cradling dog
Gail & Ollie sharing special moments

This very difficult and challenging time IS all about living faith, embracing hope and sharing love. It seems to me these qualities are possibly our most important assets in the situation faced after a terminal diagnosis has been received. So we must begin with a little support for you, the caregiver.

To be faced with a terminal diagnosis, and sometimes a recommendation for euthanasia as an accompaniment, is perhaps the worst fear for anyone who deeply loves an animal companion.

Any decision should be made in, with, and for LOVE. It should not be made in haste or be driven by fear.

Smile, breathe and go slowly. ~Thich Nhat Hanh

This is the time to take several deep breaths, become more centered and well balanced and understand that in order to be both loving and supportive that you must be strong. This is also the time for self-care to become a priority. One powerful reminder is the air mask analogy—put your own mask on first. You have to take care of yourself, so you can be present for your animal.

You are doing your best to care for and support this precious being, and that is all you can do.

The above sentence is very important, and I emphasize that guilt has no place here. It is important that you try to eradicate it from daily life. You are indeed doing your best and that is all you can do. Your beloved animal will know this and be comforted by that knowledge. Do not beat yourself up about anything. Let go of guilt and self-doubt and move forward in the love you and your animal share.

“It is the energy behind the method that heals. In our culture we tend to be addicted to methods forgetting that ultimately it is being a vessel of love that is the greatest form of healing. ~Sandra Ingerman

Supportive Tips

  • Understand and support yourself so you can be there to support your animal friend.

    Woman pulling dog in wagon
    Carol taking hospice patient Silver for an outing in the sunshine
    (Photo by Vicki Sims Whitney)
  • Reassure yourself you’re doing the best you can.
  • Be willing to reach out for help.
  • Let go of fear and guilt.
  • Do what you can and then let go.
  • Remember panic is not a helpful energy.
  • Understand that dying is a process and you have time to think.
  • Realize that your initial choices may change along the way as your animal’s condition or situation evolves, and as you gather additional information.
  • When contemplating a decision, put yourself in your animal’s position and think what you would want.
  • Meditate, even for just a few minutes, to enhance your wellbeing.

“Mindfulness is like that—it is the miracle which can call back in a flash our dispersed mind and restore it to wholeness so that we can live each minute of life. ~Thich Nhat Hanh

More Thoughts for the Caregiver

Woman given fluids to cat
Blanca giving subcutaneous fluids to Rosie

As one considers the future and what it may bring, it can be very helpful to realize that not only might our perspective on living and dying need to change; we might be in for some other surprises as well, such as recovery and renewed health. Later in this booklet we will visit animal hospice care, which may be appropriate for some, and it is important to consider that many terminally ill human patients enter hospice care only to discover a new balance for the physical and emotional, leading to renewed, healthier and longer life.

We have become a disposable society with electronics thrown away instead of being repaired, as are cars, appliances, clothes, and often animals past the age of twelve. As we grow, we learn about life and the birthing process as a matter of course but are taught virtually nothing about the end-of-life process, and so death has become a difficult word at best and one to be feared by most. Death remains the big fear for most people, not only their own, but the fear of witnessing the death of others. So, when they have a choice to make it go away, they often do and thus the principal way for an animal to die is by euthanasia.

In other words, looking at both ends of life we believe that death is a process as is birth, and as we would not advocate C-section for all births, nor would we advocate euthanasia for all deaths.

Animals live in the moment and appear to show no fear of illness or death, and to be present together during the last chapter of life is a deeply rewarding experience filled with value, love and gratitude. It often challenges old ways of thinking, reveals our deepest neediness and plummets us into uncertainty.  At the same time, it is an opportunity for growth and discovery, a journey requiring courage and flexibility enabling us to cultivate a wiser heart, deeper compassion and gratitude and an increased capacity for skillful action.

As in birth, where midwives are needed to offer love, company, soothing treatments and words of comfort and support, so they are also required at the other end of life. It is the same revolving doorway perhaps, with some coming in and others going out…

The BrightHaven Menu for Self-Care

As we have developed our Menu for Healing, which forms the foundation of BrightHaven’s work, we have also created a similar menu as a guide for successful self-care, which is so very important in the often long and winding road ahead. As in our healing menu we emphasize love as the first and last item but this time it is self-love.

Here is our Menu for Self-Care:

  • Love yourself unreservedly.
  • Have faith in the greater plan. Everything will work out just as it’s meant to.
  • Accept what IS in your heart.
  • Be grateful—each and every new day is a gift
  • Show kindness to yourself as well as others.
  • Try not to be judgmental of yourself or of others.
  • Believe in healing for the highest good.
  • Watch your breath and live for the moment.
  • Be open to change.
  • Smile—it’s healing and contagious!
  • And again, love yourself unreservedly.

BrightHaven Resources to Help Your Animal Live Well Through the Last Breath

1-15 Gail Joey-by Lexie- cropped
Gail & Joey sharing a cuddle
(Photo by in joy photography)

heart & flowers on bloards

Copyright: This document is © copyrighted and is the property of BrightHaven Inc. and it must not be reproduced or presented for commercial purposes without prior express written consent from BrightHaven.