I woke up Saturday morning facing the situation that all animal lovers dread. Dakota my 15-year-old black chow mix suddenly became lethargic and disoriented.
Once in the car, fear joined me on the passenger side and accompanied me all the way to the animal emergency hospital. A quick exam showed a 105-degree fever, but extensive lab tests were needed to determine if the cause was an infection, inflammation, or something worse. In an elderly dog, just like in an older human, any of these scenarios were significant.
For The Next Two Days….
I camped out beside her cage wondering if these were our last moments together. In the same hospital, in the same cage, I had already said goodbye to three members of my animal family. In my upcoming book, “Dog as My Doctor, Cat as My Nurse,” I talk about the many ways that our animal companions can enhance our wellbeing– physically, emotionally and spiritually – but learning how to live with death is perhaps the greatest lesson they have shared with me.
The Magic in Connection
I’m certain Dakota would have rather been home, instead of poked with needles, prodded with thermometers, and hooked to IVs. Nonetheless, she seemed to take things in stride. Not me. I felt the reopening of old wounds of loss from family, friends, and animals that had passed. The tears came as I contemplated these might be my last hours with my lovely dog.
But Dakota’s serenity reminded me what I had learned, the last time I was here saying goodbye to another of my beloved dogs. In Roxy’s passing, I learned the best way to move through death is to appreciate life’s moments. The small, seemingly inconsequential exchanges that we have with our animal friends – the laughter we share, the cuddles, and tenderness – these are the magic moments that are important to relish, recognize, and remember.
The Top Five Regrets of the Dying
In her book by the same title, Bronnie Ware an Australian Nurse found that the people she cared for in the last days of their life, all wished for the same things.
1. I had the courage to live a life true to myself
2. I hadn’t worked so hard
3. I had the courage to express my feeling
4. I had stayed in touch w/my friends
5. I had let myself be happier
Isn’t it amazing how our animal friends can help us fulfill this wish list by modeling the important things in life?
1. Animals are authentic beings and true to themselves; a cat doesn’t think she’s a lion and a dachshund doesn’t dream of being a poodle
2. Work isn’t the end all for our companion animals, playtime on the other hand just may be
3. They express their love, affection, and joy easily
4. Their friendship with their human guardians is something they thrive on
5. They allow themselves to be happy even when they have endured unimaginable trauma.
I realized that if I spent these moments mourning Dakota now, I would be wasting our precious time together; a time we would never get back. Immediately I shifted from the memories of the past and the fears of the future to the only place that truly exists for all of us and especially for our animal friends – the present.
Dakota’s fever broke, she is home with us, and back to her silly ways. For this I’m grateful. We haven’t discovered the cause of her illness. But I’m glad to have reconnected with her on a deeper level and to be reminded that a dog’s life may seem simple, but the wisdom in that simplicity is priceless.
Carlyn Montes De Oca is an acupuncturist, plant-based nutritional consultant, and the founder of The Animal-Human Health Connection. She is also the author of the Amazon bestselling book, “Dog as My Doctor, Cat as My Nurse – an animal lover’s guide to a healthy, happy, & extraordinary life.”
10% of Carlyn’s author proceeds will go to rescues and shelters to help animals in need.