My journey with my animal companion at the end of his life – by Carolyn Chilton Casas
When our daughter was in elementary school, she chose a kitten to bring home, which she named Roo, after the baby kangaroo in the Winnie-the-Pooh stories. When she went away to college and then work in another state, Roo and I became good buddies. He is 18 now, an honorable age for a cat.
Roo is the last man standing of the four pets that once lived in our home together. He has been my companion, comforting me through my grief when my father died unexpectedly, when the other three animals left us one by one, after the untimely death of my best friend and, more recently, when my older brother passed.
Toward the end of last year, Roo started coming to me less often to be held. My intuition told me he was teaching me to live without him, although, of course, I hoped this wasn’t true. Then we noticed that Roo wasn’t eating as much as usual and had started to lose weight.
A few months later, Roo suddenly became lethargic, spent most of his days sleeping and stopped audibly purring and meowing. There was no organ deterioration according to the labs ordered by a local veterinarian. Although he hinted at the big ‘C’, we decided not to do more invasive testing because, no matter the diagnosis, surgery was not something we would put Roo through at his advanced age.
I am a Reiki practitioner and a writer and Roo has joined me over the years in both of these activities. When I learned Reiki, he was the first one I practised with. He became attached to receiving it, even crying continuously if bedtime came and he hadn’t gotten his energy session. The two of us have shared Reiki together every evening for years with him lying over my heart, his head tucked under my chin, his paw in my hand. His purring vibration has always felt like Reiki to me.
Over time, Roo seemed to be giving Reiki, too. He began participating in both distant and in-person Reiki sessions and sometimes also in the Reiki shares hosted in our home. He became known in our Reiki community as Reiki Roo. In addition, he has spent many hours sitting on my lap or on my desk as I write or take online poetry classes.
At 18, although I knew on some level Roo might not live much longer, on an ‘anything is possible’ level and because he had received Reiki daily for years and had never been ill, a part of me expected him to live much longer. So, when he started needing space and solitude, my arms ached from missing him. One evening I cried so hard I could barely breathe. It seemed like he was preparing to die and, as he continued to go downhill, I became increasingly heartbroken.
At that point, he wasn’t even interested in receiving Reiki from me. Of course, I respected his wishes. After a few days, though, I reaffirmed my intention for Reiki to help him with whatever he needed for his journey, whether that was physical healing or a peaceful transition. I got down on the floor near the spot where he had chosen to spend his days and nights and with my hands at a slight distance from his body, started sending him Reiki with this more conscious intention.
I sensed he was open to Reiki then, as I heard him purring slightly. Since he seemed to like this more focused attention, I called on some of my friends and students to send Reiki to us both, affirming the same intention for Roo and asking for emotional healing for me. During this time, I gave myself a lot of Reiki as well and our family had long conversations about how we could best support him on his journey.
The morning after Roo received Reiki from multiple practitioners, I awoke to his meows in the kitchen requesting food from my husband. At first, I thought I was dreaming; the night before we had thought he might be ready to pass. The shift was palpable – he had decided to stick around a little longer. I felt Roo had chosen to make his leaving a slower progression for my sake, since our last three animals, one of them his sister, had transitioned suddenly.
When I went to pick up a medication the vet suggested might help him eat more to gain back the strength he had lost, I had an unexpected conversation with one of the assistants. I mentioned to her that when the time came, we hoped to give Roo a peaceful death at home. I was not prepared for her strong, emotional reaction as she got teary-eyed and told me this was not a humane way to let an animal die.
I was confused by her response, so I reached out to friends to ask what they had experienced at the end of their pets’ lives. These conversations reinforced that euthanasia for animals at end of life had become the norm. Like me, though, some friends were also starting to question whether euthanasia was the best decision in all cases. In a twist of fate that I do not believe was a pure coincidence, a friend told me about an animal communicator/pet death doula teaching a Zoom class about alternative ways to support animal companions preparing to transition and I signed up.
Over the next six weeks as I took the Pet Wise Academy course called Walk Your Pet Home (www.moniquebrignoni.com); it was comforting to find people from all over the world who believed what I was coming to believe: That it might be possible for a beloved animal companion to have a natural, peaceful death at home without medical intervention.
Around that time, I started noticing some mystical experiences involving Roo, something Monique told us often happens when you are lovingly focused on your pet and supporting them at the end of their life. The first time he was well enough to go back outside with us, he jumped up on the patio wall and went to drink from the bottom of a garden statue of St. Francis. I had never seen him drink there before. From then on, Roo has made pilgrimages three, four, five times a day to drink from that statue – St. Francis of Assisi – patron saint and lover of animals.
A few months before Roo’s sudden decline in health, I had been researching earthing, also called ‘grounding’, and how we can heal a multitude of ailments by connecting to the Earth, for an article I was writing. While I was investigating earthing as a modality for healing, our family bought some grounding pads to try – one for under my desk, one for our son’s mattress and another for my husband’s favourite chair.
The week he became sick, Roo chose a spot to sleep with his body touching the cable from the chair pad which was connected to a grounding port. Sometimes he even settled himself directly on the pad. When I was home working, I left the patio doors open and I often found him curled up sweetly on the ground between the plants and flowers. I am confident the earth was helping Roo to get stronger.
After Roo’s positive shift in health, little by little he began changing the place where he spent his days sleeping. Every few days he chose a new spot, making a continuous progression over a week or two, foot by foot: across the back room, down the hallway, then finally into the living room, returning to us in small steps.
The last thing I believe helped Roo to heal is a special two-part ritual he shares with my husband each morning. First is a cat-style deep tissue massage. For Roo, the stronger the massage the better, which makes us all laugh. The other is a type of EFT, also called ‘tapping’ that they invented together. Truly, Roo could be a poster pet for tapping; possibly create a new trend in animal care. While my husband drinks his morning coffee, Roo, purring loudly receives taps up and down his spine and on each side of his body over his organs.
Although Roo soon seemed as strong as he was before he got sick, he still didn’t like to be picked up or cuddled much. I learned from Monique such introverted behavior is normal for animals in the latter part of their lives as they prepare to transition. We were learning to adapt to his needs just as he had adapted to our lives for so many years.
After the initial extraordinary shift in his health that occurred after Roo received Reiki with a clearer intention, I have continued to give him a little Reiki each day, either in-person if he wants that, or distantly, asking for his highest good, and he continues to grow stronger. In addition, almost immediately after receiving Reiki that first day from my friends, I recognised a shift in my own emotional wellbeing. The unrelenting sadness has been replaced by softer feelings – an appreciation for the wonderful life our family and Roo have spent together and a new confidence that I am strong enough to handle whatever his care necessitates.
I have always felt Roo was my teacher and I believe that even more strongly now. I don’t know if we have weeks or years left to spend together, but I believe, as the Buddhists teach, that it is my honour to care for him tenderly at the end of his life, just as he has always given so much of himself unconditionally to me.
Roo lived another three months after he first got sick – three months during which he was enveloped by our family in compassionate care, laughter, Reiki, quiet times of lying together on the floor or napping together on the grass, intimate conversations and so much love. This was a time of contemplating the meaning of death while attempting to turn sadness into acceptance as he showed us he was preparing to leave.
A special memento from this time is a candid photo taken of our children and Roo the last Sunday we spent together. We were having our coffee on the patio. I had just carried Roo out to drink water from the St. Francis statue and he was resting on the mat. I wanted to make sure to remember this moment. By then, we knew Roo was in the process of dying, but here he was at peace, loved and part of what was going on. I felt what a blessing this was for Roo – and for us – how I would wish to spend one of my last days.
What we were warned was a probability when we declined the vet clinic’s recommendation of euthanasia – death by starvation or dehydration – never came to pass. Roo continued to eat and drink up until hours before his transition. My son slept on the floor next to him every night and I cared for Roo during the day, so he was almost never alone during his last weeks. Besides the support we received from Monique at Pet Wise Academy, we had additional help from animal hospice care specialist, Gail Pope.
Reiki was a saving grace. It connected us physically, Roo’s sweet body melting into my warm hands. While giving him Reiki, I had the opportunity to tell him what an amazing companion he had been, and when he was ready, it was okay to let go. After sharing so many years together, I miss Roo – the cat who was an integral part of my life before he got sick and also the sweet being who hung on so valiantly as if wanting more time with us. Reiki is helping me to adjust.
Our family believes Roo chose his time to transition. My daughter, his first pet parent, was home for a visit, so she was able to spend time with him. That morning, though, Roo and I were alone. He gave me the tremendous gift of sharing in his time of passing. I am still integrating that gift, but I know I am changed by the experience.
Under the big elm tree, I held his dear head, lightly stroked his body, and talked to him gently. Having Roo die in my arms was a deeply profound experience, my first time to intimately see death. On his last outbreath, a crow cawed and cawed at the top of our tall sycamore, proclaiming to the kingdom that one of their own had completed his sacred mission on earth.
Carolyn Chilton Casas is an Usui/Holy Fire® Reiki master teacher and a Karuna® master. Her stories and poems have appeared in Braided Way, Energy, Reiki News Magazine, Touch and in other publications. You can read more of Carolyn’s work on Facebook, on Instagram at mindfulpoet_, or in her first collection of poems titled Our Shared Breath.