November 15, 2021

What our 4-legged & Winged Friends can Teach us about Life & Death.


“The animal heart sees clearly what the intellect cannot because it follows the innate knowing of the earth itself.” ~ Toko-pa Turner

Working as an in-home euthanasia veterinarian, I find myself in intimate and sometimes magical situations while helping a soul transition, while facilitating a peaceful death.

During a routine workday, I both stop and break many hearts. It isn’t often technical work; it is emotional work.

I arrived at Clara’s home to help her dog, Autumn, transition on a mild, sunny October afternoon. I carried the knowledge that when I would leave an hour later, Clara would be brokenhearted without her lovely shepherd, Autumn, in physical form.
Autumn would be on a new journey—a journey of the spirit.

I met Autumn and Clara for the first time in their back yard where they cuddled on a blanket in the grass. Clara struggled to make this decision as she had contacted our euthanasia service several times. The beginning of our appointment involved introductions and becoming familiar with each other.

A dragonfly arrived as I sat down, loudly surveying the small yard surrounded by high wooden fences and bamboo, making our threesome into a foursome. Clara, Autumn, and I sat together on the ground in the yard talking. The dragonfly landed on me. A little anxious, I peered over my shoulder at this large winged creature. The flying dragon seemed to peer back while curling and uncurling his long green body. He appeared to survey all of us.

Autumn and Clara had been together for 15 years through many adventures, tragedies, and life happenings. They were completely devoted to each other. The dragonfly lifted off and motored over to Autumn and sat on her harness, getting Clara’s attention. We acknowledged the dragonfly, welcomed him and his helicopter-like noise.

Autumn supported Clara through the death of her parents, a divorce, then the empty nest when her son went to college, and now through the challenges of COVID-19. Their routine was completely dependent upon the other. The dragonfly rose, circled with intention, and landed on Clara’s back, then her arm. We paused the conversation again and admired his persistence.

They had been on many adventures together, spending over 1,000 nights camping through the decade and a half they shared. The last few months had been tough. Collectively, they navigated Autumn’s immobility, confusion, anxiety, pain, and incontinence. Clara’s indecision to support Autumn’s final transition was the last hurdle they would overcome together. Our dragonfly friend flew around the yard loudly while Clara went to get her checkbook. He landed on my head. I could feel his weight and movements. He felt friendly. I was beginning to like this guy.

Hearted by

Clara returned and we settled back into our circle. The dragonfly transferred onto Autumn’s coat. Tired, reserved, and depleted, she took no notice. Details were discussed regarding the procedure that Clara would witness, that Autumn would experience.

As we finished the necessary paperwork and as I was about to draw up the medications, the dragonfly took a puttering trip around the little yard. We watched him gain speed and altitude. He approached the bamboo above the wooden fence and, with a sharp chirp a bird shot straight down out of the bamboo and captured him!

The sudden silence was shocking. The bird disappeared as quickly as it arrived. We gazed at each other and at the spot where the dragonfly had been with stunned realization. Clara was the first to break the silence and speak of the circle of life and how she wished we hadn’t witnessed that.

I pulled up the medications.

As I injected Autumn with the drugs that gently inspired deep anesthesia, and ultimately ended her life, I had a revelation.
In my work, it sometimes feels like I am wrenching a soul from the grips of their loving family because the bonds are so tight. Yet, death is everywhere—all the time.

Our lives are short, fleeting, sacred, and beautiful. Life is a gift, a fragile gift. Our four-legged and winged friends are teachers in the way they live and the way they die. They are sage beyond our understanding with their unbroken wisdom.

I am fortunate to be able to do this work and be an ever-curious student of life and death. I am grateful beyond words to witness the circle of life as I walk this path of love, loss, beauty, and spirit.

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