Confessions of an imperfect dog mom, Hope after loss, Pet Sympathy

Confessions of an imperfect dog mom…”lean on me”.

Last Friday night our sweet Sam suddenly lost the use of his back legs.  He crossed over on Saturday morning.  We don’t know exactly how old he was…probably at least 14.  At his age and given his health history…we don’t feel surprised that his time came…but we are taken back at how bad we hurt.  Returning home to a house without Sam simply…sucks.  He was always waiting at the door for us…up on this back legs…smiling.  Home will never be the same.

Our three gorgeous boys are re-united…their ashes sit together on the mantle.

Sam’s ashes were ready first thing Monday morning…Bret left work as soon as we got the call and hurried to bring Sam home.  We sat in a bit of stupor as we looked at his ashes and then solemnly went on with our day.  Keeping busy is the best we can do for now.

I have sent a small amount of his ashes off to be made in to a necklace.  We will bury some of his ashes with Luna and Kringles and the rest will sit on the mantle between Hercules & Sparky ‘s ashes…our 3 boys are back together again…bittersweet.

It would have been really nice to “check out” from life this week…but I don’t have the luxury of taking time out for a quick “melt down”…I have two business to run and I have 7 other dogs to take care of.  It is times like these when I am especially grateful for all of our sweet pets…they not only keep me busy but also make it so I can continue to smile in the day.   Life with them, in fact, demands a lot of smiling. Still the pets are integral to each step of my daily routine and each step reminds me of Sam…Bret and I have both broke in to tears a few times a day all week.  Nothing is right without Sam.

My friend Jan came over Monday with a card and a gift…this lovely canvas of two dogs called “LEAN ON ME”.   I brought it in the house, sat down and looked at it… in the white stripes is some light writing…it is some of the lines from the song “Lean on Me”…like “I’ll help you carry on”…all I could do was weep…how completely we “lean on them”…at least how completely “I lean on them”…especially Sam.   Caring for all of our pets is a full time job.  I am wrapped up in cooking for them, exercising them, vet visits, playtime, baths, nail trims…picking up the poo and vacuuming up all the hair.  I lose track in all these moments of busyness at how richly they feed my soul. Especially Sam.  Sam was easy and always a pleasure.  In fact, he is probably the easiest dog Bret and I have had.  He was agreeable, goofy, and incredibly well mannered.  He was also trustworthy and constant…his presence was very big in this house…because we could all count on him.  I now know how much I leaned on him…because I feel it in his loss.  I wonder if he knew how important he was to all of us?

Today I did several hours of yard work. Normally, Sam would be at my side while I worked outside…supervising…it was his favorite thing.  In the past, if I left him in the house he would bark…a low, steady bark that would not stop until I came and got him.  I heard him barking today…but I could not call him out to be at my side.  He is not the first dog I have heard barking for me after they have passed.  I am coming to believe it is some sort of a spiritual goodbye ritual.

There really aren’t accurate words for what I feel when I lose a dog…our language is so limiting…the best I can come with is that each one leaves a new hole in my heart…it can’t be filled by another dog…it doesn’t work that way…the hole will remain there until I see them again.  Over time it gets less painful…but it never heals.

The worst thing about fresh grief is that it reopens the old holes…each loss brings back a bit of the sting of previous losses.  I think we are grieving the loss of Luna and Kringles all over again.  But it also reminds me how richly blessed my life has been by so many of God’s sweet creatures.  Grief can only exist where true love once dwelled.   There has been so much love in our home.

Bret and I realized the night after Sam died that our entire marriage is framed by dogs…we wouldn’t be the same people, as individuals or as a married couple, without the dogs.  When we first married a friend told us that our marriage will “rub the rough edges off of us”…and it sure has…but our life with dogs has polished those rough edges…it makes life bright and shiny.

We are simple people…every penny we have literally “goes to the dogs”…we will leave no legacy…no one will remember Bret or Nancy.   We are not “religious” people but we are guided by the simple spiritual principles of figures like St. Francis and the Quakers…particularly in regards to stewardship of all creatures/creation.  One of our favorite quotes is this; “I expect to pass through the world but once.  Any good therefore that I can do, or any act of kindness I can show to any creature, let me do it now.  Let me not defer it, for I shall not pass this way again.” (Stephen Grellet). Caring for the sweet animals is our way of expressing how much we love God’s good creation and the sisterhood/brotherhood we feel with the animals.

Very often I have to remind myself that “my pets” are “not mine”.  Death is the ultimate reminder that I am just a temporary steward.   Death makes the concept/notion of “ownership” of a pet  a fallacy.  Besides, referring to them as “property” seems entirely inappropriate in the context of the true nature of the relationships we have with them.  If we learn to see them differently…as part of a divine creation…as eternal…well I think the world could be a significantly better place.

This morning I ran in to my friend Jan who gave us the “Lean on Me” canvas at the grocery store.  She asked me what day Sam died.  I said Saturday.  She told me that it was Saturday that she bought this canvas when out shopping for a prom dress for her daughter.  She knew she had no place for it in her house but for some reason she knew she had to get this piece.   The next day she saw my post about Sam. I am grateful for such a profound friend.

As I write this tonite, Millie is sound asleep in a small bed on my desk…she is snoring…like really loud.  I love the sound of her snoring.  It brings me comfort.  Tomorrow I get to wake up and have another busy dog filled day…I will be exhausted by the time I sit down at the end of it but my soul will be fed.  For now we will rest in our grief for Sam…rest in the mystery of life and of death… and be grateful that we live such a blessed life.

Rescue On!

Nancy

 

 

 

 

Hope after loss, Pet Rescue, Pet Sympathy, Rescue Mama Art

Pet Rescue Art: Some Angels Have Fur

Pet Rescue Art:  Do we see our pets again after death?

cat painting, cat wall art, cat memorial, loss of cat, gift for loss of cat, cat art
Some Angels Have Fur

What I am working on in my studio usually speaks to what is going on in my head and heart…lately is it grief and sadness.  Grief is such a strange journey…its unique…no two losses are the same but no single experience of the loss of a loved one is about the loss of just that one loved one.  When we open up for grieving it usually re-opens many old wounds that never completely healed.  I find that my sensitivity to everything around me is heightened when I am experiencing grief.  My ability to truly feel the experiences of another person or animal is so acute that it is physical.  It is both an awful and awesome place to be emotionally and spiritually.

I am of the opinion that we never “get over” the loss of someone we care about.  Rather, we just learn to live with the pain.  The piece of our heart that breaks when they are gone remains broken and becomes part of who we are forever.  It is part of becoming truly human.

I also believe we see our pets on the other side of life.  Not because I “need” to believe that nor believe it is something polite and appropriate to say when anyone is in pain over the loss of a beloved pet.  I believe it because it is logical to believe it.  It is congruent with a Christian world view to believe it.  And there is tangible evidence that we see our pets again.  To say that a living creature is lost forever when it dies would constitute a belief in a world view called ” annhilationism”.  Annihilationists believe that anything that is alive is gone forever once physically dead.  The problem with that belief is that collective human intelligence (and by that I mean almost every  single society that has ever walked this planet) has rejected annihilationism. Almost every society has believed in the spiritual birth of something new after death.  While those belief systems vary, of course, what they hold in common is that there is something beyond life in the flesh for creatures.  To hold the view that any creature, human or animal, is annihilated after death would put you in conflict with most of humanity…so which view does it make logical sense to hold?   A Christian world view holds that all of creation is redeemworld's greatest doged and part of God’s plan…while I will write more on this at another time…to exclude our beloved pets from God’s redeemed creation would be in direct conflict with a Christian world view.  While it’s not as common to talk about it in a contemporary culture that does not want to deal hands on with death and dying…stories of what happens during the dying process and accounts of Near Death Experiences tell us a lot about what awaits us on the other side.  And these experiences include interactions with animals; particularly pets already gone.

cat memorial art, the rescue mama, cat art
All Life is Precious

I like to think of the pets gone before me as waiting for me…which is selfish…really I hope they are running and playing with others and doing what they were meant to do naturally.  But I know I will see them again.  I hold this belief so strongly that while I love life on this side…I look forward to it on the other side just as much.

I have been painting Sparky, my beloved black lab who recently died.  The painting is taking awhile because sometimes I am too emotional to work on it.  It is a painting of how I picture him looking down on me now.  (ok…tearing up as I write this…).  I will share it when its done.  I believe its completion will bring me as close to closure as one can get when a loved one dies.

Thanks for reading my posts and viewing my art.  Much of my art is for sale at my ETSY shop.  Sparky’s passing has opened a new chapter in my pet journey…one that is very focused on a new member of our family, Buster.  Buster is a reactive dog that came here in a pretty wild state…I have decided to start chronicling the ways I have worked with Buster’s reactivity in hopes it can help other dog parents dealing with reactive dogs.

If you are in to all things pet and pet rescue check us out on Facebook or Pinterest!

Rescue On!

Nancy

 

 

Handmade Cards & Gift Wrap, Pet Sympathy

Pet sympathy cards

Handmade Pet Sympathy Cards

big  Just finished these cards for Anima line of products…what do you think?  I am always happy to answer questions on how I make my cards.  I sell them at my ETSY store and offer discounts for pet professionals who purchase multiple cards at a time.

Rescue On!

Nancy

second big

pruple imprint

Handmade Cards & Gift Wrap, Hope after loss, Pet Sympathy

Pet Sympathy Card

imprintHandmade card for the loss of a beloved dog.

 

I just added this new card to my Anima line of products for those mourning the loss of a beloved pet.  Feel free to contact me if you have questions about techniques I use to make my cards.  If you are interested in purchasing my cards, most are available at my ETSY Shop.  If you use the coupon code “NEWCUSTOMER” you will receive 10% off your first purchase.  I do offer discounts to veterinarians and other pet professionals who purchase multiple cards at a time.

Rescue On!

Nancy

big close up inside poem

 

Handmade Cards & Gift Wrap, Hope after loss, Pet Crafts, Pet Sympathy

Handmade Pet Sympathy Card

Handmade card for loss of dog

Sympathy poemThis is one of my original designs for a sympathy card.  This card starts with a base card stock of recycled paper.  I stain it (all sides) and then heavily emboss the front.  There is a distressed, stained and embossed piece of cream cards stock that is largely covered with the poem and embellishments but it creates a lovely accent behind the poem.  All of the embellishments are stained to match and some of them are stamped with designs.

This is one of my favorite cards, what do you think?

Sympathy cards 015(inside of card)


Hope after loss, Pet Crafts, Pet Sympathy

Handmade prayer candle for pet sympathy

feb 10 185

Prayer Candle

Pet Sympathy

One of the product lines that I design is called “Anima”.  “Anima” is the Latin word for soul; all of my products in this line are meant to bring comfort to those who are mourning the loss of a beloved pet and to celebrate the joy that our sweet pets have brought to our lives.

I recently finished this candle; it is the end result of about five designs landing in the garbage can in my studio.  I designed these to match my favorite sympathy cards.  These are really not too hard to make they just take some time as it is several layers of work that needs to completely dry in between applications.

I started with a basic prayer candle; you can find these in Catholic stores, Dollar stores, etc.  I used 8 inch pillar candles.  You could use any size candle or candle holder to make this project just remember to stick with tempered glass.

The first thing I did was print out the poem on white card stock with my laser printer.  When I print lettering from my laser printer that I want to use for crafts I spray the printed paper with Fixative so that it will not smudge.  You could use a multitude of things on the front of one of these candles; a photo or a card for example.  I loosely tore the edges of the poem, stained the paper with black Distressed Ink and sprayed it with Perfect Pearls.

feb 10 182I put a thin layer of mod podge on the candle and then rolled it over a pre-cut piece of tissue paper.  Here I used a tissue with paw prints on it but you could use any kind of tissue or even plain tissue that you stamp your own images on with Archival Ink.  I let this first layer dry overnight.  When I work with mod podge I use the general rule that less is more.  I always apply it fairly sparingly so I don’t tear the paper I am working with, cause bubbles or make a big ‘ol mess.  For the second application I put mod podge on the back of my poem and pressed the poem down on the candle – again I let it dry overnight.  The third layer; I put a layer of mod podge over the candle (not on the poem) and sprinkled glitter generously (I used a clear large flake glitter here).  Again, I let this dry overnight.  The final layer was a layer of mod podge over the glitter (applied with a paint sponge).

The reason for the last layer of mod podge was to avoid having a situation where the candle flaked glitter every time someone touched it.  When I was finished I did spray the candle with a glaze (if you do this step make sure you cover the inside of the candle as glazes are flammable so you don’t want any residue in the candle).

The reason I let my projects dry for at least 24 hours between steps is to avoid having a finished project that feels tacky.  If you have ever done a mod podge project that felt tacky when you were done (which really makes it useless) it is either because of the humidity where you are working or the project didn’t dry long enough between coats.

feb 10 107To finish this project off I attached a small black ribbon at the top of the candle.  I am fairly happy with how these candles turned out and the project has inspired several other ideas for me.

How do you like these candles?

I hope this was a helpful tutorial on how I made these.  If you are not a crafty person I do have several of these for sale at my ETSY store (use coupon code “NEWCUSTOMER” for 10% off).

Rescue On!

Nancy

Handmade Cards & Gift Wrap, Pet Crafts, Pet Sympathy

Handmade Pet Sympathy Card

february 6th 088Pet Sympathy Card

I finished this sympathy card last night.  I spend quite a bit of my studio time on pet sympathy cards.  I know all to well the grief experienced when a beloved pet dies and hope to provide sentiments that can bring comfort to others.

This card is made from a base recycled card stock.  I stained it blue with Distress Stain and dry brushed it with cream acrylic paint (you can see the effect in the second picture).   I hand painted a silhouette on the front of the card using a layer of heavy gesso first and then black acrylic paint.  The heart, lace and flowers are all stained to match the rest of the card and finished off with perfect pearls.

The front of the card reads; “How blessed we are to have loved them so much that it makes saying goodbye so very, very hard.”    I print my greetings on to card stock with my laser printer and then spray the card stock with fixative so they won’t smudge.  This is a far more cost effective method than buying stamps.

The inside of the card reads; “with sympathy for your faithful and loyal friend.”  If you are ever in need of any cards or gifts for pet sympathy; I have a nice selection in my ETSY shop (www.etsy.com/shop/TheRescueMama).  Use the coupon code “NEWCUSTOMER” for 10% off.

february 6th 091Rescue On!

Nancy

Hope after loss

Opening up about euthanasia and guilt…

cropped-small-heart-cropped2.jpg

My story of grief, guilt and healing…

Feelings of guilt associated with euthanizing a pet is something that profoundly affected  my life.   It was also something that I  had a very hard  time talking about.  Compounding the grief I felt when losing my beloved pet was the isolation I felt in this guilt.  A guilt which made my heart ache that much more.

In 2008 I made the decision to euthanize my Rottweiler, Hercules.  He had osteosarcoma (bone cancer).  Hercules had received the best in veterinary care to treat his cancer.  When I made the decision to let him go I had the support of my veterinarian (she has been our vet for 10 years and I completely trust her judgment).  I had the support of my husband who loved Hercules as much as I did.  I knew in the depth of my heart that it was time to let Hercules go and logical reasoning dictated that it was time as well.  I want to be clear; I am a logical, critical and confident thinker.  I have a master’s degree.  I studied philosophy, epistemology and logic at the graduate school level.  I should have been confident in this decision that I had so carefully reasoned out and prayed deeply about.  But the reality was; once Hercules was gone I was filled with a terrible sense of  guilt.  I felt that I had killed the creature I loved most in the world and it was simply horrible.  I went over and over the facts and would reaffirm to myself that I had made the right decision but logic mattered not.   I believed that I had let Hercules down and I was the reason he was gone.  These feelings were crushing my spirit.

I was also ashamed to share these feelings.  Really, what do you say to someone?  “I am wracked with guilt because I believe I killed my dog!”  It was not a conversation I had the courage to have with anyone, even  my husband.  My husband did know how deeply I was grieving though.  Several times he suggested I read a book called “Rescuing Sprite” by Mark Levin.  After weeks had passed and I was still mulling about in my stupor of grief and guilt my husband asked me several more times to read the book and I finally complied.  It is a good book (have a box of Kleenex ready if you choose to read it).  What struck me about the book was that Mr. Levin shared this same sense of guilt that I was feeling.  I felt a small sense of relief for the first time.  I was not the only person who felt this and it is ok to talk about it, and in this case, write it in a book!  Solidarity in grief became very meaningful in my life and it gave me the courage to share the guilt I was experiencing with people who I trusted.  Finally, with a new-found sense of solidarity the healing could begin.

I have spent the better part of the five years since Hercules’ death reading everything I can get my hands on in regards to the topic of the souls of animals and studying the work of some of history’s greatest thinkers in regards to the relationships we have as humans with creation, particularly with animals.  I am the type of person that when faced with a dilemma responds by diving in and actively solving it …my way…which is to study and analyze it to its end.  With many of the vagaries of  life this is an effective approach, but alas, it does not work  well with emotions.   I had to find peace with the decision to euthanize my pet elsewhere and eventually I did.  I found my answer by learning to trust what was most real about the seven years that Hercules was mine…and that was how much I  loved him.  There is a simplistic element to this because love means a lot of very specific things when it comes to a pet.  It means providing their basic needs; food, water, medical care, exercise, socialization and a safe environment.  I did this and I did it with great joy.  Love is protecting our pets from harm and giving and receiving affection with them.  I did this too.  Over time I could reflect on how I loved Hercules well in all these ways and that my relationship with him was not defined by one difficult and traumatic act but rather that we had a seven year narrative of joy and love.  I began to realize that love for my dog began with an unspoken covenant between us the day he became mine.  A covenant that for me reads something like this; “I will love you forever.  I will never abandon you.  I will meet your needs physically and emotionally.  I will be your voice.  I will defend you, be your advocate and have the courage to make difficult decisions for you.”  I came to realize that I fulfilled this covenant and that I was loving and courageous for doing it even though parts of fulfilling the covenant were traumatic for me.  This is how I found peace…by seeing my courage to act for him when he needed me the most.

Over time, by reading other people’s stories (something I highly recommend) I was able to reframe euthanasia in a more balanced way.  I came to terms with the fact that it is simply not about me at all but all about the dog and protecting him from suffering.  This seems obvious, but when you are in the throes of grief it is hard to see past your own pain and in my case guilt.  Eventually, I started to view helping Hercules cross over as the ultimate act of love.  No animal deserves to suffer and certainly not one that I love.  Instead of feeling guilty I began to once again feel the love I had for Hercules and I was able to mourn and heal.

This is an  important journey as I will face end of  life decisions again, many times.   I have four dogs and three cats right now; four of the seven are seniors.  I feel differently now than I did five years ago.  Yes, I absolutely dread the day I lose any of them and I will cry a river of tears for them all.  But I feel confident that I can trust my love for them when I am faced with difficult decisions.  I have an unspoken covenant with them and I will honor it with courage.

Solidarity is powerful, especially in grief.  The reason I started The Rescue Mama blog was to create a place of solidarity for people who are trying to cope with the loss of a beloved pet.  I hope this article helps in your process  of healing.   I would love to hear your story of love, loss and healing.  Please feel to write to me at therescuemama@gmail.com.  Always, peace to you and yours.

On the journey.

Nancy H., The Rescue Mama

Hercules

Hercules

2001-2008

Love is for always…