Thursday, October 18, 2012

Do Animals Go to Heaven? Our Eternal Connection

One of our Facebook followers posted the following question, which we have been asked many times before, and we felt deserved a more thorough response. 

I recently had to say good- bye to my baby, Smokey (feral cat). It was a very difficult decision and feel like maybe I made the wrong decision. I've been struggling, wondering if I did the right thing. I miss him terribly. Do you think animals go to heaven? I just want to know he's in a better place.

Animal Communicator and Spring Farm CARES co-founder, Dawn Hayman answers this question from her perspective from years of experience working with many thousands of animals both in the physical and in spirit.  These animals have shared with Dawn their thoughts, experiences, and their journeys from the physical into spirit, and most especially their eternal relationships with the people who love them. 

Dawn:  I think that no matter how “prepared” we think we are when one of our beloved animal friends leaves, it is still a very difficult process to go through.  We form bonds with animals, (yes, even feral cats) that are often closer and more profound than any we have shared with humans in our lives.  The reasons for this are many but most especially because animals love us unconditionally and without judgment.  Because of these traits, we tend to let them in our hearts more deeply. 

It is important to know that the relationships we have with these animals, and with humans in our lives as well, are indeed eternal.  I say this not in a placating type of way or an attempt to make you feel better.  But the truth is that any animal or human I have communicated with in Spirit always communicates something in common.  They always tell me to tell their loved ones that they still feel them.  When we think of them, they still feel us.  That heart connection or love that we feel for them and from them, surpasses the bounds of the physical realm.  Think of it as a beam of light connecting your heart to theirs that stays intact even after they leave their physical bodies and go into Spirit.  You can still feel them.  And they can still feel us.  As an animal communicator, I have helped thousands of people re-connect with their friends in Spirit and it is always some of the most rewarding work I do. 

When we are faced with helping an animal move on with euthanasia it adds another layer of emotion as it is a normal process to suddenly second-guess our decisions afterwards.   But we need to know that if we approach this decision from our hearts, that our hearts will always know the truth.  Because our hearts are connected with theirs and they are walking this path with us and you are making the decision together.   You will absolutely know when the time is right.  Its never an easy decision, and often we find ourselves second-guessing afterwards.

In those times of doubt, and in our times of grief, it is most helpful to allow your heart to feel the love you feel for and from your loved one.  Think about times or even just a single moment, that makes you laugh and fill with joy for who they were in your life.  And even though you know that memory will be overshadowed by your missing them and grieving for them once again, keep remembering them doing something they loved to do.  With a feral cat, it may be watching them lie in their favorite place in the sun or to come up for a dish of food you put out.  As you allow that memory to fill you and feel the joy and love you have for that being, know that they are feeling you in that moment too.  If you do this, you will actually feel them there in your heart.  You will feel the connection.  And your grief will subside.  We will still miss them.  Still miss seeing them, touching them, watching their bodies.  But we can know in our hearts that the relationship we have with them is always right there where it always was and we are still connected by that sturdy thread of love.  Heart connection.  Heaven is so much more than a place.  Spirit is alive.  Spirit is as alive as being in the physical.  And when we allow ourselves to feel the connection, we do feel them and know they are still there and as alive in our hearts as they were when still in body.  We feel the truth that they are indeed ok and still safe within our hearts, and we are safely embraced within theirs. 

For more information on Dawn's seminar Embracing Spirit, and for information on consultations with her, please follow this link.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

What Matters? A Lesson in Trust

Photo by Matt Perry from the Spring Farm CARES Nature Sanctuary

Today I was out running 6 of our dogs in a big fenced-in field.  Outside the fence, on the other side of an adjoining field, were 3 deer, a doe and her twins, now full grown themselves.  They were a fair distance away but the dogs saw them right away and ran to the fence barking at them.  Surprisingly, the deer didn’t run into the woods but stood and watched them.  They know us and our dogs as they see us out here every day.  And they know the dogs are contained within the fence but still, I wondered why this doe wouldn’t be teaching her kids to be weary of people and dogs.  It is now hunting season and as I watched the 3 of them lazily graze in a field they knew to be safe to them, I was concerned for their safety and thought to myself about their life and what matters to them.  Do they understand its hunting season?  Do they worry about that?  Or do they just carry on and live each day?  Why are they trusting me and the dogs?

I called the dogs from the fence and we proceeded to the opposite side of the field as far away from them as I could get so that they could live in peace.  They remained grazing and our dogs eventually focused on other things.  As I walked around the field, my awareness was drawn back to the deer and I was surprised to see that the doe was staring directly at me and walking towards the fence.  “Come let me meet you,” she said to me.  I turned and even though I knew this would invite the dogs to come with me, I was mesmerized by her forwardness and obvious mission to come closer, and like a magnet, I found myself walking towards her as she continued towards me.  We both strode purposefully toward one another.  It felt like old friends, neighbors, meeting in our yards to say hello and reminisce about this beautiful fall day.  Nothing else existed in the world at the moment, just the deer and me, meeting at the fence line.  Her two kids followed her with equal trust.   She stopped about 25 ft. short of the fence, and I stopped about the same distance on my side.  And there we all stood looking at one another.  It was then that I noticed that the dogs were awfully quiet.  I briefly turned to find them sitting, watching, about 20 feet behind me, just watching. 

The doe was so relaxed and her trust of this situation struck me as being wrong.  What if I were a hunter?  She shouldn’t trust people like this.  But before I could warn her of all things bad in the world, she spoke to me deep within my heart.

“You see, I came to show you what matters to me.  You asked, I’m answering.  This matters.  You matter.  Who you are matters to me.  It matters so much to me that I trust my life with that knowing.  Not all humans are dangerous to me.  You certainly are not and I am certain of that or I wouldn’t have come closer and called you to me.  What am I teaching my children you ask?  I am teaching them about what matters most in life.  That feeling another’s heart will never give you wrong information.  That their feelings are their life blood and they can trust that just as I have.  I am showing them and teaching them about the ultimate trust in relationships.  You are a fine human but this is a lesson you yourself don’t trust.    You have not been taught to trust your heart and know when its safe to do so.  I wanted to show you this and tell you that I indeed know what matters most in my life.  This moment matters.  You matter.  Who you are deep inside matters to me as I walk this field.   Because you are who you are, I can stand here safely.  We can meet across a fence that is between us but does not separate our worlds at all.  This is what matters.  Trust what your heart shows you my friend and you will find all that matters to you is right there for you to find.  Thank you for your concern.  Thank you for caring about me and I hope I showed you today that I care about you.  We will each walk away now having known one another and we will carry this experience forward into the next field and onward.  And we will each know what matters in this moment.  May you find peace in your heart.  Your gentleness precedes you and has touched us today on our path. You matter to me and now I matter to you.”

This moment seemed to last forever but was actually very brief.  I could hear her breathe, not snorting out of fear, but a deep breath of satisfaction.  And slowly, she turned, and the 3 of them calmly walked away.  “Be safe,” I sent her from my heart.

“You too,” she replied as the three of them walked back into the woods and continued on their way.  

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Two Hearts Looking for a Miracle

Our sanctuary is full.  This is not news.  We are always full.  But in one day this past week, just 1 hour apart, we got called about two cats from 2 separate and unique situations that needed help.  Neither had a chance in this world if we didn’t help, and time was running out very quickly for each of them. Both were desperate for the last opportunity for loving arms to hold them.  Both are elderly, somehow abandoned, strays found fighting to survive, both with health issues, and both incredibly loving.  We took them both in.

Moondrop was found as a stray in January and was taken to a local shelter at that time.  She is estimated to be at least 15 years old.  She was sick, in very poor condition, with severe flea infestation and hair loss due to flea allergies.  She also is badly in need of a dental.  Unfortunately, there are not many prospects for adoptions of elderly cats.  Yet, clearly, Moondrop was not ready to die and all she wanted most in her life was a person to snuggle up with.  So little to ask, and nearly impossible to find.  The shelter contacted us to see if we could give her a place and we agreed to help her.  Within moments of her arrival, she relaxed knowing she had a home again and people to snuggle with her.  When we pick her up, she nestles in with an amazing purr and will sit like that for hours.  We all fell in love with her instantly.  She has an appointment with our veterinarian for a complete exam and she will get the dental treatment she needs very soon.  As soon as we get her back to full health, we will try to find a special home where she can live out her days in a family all her own.  And if not, she will stay here with us at the farm, to be loved by us.
Lincoln arrived the same day after he was found scrounging for food at someone’s house.  He was ravenous when they offered him food.  This super friendly loving boy was also injured with abscessed sores on his neck and chest.  Clearly he had been out on his own for a while and was not faring well.  The elderly couple who found him had cats of their own they were caring for and couldn’t keep him.  When we saw that he was older, injured, and so compromised, we took him in.  Neither of these cats had any chance of getting adopted at the shelter.  We rushed Lincoln to our vets on an emergency basis and we discovered that he has a number of serious health concerns.  He is FIV positive.  And it appears he has advanced lymphoma.  It was clear to all of us how hard Lincoln fought to survive.  His wounds were cleaned and treated and they should heal nicely.  And we do not know how much longer Lincoln will have with us, but it was very clear he was not ready to go yet.  Life is still worth living for him.  Our vet feels he can still live comfortably for a while and we are giving him full care and treatment.  He is so incredibly happy, loving, and joyful and loves to snuggle.  Like Moondrop, he snuggles in our arms and purrs his heart out.  The relief flowing from this cat is amazing to experience.   To know that he can feel loved, warm, and snuggled in however much time he has left is the greatest comfort we can know.  His gratitude is obvious and when it’s time for him to go, we will help him if need be, and he will die surrounded by hearts who haven’t known him long but who love him for all he is.  That was the only thing he was looking for. So simple, yet he couldn’t find it.

When we held each of these cats the day they arrived, we were stunned by the feeling of how they let down their guard and stopped having to fight to survive.  They each knew that they were safe, that they had a place to be, and that they would know what feeling loved felt like once again.  They fought hard to get to this place again, searching for one more lap to curl in, one more set of arms to hold them, one more head to butt up against, one more heart to purr for, and their fights were over. 
No one knows how much time either of these cats will have left in their lives.  It may be weeks, it may be months, it may be years.  But for each of them, every single day counts as another day to be grateful that someone cared enough to open their hearts to them once again.  Neither of them deserved to die alone out on the street, sick and starving, but both of them were looking at that reality.  Someone loved them once, you can tell by the way they are and by how they see humans in their lives.  We don’t know what happened to them for them to end up homeless on the street.  But all it takes is a loving and caring heart to change their plight.  Knowing that they have now gotten their wish of loving arms to hold them before they die is both heart breaking and fulfilling to those of us who now step in as their caretakers and friends and offer them the space within our hearts to love and be loved once again. 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Story of Tucker and Dogs with Aggression

When Letting Go is the Only Path to Healing
The Story of Tucker and Dogs with Aggression
I kept thinking, “This just can’t be happening.”  But it was happening and at an alarming speed as if I couldn’t make sense of anything.  My 20 month old Golden Retriever/Border Collie mix, Tucker, was standing in front of me with the softest eyes as the veterinarian showed us his radiographs on the monitor.  “There is a foreign body obstruction in his intestine.  Nothing but surgery can fix this,” he told us.  But I knew surgery wasn’t an option for Tucker.  Our options had run out.  He looked at me with those loving, soft eyes and spoke straight to my heart.  “It’s ok to let me go now.  I can’t do this anymore.”  The words came out of me as if I were watching someone else say them.  “We have to euthanize.”  The vet knew this was a possibility if what we found on the radiograph confirmed what he thought he felt on exam.  He quietly nodded and prepared the space for Tucker.  Ten minutes later, as we held him in our arms, he was gone. 

My heart felt like it was going to explode with grief.  I wanted to run outside and scream.  I knew Tucker was free at last from the past 18 months of hell he lived in.  I could feel his freedom and joy.  I knew it was the right thing to do.  But all I could feel was that I just killed my best friend.  A beautiful, vibrant, healthy young dog lay motionless before me on the floor and that was the only vision I could remember when I thought of him.  Yet, Tucker was so much more than that and deserved to be remembered for his love and light and life, rather than for his pain and torment.  It was a hell we walked through together.  I knew someday that I could share his story, our story, and help others who were going through the same thing.  You see, Tucker wasn’t euthanized because of the obstruction in his intestine, we could have fixed that with surgery.  But I had to make the decision to euthanize him due to aggression that was getting worse and worse as he grew older.  Nothing we could do, and we tried many things, could set him free from the hell he lived in within himself.  No amount of love could heal him.  No amount of money could cure him.  Nothing or no one had the answers.  And the only relief he could get was to move on out of the body that confined his beautiful soul to a prison from which he couldn’t get free. 
No one can understand the kind of pain that comes from making this decision with a vibrant young animal unless you’ve been there yourself.  If telling my story can help another, then it is worth the telling and worth the honor of my dear friend Tucker. 

Myth number one:  Aggressive dogs are mean dogs. 

It would be so much easier to understand actually if that were the case.  However, Tucker, like other dogs suffering with aggression, was a loving, sweet, soft, and gentle soul.  That’s what made this so unfair.  Because of his issues, I became closer to him than any other dog I’ve ever had in my life.  We could read each other so subtly that it was like a dance.  I knew when he needed help and I knew exactly what he needed.  And he knew I could hear him and that he could tell me when he was in trouble.  He was such a heart dog.  He loved people.  He loved other animals.  He loved life.  And he was so easy to love.  His sense of humor made me continually laugh.  Everything had potential to bring on a moment of play.  If he could make us laugh, you could see him light up with joy.  Yet by his final days, more than 90% of his life was spent living with the demons that chased him inside his brain.  It was harder for him to find his own light.  He was trapped in a body from which he couldn’t get out.
Myth number two:  Aggressive dogs are that way due to poor training and management.

Sometimes that may be true or contribute, but it is not always the case.  Tucker started out life just fine temperamentally.  Then suddenly, at 6 months old, something went very wrong.  It was like someone flipped a switch and we began seeing signs of aggression.  First it was directed toward the other dogs and generally around food.  So we separated him at feeding times and figured it was no big deal.  Until one day I heard him growling and turned to see what was going on, only to find that he was staring at me with his teeth fully barred and a look in his eyes that looked like he wasn’t even home.  When I called his name you could see him fight to come back.  I called him again and he began to snap out of it and act normal.  But I knew he wasn’t normal and something horrible was happening to my dog. 

Myth number three:  You can love them and train them out of it.

I believed that because I loved him as much as I did, certainly we could heal whatever was going on.  And certainly, it must be something I was doing wrong or misunderstanding about him.  This one took me many months to understand and accept that this wasn’t about me at all.  This was about something happening inside of him.  Something that he had no control over and neither did I.  I never felt more desperate in my life.  Please tell me this isn’t happening to me.  Because I understood how dangerous he was getting and I understood that although he hadn’t bitten us, it was because we worked with him every minute of every day to read his every cue and know when we had to intervene and put him in a room by himself BEFORE anything happened.  Because of this, I knew every subtle nuance of his body language, facial expressions, mood, and energy.  I kept saying, wow, if this were a healthy thing, we’d have an incredible connection.  And we did have an incredible connection.  We connected in a way I have never connected with any other dog.  But it was because I was constantly on call to know where and how he was and what was happening with him.  I only realized after he was gone how very exhausting and all-consuming that was for me.
Accompanying the aggression, Tucker also had an obsessive/compulsive component.  He would obsessively eat rocks, and not little ones.  The first time, at 8 months old, we thought it was a fluke.  We’d never even seen him play with rocks, let alone eat them.  But there we were having to do surgery for the removal of 6 good size stones in his stomach.  Needless to say, we began watching him closely when he was outside.  But 4 months later, it happened again.  This time it was 3 good sized rocks stuck in his stomach.  We rushed him into surgery again.  This time, he had a harder time recovering.  He had horrible drug reactions.  He was allergic to his antibiotic and then had what we believe were horrible hallucinations on his pain meds.  From this episode, he became very fly phobic.  To the extent that we started to not be able to get him to go outside during daylight hours.  Thanks goodness this was late fall and soon the flies were gone and the snow fell and covered any rocks.  We had a reprieve and hoped by spring that he’d be better.  In the meantime, we tried to find medical causes for his continuing aggression.  His episodes seemingly had a seizure like component to them.  He knew in advance when it was coming on and so did our other animals.  Our cats, who loved to snuggle with Tucker, would sometimes suddenly not enter a room when they saw him.  Each time this happened, an aggressive episode would shortly follow.  Watching our cats became a good barometer.   We tried drugs to no avail.  We took him for a thorough neurological exam and an MRI.  He was diagnosed with a probable seizure disorder in the emotional center of his brain and prognosis was very poor.  But we would try one last course of meds.  I had to wean him off the first med over a 2 week period, then wait 3 days, and start the new med.  It was the evening before we were to start the new seizure med that he began vomiting and we knew what we were facing.  We rushed him to the vet knowing that if he had another obstruction, then we had reached the end of our path together.

Nothing can prepare you for that moment.  But the realization that he didn’t have to suffer anymore gradually overtook our own loss and pain.  If Tucker had been a wild animal, he would have found a way out of that tormented life on his own.  But being kept safely in our house, the only way out was the decision we had to be brave enough to make with him.  We had to look past our own pain and allow him to find his freedom and his healing.  Sometimes healing doesn’t look the way we want it to.  Sometimes it doesn’t have the outcome that we consider to be the best option.  But in the end, we find out that we are not the ones in charge and we cannot always make things turn out the way we think they should.  For Tucker, he could not find wholeness here in the body he was in.  His path to wholeness was outside of this realm. 
It was not an easy journey.  It was a painful process to go through.  I write this now 10 months after his death.  It was a process for me to accept and understand that the pain would heal.  I can look at his photo now and laugh – remembering all the love and fun he brought into our lives.  I still shed tears – missing him and feeling sorry that we couldn’t have had longer together.  But the one thing I am most grateful for is the opportunity I had to love him.  That connection – the healthiest one of all – lives on in my heart.  And I know he is now free of torment.  And I know his journey continues forward – renewed, healthy, and alive with new possibilities.  For that, I will forever be grateful for every moment we shared together.  And if sharing his story helps someone else going through the same process, then the story is worth the telling, and is an honor to a dog with a huge heart who loved to help people.  A dog who shall forever live in our hearts - whole.