Monday, August 2, 2010

Animals know.

I go into a lot of homes where there are pets. Lots of dogs, and lots of other pets as well. Many times I am told that the family pet is acting differently. Not eating. Whining. Lying about more. Barking at everyone.

And they cannot figure out why there is this sudden change.

But we see it a lot.

It is because they know.

And it is not just dogs. I have seen cats and birds acting quite weird, too.

They know that death is near. They somehow sense it.

Once, there was a home with three small dogs. I went there often to change the patient's dressing. The dogs always greeted me kindly and I brought them treats. But as the man continued to decline, they were less and less friendly. When he was near death, and I was called by the family to see him, they all stood around the hospital bed, growling at me. They would not let me near him.

They knew. And they were going to protect him until the end.

On another day, I was in the home of an elderly lady with a cat that always hid whenever anyone came to the home. As she became more and more bed bound, the cat could be seen curled up next to her all day and night, barely taking the time to eat. The daughters' told me that the cat was 16 years old and had never, ever laid by the mom, not even once that they could recall. Now, when they tried to remove the cat from the bed, she hissed at them.

Four days later, the mom died. The cat would not leave her side even as the funeral home came to retrieve her body.

Animals are funny. We think that they do not have emotions, or know too much. But they sense a lot more than we could ever imagine.

And they bring great comfort to many.

We have a volunteer who brings his mixed breed lab to the hospice house to visit the patients every weekend. The patients love it. The dog, Bruce, seems to linger longer with certain patients, the ones that are closer to death. It surprises us each time. At first we thought it was just a coincidence, but it has happened too many times for it to be explained away so simply. He is always right on the money.

He just knows.

I love animals. We have several pets and they add so much to our lives. I cannot even describe it. And I know they can sense it when any one of us is down or sick or even angry. They hang out more. They seek our attention more. They provide great comfort by simply being there. They know that we need them. And we do.

I guess what got me thinking about this today was a patient I went to see lately. She was a youngish mom with a cat. The cat would sit outside the house in front of the front door. When I came, she would follow me in and watch me from the bedroom doorway for a while, then she would run away. The patient told me that the cat was a stray that they took in about two years ago, who never warmed up to anyone except her. The cat spent most of the time outdoors chasing God knows what. The patient said she fed her every day and tried to pet her, but she wouldn't really allow them to touch her too much. The mom was really the only family member who paid attention to that cat. She called her Bella.

As the patient became more frail, the cat started sleeping in the house, near the bedroom door. She would still go outside, but only for short periods of time now, the family reported to me.

Finally, the patient, a very loving mom of 4 kids, fell into a comatose state. When I went to see her, the cat was now on the bed, curled up next to her.


She didn't stir as I examined the patient. The husband tried to take her off the bed, but she would just jump right back on.

After the patient died, the cat disappeared. The husband said she ran out after the funeral home came and never returned. They have left food outside each day. And each day it is left uneaten. They don't understand why the cat would do that. But it seems obvious to me.

Pets love us for the love we give them. Sometimes, they love us despite the bad or indifferent way that they are treated. But they really only know love. And they seek love. And they are very loving right to the very end.

And they do mourn the loss.

They just simply know.

It often happens that a man is more humanely related to a cat or dog than to any human being.
~Henry David Thoreau

Whoever said you can't buy happiness forgot little puppies.
~Gene Hill

A dog can express more with his tail in seconds than his owner can express with his tongue in hours.
~Author Unknown

There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.
~Albert Schweitzer

There is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved.
~George Sand

The difference between friends and pets is that friends we allow into our company, pets we allow into our solitude.
~Robert Brault

Be sure to check out your local animal shelter for a pet companion. These places are full of wonderful animals who need a loving home.

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