One of the things I really struggled with was how to explain to Riggs euthanasia, and that he wasn’t coming home. He was a sharp and brilliant dog, so I just couldn’t find the words or a way to tell him. How could he possibly understand the word “euthanasia” and a topic such as end of life? I was at a loss.
I always included and spoke to Riggs regularly like an “adult”, so I believe that’s what helped shape him to be the brilliant and in tune boy that he was. He just picked up everything immediately that was thrown at him with no effort on my part. He was just game for anything!
Riggs had his AIC device buttons from FluentPet that he communicated with as we incorporated this for quality of life assessment. This was another thing that he easily learned at 13 years old. With him fully dependent on us, he was able to communicate common things like when he wanted water, he was hungry, wanted play time, needed to go outside, and even “I love you”. I then extended his vocabulary to include “yes” and “no” where we had meaningful conversations about pain management, and health issues that arose, but when it came to “hard conversations”, Riggs demonstrated just how much a dog truly lives in the moment. He got visibly upset when I would obsessively dwell on the negative aspects of life and trying to know just when “it was time”. I wanted to know I was doing the right thing.
I made the call the Monday, and Riggs was booked for his final journey that Wednesday, September 28 2022.
Then an idea hit me. I grabbed my phone and searched Amazon for “children’s” books about end of life, and the Rainbow Bridge. I found this book:
What made it even more touching was that The Rainbow Bridge…a dog’s story was told by an Old English Sheepdog, Henley! We all sat around as I enthusiastically read it to Sheepdog Riggs while cuddling on the floor together. He absorbed every second of it.
This sheepdog also had mobility issues, and Henley couldn’t understand what was happening to his body as he aged. What’s even more uncanny is that the book even had a similar mom and dad, where the living arrangements for an elderly Sheepdog and the human’s hobbies were precisely the same. The husband thought I was being silly and changed the story as I read on, but I didn’t. It was exactly as written.
While reading, I asked Riggs, “do these things sound familiar!?” I got Riggs super excited to go to the Rainbow Bridge! Hell yeah, we’re going to the Rainbow Bridge! It really helped us all.
The “Rainbow Bridge” is synonymous with the loss of a pet. When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. The term is believed to have originated in several works of poetry from the 1980s and 1990s that were meant to help relieve pet owners of the pain of their loss of a pet. The pet finds itself in a lush, green meadow filled with sunshine, and health is fully restored. The pet can run and play as it did in its prime.
The first appearance of the Rainbow Bridge in relation to animals is believed to come from a poem by Paul C. Dahm, a grief counselor in Oregon. Steve Bodofsky then believed the original poem by Paul C. Dahm was wonderful, but needed “a bit of coaxing to bring out the meter and rhyme”.
There, at the Rainbow Bridge the pet waits until their human companion dies and is reunited with them in the meadow. Together, they cross the Rainbow Bridge.
I asked Riggs, “do you think maybe you could send me a rainbow sometime? I’ve never seen a rainbow before,” – then I’ll know it’s Riggs. I kid you not, Riggs passed on the Wednesday and I saw my first rainbow that Friday. And then two more after that! One that appeared even the day I brought Riggs’ ashes home. Of course I know there’s an actual science as to why rainbows appear, but I haven’t seen one again and the timing was astounding. Let’s believe it is Riggs.
That Wednesday, Riggs eagerly got up early, willingly went outside, and was ready for adventure!
Riggs was alert and took in every second of his truck ride to the university (2+ hours), whereas usually he just sleeps until we get to our destination.
When we got to the university, he was happy and able to go for a walk before crawling into his wagon the girls brought out. He was so happy to see his friends, old and new. We brought his balloons, toys, treats, and played with him all day until we said good bye.
Riggs had the most beautiful and peaceful passing.
The topic of euthanasia, for some, is unpleasant under any circumstances. I highly recommend this book if anyone is struggling with what to say or how to feel, or if you’d just like it. I have it by my bedside.
“Euthanasia” is a Greek term meaning “good death”. How pet owners define and perceive a “good death” involves many different factors.
As a pet owner, some day always turns into soon; maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow. Keeping a pet with no quality of life alive for your own needs is selfish. It’s important to know when care is actually prolonging pain.
“The Good Death” written by Dr. Mel Newton touches on what exactly are we waiting for? She has written a tender and humane article about facing the decision of euthanizing a companion animal.
A difficult decision made with compassion, let euthanasia be a final act of kindness.
Sheepdog Riggs, Forever in Our hearts
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