I have a story to share about my beloved dog, and the incredibly healing power of love and joy.
Last fall, the love of my life Fergie was so sick I scheduled her euthanasia.
She has severe irritable bowel disease, and protein losing enteropathy, and is a 12 year old senior with multiple (other) health issues.
She got to the point where she couldn’t stand up on her own, had stopped eating, was only taking small licks of water, didn’t want to be touched, and was just checking out and ready to go.
Her protein was very low, and her blood work was not good. She was very, VERY sick.
She was at her sickest in the photos in the gallery below, which are the ‘good’ ones from that time. (The bad ones were so heartbreaking that I deleted them.)
I had spent the previous eight weeks doing everything within my power to bring her back to health after a near-death hospital experience from critically-low protein, but it looked like it was not meant to be. She was just too sick, and had been so sick, for so long. There was nothing more I could do. I had done it all. I tried SO hard to save my best friend.
So with my heart shattered and my mind in turmoil, I decided to let her go, and make her last few days on earth good ones.
After I hung up the phone from scheduling her euthanasia, I spent the three days between that call, and her scheduled death date, doing the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life- being happy and joyful- before I had to say goodbye forever to my best friend.
It destroyed me inside, but for Fergie I put on a brave face and pretended every day was the best day ever.
Every moment of those 72 hours that I spent with her, I pushed forward despite my grief, fear and overwhelming sadness, to give her a final gift of love and joy.
I was about to lose the best thing to ever happen to me. The one who got me through the traumatic death of my mom and so many other losses. The one who was the mascot for my pet photography business for 12 years, and my constant photography muse. The one everyone I knew both personally and professionally also adored. I loved her more than anything else in the world. And she was about to leave me forever.
But I forced myself to put on a brave face, and fill her last three days with joy. I felt it was the very least I could do for her after all she had given me. She had quite literally saved my life at times.
So during her ‘last days’ there was a lot of overly excited baby talk, happy dances, reggae music with sing-alongs, delicious healthy treats, enrichment activities to stimulate her mind, present unwrapping, slow gentle walks to sniff and explore, and a celebration of the final time we had together.
The morning of her scheduled 9am euthanasia arrived, and before I even opened my eyes, something just didn’t feel right. The decision to end her life didn’t feel wrong, but the timing definitely did. I woke up just after dawn in a panic thinking “something’s not right.” I don’t remember ever feeling so alert before in my life. It was like everything came into sharp focus.
In my final desperate attempt to get Fergie better, and to make sure I had exhausted every conceivable option when it came to her treatment, I called and cancelled her euthanasia and brought her to one of her vets for an emergency visit that morning.
Aside from a dewormer that I requested (that she may or may not have needed as doc saw no signs of parasites in his tests), no other treatment was done, nor was there any change in medication. I was there for hours, but ultimately there was nothing more to do.
So I talked to my vet at length, and I made the decision to just take things one day at a time, with the belief that I would still euthanize her within the next handful of days. Would I end her life and say goodbye tomorrow? On Monday? Next week? I didn’t know. But today was not the day to say goodbye forever to my best friend.
Jumping back a bit, I noticed something interesting the day before her scheduled euthanasia.
Her behavior had started changing.
She perked up, and was able to stand up on her own, and wagged her tail, and was climbing the two stairs to the backyard on her own, and ate food, and had lots of treats. I had a photographer friend over to take photos of Fergie during her last day with me, and in the backyard she chomped on water from the hose, let me make watercolor art with her paws, and soaked up all the attention. All with a big smile on her face the whole time.
She seemed- dare I say- happy.
In the days after I canceled her euthanasia, I kept up with the ridiculous over-the-top joy, and miraculously within a week of starting this it was like I had my old dog back. She made a 180 degree turn. She had improved dramatically.
Her poop firmed up and became regular (a HUGE thing for an IBD dog!), her energy returned, her diarrhea and vomiting stopped, her appetite returned, her mobility improved and she was able to climb stairs and go from laying to standing on her own. Everything was better. A LOT better.
It was astounding.
To be clear- I had made no other changes to her medication, or lifestyle, or routine, or diet that would have explained the dramatic turnaround that happened within a matter of days of adding in joy. Her blood work was exactly the same. Her environment hadn’t changed. It wasn’t a situation where a medication had just kicked in.
The only difference in her life was the addition of joy.
She was just waiting for a reason to live.
And I gave it to her.
IBD and PLE have been so devastating, and I’ve cried so many tears, and been in so many terrible moods from her diseases, and all that time I forgot how sensitive this little creature is.
How she’s like an emotional sponge. How even when it didn’t seem like my feelings were bothering her, they surely were. How she just wants to please me, and wants me to be happy. How connected to me she is.
How much she looks at ME to tell her that everything is ok.
I decided after her ‘stay of execution’ to always make it a point to go into another room for five minutes if I needed to cry- to just bawl it all out and get over my immense frustration with her diseases, so I could return with a smile on my face and do another cheerful happy dance with her.
This was in October 2017.
So where are we now?
Fergie is still with me, stable, happy, and doing great.
And you know what? Whenever I’m feeling sad, or stressed or upset about the IBD/PLE or anything else, even if I’m not displaying these feelings through my behavior, her symptoms start returning. If I return to my happy “life is beautiful” mood, she gets better, almost immediately.
I talked to one of Fergie’s vets about my experience after her cancelled euthanasia, and he said he wasn’t surprised at all, because animals are so receptive to our energy and feelings.
So I’m sharing all of this with you dear dog lovers to say there’s one treatment I think all of us dog owners could stand to try- and that’s the addition of ‘intentional, determined, daily joy’.
That said, I know how impossibly difficult it can be in some circumstances, especially if you are actively caring for a very sick dog.
But if we’re willing to spend SO much money and time and energy and effort to help our furbabies, can’t we try this one additional thing too? Granted it may be the hardest to do, but it’s well within our control, unlike so many other treatments.
And unlike other treatments, this one can’t hurt. Can you imagine a single bad thing that could come from adding in joy to their daily health and wellness prescription?
There are NO side effects!
AND, it doesn’t cost any money!
If you want to try adding daily intentional joy to your dog’s routine, here’s how we do it.
THE DOG JOY PRESCRIPTION
#1: I wake up every morning with a sunny, cheerful greeting.
“Gooood MOOORNING sunshine!!”.
I excitedly ask Fergie if she wants to go outside, if she is hungry, if she wants a treat. I treat every morning like it’s Christmas morning. Think: over-the-top joy.
I am not a morning person and usually wake up pretty grumpy and was surprised to learn that doing this could improve my mood too.
#2: I make time for play every day.
Even when in the beginning she was too weak to chase anything, I’d lay on her bed with her and gently play with a toy until she engaged and started smiling and playing back. Even just doing a little bit of that seemed to be enough for her.
You just need to be patient if your dog doesn’t seem into it at first. It will warm your heart when they finally crack a smile or lick you.
#3: I turn medication time into the most fun time of the day.
I set a ridiculous clown-like alarm on my phone (‘by the seaside’ on an iPhone), and every time it goes off we do a happy dance and she gets treats.
She now gets SO excited whenever it’s medication time, and has no problems taking her medication, even the nastiest-tasting of the bunch. (This is classical conditioning at it’s finest!)
#4: I give her ‘gifts’ all the time, even if its things she’d normally get.
Whenever I get a new bag of treats, I wrap it in cheap, thin wrapping paper and let her open it, like Christmas. (She loves this). Just two minutes of a sloppy wrapping job with tape slapped on is all you need. (Supervise so the treats don’t fly all over the place if the bag or box splits open!)
#5: I do a lot of cheerful ‘happy dances’ just because.
Whether its for five minutes or thirty seconds, she loves it. Every day we do at least one happy dance. (The longer dances we call ‘dance parties’, and she plays the whole time). Hint: music is awesome for this. You don’t need a stereo for this, your phone and a Youtube music video or Pandora is more than enough.
#6: I take her to a new place every week for new smells.
Even if it’s just a neighborhood a few minutes drive away to walk her for 10-20 minutes so she can explore a totally new environment every week, this is good enough for her. Even when she was at her sickest, I wanted her to be able to still explore and experience new things. If she was weak, we’d just walk for five minutes and then drive home. Dogs experience the world through their noses, and it’s so meaningful to them to allow them to regularly explore new smells.
Whenever Fergie and I explore a new place, she has awesome doggy dreams that night. I love seeing her little feet kick in her sleep, especially when I know she hasn’t been feeling well.
ALSO, this is an excellent way for me to gauge how she is feeling physically, because there is a correlation between how much she sniffs and how well she feels. (The first time she sniffed a tree after her ‘stay of execution’ I cried, right there in the middle of the sidewalk).
Along with the list above, we do many other things having to do with intentionally infusing joy into her life. There truly is no limit to what we can do. And generally the more ridiculous and silly the better.
It’s all about truly celebrating all the time we have together. Not just being grateful- but celebrating.
The photos in the gallery below were taken between three-nine months after the start of our joy prescription.
Here’s a secret:
When you do the ‘joy prescription’, and it has a positive effect on your dog, and they become happier and more joyful, it makes you happier and more joyful because you are seeing your dog happy.
This creates a positive cycle where it becomes a lot less work to be joyful when it’s fueled by our own natural joy at seeing your dog(s) thrive. When you try it you’ll see what I mean.
Also, the more over-the-top goofy you are, the more inclined you’ll be to giggle at your own ridiculousness, which in turn makes you authentically happy and joyful. Your dog may look at you with concern or confusion the first couple of times you do a silly happy dance to ‘by the seaside’ with your hands clapping, but they should catch on pretty quickly.
Whether you have a sick or healthy dog, there is no harm in incorporating the dog joy prescription into your daily lives.
And if and when you have a very sick dog like Fergie, there is no guarantee that the dog joy prescription will extend their lives, but it WILL give your dog happy memories of their final time on earth with you. And that is one of the most unselfish and loving gifts you can possibly give them.
CHERISH EVERY MOMENT.
Please share this story with other dog owners.
You never know who it may help the most.
Much love to you and your pups,
-Jamie & Fergie
P.S. The day that Fergie’s euthanasia was scheduled was also my late mom’s birthday. I felt like that day my mom looked down at me and said “it’s not time sweetheart, it’s not time”.
UPDATED TO ADD:
Against all the odds, and all of her doctor’s predictions, and all the literature about protein losing enteropathy, Fergie made it to her 13th birthday on July 6th 2018. She had a wonderful day filled with hugs and love and lots of new toys and treats, which she absolutely loved.
Six weeks later, on August 20th, she passed in my arms from IBD-related complications.
As deeply sad as losing her was, her final day was a great one, where she spent the day at my official launch party/backyard barbecue for The Joyful Pooch. She was surrounded by friends and family who loved and cared about her, and got tons of love and pets from everyone. She was so happy that morning that she literally ran through the house chasing me for her turkey treats, with a huge smile on her face. I hadn’t seen her run in over a year, and was shocked that she felt great enough to do that. Her grandpa, one of her favorite people on earth, came down from LA for the party, and she got to lick his feet and receive his gentle pets. She was SO happy, and I was SO happy for her.
It warms my heart to think of how much joy and love she experienced on her final day on earth. I wouldn’t have wanted anything less for my sweet girl. She decided later that night that it was time to go, in part because I think she knew that I was going to be ok.
It is my wholehearted belief that the dog joy prescription bought Fergie another (happy) ten months on earth. During that time I made sure she knew that she could make the decision to go at anytime, but her spirit was so vibrant, and she had accepted her ‘new normal’, so I kept up with the prescription and supported her in any way I could. She truly did want to live, and the dog joy prescription made that possible.
RIP my love. I love you forever and I will see you again. Wait for me and save me a spot at the rainbow bridge.