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Lessons from my dying dog

Written by Huib, published Sunday January 28th, 2018

Lessons from my dying dog

Last week my dear dog Mats died with the help of her vet. She was simply too strong to go naturally, but far too ill to live longer. Exactly five years ago my old cat died as well and Mats naturally took on the role of helping her pass over. The bouncy pup suddenly calmed down, started licking the cat for days and lay down next to her when she died. Now it was my turn.

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” Philip Pullman

After weeks of living in a bubble with Mats, providing her shelter and nourishment, it is time to start turning back to telling stories. After cleaning my house for a few days, while crying my eyes out. I would never have imagined that a word such as ‘dog pee’ would be able to cause such a flood of tears.

During this intense process I found my role of caretaker very valuable or even precious. I would like to share something about it, as an inspiration to other caretakers or people who go through a mourning process. And don’t we all, at some point?

Without or within?

Not everyone knows or understands how deep people can be connected or attached to their animals. Those of you who read my book for caretakers of people with Lyme know that I like fantasy books, like ‘The Lord of the Rings’ or Harry Potter, to frame something that is hard to imagine in reality.

These last weeks the trilogy ‘His Dark Materials’ came to mind. It is an epic and award-winning trilogy of fantasy novels by Philip Pullman. It follows the coming of age of two children as they wander through a series of parallel universes. In this universe the soul of people is not within them, but shows up as a animal outside of them. They are called Daemons, with a connection so strong it hurts when they are separated by distance or force.

Until puberty, these childrens’ Daemons ‘shape shift’; they change form. Once a child comes of age, its Daemon settles into the animal that most accurately symbolizes the character of the young adult. Snakes or rats for the untrustworthy, an owl for the wise, a polecat for the adventurous and so on. Dobermanns can be typically found in Pullman’s world as the Daemons of guardians.

Very recently Pullman published a new book, called ‘The Book of Dust’ as a follow-up. I read it when I took my dog Mats to France in the Christmas holiday, after hearing her death sentence. Again, the way in which Pullman described that connection was striking. Then language can be a beautiful tool.

Talking about language: the opposite of ‘within’ is the word ‘outside’. But shouldn’t that actually be ‘without’? Am I ‘without’ my dog now or does she lives within? For me the answer to that question is clear and in that sense I did not lose her at all.

Mats as my Daemon

If Mats was my Daemon, my character is quite happy and cheerful. “What a delicious dog!“, the vet wrote on a very kind card, wishing me courage. To quote the old-fashioned Dutch childrens book ‘Dik Trom’: “And she was!”.

About twenty people started to cry when they heard the news, and crying is not a national sports in my country. One friend clearly felt uncomfortable with her own tears, until I compared it to laughing. Why is it socially ‘not done’ to express sadness, while it is ‘positive’ to laugh (which is simply an expression of cheerfulness)?

Mats meant a lot to many people and animals. We spend her last month going on many little journeys to say farewell. A tour of fame. Mats had the time of her life, as you could see in the movie showing her chasing kite-surfers, and so did I.

Meaning. Isn’t meaning what humans hunger for, as much as dogs hunger for food? We are often encouraged to ‘seize the day’ instead of remembering the dead. The options are ‘carpe diem’ OR ‘memento mori’. I would argue that the value of death and especially the process of dying is that it becomes very clear what and how much another being has meant for us.

Normally we live too rushed to fully realise this, so take the excistence of other ‘bodies’ for granted. So maybe it is by remembering the value the dead had to us, that we are encouraged to really seize the day and appreciate living?

One of my friends, an American biologist and dog lover, commented something very accurately on the Facebook post of my last article about Mats. He said that he was sure that a dying animal even feels guilty for leaving us. Although dogs do not function in the concept of ‘time’ as we do – to both our benefit and disaster – I am sure that this was the case for Mats.

The ‘miracle healer’ whom I mentioned in the last article was able to take that panic away (which was clearly noticable the next day), although it did not cure her cancer as I had secretly hoped.

A seven year journey

I promised Mats I would take as good care of myself as I had of her. She has been my own travel companion during seven years of adventures in Lyme Land, in which I have taken on the role of ‘guardian’ of Lyme patients. Hence the connection to the Daemons.

Mats’ death symbolizes a line in the sand for me. In a next article I will try and describe what that means and what that journey has been like. The bizarre start of that journey has been described in ‘Shifting the Lyme Paradigm‘, but actually the road even became more bumpy afterwards.

Before signing off, two last beautiful coincidences. Last weekend, when Mats was already fading out, she lay on the couch next to me. The tumors were growing so rapidly that so could hardly find a position to lay comfortably anymore.

I felt her skin and found her too cold, so I covered her with a blanket. Only then I realised she was laying on the same couch, covered under the same blanket, as my cat had been five years before – with Mats next to her.

In the night before Mats died, I had a lucid dream – something that rarely happens to me. My cat came and lay on top of Mats, as if she came to get her.

I find these coincidences soothing and I hope this little story somehow inspired you to appreciate what is there, rather than dwelling on the past or despairing for the future. If there is one thing that animals are able to teach us, it is that.


drs. Huib Kraaijeveld

In: Blog Inspiration Mats a Dog

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