What is a Companion Animal End-of-Life Doula and Do You Need One?

Image (c) Elena Sandu

The grief comes in waves. Too much to bear and then gone. Then again. When we lose our companion animal the pain is often extraordinary and is sometimes compounded with doubt and guilt. Did I do the right thing? Did I let her go too soon? Did I let him suffer? Why does it hurt so much?

Losing an animal can be many times more painful than losing a member of our family because we love each other unconditionally. It’s such a purely uncomplicated relationship, and so very real.

And for those suffering from this loss or anticipating it, a companion animal end-of-life doula might be just the person we need to help us through this time that is filled with questions and grief.  

Animal death doula (or end-of-life doula) work is relatively new and has gained more visibility in recent years with the increase in pet ownership (70% of American households have an animal). And we are creating more important relationships with our animals. They are our friends, family, and even our children. Interest in communicating with our animals continues to grow in the US as we try to better understand and provide for their needs.

For some, they’re the reason to get up in the morning. This is a non-medical person who provides nonjudgmental, holistic support to those whose companion animals are nearing the end of life, or have just died. An end-of-life doula assists in making the road ahead an intimate, sacred, and rich experience for everyone involved, whether medical support is required or not.

Do I need an EoL Doula?

When we have doubts about how to do the best for our animal, when anticipatory grief blinds us, a doula can empower us to ask the right questions of our veterinarian, make informed decisions regarding our animal’s wellbeing, help us choose holistic care methods that might help our animals in conjunction with our veterinarian’s help. A doula can create a plan that fits our unique situation following a terminal prognosis.

When choices are made with awareness, the possibility of future regret is greatly reduced!

What can I expect from an end-of-life doula?

While each doula offers different expertise, most will offer some or all of the following:

  1. End-of-Life Plan – The end-of-life plan is a discussion on the specifics of our animal’s end-of-life journey.  This includes what we would like to see happen during this time and review the resources that are available, such as holistic modalities that can complement western medicine.
  2. Hospice Support – Hospice care setup is individual and designed for each animal, giving you a quality-of-life chart to use with your animal for decision-making and discussions with your team, assessing your goals, beliefs, concerns, and financial constraints, and even speaking with your doctor if you like.
  3. Euthanasia Support – A doula is a sounding board for clients to discuss euthanasia and if it’s necessary at that time, as well as review your animal’s quality-of-life chart and talk with your vet if you like.
  4. Natural Death support—A doula can help us look at how a natural death looks, and if it’s an option for our animal or for the family.
  5. Ritual and Ceremony planning—A doula can create rituals and ceremonies for you and your family, bringing more spirituality into this time we have left together.
  6. Self-Care and comfort support—This is a time for self-care and the doula can help you choose the methods that will best support you at that time.
  7. Memorial Keepsakes – A doula can help us consider a variety of options available and suggest resources for them. 
  8. Help with creating a good transition for our companion!

Talk to a doula you are considering and find out what they offer. What are their views on euthanasia vs natural death. Do they have any religious affiliations that might clash with your own? If they have a website, read it and make notes of questions to ask.

Doulas are not regulated by a governing body, and so they can offer their strengths to their clients, meaning they might not be strong in ritual and ceremony, or some other area that may or may not be important to you, but very strong in their knowledge around other aspects that you feel are crucial.

While an end-of-life doula doesn’t replace our veterinarian, she can be an important part of our team as we prepare to help our animal have a good death. A doula will help navigate our options for this end-of-life journey through knowledge, experience, and resources, in a manner that will make this time peaceful, respectful, and meaningful.

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