Thinking about death can still be a taboo subject, and worrying about what would happen to beloved pets in the event of one’s death is also difficult for some people. Traumatic news such as being diagnosed with a serious illness, or advancing old age will sometimes bring such thoughts into focus, but does it make sense to consider this issue while you’re fit and well so that your pet’s future is secure should the unexpected happen? I first thought about this when I took on the care of a young grey parrot. Even though I was only in my thirties, research into parrot care revealed that my new avian companion could well outlive me! So I looked into what I could put in place to guarantee the bird’s care should I die before him, and since then I’ve done the same with all our pets.

Some people are fortunate enough to have the reassurance that their family would take on a pet if necessary. However, sadly, I have come across cases where things haven’t worked out in such circumstances, leaving the cherished pet of a deceased guardian in a vulnerable situation. Whatever you decide, it makes sense to keep a clear note of your pet’s daily needs, their likes and dislikes and your vet’s contact details in an easy-to-find place in the house.

If this securing your pet’s future is something you wish to do, there are a number of UK charities which offer a scheme to ensure that your pet will be entrusted into their care should you die before them.  Some organisations have specific criteria and may not accept a pet because of certain issues, but other charities may well be more flexible. Generally you will need to include your wishes in your Will or to add a Codicil, but as the charity concerned will most likely advise you on the relevant wording to use, this is straightforward.

Below are some organisations which offer a scheme at the time of writing this blog:

The Cinnamon Trust (CT) – has two homely sanctuaries and a national network of volunteers who kindly volunteer to foster on a long or short term basis. The pets who come into the charity’s care remain the organisation’s responsibility for the rest of their lives whether they go to a foster home or are placed in one of their two lovely sanctuaries. They take mostly cats and dogs, and you will have needed to have had the pet for at least six months before you register them, giving you a chance to build up a clear picture of your pet’s particular needs. They require that your Will states the intention for any pets you have to go to the CT in the event of your death, and they provide the simple wording for this to be included or added as a Codicil. The charity also offers support in other ways to help older or terminally ill people keep their pets at home as long as possible:

The Blue Cross – run a scheme called, ‘Pet Peace of Mind – love and care for your pet after you’ve gone’.  You can register up to four pets, which could be a dog, cat, horse, rabbit, chinchilla, degu, gerbil, guinea pig, hamster, mouse or rat. Their Welcome Pack also gives information on what to include in your Will. There is a lot of helpful information on their website covering many questions which you may have:

The RSPCA runs a ‘Home for Life’ scheme. They will take on most pet breeds. Animals will be taken to the nearest RSPCA shelter and assessed for the purpose of finding them a new home:

Cats Protection can look after your cat in the event of your death. They can also provide Emergency Cat Care Cards for pet owners to carry to alert emergency services that you have a pet that will need to be taken care of should you be taken ill. Their legacy pack can be requested via this link:

The Dogs Trust has a Canine Care Card scheme which means if you pass away or become seriously ill and you’re no longer able to look after your dog, they will be taken care of by the Trust who will look for a suitable new home:

Redwings Horse Sanctuary run a ‘Home in the Event of Death’ scheme, which means you can secure your horse’s future should anything unforeseen occur. There isn’t much information on this on their website so you would have to get in contact with them to find out more:

Here are a few more things to think about once you have put your plans in place with your chosen organisation:

  • Let your family, friends and the Executor of your Will know that you’ve registered your pet with the charity, and where the relevant documents are kept.
  • If you can, arrange for the temporary care of any pets by someone you trust and who could access them without delay until the pets can be transported into the care of the relevant organisation.
  • Keep a note in your purse or phone to show you have pets and who needs to be contacted in the event of an accident or sudden serious illness.
  • Remember to update the charity with any changes in your pet’s day to day care.

In my experience of doing this for various pets over the years it doesn’t take much time and effort, but it brings a long-lasting peace of mind knowing that a beloved companion animal’s welfare will be secured should the unexpected happen.

Pet Bereavement Support in 2021

It was a busy and I must admit, at times stressful, year with having two new books published and doing a flurry of interviews on the radio, podcasts or video! The interviews are available on the Updates & Events page of my website, but here is one of my favourites – I was a speaker at the April 2021: Animal Communicator and Healer Summit (just over 30 mins long):

It has been heartening to create new pathways out into the world to help people and their pets through the difficulties that invariably surround the end of a companion animal’s life. Those of us who have been through it know what a roller-coaster it is. We need support, we need to be understood, we need to be heard and we need sensitive guidance to help us do our best for the beloved pet who has shared our lives – all the while nursing a broken heart and facing uncertainty.

Both of the new books:

  • ‘When It’s Time to Say Goodbye – Preparing for the Transition of Your Beloved Pet’ (for guardians)
  • ‘Companion Animal Bereavement – A One Health Workbook for Veterinary Professionals’ (for vet and animal welfare staff)

…include a strong focus on the welfare of companion animals during anticipated loss. Here’s a snippet from a professional review written about the veterinary book which highlights the importance of this aspect:

“One of the essential elements of this book, and perhaps the most refreshing and important, is the complete focus it has on the mental landscapes and lives of our companion animals themselves. Animals are always mutual partners in this journey, never playing second-fiddle to the bereavement process of humans, but always placed firmly on the same footing when it comes to the decisions made about end-of-life planning.” Andrew Perry – Animal Behaviour and Welfare (BSc), Anthrozoology (MSc)

As an example of protecting the animal’s welfare, I’m sharing a brief extract about an issue that can arise when caring for an elderly pet. This is from one of the downloadable resources available to vet teams to hand out to guardians in ‘Companion Animal Bereavement – A One Health Workbook for Veterinary Professionals’ (Ch 3, p 24):

“If you are caring for an elderly pet, you may notice symptoms which you assume are due to old age. However, it is important not to dismiss these because, even if they are related to ageing, they most likely will indicate a medical condition which requires diagnosis and treatment by your vet.”

It can be incredibly stressful for guardians as they navigate many unknown factors and face the inevitable death of their much loved pet. As it says in ‘When It’s Time to Say Goodbye – Preparing for the Transition of Your Beloved Pet’ (Ch 6, p 42):

“Try to be aware of your stress levels, and remember that, as the carer, you also need to receive care. If you have friends or family who understand that you’re going through a difficult time, allow yourself to accept their love, support, and, where appropriate, practical assistance. If you aren’t able to draw upon others in this way, there are some excellent organisations that offer a listening ear, understanding and support to people before and after loss. No-one has to go through this alone.”

At EASE, our mission has been to ensure that no-one goes through pet bereavement alone, and we have a wide range of resources available to download from the EASE website:

Angela Garner, Animal Bereavement Specialist.

When a dog dies, how soon is too soon to get another?

“Dogs’ lives are too short. Their only fault, really.

(Agnes Sligh Turnbull., Wind and Fly LTD, 2021., accessed September 15, 2021.)

The loss of a pet can be tough. So, what happens when a beloved dog dies? Suddenly the owner faces a chasm of emptiness in the home – the unused bed, redundant toys, vacant space where the food and water bowls were. The list is endless, the grief overwhelming. Having so much love to offer and no recipient is incredibly difficult.

It’s no surprise that some people can’t bear it, and are desperate to ‘fill the gap’ as soon as possible. Alf Wight, famously known as James Herriot, advocated getting another dog without delay:

But how wise is this? I’ve known it to work for some, but for others getting a new dog too soon can cause problems. This invariably impacts on the animal, who is trying to adjust to a completely new circumstance. Should the despairing owner seek a new companion straight away or should they take time to work through their grief before considering such a commitment? Let’s look at some pros and cons:


  • Having a new dog to love and cherish can prevent loneliness. This is particularly poignant for someone living alone who has just lost their sole companion.
  • A dog can bring a purpose and structure to the owner’s day and even to their life – something which is very much missed after a loss.
  • There are increasing numbers of dogs needing experienced new homes, which could be offered by a bereaved owner. UK shelters are concerned about the number of ‘lockdown puppies’ being abandoned as owners return to work or struggle with the challenges in behaviour that adolescence can bring, or separation anxiety as the youngsters haven’t adapted to being at home alone:
  • The Covid-19 pandemic has seen a rise in mental health issues. Grief may exacerbate such conditions, and adopting a new dog can bring benefits to its new owner: (


  • Grief can lower one’s tolerances, energy levels and resilience. Suddenly having a new ‘bundle of joy’ after years of the comfortable familiarity of caring for an elderly dog can be a shock. It’s easy to forget how much time and effort it takes to look after a puppy.
  • Similarly, adopting a rescue dog can be rewarding, but again, it is likely to need a lot of time, attention and understanding, especially if it has behavioural issues.
  • The owner might find it difficult to bond with a new pet. Moving from years of comfortable companionship, in which both owner and canine knew and understood each other’s many little ways, into new and unchartered territory, is likely to be challenging and stressful.
  • As a canine behaviourist explained to me recently, if the owner is still deeply grieving they might shower the new dog with love and affection and not focus on giving the necessary basic training that the animal needs. This can lead to behavioural issues which will affect both the owner and the dog.
  • Rushing into adopting or buying a pet means they might not give themselves time to ‘find the one’ – a special dog that feels right.

“How long should I wait after the loss of a pet?”

There is no straightforward and easy answer to how long an owner should wait after the death of their dog. Each situation is unique. However, the following ideas and suggestions could help a grieving owner to think things through:

  • Would the owner benefit from taking time out from caring for a dog? There may be things they need or want to do which they weren’t able to before, such as travelling or taking a long awaited holiday.
  • Have their personal circumstances changed over recent years making it more difficult to meet the needs of caring for a dog? (Time, money, personal health and current commitments, for example.)
  • Is the owner likely to move home or have work done inside the house in the near future? Clearly, it would be far safer and kinder to bring a new pet into a calm and safe environment.
  • Is a dog still the best type of pet for the owner’s lifestyle, age and stage in life?
  • Would the owner prefer to offer long or short-term fostering for dogs through a supportive charitable organisation? This would bring the benefits of caring for a dog with the option to permanently adopt later on.
  • Is everyone in the family agreed that they are ready and want to commit to another dog?
  • Does the owner have other animals to consider before taking on a new dog? For example, their previous dog may not have presented a threat to small ‘furries’ or birds, but a new one might view them as prey.
  • Does the owner honestly feel emotionally ready for the ‘settling-in’ period that any new dog will need?

There is no definitive answer as to how soon an owner should or shouldn’t wait before getting a new dog after a loss. However, it is clear that thinking things through in a considered way, rather than deciding on the back of an emotional reaction, will benefit both person and any new companion who they take into their heart and home.

Angela Garner, Animal Bereavement Specialist and Author

New Pet Bereavement book

As I started to write this blog about my new book, ‘When It’s Time to Say Goodbye – Preparing for the Transition of Your Beloved Pet’, I received a phone call from a friend. As soon as she started talking I knew she was going to give sad news – I could hear the distress in her voice. Unexpectedly one of her two whippets had been taken ill and had to be put to sleep just a few days earlier. My heart went out to her. Anyone who has been through the loss of a beloved pet knows what it can be like. I listened as she told me the details and was thankful that her pet’s illness had been brief and that she was able to be with her little dog as she said her final goodbye to her companion of 11 years. I’d been through the same process with my own dog a few months earlier.  I knew what she was going through – seeing the empty space where his bed used to be at home and missing all his little endearing ways, and trying to avoid other people when out walking in case they say, “Where’s your dog?” Animal bereavement is a tough journey, and it’s not something anyone should have to do on their own. That is why I am so glad to have written this book – it’s somewhere for people to go, to find information, guidance, ideas, support and the warmth of being understood as they traverse the twists and turns of their own particular journey during their beloved pet’s end of life.

In my friend’s case, the lead up to her dog’s death had been short and the decision to have him put to sleep clear-cut. But, often this is not the case, and finding the right time to say goodbye can be fraught with anxiety and stress, as well as emotionally overwhelming. To share some insights about this area, here is an extract from the book:


People often say to those going through this process, “Oh, you’ll know when the time is right.” Certainly, you may know at the point; however, trying to decide when to have a much-loved companion animal put to sleep can present a myriad of uncertainties. Because of the emotional and mental turmoil, it can be difficult to quiet your mind and listen to your instinct. On the one hand, you want whatever is best for your pet; on the other, this is an irrevocable decision.

You may worry about having your pet put to sleep too soon and, therefore, depriving them of time. Or you may be anxious to ensure that they don’t get to a stage when they start to suffer. The thing to remember is that you do not have to work this out totally on your own. While the final decision has to be made by you, the vet professionals are there to offer vital information and guidance.

One way of thinking about when to consider euthanasia is that it can be done to prevent suffering rather than to end suffering.

I remember a few years ago going through this myself with an elderly guinea pig. Beryl had been a wonderful companion who had played a crucial role in educational sessions for a school programme called “Being Kind to Animals”, before retiring at around four or five years of age. When she reached the grand age of eight years, which is good going for a guinea pig, I noticed some changes in her demeanour and body condition that made me think she wasn’t feeling as well as normal.

I was determined that this little life wasn’t going to suffer unnecessarily, and am firmly of the mind that a little too soon is definitely better than a little too late. So I took her to the vet for a check-up and asked outright whether I needed to consider having her put to sleep in the near future. I explained that I was anxious to ensure that she didn’t suffer; she’d had as comfortable a life as I could offer her, and I wanted to ensure that she had a comfortable death.

The vet gave her a thorough examination and reassured me that she was in good health and would probably go on for another year! She also told me what to look out for that would indicate that Beryl was losing condition.

I was pleased and relieved and arranged to take her every six months for an assessment, or sooner if I had any concerns. A year later, Beryl’s condition suddenly deteriorated, and despite the fact that she kept eating, I knew that it was time for her to be gently put to sleep. The vet agreed, and I said my goodbye to this beloved guinea pig who had reached the grand age of nine.

My point in sharing this story is to show that rather than inwardly fretting and worrying, I discussed my concerns with the vet and got professional guidance and information, then, having been reassured, I was able to enjoy the time we had left together.

There is no doubt that it is incredibly difficult to be objective about your pet’s quality of life when emotions are running wild; therefore, a methodical system to gather information will help you stay grounded and be realistic. Keeping a diary of your pet’s general condition and behaviour will enable you to keep track of any changes that may not be obvious when you see them every day.

This activity is to help you work out a system to recognize important changes as they occur and to know what to do about them.

Recognizing Important Changes in Your Pet’s Well-Being

Ask your vet for guidance on how to measure changes in your pet’s well-being. The list below offers suggestions, but it will depend on the type of animal and what you and your vet decide about your particular pet’s needs. Leave space beside each point to write down what to do:

What to Look Out For

1.            Behaving differently, such as:

•             Having out-of-character reactions, such as aggression

•             Being listless

•             Avoiding people or hiding

•             Being disoriented or confused

2.            Are they:

•             Losing weight?

•             Off their food?

3.            Should I take a photo each week to notice gradual changes?

4.            Does their fur or feathers look any different?

5.            Have they got any new lumps or bumps?

6.            Are they struggling to stand up or lie down, or finding it difficult to walk or move about?

7.            Are they coughing or being sick?

8.            Do they seem in pain?

9.            Are they crying, moaning or breathing heavily and/or quickly?

10.          When would I need to contact the vet urgently?

11.          There may be other things which you or your vet could add to this list.

This focused and practical approach should give you some peace of mind, as you are more likely to recognize a gradual or sudden worsening of your pet’s condition and will know what to do about it.


There are many different aspects which caring guardians may have to work through in the lead up to their loss, and then afterwards as they cope with the loss of their beloved pet. Wherever the reader is in the process, the book aims to gently support the sacredness of their individual human-animal relationship as they face the inevitable separation within the physical world.

‘When It’s Time to Say Goodbye’ by Angela Garner, is now available to order from all major bookstores:

Preparing to say goodbye during lock-down

This is an incredibly difficult time for any pet guardian, but it can be especially challenging during lock-down, when you can’t meet your vet face-to-face or be with your pet during consultations. I’m writing this blog in the hope that how I coped might help someone else.   I know what it’s like because our own beautiful little 13+years dog, Rufus, was unwell in March just as the first lock-down started. We were backwards and forwards with him to the vet practice; each time we stayed in the car until the vet nurse came to collect our nervous little charge to take him in, while we waited anxiously in the car park.

It was difficult not actually meeting our vet, who was isolating, because normally we’d ask about things and would see exactly what she thought as she examined Rufus. They say that a high percentage of what we communicate is through body language and facial expression, and, of course, that was all gone. Everything had to be relayed through the nurses, who thankfully were experienced and knowledgeable so they became our highly valued life-line. As we got into August it became apparent to my husband and I that Rufus was coming to the end of his life. Although I was often on the phone to the wonderful vet nurses, who would take my questions to the vet and relay the answers, we really didn’t have a clear picture about our dog’s situation, and we weren’t able to fully express our concerns.

In the end, what I found worked best was to carefully prepare for each vet visit by:

  • Writing a brief report on how Rufus had been – any symptoms, his appetite, whether he wanted to go for walks etc. (the kind of things I thought the vet would ask me if I was there)
  • Listing our questions in clear bullet points so that the vet could easily see what we were concerned about or what we needed to know
  • Printing it for the vet nurses to take into the surgery with Rufus (some vets will have email access instead)

When it was apparent to us that Rufus may be starting to suffer, or at least wasn’t enjoying life anymore, with a very heavy heart I wrote down the question, ‘Is it time to have Rufus put to sleep, because we have noticed (and gave details of his sudden change in behaviour and symptoms)?’ to go in with him at the urgent consultation we had arranged. This time, the vet actually came out to see us in person, from a safe distance, which was such a relief. After discussion, she gave us some really strong medication to try him on for a few days, and we all agreed that if there was no significant improvement after this, then the kindest thing would be to say goodbye to Rufus.

Rufus had a peaceful last few days before we took him back for the final time to the surgery. Our vet kindly set up a long line to the intravenous catheter so that I could cuddle him in the back of our car as she injected the drug which put him to sleep. We were grateful we could be with him as he quickly and peacefully slipped away in my arms.


We thought it would be useful to pull some information together on caring for our pets during this unprecedented time, and in particular, what we might need to consider should a beloved companion animal need to be put to sleep while the vets are only covering emergencies and implementing social distancing.

Although we at EASE cannot give any advice, we hope that the following current information from the government is helpful, along with any updates that follow on the government websites.

Defra’s advice for pet owners diagnosed with Covid-19 is:

  • Restrict contact with pets as a precautionary animal health measure until more information is known about the virus.
  • If your pet requires care, wash your hands before and after any interaction with them and wear a face mask if possible.
  • Keep cats indoors if possible and try to arrange for someone else to exercise dogs, taking care to restrict any contact with the person walking your dog and making sure they practice good hygiene. This is to reduce the likelihood of your pet spreading the disease through environmental contamination on their fur – there is no evidence that pet animals play a role in the spread of the disease.
  • If your pet shows clinical signs, please do not take it to the vet but call the practice for advice.
  • If your pet requires emergency treatment, call the practice for further advice. Do not take your pet to the surgery unless the vet instructs you to. You may need to arrange for someone else to transport your pet for treatment.

GOVERNMENT ADVICE re: Coronavirus (COVID-19): advice for people with animals

Advice for pet owners and livestock keepers on maintaining the welfare of their animals during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Published 27 March 2020
Last updated 31 March 2020 — see all updates


Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs and Animal and Plant Health Agency


  1. Dogs
  2. General advice for all cat owners
  3. Horses, livestock and other animals

We all need to do what we can to reduce the spread of coronavirus. The single most important action we can all take in fighting coronavirus is to stay at home in order to protect the NHS and save lives.

You should follow the current guidance and must stay at home, except for very limited purposes.

The following advice provides further detail for pet owners and livestock keepers on maintaining the welfare of their animals during the coronavirus pandemic.

There is no evidence of coronavirus circulating in pets or other animals in the UK and there is nothing to suggest animals may transmit the disease to humans. In line with the general advice on fighting coronavirus, you should wash your hands regularly, including before and after contact with animals.


Advice if you have symptoms of coronavirus and must remain at home for 7 days, or 14 days as a household

If your dog cannot exercise at home, you should ask someone outside of your household to walk your dog for you.

All non-essential trips to vets should be avoided. If your pet needs urgent treatment, you must phone the vet to arrange the best approach to meet your pets’ needs.

Advice if you do not have symptoms of coronavirus

You may leave your house to exercise once a day and you should combine this with walking your dog. In doing so, it is important that you minimise the time spent outside of the home and remain 2 metres away from anyone outside of your household.

All non-essential trips to vets should be avoided. If your pet needs urgent treatment, you may take them, but must remember to wash your hands and remain 2 metres away from anyone outside your household. You must call the vet before going to see them.

Advice for those walking dogs on behalf of someone not able to

You may also leave your house to provide care or help a vulnerable person. This includes walking a dog for someone who is unable to leave their house because they are self isolating or being shielded. You should remember to wash your hands before and after handling the dog and keep 2 metres away from other people and animals, including when handing over the dog to the owner.

General advice for all cat owners

You should wash your hands before and after any contact with your cat.

Horses, livestock and other animals

Advice if you have symptoms of coronavirus and must remain at home for 7 days, or 14 as a household

If you have a horse in livery, you must not visit them whilst you are self-isolating. You should contact your yard manager or vet to make suitable welfare arrangements.

If you have livestock such as cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, poultry, or any other types of livestock you should arrange for someone else who is not self-isolating to care for your animals.

Where this is not possible you should ensure the basic needs of your animals are met. You must make sure you wash your hands before and after handling your animals and ensure you remain 2 metres away from other people.

If you are too unwell to care for your animals and there is no one to help, you should call your local authority.

Advice if you do not have symptoms of coronavirus

You may leave your house to exercise once a day and you should combine this with leaving your house to provide care for your horse or livestock.

It is essential that you minimise the time spent outside of the home and remain 2 metres away from others. You should remember to wash your hands before and after contact with any animals.

If your horse needs urgent attention from a farrier

If your horse requires urgent attention from a farrier, you should phone the farrier to arrange the best approach to meet your horses’ needs. You and the farrier must ensure that you keep 2 metres apart and wash your hands before and after contact with the horse.



We haven’t been able to find anything specific about this other than having a pet put to sleep for welfare reasons is covered by urgent or emergency vet care. However, while social distancing rules are in place, we need to be aware that it might not be possible to be with a pet during the procedure, and home visits might not be possible, especially if someone in the household has Covid-19 symptoms. It looks like we would need to phone the usual number for our own vet and ask for advice and information. (If your own vet practice has been closed completely, they should have arranged for another practice to take over the care of their patients during closure.)

Currently Cloud9Vets are still offering home visits for euthanasia, if they have a vet available in the right area, and providing the government guidelines can be met:  (Although we are not yet able to recommend them from having had personal experience of having a beloved pet put to sleep at home, they are always very helpful and understanding in replying to any enquiries. Therefore this might be a reassuring option for any pet guardian who would prefer a home visit for their pet’s euthanasia. Understandably, the cost can be higher than using your regular vet.)

Pasha’s Easter treat

It was dawn on Easter Sunday, and me and the two ‘golden boys’ – Pasha the Golden Retriever, and Sammy the Greek Kokoni – were on our usual early morning walk. All was quiet, the sun was rising, a light mist lay on the ground, and the dawn chorus was a veritable cacophony.

We came to the field we cut through on the way to the local golf course and, knowing the field well, in the distance I spotted an unexpected large, round, white object. Curiously I approached it, wondering what it might be, while Pasha and Sammy sniffed around in the field, tracking the recent nocturnal activity.

As I approached the object I saw what it was – a goose egg. It must have been taken from one of the geese in the neighbouring field by a fox, and abandoned for some reason in this field. “Breakfast!” I thought to myself – in the past the farmer has given me the occasional goose egg, and they make a lovely creamy omelette. But on closer inspection I saw the egg was a bit dirty, and as I knew some of the geese were sitting on eggs I thought that eating it was a little risky as its freshness might be dubious.

So I picked the egg up and threw it into the bushes, to avoid Pasha – who is a typical Golden Retriever guzzler of anything and everything – finding it. But I was too late! He had clearly already picked up the scent and saw me lob it into the distance and, with a speed and dexterity rarely seen unless food is concerned, he managed to find the egg, get his mouth around it and bring it out of the bushes, where he promptly lay down on the grass with the egg between his front paws.

Knowing it was useless to try to get anything so tasty away from Pasha, I watched as he cleverly managed to break a hole in the top of the egg, and gradually insert his tongue into the egg to extract the goodness; this being interspersed with occasional crunches as he ate the thick eggshell (an excellent source of calcium!)

I could only smile to myself as I realised that on Easter Sunday this was Pasha’s perfect Easter egg! A goose egg is about the size of three chicken eggs, and with a weight of 27 kg, Pasha must have eaten the equivalent of half a dozen chicken eggs in one sitting.. but fortunately with no side effects!

My Woollie Moment

You’d be forgiven for thinking that this was something to do with sheep, or maybe knitting or crochet, but the story is about a donkey who taught me something important.

I was attending an Equine Facilitated Learning (EFL) session as a client.  EFL is where the interaction between the person (client) and the equine (in this case – a donkey) allows gentle reflective learning.  The donkey acts as a mirror.  This happens under the careful supervision of the instructor / facilitator and a ‘watcher’ whose job it is to ensure that both donkey and humans remain safe and free from stress.

I was asked by Sally, my instructor, what I’d like to focus upon in my session.  This was easy to decide as I’d been finding it difficult to handle stress and pressure in my work and was consequently becoming increasingly reactive, which was hard to handle.

After being taken through a short mindfulness and grounding exercise, I was invited to observe the two donkeys who had joined us in the outside arena.  I was asked, “What do you think is going on with the donkeys?  What do you think they’re feeling?”

To me they both looked like they’d prefer to return to their paddock.  These donkeys regularly work in the Donkey Assisted Therapy Centre, where close human contact is the everyday norm, and I didn’t feel that they were particularly interested in engaging, although one of them did glance over at us a few times.

After a reminder about the health and safety aspects of staying within their field of vision and not standing right behind the donkeys where they wouldn’t see me, I was invited to approach whichever of the two donkeys I chose.  At this point Woollie, the larger of the two, appeared more interested than the other in that he was looking at me.  So I slowly approached being mindful of my pace and to ensure he could see me easily.  I went up close enough to say Hello and to stroke his neck, which he seemed to enjoy.  After a short while he moved away and I returned to Sally.  I was asked to reflect on the process.

Before the next step, I was reminded to go to a quiet place within myself, where I could be in the moment, to be with my awareness and to breathe slowly.  This time I was to go up to Woollie and simply stand nearby him without actually doing anything.

Again, slowly and mindfully I approached Woollie and stood quietly in his zone.  I stayed still, consciously bringing myself into what I call my neutral gear, reminding myself ‘to be’ rather than feel the pressure ‘to do’.  Woollie looked directly at me and then purposefully walked over to me, where I waited calmly, somehow knowing that all was well.

He came and stood right by me, so I quietly said Hello again and stroked him.  He moved around, walked off, and I stayed still.  He then came back, this time right up close, and then he gently snuggled his head into me, so we ended up in an equine / human embrace!  It felt incredibly special – he’d actually chosen to be with me – to share a few moments of mutual warmth and connection.

Afterwards, Sally asked me what I’d felt about that experience.  “I loved it!”

What had I learnt from it?  Having taken a moment, I reflected that it showed me how being in that quiet, calm, ‘neutral’ place in myself had allowed the special moment to happen.  Woollie hadn’t been put under any pressure.  It had just happened.

It taught me that I don’t have to keep trying to make stuff happen all the time; instead, I could put the pause button on, and simply wait – ready to respond if I chose, without being reactive.  This was a revelation to me!

Sally continued to gently question me. “How will you take this experience back into your work situation?”

“Well, that is easy – when I start to feel stressed, I’ll remember to press the pause button and have a Woollie Moment!”


Later, thinking back on the session, I could only wonder and smile to myself at how a donkey had taught me exactly what I needed to learn about the importance of inner stillness and calm.  Thank you, Woollie.

Equine Facilitated Therapy

Equine Facilitated Therapy (EFT) is described as an opportunity to learn more about yourself and how you communicate, with the horses reflecting how you interact with others, affect other people and how others affect you. It all sounds good to me!

There was a nervous excitement in me as I turned up at the equine centre.  Ever since I had heard about EFT, I’d wanted to experience it, so here I was – ready with an open heart and open mind.

I’ve always sensed a depth of feeling in equines – no wonder they can form such enduring bonds within their herds, but also with those who care for them.  And I longed to get a bit closer in and to feel it for myself.

The weather that day was awful (following days of lovely sunshine) and not conducive to spending two hours outside in a field of horses. But there was no way I was going to be put off now that the EFT day was finally here.

The session started with a chat about how I was feeling, and what I hoped to gain from the session, and the obligatory health and safety check.  I confessed that I’d forgotten to bring my steel-toed work boots, but my instructor told me that my wellies were just right.  She explained that some of the horses are so big and heavy that if my foot was trodden on in steel-toed boots, the metal would be crushed into my foot.  Mental note to self: keep feet away from hooves!

I explained that the thing I hoped to gain from the session was a moment of deep connection with a horse; perhaps a soul connection.

I was taken through some preparatory exercises to sense what was going on in me and to slow everything down inside.  Having explained about how to approach each horse quietly and with respect for their personal space, and how to read subtle changes in body language, I was let loose into the field of horses.  They were all rather intent on eating, earnestly pulling at the grass or piles of hay, so they were not concerned or interested in my tentative requests to make contact.  But they didn’t mind me there, and I certainly sensed different emotions with the two I did approach.

The smallest horse was a young male.  I felt incredibly emotional in his presence, overwhelmingly so.  I found out later that he’d had a rough start in life.  The other horse, a magnificent Shire, gave me a totally different feeling – sort of quick and excited; he was altogether a more confident, mature horse.  But from both, I got the sense that they were very happy to be living there in that special Equine Centre.

Eventually the rain and cold drove us inside to the stalls.  Housed in here were two of the instructors own beautiful mares.  I had been drawn to them earlier, but respectful of their need for space and privacy as they each had a note to say they had only recently arrived at the Centre and were still settling in.  However, the instructor said that it was fine to greet them, as the signs were there to ensure they weren’t overwhelmed by attention from visitors.

So I quietly approached one of the mares – then it all changed.  I gazed softly at the black Shire mare in front of me.  I let her sniff my hand and gently touched her neck when I felt she was happy for me to do that.   Her long, thick fringe almost covered her eyes but I could see the gentle spirit that shone through.  My instructor explained that she had been through a very difficult few months, having been grief-stricken with the sudden death of her two month old foal.  I felt an incredible tenderness and gently stroked her.  “You can go in with her if you want.” I was told.  Without hesitation, I entered her stall – there we were – one small human and one beautiful and impressively huge Shire mare, together in a few moments of quiet understanding and exchange.  She was incredibly sturdy yet gentle – what a warm, loving spirit.

A lump formed in my throat – her grief was palpable.  I sent her healing thoughts holding my hands on her.  A little later I quietly withdrew, knowing that something had passed between us.

As I walked away afterwards, I reflected on her grief, and on the depth of feelings that these beautiful ‘other people’ have – often not recognised in our world.  But today it was recognised, respected and revered.  What an honour.

The Story of Coco RIP

Mary Noble, one of the EASE Trustees, featured in our EASE News of July 2013 when she rescued and brought back to the UK a Golden Retriever (Pasha) who had been kept caged in an Istanbul hotel petting zoo. Pasha has since become a happy and affectionate dog, living with me and my other dogs in Hertfordshire. However, sadly Mary’s latest canine adventure was not to have such a happy ending..

Mary was recently visiting Greece, and shared with us this moving story about a street dog she came across while there. “We were staying in a lovely spot by the sea, very near the village where our two friends Theodora and Frits live (an hour and a half’s drive from Athens) and on most days we went up to the local taverna with the others for lunch. On the first day, we found a beautiful, but skeletally thin, female golden Labrador, huddled under the stairs in the car park, clearly starving, and with what looked like a very bad ear infection.

“She was so hungry that when we started to feed her she accidentally bit Bruno when there was no more food in his hand, so after that we felt we had to go back each day and feed her. So this we did for about six days, and she looked happier each day, her tail wagging furiously as we would drive up to the car park where she would be waiting for us. But she was clearly in a lot of pain with her ear, and didn’t want to be touched. She was wearing a small plastic collar and the taverna owner, whom I talked to, said that she was probably just thrown out and abandoned in front of his taverna – which is quite common. The sense I had was that she was used to humans, but also very hurt.

“So, of course, we then had to make a decision about what to do when we left. So I plucked up the courage to ask our friends just as we were leaving on Saturday if they would be willing to find a way to get her to a vet – at least to get her the medical attention she needed – and fortunately they were very willing to do that. They often look after strays, and have a very good relationship with the vet in their village – it is all very nearby and local.”

The dog had a nasty festering ear infection, and the vet was of the view that she was probably about two years old, having already had a litter of puppies, and was probably dumped by the road not long after giving birth. She was cared for by the local vet for some days before being taken home by Theodora and Frits, to be looked after alongside their own pets. For a week or so they took exceptional care of this lovely dog, whom Mary had named Coco, feeding her many times a day to build up her strength, walking her in the local area and building her a den of her own to allow her to feel safe. Coco responded to this attention very well, growing daily in confidence and affection, and clearly relieved at becoming more free of pain and stronger as each day passed.

Theodora, who is a teacher at the local junior school, kept her children up to date about Coco’s progress, and some of them were even able to meet her – offering them a first-hand living example of the kind of humane care that can be extended to the Little People.

However, after a week or so Coco started to go downhill rapidly, and further visits to the vet resulted in a biopsy being taken and sent to the Royal Veterinary College in Hertfordshire, UK for analysis. The results of this were heart-breaking – it transpired that Coco had a huge malign tumour which was preventing her eating and walking, and the only option was to euthanise her to relieve her suffering.

This was kindly and carefully carried out, and Theodora made arrangements for Coco to be buried with respect and affection. This in its turn was also shared with the school children, giving them a great education about how people can treat animals with respect. In Greece a dead animal will often just be thrown away in the garbage, so for these children to learn that Coco was being buried with dignity became an important part of their education about the possible human/animal relationship.

We will never know exactly what happened in Coco’s short life, but at least we know that her last weeks were spent being graced with human love and kindness, and that she played a part in demonstrating to children how the Little People can be treated with respect and dignity. Her spirit will live on in the memories of all those she touched in those last few valuable weeks of her life.