Even though I insist that I'm an entirely rational and evidence-based person, asking my pets what they want for their own lives has been helpful to me. I no longer question whether it is their voice or my own inner voice answering the question. I just listen, and through that I've found some peace of mind during times of great indecision.
I will say that the first person who suggested consulting my pet is actually a psychologist and a trained animal behaviorist. She knew my dog and she knew me and she was, in my mind, credible. I was weeping on the phone with her, trying to understand whether it was the right time. He was coughing so much, yet still wagging his tail and eating heartily. The cough was deep and penetrating, and while he had responded to acupuncture, the medications were no longer as effective. A friend had heard his cough and was deeply upset, even when I explained that we were working closely with our veterinarian to assess quality of life. My behaviorist suggested that I ask my dog if he was ready to go.
That night, I sat on the floor and put my head on his chair, where he sat like a king on a throne. He was vigorously panting from his steroids, and from being a pug of 14 years. I touched his belly and rubbed him in his favorite spot. I told him I was going to ask him a question and that I really needed him to answer it, because I didn't know what to do. I asked him "Are you ready to go? Do I need to let you go?" and what I "heard" was "Yes, I'm ready. It's okay. It's good."
As a therapist, I run my reactions through a myriad of possibilities. Fantasy? Reality? Wishful thinking? Spiritual experience? Animal human communication? Ultimately all that matters is what it feels like to listen and to be present with my pet. That is real, that moment. We are connected in some deep and important way during this time of dying. Bringing together the combined wisdom of my pet, friends, family and professionals, my dog was euthanized peacefully at home in his favorite chair. It is one of the most peaceful deaths I have ever experienced.
As with all illness, perfect answers and absolute clarity are a rare gift. Losing a loved one is often fraught with worry and guilt and anxiety. A quiet conversation with our pet can be a respite from some of that. I suspect that not all talks with pets are revelatory, but the conversation itself is worth having if it brings us closer to our pet in that moment.