How to honor a beloved animal that has passed

When my dog (and animal Reiki teacher, and best canine companion) Dakota died a few years ago, I was absolutely devastated. He was old, and of course I knew he couldn’t live forever, but still, I didn’t want to face the inevitable. And when he finally passed, my world fell apart, and my heart broke into a million pieces. It was months (and maybe even years) before I started to find my way back and life began to feel “OK” again.

During those dark times, I wanted to find a way to cope but didn’t know how. I wanted to honor his memory but nothing felt right. Slowly, as days unfolded into weeks, I began to find solace in a few small things. And looking back now from a place of strength, I see that these three little steps, which seemed so inconsequential at the time, actually helped me on my journey toward peace and acceptance. Here’s what worked for me:

1. Create a lasting memory: One of the first things I did was go through all the hundreds of photos I’d taken of Dakota throughout his life, from his rescue from animal control as a puppy all the way up through my toddler daughter petting and hugging him. But most of these photos had ended up in a box gathering dust. Then I realized: I could use these photos and create a lasting memory of his life and share his amazing self with the world by making a tribute video thanking him for all the love and joy he brought me for so many years. After many hours and help from a video production company, I have this beautiful video that still brings me to tears when I watch it. I have to thank Natalie Merchant’s record label for allowing me the rights to use her song “Kind and Generous” as the background music. The lyrics perfectly fit my Dakota.

2. Make a dedication: I have always turned to meditation for help during difficult times, but after Dakota died, I felt lost and found I literally couldn’t meditate; he had always been by my side and now all I felt was emptiness. But then my Reiki teacher told me of the Buddhist monks who dedicate their meditations to their teacher after he passes. Something clicked within me and I thought, “I can do that, too!” And so I began to dedicate my meditations to Dakota and his memory, and I was able to meditate again. It doesn’t have to be a meditation; you can dedicate anything that is meaningful to you to your animal’s memory.

3. Statuary: There is something so peaceful and beautiful about statuary. After Dakota’s death, I found a statue of St. Francis petting a wolf, and it looked so much like Dakota. I placed it in my yard with a rock engraved with “Pups,” which was his nickname. And now, several years later, every time I look at it I think of Dakota. And when flowers grow around it, it looks so beautiful. My sister Charlotte tells me she also uses a beautiful Persian cat statue in her yard to honor her feline soul mate Sterling, who passed after several years fighting Polycystic Kidney Disease. It is a daily reminder of his beautiful life and a special place she can adorn with flowers in his honor.

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Sterling

As a side note, I want to mention there are a multitude of resources for pet owners coping with the loss of their animal. It’s important to remember you are not alone, and there are others going through the same thing as you. Petloss.com, the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement and the ASPCA all offer a multitude of resources.

I would love to hear: What ways have you honored your beloved animals after their passing?

Happy Heart Day from Kathleen and Charlotte, the “sister team” at It’s a Heartful Life 

From Kathleen …

Happy Valentine’s Day to all my readers: students, Reiki friends and animal-loving supporters. Thank you for being a part of our Heartful Life community. Today is a day where we celebrate love in all its many forms, and today I want to celebrate a very special person in my life whom I love, and who also makes this blog so beautiful: a talented writer, mommy to a toddler and a Persian: my best friend, my number-one cheerleader, my beautiful sister, Charlotte.

Our sister history as Kathleen remembers it …

I have two amazing sisters and I am the oldest! I was only 4 years old when Charlotte was born. I still remember my parents bringing her home on Halloween. It almost seemed like she was just part of my mom’s costume! 🙂 But no, she was there to stay. Over the years we have seen each other through thick and thin. We have laughed and cried together, and laughed till we cried together. We used to fight, too, when we were small. I’m not sure she will ever forgive me for ripping her Ghostbusters nightgown once in an early morning scuffle. 🙂 But as we grew, our age differences faded and we became close friends! It seems we never run out of things to talk about, and we share a deep love for animals and nature. Happy Valentine’s Day to my dear sister! My deepest gratitude for all your support over the years!

From Charlotte …

Happy Valentine’s Day to you all! And very special Valentine’s Day wishes to my big sis Kathleen. I am thrilled to be working with her on the Heartful Life blog, a project we literally talked about launching for years. In my “former life” working in the corporate world, I spent more than a decade talking to successful entrepreneurs, sharing their stories and curating topics to inspire business owners nationwide. And then my sister became one: She dove headfirst into entrepreneurship. I’m so happy our sister bond and love of animals (OK, and technology!) now allow us to work together across the miles and time zones.

Our sister history as Charlotte remembers it …

As the middle child, I am so lucky to have two wonderful sisters! Of course my big sis Kathleen has been there for me since our mom brought me home from the hospital on Halloween (even before my earliest memories!). We played so much together that by age 3, I remember missing her so much when she went to school each day. We fought sometimes but had a lot of fun, too. And then when she went off to college when I was 14, here I was missing her all over again, just like when I was little! As we got older, we’ve been able to travel together to Vegas, Miami, Seattle and even Hawaii. (We hope Europe is next one of these days!) The visits are fewer now that I’ve left California, but we’re always looking forward to our next time together. So here is a virtual Valentine’s hug to Kathleen, who was with me the day I adopted a special kitty named Sterling, who has great shopping karma (since I always find something amazing when she’s with me), who’s a great listener and supporter for me always, and who makes the best chocolate-chip cookies (just like our grandma’s). Xoxo!

Reiki shared … 

Several years ago, Charlotte’s cat Sterling (RIP sweet boy) became very ill with polycystic kidney disease (PKD). To support his healing, Kathleen taught Charlotte Reiki, and Reiki became an important part of Sterling’s wellness program. Charlotte also learned firsthand about Kathleen’s work in helping people help their animals through meditation.

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Charlotte’s cat Sterling

Why did we start blogging?

Charlotte worked for many years as a magazine journalist and has always shared her talents in support of Kathleen’s writing projects. Unfortunately, we live far apart—Kathleen in California and Charlotte in Indiana—but we talk on the phone almost every day. We are so excited to be finally working on a project together—one where we can combine our energy and enthusiasm in honor and love of animals. Plus, it’s another excuse to talk on the phone or Skype!

The future of this blog …

We want to share the love every day, not just on Valentine’s Day. If it’s good news and has to do with animals, we will find it! Stay tuned for more reasons why it’s a heartful life!

{Photos © Charlotte Jensen}

New food trend: faux fish

Dear friends, what are you up to this weekend? Tomorrow and Sunday I am excited to be teaching Reiki 2 at BrightHaven (though we will miss little Joey so, so much). Here are a few interesting and important links from around the web of things I’m grateful for today:

1. A vegetarian alternative to fish: Whether or not you’re a vegetarian, overfishing and mercury levels are real problems when it comes to consuming your favorite fish, whether it’s ahi, bluefin or even unagi. Now enterprising chefs and companies across the nation are experimenting with savory, visually appetizing alternatives to your favorite fish dishes. Vegan options and veggie-based foods like “tomato sushi” (which looks and supposedly tastes like the real thing) are starting to roll out. Though demand is still small, I love this idea and can’t wait to try some of these products. Read more here on the flourishing faux-fish trend.

Amazing vacations for animal lovers

I don’t know about you, but when winter sets in, along with colder, darker days, I like to think about planning a fun future trip. (Even if I don’t book anything, it’s fun to research!) So when I started looking into vacations for the animal lover, wow, I uncovered some of the most absolutely amazing experiences in all corners in the world. I’m grateful in my life to have the opportunity and ability to travel if and when I need to. With that in mind, here are five things I’m feeling gratitude for today …

1. Amazing (animal-friendly) vacations for animal lovers: One of these I’ve done: Best Friends Animal Society. (Totally recommended!) But that’s just a start … how about visiting the rescued farm animals of Catskill Animal Sanctuary while exploring their amazing vegan cooking classes and even staying on site? How about riding horses in Iceland! Or touring the Kangaroo Sanctuary at sunset in Australia, going “wolf howling” in Minnesota, sleeping with sloths at Costa Rica’s Sloth Sanctuary B&B, attending the Golden Retriever festival in Scotland, dining with giraffes in Kenya, sharing the beach with wild horses in Maryland, or visiting Japan’s famous bunny-covered island? And more! Links here, here and here.

2. The special bonds between shelter pets and adopted kids: This heartful essay by adoptee Lisa Bernier shares the science (and emotions) behind the deep connections shared by adopted and foster children with their adopted shelter pets. It’s just one more reason to consider adopting from a shelter and not a breeder or pet store.

3. My Friend: Changing the Journey: I can’t wait to watch this ground-breaking documentary from the CLEAR Foundation, a nonprofit focused on canine lymphoma education, prevention and treatment. The film was recently awarded Best Documentary Feature at the Los Angeles Movie Awards. Unfortunately, too many of us have been affected by our animal friends suffering from cancer.

4. This new PBS series looks interesting: Earth: A New Wild, premiering February 4. Hosted by a conservation scientist, each episode will look at how humankind and animals depend on one another and uncover ways in which we can all live in unity.

5. And for the sports fan: This Sunday is, of course, Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl XI! Featuring goat cheerleaders, a pregame show and a Kitty Halftime Show, this yearly tradition is not to be missed.

What are you grateful for this weekend?

Cat cafes rising in popularity

Hello, friends. I hope the new year is treating you well so far. Here are a few things I’m feeling gratitude for today …

1. Coffeehouses that help out with pet adoptions? Yes! Cat cafes are rising in popularity, with shops cropping up in cities like Oakland, Denver and Seattle. Patrons can grab a cup of jo and then schedule some playtime with shelter cats needing a good home.

2. Random reasons to celebrate, like: Today is Static Electricity Day! Static and cats just don’t mix. These great tips will help rid your cat’s fur of static electricity (and protect your cat from this):

3. Noel Fitzpatrick, rock star vet and star of the BBC series “The Supervet”: His work helping animals extends way beyond the amazing, cutting-edge techniques and “miracles” happening at his veterinary practice. Last year, he launched a nonprofit called Humanimal Trust, which builds stronger scientific and educational connections between vets and physicians for humans—a collaboration that ultimately will benefit our animals. In case you missed them, old “Supervet” episodes are available on Amazon.

4. Promising research that could help to diagnose fatal kidney disease in cats earlier. A test based on a newly developed biomarker could be available to pet owners someday soon, extending their kitties’ lives.

5. Yay! Eddie the Terrible has been adopted following this hilarious ad from the Humane Society of Silicon Valley, which highlighted all of his flaws. You gotta love the Humane Society for using creative ways to draw attention to their animals. (Whatever works!)

What are you thankful for today?

{P.S. My Reiki for Dogs Audio Course starts Monday! Click here for details and to sign up (scroll down to the second class listed).}

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