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In our home, hospice is messy. It's accidents in the house. It's vomit on the floor. It's washing bedding once or twice every day . . . sometimes because of blood, sometimes bile, sometimes poop.
Anything goes here.
This is the intermediate view of one of my latest hospice cleanups. This area, about two meters square, was full of poop. The consistency was somewhere between toothpaste and mouthwash with none of minty freshness.
Thankfully, I have maintained my sense of humor.
Hospice is hard. As someone who has provided hospice care for animal family members continually since 2005, I feel well qualified to make that statement. It may be easier in other families and every situation is different.
It's exhausting. It's alienating. People who have not experienced this kind of love cannot understand why I continue to do this every day rather than ask our doctor to come to the house and "put him down."
This is an extraordinary love. I accept and cherish every member of my family, regardless of capability or capacity. On days like this when that love comes with extra duty (or doody, because I can't resist), I do it. I do it in love, even if it turns my stomach or I'm late for an appointment.
This is the heart of hospice.
This dirty work is the rough side of the relationship. It's the side people don't see, and it's the most important side. How I behave during the best days is of no consequence. How I behave during these days, these long, filthy, discouraging, questioning everything days, is the heart of the relationship.
I'm not always falling-over-myself delighted to scrub floors or gently wash fur. Some days these are the last things I want to do. I do them because I love. I do them because I know that these limitations that I support are part of the package. The vulnerability and intimacy inherent in touching the things that come out of someone else's body are intense, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't ever feel overwhelmed by that intensity.
And the odor.
I've learned a some things about this dirty side of hospice.
1. I can do just about anything in the name of love. Hospice care surely feels inconvenient at times when other parts of my life need to slow down or stop to allow this level of care. Hospice care is also the greatest honor I have experienced in my lifetime.
2. Friends and family will not understand this commitment until they do it themselves with someone they deeply love. I'm okay with them not understanding because my first commitments are to the family within my home.
3. The rough days in hospice are the ones when I feel burdened and unappreciated. I sometimes wish for a speedier demise so I can get a break. That's normal, and it doesn't diminish my love. Those thoughts and feelings tell me I need to care for myself better and take a little break. Those under my care and others who support me understand and encourage that.
4. Each time one of our animal family members dies, I wish for one more opportunity to clean up. One more time to walk into a room and smell the indescribably sickly poo smell. One more time to lift stretchy gobs of mucousy, bilious vomit from a blanket with a paper towel. When I am in my best frame of mind, I cherish these messes because they mean that today we are together at home.
5. Fizzion gets out nearly any stain and odor on nearly any surface without much fuss. I don't know that our home could be without it.
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This week I tested a new backdrop at home. I had to have help to do that.
Rhys enjoys photography. Outside. While he's enjoying the elements.
For studio work he has a threshold, and he thoughtfully communicates when he's engaged, when he's tolerating it for my sake, and when he's had enough.
Here, he's tolerating it for my sake.
Rhys dislikes studio lighting. In this image, there is little of the easy charisma and warmth that we know and love in him, and that's probably because he didn't feel like himself. He was unsettled. His "eyebrows" are up and his ears are back.
You don't want a photograph that shows anxiety or any sort of unsettled feeling.
If your dog is like Rhys, you want to see something like the photograph below.
Here he is outside, picking up scents in the woods, tracking squirrels, and being himself. He's alert. His face is relaxed and his ears are forward.
When you choose a photographer, it's important to consider the style of photography, the style of the photographer, and how those interact with the style and personality of you and your companion. When they don't match, you'll see a lot of photographs that show distress.
Your photographer can be kind and nonthreatening and still elicit a stress reaction if personalities and styles don't match. Rhys and I love each other to pieces, and he modeled for me because I asked him to. Immediately after this yawn, I turned off the lights because he politely indicated he would like to do something else.
He is adorable, though, isn't he?
The photographs you receive of your animal family should look and feel like your animal family. These are the questions I like to ask when I'm shopping for a photographer. One of the most important ones on this list is about scheduling a time and place to meet everyone who will attend the session.
Reviewing the photographer's portfolio will help you decide if you are a good match. What does your gut tell you? Will her photographs fit right in with your decor at home or in your office? If you have your heart set on studio work, is that what she does best? Can you see your family in her photographs?
I've also found that photographers who work with animals have further specialties that follow their hearts. One person may be a wizard with cats. One may be an advocate for bully breeds and relates to them beautifully. One may have a heart for seniors and the patience to give them the time they need without rushing. One may be a former barrel racer and love to capture horses in motion. One may have invested 20+ years of her life in showing dogs and "gets" that culture.
And you might find one like me, who focuses on the imperfections we carry in our hearts and the fullness of relationships as they age and face adversity (and who "gets" giant dogs).
The ultimate decision, however, belongs to my non-human family. If Rhys is comfortable upon meeting (and the photographer is technically sound and within our budget), I'm good. Oddly enough, the cats in our family love everyone, so they aren't reliable barometers. When everyone feels good about the decision and you've confirmed the photographer's skill and style meet your needs, you can look forward to amazing portraits.
I'm Shannon, and I love and am loved by four Great Danes, four cats, and one horse (four Danes, one cat, and one horse are no longer walking this earth). Here I'll share stories of my adventures in grief photography for companion animals, my own grief journey, and thoughts on caregiving.