My Teacher, My Friend

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I could tell you about his life with us, about the first time his eyes met mines behind the shelter bars.

I could tell you how these 17 years shared with him were made of good memories and connections. Connections between a dog and  a family of human beings. And how his presence by our side during all these years let us think he was in his element.

God knows how strong was my love for him, and how I was aware of that moment that would eventually come and separate us.

That day arrived, it was a Friday in October in the year 2008.

I remember the week he died very well. We organized a workshop about intuitive communication with animals led by my friend Laila Del Monte. Every single night of his life, Archi has gone out for a walk around the field. But this time he didn’t come back. Alerted, we all started to look for him. We found him half an hour later, stuck in front of the hedge. We helped him back, thinking that he lost his mind for a moment and lost himself too.

The day after, he refused all food, even the best a dog could ever imagine, and he waited for us to be inattentive to leave again in the afternoon. We noticed him missing and started to look for him at about 4 pm, but at 6 we still hadn’t found him. He couldn’t be far away, he could hardly walk due to painful joints. Worried, I went to my friend Laila and asked for her help as well as for the help of the attendees of her workshop. But even with all the efforts and an active search of 25 people, Archi remained unfound.

Even if I used to be always in connection with Archi, at that very moment something happened and I deeply understood inside me that he disappeared on purpose to die alone.
 

Tired, at 11 pm, as I felt he was calling me, we tried a last chance to find him and looked for him where Laila told us to go. But nothing. No dog around.
 
The morning after, we started a 8, I was all by myself and I deeply said, from the bottom of my heart, to my old buddy dog that I accepted his choice, but I begged him not to go that way. 20 minutes later, Alain, my partner, found him in the woods. He was exhausted but alive. But it was obvious to everyone that he had chosen his place to die.

I couldn’t accept his choice to die outside, or else I would have to lie there and stay with him up to the end. We carried him back home, put him on a comfortable mattress. I put his head on my knees, I stroked him, I kissed him, I told him I loved him and I cried. But I promised him that I wouldn’t try to keep him and that I accepted his choice.

We lit a few candles, my friend Gabriella did some reiki on him.

Archi looked happy and peaceful among us, but was still ready to go.

During 5 days, candles burnt night and day next to his couch, we took good care of him, he accepted to water but no food.

We stayed with him, we surrounded him with love. Our four other dogs acted as if he already wasn’t there. They did respect his choice to go.

The next Friday, in the morning, Archi was breathing poorly, it was obvious that it was his last day with us.

I called Laila and asked her to help him to go, I kissed him, I told him how much I loved him and I left, thinking that would help him to go far from love bonds, as he requested. 20 minutes later, he fell asleep forever and peacefully, as my partner and my two daughters told me. He’s buried next to our house with a big heart made of little stones around his grave.
 
My daughter Roxane told me when I asked her if she wasn’t to sad, “Yes and no Mummy, this is strange, I am sad and at the same time I am not, because I can feel he’s happy.” I replied I felt just the same.

Of course, Archi was accompanied to death in such a way that maybe some people will think this is too much for a dog, but I learned so much from these minutes I shared with him, these minutes given like a gift to say goodbye, these magical minutes who put us back to the reality that we have to learn to accept the unacceptable, and that our last love gift might be to let the one we love go. It is important for them and for us to do it.
 
But the most important thing Archi taught me is that dogs are able to decide the day they want to go, as some people would love to decide for themselves.

So the remaining question is for me this one: do dogs, or at least some of them, have consciousness of their own death?

Can we reasonably talk about “intentional” death for some of them, who decided to go before their time has come by refusing to eat because their friend is not there anymore? This is what we call to die of grief.

But all I am sure about is that, beyond body language and verbal communication, a heart communication exists and leads us, beyond what we can imagine, to animal wisdom.

All the behavior Archi my old buddy dog taught me, up to his last breath, is that we still have everything to discover about animals’ abilities and we will probably never reach their reality because it would be far too unsettling for most for us.

Thank you Archi, you remained my mentor up to the end.

Catherine Collignon
Dog Trainer and Behavior Counselor
President of the MFEC