Monday, October 31, 2011

Coping with the Loss of an Animal

31 October 2011
Guest: Armi Santiago

By Khrysta Imperial Rara

It’s a day away from All Saint’s Day and a couple of days from All Souls’ Day.  It’s that time of the year when most people, in the Philippines at least, are either already visiting the graves of their relatives who have passed away or are still busy cleaning up their memorial plots. Thousands are also  taking advantage of the four-day weekend to go on holiday with friends and family.

I just hope that amid all this, we give at least a minute to think about our beloved companion animals who have already left this earthly plane and are now waiting for us at the Rainbow Bridge.

Last Thursday (Oct. 27), I invited Prof. Armi Santiago of the UP Film Institute to the show to talk about coping with the loss of an animal. I’ve known Armi for a long time and she really loves animals. The fact that her most of her dogs died of old age will attest to this.


We talked about Rainbow Bridge, which according to many websites, is a beautiful meadow where animals, especially companion animals, go when they die. It’s supposed to be doggie or kitty heaven. There is so much food, water, clean air, and love there.  Animals who were sick or old when they passed are restored to health. They just play and frolic around until it's time for their humans cross over and they go to meet them. Together they then enter the gates of Heaven.

I must admit that it’s a wonderful concept because it’s a comforting thought. All of us want reassurance that our animals will be safe and happy when they leave this material existence.

Yesterday, I had a long discussion with a psychic friend, Leng Velasco. She told me about a dream she had a few years ago. In her dream, she wanted to know where her deceased animals had gone so she was led to a beautiful meadow with bright skies, lots of sun, lots of trees and fresh air, lots of food and fresh water. She saw all her animal friends who had passed and they were happy and healthy. She stayed a while with them then she had to come back.

When I told her that was Rainbow Bridge, she answered: “What’s that? I don’t know that.”  She didn’t know about Rainbow Bridge but she saw it in a dream! I think she must have done some astral travelling to visit her animals. This is another validation of the existence of Rainbow Bridge. Leng is psychic and she can see and sense things that most people don’t know about.


Back to Armi Santiago at the DZUP studio.  Armi is very attached to her animals so she became teary-eyed several times during the program. Her voice cracked and I was afraid she would break down  while talking about her dogs DJ and Sparky. 

Armi comes from a family of animal lovers. Her father taught her how to care for animals and be responsible for them from a very young age. She doesn’t agree with the term “losing a pet” because she believes an animal is never ours to keep in the first place. “They are not lost to us. They return to their Maker who just lent them to us,” she avers.

Her father taught her the importance of giving animals a decent burial and burying all their toys, collars, dishes, etc with them. “It’s a sacrilege to let another animal use them,” she says.

Grieving is a process and for those who love animals, there is no difference between grieving for a beloved person or animal.  The grieving process usually goes through several phases, namely DENIAL, GUILT, ANGER, SADNESS, and DEPRESSION.

Though many humans or guardians go through difficult times when their animal passes, Armi says she has no problem expressing her grief and does not go through denial, guilt, anger nor depression.

Grieving is a personal experience. Just because a person doesn't cry doesn't mean he/she isn't grieving inside. There are many ways to grieve and cope. For some, letting go is not easy. Perhaps the best way is to find meaning in the whole thing, keep your mind busy with other things, write or keep a journal,  do a ritual or a memorial. You can do a ritual with candles and flowers or create scrapbooks or albums in memory of your animal friend. 

When my very first cat died, I sort to do candle-making to keep my mind busy because I just couldn't write. The whole thing was too painful to write down.


Armi's lucky. When my very first cat, D’Artagnan, died in 1997, I was devastated. I couldn’t do much work for six months. Every time I was at the computer, or alone in the house, or driving,  I would break down crying.  He was a very intelligent, special and psychic  cat and when a vet euthanized him without my permission,  it turned my world upside down. It  broke relations with my family but it also led me to my present advocacy. I remember I used to spend seven hours or more on the Internet researching similar cases. It was then that I discovered the concept of ANIMAL RIGHTS and WELFARE. I learned that the animal rights movement already had a huge following in the United States but hardly anyone knew about it here in the Philippines.

So the guilt and anger I felt for six months gave way to a determination to help the animals in whatever way I could. The guilt and anger disappeared when I realized that D’Artagnan played a special role in my life – he had come to my life when I was searching for meaning and purpose and he had sacrificed his life so I could find my path.


Armi described in detail how her dog Sparky died at the age of 18. She could not bring herself to wash Sparky’s beddings.  But when she decided to do it several weeks later, Sparky’s feline best friend, Sweety Pie, lay on the beddings, refused to leave and would not let Armi  get them.

Could it be that Sparky’s spirit was still using the bed so Sweety Pie would not let Armi take it away?

When a stray kitten was born in my garage 15 years ago, I allowed him and his mother to stay. I named him Moustache. Although his mother was all black, Moustache was black and white because he took after his father – a huge male of the same color who would hang out and check on them often. One day, when he was about 3 months old, Moustache kept on crying his heart out outside the kitchen door and whenever I would offer him food, he refused to eat.  Later that day, I saw the body of his father who had been hit by a speeding car. Moustache kept on with his plaintive cries but refused to eat for 3 days. I guess he was mourning the loss of his father.

Another one of my cats, Bonne Chance, refused to eat for 2 days after Bagheera, her dashing jet black mate, died from severe colds that vets were not able to cure. She also refused to let her 2 kittens suckle. We force-fed her on the third day and when she saw that her kittens were licking off the milk dripping from her mouth, she relented and let them suckle again.

So do animals grieve? Of course they do but their different personalities deal with sorrow in varied ways.


A listener texted to ask if animals reincarnate after die.  Armi replied by recounting her experience with her dogs, Sparky in particular. Armi has the habit of bringing each of her cats and dogs to the statue of the Virgin Mary in her residence in the UP campus. She says a prayer for each one while holding them close to the statue. Sparky, apparently, has the habit of smelling and licking the statue and pawing at it.

When a colleague of her husband gave him a puppy months after Sparky died, they accepted the gift and called him Toffee. One day, while Armi was holding Toffee up to the Virgin Mary, the pup suddenly smelled, licked and pawed at the statue just like Sparky used to do when she was still around. This made Armi wonder if Sparky had indeed come back as Toffee. But she decided that Sparky was Sparky and Toffee was Toffee and Toffee was merely Sparky’s gift to them.

Personally, I have had similar experiences. Some of my cats have come back and I never had a doubt about who they were in their previous lifetimes. The signs were all over the place.

But that’s the subject of our radio program this Thursday, November 3. We'll be discussing the animal soul, the spiritual lives of animals and their role in our lives. Psychic and reiki healer Leng Velasco will share her insights and experiences with us. 

 For those who can’t listen in, I’ll be writing about it after the show.  A bientot!  

Thursday, October 20, 2011


EPISODE 31             MAY  12, 2011


Posted by Khrysta Imperial Rara


I cannot imagine a world without animals. Whether they’re companion dogs and cats, or inhabitants of the seas and forests, the presence of animals adds a touch of magic to an otherwise humdrum world. We live in a highly competitive and stressful world where work seems to be the main preoccupation for most people. But seeing a black and yellow butterfly flutter around the garden or a pied fantail tease a dog into play makes me pause from whatever I’m doing and watch in utter fascination.  A few seconds of enchantment make me forget the hassles of work and allow the mind to start afresh.
Anna Maria Gonzales, architect and urban developing expert, explained that animals have existed for millions of years while man as homo sapiens has inhabited the Earth for only 200,000 years. So it is man who has encroached into the land of the animals, if we are to view evolution from that perspective. Then he built farms and cities, subdivisions and resorts. In doing so, he appropriated lands otherwise occupied by the animals, called himself “civilized” and called them “wild”.
So now we have “urban wildlife”, a term I consider to be an oxymoron. They are the frogs, geckos, lizards, birds, snakes, and other “untamed” animals that have made their homes in the urban setting. Why did they choose to live in our subdivisions or villages? Well, as Anna explained, they were already there before our subdivisions, villages and cities were built. Perhaps “displaced populations” is a more apt term. They, too, have a survival instinct so they go – or stay – where there is food, water, shelter and a place to breed – or privacy.  So many of these urban wildlife species make their homes in places where they can be hidden from man’s view, places where there is thick vegetation and abandoned structures, like parks, cemeteries, empty structures, abandoned cars, tall trees, rusty, neglected pipes, etc…  
“Humans are king” and “Technology will take care of everything” seem to be the motto of urban development from the day man first built settlements until now, Anna says.  Forest trees are razed to the ground to make way for subdivisions where houses are equipped with air conditioning units to make up for the cool air that seems to have disappeared with the trees. We live in comfort while we destroy the environment.

Many of these urban wildlife species are beneficial to man and environment.  Malotz recalled the bats that roosted in her mom’s place. While they are often hunted for their meat,  Anna pointed out that bats are an indicator species  - their presence indicates a healthy environment while their absence from a place where they should normally roost indicates an unhealthy environment. Plus everyone knows that fruit bats play a key role in an ecosystem – that of propagating the seeds of fruit trees.             

 As such, they are no longer just indicator species. They become keystone species.

Though we may not be aware of it, the animals in our midst have a vital role to fulfill in our “urban ecosystem”. Frogs eradicate mosquitoes and other insects, birds are both predator and prey and are also an indicator species. Animals, as Anna said, give us a sense of connectedness with the rest of life. They can help restore our lost connection to the natural world. They are also proof of a higher consciousness at work. And, as I said earlier, animals  enthrall us and make us laugh with their antics and unusual ways.


So what do we do with the wild animals in our midst? Compromise would be best, I guess. Be compassionate and know that this planet is not ours alone. We share the Earth with a myriad other species. We can build more cities but let’s take them into consideration too.

 Wildlife corridors or animal travel corridors can help the animals cross under a road and meet up with friends and family on the other side of a busy street, for instance.  And perhaps a little “planned neglect” can help too – why not allow shrubs and some weeds to grow in our empty lots so grass birds and other species can feed and make their home there. It won’t hurt you if the land is not occupied or being used anyway.