February 15, 2017

The first time I met her, I dropped to my knees. She bowed her head to me and I bowed my head to her. We touched heads and experienced a moment of mutual, spontaneous love.

This is Joy.

At the time, she was a 2 year old rescue dog. I offered to foster her until someone adopted her. Well, you know how that story goes … after she got dropped off at our house, she never left.


She embodies her name. In her younger years she used to jump amazing heights. When she wanted to come in from outside, you’d see her standing at the back door (made of glass): Boing! Boing! Boing! She jumped up to the top of the door, making me laugh.

young joy & gracie LOTUSWEI flower essences

When she was younger, she was a high energy girl. We used to run together – both of us are super determined and love to charge ahead. I remember the time I wore rollerblades and let her pull me around the neighborhood. She ran sooooo fast! The faster I caught up with her, the faster she ran. The only way I could stop us both was by hurling myself into the grass of some neighbor’s lawn.

At night we used to sneak into the small golf course a few blocks away and I’d let her run and run until she wore herself out. Over the years, two other rescue dogs came into our lives – they all played like crazy and Joy was the wise elder. For years, we’d bring all three dogs to the office every day and they’d play in the backyard.

joy and gracie LOTUSWEI flower essences

Our office is a small compound with four buildings – I would look out the window and see Joy perched up on a ledge on one of the buildings in sun, or lounging in a papasan chair. We’d all throw the ball for the dogs during breaks and laugh watching their acrobatic antics.

Besides being joyful and playful, Joy is also quite motherly. She’d jump up on my bed and lick me like a mother licks her puppies. Over the years, I’d always make time to lie down and take a nap with her. And at the office, it always seemed like she’d find a way to break up my routine if I was working too hard, not eating meals or some other silly, self-sacrificial behavior.

When she was about 15, Joy got tired of going to the office. She didn’t like the 10-minute car rides and decided she wanted to stay home and rest instead. Honestly, she probably got tired of staying at the office so late – I used to work really long hours.

super softie joy on the pillow LOTUSWEI flower essences

When she was 16, I brought her for a check up with a vet who specializes in Chinese herbs and acupuncture. Something about the stress of the car ride and the visit – even though her check up was stellar – when we got home she had a mini stroke. Miraculously, the next day she was back to her normal self, but the experience was scary.

As a result, I set out to find a vet who would do home visits. You know those people who come into your lives at specific moments and appear as a tremendous blessing? Dr. Peggy LaCombe is one of them. She specializes in veterinary care with Chinese Medicine and does home visits.

Joy curled up LOTUSWEI flower essences

I had her look at what seemed like an infection in Joy’s teeth and it turned out that it was a symptom of something else: a condition where her body wasn’t making enough platelets in the blood. Her pulses were weak and she had just fallen, trying to jump up on a bed, causing internal bleeding.

Internal bleeding is serious. It’s a decision point, because you only have a few days before death occurs.

Typically what you’d do in the Western veterinary system is rush them to the vet, where they get put on IV’s, antibiotics and a slew of other tests and medications. It seemed pretty crazy, especially knowing what happened the last time I brought her in. I didn’t feel good about it; in fact, I felt sure that she would die there in a very short time.

joy carebear LOTUSWEI flower essences

Instead, I started giving Joy a dropper of Shepherd’s Purse tincture every hour or two to stop the internal bleeding. Shepherd’s Purse is a miracle herb that grows like a weed here in Arizona. It has tiny, heart-shaped leaves and its main superpower is to stop bleeding: internal bleeding, nosebleeds, postpartum, miscarriage – any kind of excessive bleeding.

Dr. Peggy had read some recent research about a Chinese Medicine formula known to stimulate the body to make platelets – and had another list of herbs that boost blood and chi. She promised to come back to the follow up appointment with herbs.

Joy sharing bed with Gracie LOTUSWEI flower essences

During that time, even though I was proactive, Joy was weak from all the blood loss and it was uncertain whether she would make it. I went through a profound time of grief. I reflected on the vast, unconditional love and loyalty of this soft and joyful being. Imagining life without her left me with a chasm of emptiness inside.

I was then hit with the sharp reality of impermanence – that at some point in my life I would lose every one of my loved ones. It’s times like these that we face the scariest, and most inspiring forces for love – this uncertainty and lack of control over when we lose the ones we love. And the fact that it is inevitable.

joy and katie 1

At one point, I was sure Joy was leaving … I’d called friends who’d known her so they could say their last goodbyes, and one weekend morning, her passing seemed so imminent that we all sat around her in a circle, ready to send her off.

And then, someone made a sound in the kitchen, and instead of flying off and out of her body, she opened her eyes, got up and wandered into the kitchen. Food is love.

joy kitchen attitude LOTUSWEI flower essences

Dr. Peggy had recommended I change Joy’s diet to foods specifically known for nourishing the blood, chi and kidneys: rotating cooked dark, leafy greens (kale, spinach, chard, collard greens) combined with black, red or adzuki beans and protein: I alternate between sardines, beef and black chicken.

In Chinese Medicine, black chickens are known for being a profound blood and chi tonic – used postpartum, during heavy menses, injury, etc. I buy them from the Chinese market and cook them whole, giving the dogs the meat and the broth. Then I chop the bones open and make a delicious bone broth with carrots, celery, beets and a little apple cider vinegar to pull the minerals from the bones. Twelve hours of simmering later, it is a mineral-rich, miracle broth.

Another critical blood boost that Dr. Peggy recommended was beef heart. I found frozen organic beef heart at Whole Foods, which began the strange ritual of defrosting small pieces of heart each night, thanking the cow with all of my heart and searing them for Joy. This treat is so nourishing to her body, it has become one of her favorite moments of the day. It’s a little overwhelming and poignant that a beautiful animal gave its precious life to keep my animal going; I am beyond grateful.

joy noseshot LOTUSWEI flower essences

Dr. Peggy recommended Chinese Medicine tinctures like Glennia Rehmannia {<this miracle worker stimulates creation of platelets} and Four Marvels, with herbal powders like Wei Qi Booster and a little Gui Pi Tang (kinda crazy, because that’s the remedy I’m often prescribed when I’m overworking). I added Essiac tea, a gentle cleansing and anti-tumor tea, in case cancer was the underlying cause of the low platelets. I topped it off with a flower elixir I’d collected from Iceland to stimulate the body’s natural ability to self-heal, along with some blessing pills a Tibetan lama had given me.

After implementing all of these changes, along with regular doses of Shepherd’s Purse, in a very short amount of time the internal bleeding stopped and her energy increased. Amazingly, Joy went back pretty much to her normal self, hopping around, playing with the other dogs and joyfully squeaking her toys like mad every night when I came home.

Joy with toy at mulberry LOTUSWEI flower essences

Over four months passed.

Then I left for Asia for six weeks. I wasn’t sure if she’d still be around when I got back. My roommates took incredible care of her, and she was like a bright, shining star when I arrived home from Asia.

Now it’s been a month since I got back, and her teeth are looking like they did six months ago when this whole thing first started. Her gums started to bleed a few days ago, and I discovered that she is once again bleeding internally, so now we’re back to the miracle plant that grows everywhere here in Arizona like a weed, with it’s beautiful heart-shaped leaves: Shepherd’s Purse.

This one plant – that everyone in my family pays tribute to when we see it growing in some wild and weedy patch of the city – is saving Joy’s life for the second time now.

shepards purse LOTUSWEI flower essencesshepard's purse LOTUSWEI flower essencesjoy demure LOTUSWEI flower essences

At her age now, it may be more imminent that she decides to leave her body soon. Recently, she’s having a hard time getting up and walking. Her hind legs are weak, stiff and wobbly.

The fact that I already grieved so deeply in August, and then got a second chance to spend more time with her over the last six months, has helped me feel a bit lighter. Regardless, the impending death of a loved and cherished friend is a big deal, no matter human or animal.

joy soulful LOTUSWEI flower essences

Joy and I have been in each others lives for over 12 years. I’ve cared for her and she has cared for me. She’s very soft and motherly – one of my friends calls her “mom dog”. She’s always looking after and keeping tabs on me. If I work too much, she forces me to take a break. There is a constant telepathic communication going on with her. My roommates say that when I’ve been traveling, the time when my airplane is scheduled to land, she pops up and runs to the door, waiting for me – she can feel my presence miles away. Truly unbelievable.

So here we are. One day at a time. And so many times in one day, we meet and bow our heads to each other, just like when we first met. There is a deep, mutual honoring of each other, of each others presence. She is pure love and brings joy to so many people.

joy and katie LOTUSWEI flower essences

I decided to share this personal story, because I believe there so many different options when our loved ones get sick. In some cases, even critical ones, we can lean into our own inner strength, without letting ourselves get sideswiped by fear. We can research all the possibilities, weigh the chances and make a decision out of calm and clarity.

In my case I relied on plant and food remedies and got surprisingly amazing results. I took her life into my own hands, tried the herbal remedy that I knew best, and followed the loving advice of a TCM {Traditional Chinese Medicine}-trained veterinarian. It was a risk I took, to not only make sure that her transition would be smooth, lovely, at home and surrounded by loved ones, but that it would leave the door open for her own body to heal itself, with the support of the right nutrients and nourishing herbs. The result? It afforded us over six more months (so far!) of time with her loving spirit.

Joy on green LOTUSWEI flower essences

As I write, she is lying down next to me. She’s awake, looking around the room with her soulful, amber-brown eyes. She’s slowing down, as we all must do at some point in our lives.

At times I am overcome with sadness realizing that one day soon I will feel her absence, and an emptiness where she once was. Oftentimes, especially at night, I notice a strange and subtle grasping arise in my mind and body: “Have I missed something? Did I take enough pictures, videos? Have I captured her? Was I fully present? Am I present now?” It’s a bizarre, almost uncontrollable, low level panic that activates as the sands of time are running out.

joy smiling in her sleep LOTUSWEI flower essences

Other times I am filled with delight watching Joy hobble along and wag her tail happily. And so many times in one day now, I kneel down to kiss her head and breathe in her smell.

In all these moments I open myself fully to being present, vulnerable and compassionate.
There is no escape. Everything is constantly changing. Impermanence is real.

Every single moment we get with a loved one is precious.

joy outside LOTUSWEI flower essences



Love + flower petals,

katie hess flower alchemist