The death of pet can hurt as much as the loss of a relative

The Washington Post published an article in 2012 which will resonate with any person who has lost a special pet.

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It’s been four months, and yet if somebody asks me about that day, my voice will crack. By “that day,” I mean the day I came home from work to find my Doberman, Red, splayed out on my bedroom floor, his head to one side, his body lifeless but still warm. It’s an image I can’t seem to shake, as much as I try.

I’m no stranger to death. I was a mess of anger and confusion when my father, suffering the aftermath of a stroke, took his last gasps one day in 1995, his children gathered around his hospital bed. And three years later, the death of my sweet, beloved sister Bonny after a withering battle with brain cancer was nothing short of heartbreaking. Yet somehow, and much to my distress, the death of my dog seems even harder. I haven’t felt grief quite like this since, well, the death of my previous dog five years ago.

How could the death of a canine possibly hurt as much as that of a family member? As the sadness lingers, part of my grieving process has been to try to understand the differences.

Researchers have long known that the animal-human bond is strong: A 1988 study in the Journal of Mental Health Counseling asked a group of dog owners to place symbols for their family members and pets in a circle representing each dog owner’s life. (The distance between the subject and the other symbols corresponds to the relative, real-life closeness of those relationships.) The subjects tended to put the dog closer than the average family member, and about as close as the closest family member; in 38 percent of the cases, the dog was closest of all.

Research comparing grief over the death of pets to that over the death of friends and family members has come up with different answers. A 2002 article in the journal Society & Animals that reviewed multiple studies found that the death of a companion animal can be “just as devastating as the loss of a human significant other,” not quite as severe, “far more intense” or, well, just about the same.

Sandra Barker, the director of the Center for Human-Animal Interaction at Virginia Commonwealth University, who co-authored the 1988 diagram study, counsels grieving pet owners and teaches veterinary students the importance of understanding the process. Studies aside, her own experience has taught her that the intensity and longevity of the grief vary widely. Like me, her clients sometimes begin the process with a sense of surprise and even shame that they’re grieving more for their pet than for a sibling or parent.
“But when they realize that the difference is the pet gave them constant companionship, and there was total dependency, then they start to realize that’s why they’re grieving so intensely,” she said.

Rearranging my life
It’s true that I spent so much time taking care of Red, and Gromit before him, that when each one died it didn’t merely leave a hole in my single-person household; it was as if someone had rearranged my life, excising without my permission many of the rituals that had governed it.

Over the course of 13 years, for instance, the same thing would happen with Gromit every morning. I would sit on my bed to put on my shoes, and he would drape himself across my lap. I would scratch his butt and he would reward me with a big sloppy kiss. Recently, I did the math: Accounting for the times I was traveling without him, this interaction happened more than 4,000 times.

So it makes sense that when he died, it was months before I could touch my shoelaces without expecting to also touch him. And I had no idea what to do with my mornings without my pooch to require that small gesture of me.

About nine months after Gromit died, once I knew I didn’t want to replace him but just wanted to consider getting another dog, I signed up as an occasional foster parent at a no-kill shelter in Dupont Circle. My first assignment, Red, was a living, breathing refutation of the portrayal of Dobermans as vicious guard dogs in such movies as “Hugo” and the animated classic “Up.” The first time he ambled over to me when I was sitting on the couch in my apartment and lay his head across my lap so I could stroke his snout, I knew I’d adopt him.

And for the two months I lived in that apartment after he died, the couch never seemed so empty, nor the place so quiet.

Keeping it simple
My relationships with Red, Gromit and Consuela (the cat who has survived them both) have been, for lack of a better word, simple. Or at least simpler than that with my sister — but especially simpler than that with my father, with whom I had constant conflicts over religion and sexuality, and whose love and support seemed to always have strings attached.
Barker echoes the idea that the unconditional, nonjudgmental love offered up by animals — “they’re just happy you’re there” — can make it especially hard to lose them. Were these losses more difficult because I was living alone? Some studies suggest that just as pets can ease loneliness, especially among single people, it can be harder for us when they’re gone.

And then there is the suddenness factor. Former president Bill Clinton told Newsweek in 2002 that the death of his dog, Buddy, who was hit by a car, was “by far the worst thing” that Clinton had experienced after leaving the White House. Barker says that not having time to prepare for the pet’s death “usually makes it more intense” and that something like an accident can add a layer of traumatic stress, especially if the owner witnesses it.

She might as well have been talking about me. Gromit’s battle with cancer at age 13 was short, but at least I spent the last few weeks of his life preparing for it. I held him when the vet put him down, and it was horrible, but I knew he was as comfortable as possible — and that having me there was part of his comfort.

At age 7, Red had been otherwise healthy when he started wheezing one day last October. The vet thought he had allergies and advised me to return if he didn’t get better within a couple of weeks. Two weeks later, a chest X-ray showed a mild pneumonia, and the vet sent Red and me home with antibiotics that she hoped Red would respond to within a few days. I gave him a dose at about 1 p.m. and went to work; when I returned that evening, he was dead.

‘I’m sorry’
It’s too painful to describe the extent of my immediate reaction, or really the reactions that unfolded over the following days, weeks and even months. But I will say that when Gromit was dying, I kept repeating the words, “Thank you.” In Red’s case, too late for him to hear, I kept repeating, “I’m sorry.”

The fact that our pets are so dependent on us makes it all too easy to second-guess our decisions and descend into a pit of guilt. Shouldn’t I have known? Did I do everything I could? If I had just . . . what? Taken him to the vet sooner? Insisted he be hospitalized? What if I had been home? I might not have been able to save him, but at least in his last moments he would have known I was with him, and maybe that would have made it a little easier for him if not for me.

In “The Year of Magical Thinking,” Joan Didion refers to grief as passive and mourning as active. Sure enough, when I talked to Kathy Reiter, who leads monthly pet-loss support groups in Alexandria and Fairfax County, she eventually (in true therapist style) turned the conversation to my experience, asking what I’d done — actively — to help myself with this process. It occurred to me that I needed to sit around and cry a little less and to grieve, publicly, a little more.

That’s easier said than done. A few weeks after Red died, some friends from the dog park suggested we have a get-together in his memory. I was grateful for the suggestion, but as I came in and exchanged hugs, I felt a bit sheepish when I pulled out the box of Red’s ashes and a recent photo and set them up on the table. Maybe it was my imagination, but I got the feeling that even friends who had gathered for just this purpose would rather say just a quick “I’m sorry; how are you doing?” than truly acknowledge the elephant — or the Doberman — in the room. It wasn’t until a couple of hours and several drinks later that we finally told a few stories about him.
More than just a dog
Thankfully, many of my closest friends, family members and co-workers have been wonderfully sympathetic, and for that I’m grateful. Others have seemed reluctant to talk about my grief, and I suspect that it’s because they’re trying to stay in denial about the prospect of losing their own animal or trying not to remember the death of a previous one. My least-favorite reaction comes from those who are aiming to be supportive but regularly ask me when I’m going to adopt another dog, a reaction that seems tantamount to saying, “Get over it already. He was just a dog. Isn’t one as good as another?”

That can lead to what psychologists refer to as disenfranchised grief.

“Simply stated, many people (including pet owners) feel that grief over the death of a pet is not worthy of as much acknowledgment as the death of a person,” researchers wrote in a 2003 article in the journal Professional Psychology: Research and Practice. “Unfortunately, this tends to inhibit people from grieving fully when a pet dies.”

Two months after Red died, I’ve had a change of scenery, moving to my sister Rebekah’s home in southern Maine to work on book projects for a year. Here, my sister and brother-in-law’s gregarious chocolate Lab, Maya, helps keep me company and reminds me that eventually, probably sometime next year, I’ll be ready to adopt again. Meanwhile, Red’s ashes sit in a beautiful carved wooden box on a shelf in my bedroom, right in front of a beautiful drawing that a colleague’s son made for me after Red died. Those artifacts have helped, but I’ve needed something more.

My sources for this article noticed the answer before I did: I’m a writer, and I need to process my grief by writing, so that’s what I’m doing. Reiter admitted that her own work helping others who have lost animals was partly as a tribute to her cat, Prince, who died at the ripe old age of 23, but also as a way to validate and work through her own grief. By writing about Red, she said, “you are doing what I did: It’s self-serving, but it’s a tribute, and it’s a catharsis for you. You want to capture the memories, so you don’t forget.”
There’s one more task ahead of me. Five years ago I buried Gromit’s ashes in the woods outside Rebekah’s house, along with his collar, a note, a photo of us together and one of his favorite things: a bagel. The headstone says, “Thank you.” Red’s box, meanwhile, went up on the shelf when I got here in January, partly because the ground was frozen solid.

The days are getting longer, though. The ground has thawed. I’ve been looking at headstones and, more important, composing the words that will go on Red’s.

Yonan, the Post’s Food and Travel editor, is on book leave. Follow him on Twitter @joeyonan.

 

20 Responses to “The death of pet can hurt as much as the loss of a relative”

  1. Laura Hess says:

    I had to put my beloved dog, Kyra, down two days ago. She was 11 and was my stalwart companion. 5 years ago, my husband committed suicide. I was feeling guilty that the pain is as intense as losing him. Thank you for writing this. It helps me a lot.

  2. Juan says:

    Just yesterday I had to put my chocolate lab Tyson to sleep. I have been trying to understand why I feel so guilty. The Vet said it was most likely cancer of the spleen that was leaking blood into his abdomen causing it to distend. He took xrays of the abdomen and even took a sample of the fluid out with a syringe. It was light red in color but otherwise clear. He said it seems to be blood plasma mixed with some red blood cells. If it was cancer the prognosis would be very bad as they tend to be highly metastatic. I had already spent over $6000 on him for two surgeries to repair torn anterior cruciate ligaments. He was able to walk again thankfully for the last two years of his life. I could not spend another $2000 just to find out if his condition was survivable and at 9 years old I felt he was nearing the end of his natural life. With a very heavy heart I decided to have the dog euthanized. I was holding his head in my arms, petting him and kissing him while the vet injected the solution to stop his heart into a vein. Now I doubt my decision. I wonder if I should have spent the money anyway. I think his chances of survival were slim but if he had survived this episode it would not be long before another medical emergency. In the interim between the major surgery for his back legs and this event I had brought him to the vet at least 6 more times. Annual checkups, heart worm medications, ear infections, one time he even swallowed a rope causing blockage in his stomach. Eventually it came out but I had to take him in for X-Rays of his stomach and intestines to make sure it was clear. All told these visits costs me thousands of dollars. And that was just in these last two years. I had owned him for 8 years and during that time I had taken him many times to my old vet for routine checkups and medications. I did all this for him because he was my constant companion. He slept on the floor by my bedside his entire life with me. Everywhere I went he followed even to the restroom. The whole day yesterday after I came home from the vets office I could not think straight. I even thought I heard his bark later in the day. I was half expecting him to be underneath the table in my home office where I work. I found it hard to sleep during the night. I woke up several times at 3 am, 4 am and 5 am. Each time I half expected he would be there on the floor next to my bed so I started my motion to get out with care not to step on him. Losing a dog like this is such a painful experience that I am not sure I am ever going to adopt again. I am dog lover and have been one all my life. Growing up I always had dogs as pets. Fortunately, my father shielded me from the unpleasantness when each died. When you lose a dog it is not just losing a pet. It is like a piece of your soul is taken from you with the passing of the dog. I still have one more dog with me. His name is Clyde and he is a lab mix that I adopted from an animal shelter over 10 years ago. He is getting up there in age and while he has other problems like hip displaysia thankfully no sign of cancer yet. Still I know his turn will be coming up soon. I think after Clyde is gone that will be the end of pet ownership for me.

    • Your email breaks my heart. Do not feel guilty. My dog also died of the same thing. Exactly. There is no way you could have known. It is called “the silent killer in dogs” – hemangiosarcoma. Even veterinarians have had their dogs die of this. Do not feel guilty.

      Cherish your other dog….and, when that dreaded day comes, give yourself time to grieve and then decide what’s in store for you after that.

      And, just remember that, your other dog is grieving too. Clyde also misses Tyson and might be exhibiting some unusual behavior because he thinks Tyson is “lost”. He may urinate at doorways in order to “scent” Tyson back. He will eventually understand that Tyson is gone, but you can help him too in the meantime.

      We are very sorry for your loss, Juan. We do have some sources for pet loss and bereavement if you need to speak with someone. It’s here on our website: http://www.animalhealthfoundation.net/how-we-help/pet-loss-bereavement.html

      Healing thoughts from us, Juan.

    • Juan, I am so sorry for your loss. I have lost 3 dogs to hemangiosarcoma, 3 shepherds from the same kennel over 30 years, because they had such great temperaments. The first I lost at 10 yrs, put him to sleep as soon as diagnosed by palpation. The next one at 8 yrs, I allowed him to live, but he only made it another 2 weeks. We kept him comfortable and close giving him lots of love. The last one, well she was the best and I asked for at least 12 yrs for her. As the 12th year got close, I started thinking about losing her and we made sure we did many more trips with her. She loved traveling. 5 days after her 12th birthday, she presented with bleeding tumor in spleen. We went with surgery, she did well and we even opted for chemotherapy. I wasn’t ready to let her go, I was frantic and we had her for another 20 weeks. And I would never put another dog through that!!
      I also feel this was my last dog, it’s only been 5 weeks, I’m so sad. The thought of not having another dog in my life also makes me sad, but I’m 72, can’t walk well and am afraid I would not be able to take proper care of another dog. I do still have 3 cats, but they are so different!
      I hope Clyde has many more years with you.

  3. Cheri says:

    My dog Buddy has been a patient of this clinic since or about May 11, 2015. He was first seen for a second opinion on his coughing and for his routine shots as my Vet had seen him for the cough but wanted to make sure it was nothing to be worried about, as he still was coughing he also had moved and relocated . At the time of his first visit with this vet he was given pepcid for his coughing and told me it was nothing more then like having acid reflex.

    During the course of his visits he was treated for routine shots, health exams yeast infections, ear infections and for his coughing as well as being seen for weakness in hid hind quarters which remedial was prescribed ,however after receiving his records there is no documentation of any coughing other then his first visit.. His records also does not indicate his coughing itching and panting more His last visit indicates Dr. Dagley felt his coughing was normal to him ! This clearly is negligent on proper medical record charting. His coughing was always one of my main concerns and was getting worse .
    As I explained to them during our phone conversation Nov. 6 2016 that this was something I addressed every time he came in for an appointment. I had brought him in Oct.2016 for a ear infection itchy skin and again for his coughing , as I felt it was more constant Was given medication for his ears and skin but never nothing for his coughing Again I brought him Back in Nov. As I had noticed a huge lump on his chest that he was more uncomfortable with his cough he was itching a lot and he seemed to be panting a lot. And could not understand how this lump was so over looked from the last visit as they checked his chest Their Dr. Dagley who was working from this clinic looked at his ears and skin was told his ears were fine the skin was just dry was not concerned about his cough . Was told the lump could easily be over looked and most likely just fat. Took a biopsy was told he only got blood so chances are it was cancer. He said that to do a surgical biopsy my buddy would not be a candidate for as he was old and most likely not make it through the process. I asked him what could I do to make him comfortable and his cough as it seemed to be wearing him out by not sleeping was told he appeared not to be in any pain and his cough was normal to him Dr. Dagley did not seem to care about the fact he had cancer nor his care or treatment. Told me I could bring him back if he gets worse. I asked if I should continue the remedial. Was told that a new vitamin would be helpful for his joints and may not need to take the remedial and would call me when it came in. Which apparently never came as I was never called nor was called to see how Buddy was doing? So it was apparent by the treatment or non treatment my Buddy was getting from this clinic I needed to find him another Vet that cared enough to treat him properly.
    I took Buddy to another Vet On Nov 23 2016 to see if there was anything that could make him more comfortable, and by the treatment he required clearly indicates by his medical records that you were grossly negligent by not providing proper treatment while being a patient of yours. He was given codeine for his coughing to make him more comfortable he was also given antibiotics and medication for his skin for itching it was not dry skin as Dr. Dagley indicated but a yeast infection. So apparently Dr. Dagley was incompetent and lacking medical knowledge in this field also. At this clinic he was given x-rays as well as blood work and a biopsy. He woke on Dec 1 in the morning not being able to stand and throwing up rushed him back to the vet Sadly my Buddy’s spleen ruptured and because he had other problems that were not treated properly and being diagnosed late he would not survive a surgery. My buddy could not be saved and I had to love him enough to have him put to sleep and crossed the rainbow bridge.
    This Business promotes that they provide early diagnosis and are equipped to do so
    Their lack of actions were negligent and did not conform to the professional standard of care that my dog deserved and resulted in a delay in his treatment as well as unnecessary suffering and the loss of chance to survive
    I followed their advice believing Buddy’s cough was nothing to worry about and was never told about the lump so sought no further medical treatment
    They should of recognized symptoms requiring further testing and treatment. They failed to do so. Their failure resulted in unnecessary suffering and death. As A direct and proximate cause of their actions or non actions my Companion Buddy suffered .I cannot put a price on the value of my Buddy he was priceless and could never be replaced he was apart of my family and my heart
    They stated it does not matter at this point about the loss of my dog he can not come back and they cannot change the outcome. They told me that blame is part of the grieving process.
    It is true that nothing can bring him back but it is my prayer that his story will encourage them to do a better job of necessary charting and treatment and it will provide a better outcome for others in his case.

    Voice for Buddy Jay

  4. Tiffani says:

    Thank you to this person for pouring their heart out. Today was yet another day where the loss came rushing over me, catching me off-guard once again. It’s only been 2 months since I lost my little Valentine, but I think about her every day. I still don’t feel like a lot of people understand, and my stiff upper lip only lasts so long. So, for those of you out there fighting this grief, I am with you. Just breathe through it.

  5. Barbara Goldfuss says:

    I just recently list my little beloved Quaker parrot girl named Ollie,on March 22.She passed away at my vets nary hosp.She got a horrid disease that came out when she reached maturity, in June of 16.She had horrid seizures,along with intestinal issues.She would go into ,what I call supers with her little beak and head down.Even through all of this she would try to give me little kisses.I had to take her numerous times to my vet,to be tube fed when she would stop eating.Her last and final trip was March 21.She started to have grand mall seizures,the anti seizure shots didn’t work ,they gave her CPR and oxygen. Then she passed away.I am soo sorry I didn’t tell my vet to let her go if she got very bad,but I couldn’t get the words out.I feel that she went out the hard way and I could have prevented that.Iam sooooo sick over this.I have a BIG emotional hole in my heart.MY little birdie is in my heart but no longer in my arms I ache and ache emotionally,my blood pressure went up,my stomach is in knowing knots.Her little life was taken way too soon.she was not quite 7 yrs.I miss her as much or more than people in my family that I truly loved.I was glad to know that others feel the same way.My son has critized me for being sooo despondent over my bird loss and feeling the same way I feel when my parents and husband,and some friends have passed.My son had me feeling really odd u til I read some articles here .For that iam grateful.I really do not have alot of people to talk to about how much iam torn apart and how I hurt.All I have are her ashes.This in a little urn and her little foot printo in a clay pot.I tried to think of happy memories I had with her and it hurts me even more.She was a joy who always gave me unconditional love.Iam trying to work through this awful anxiety and depression as I have an African Grey parrot who’s dependent on me and also needs my love.I deeply the opportunity to be able to write this.Thanksgiving you sooooo much.

  6. Glenn Moradian says:

    Nearly six months ago, I accidently ran over and killed my Lady. She was a physically beautiful sheperd/husky mix from the Shosone tribe in Idaho. We never knew exactly what he mix was, but two vets surmised that wolf was in the mix. Lady was sublime. She touched the hearts of those who feared dogs and reinforced a love for animals in the many children she encountered. We had her for 12 years. For the last four, I was retired and spent 100% of my time with her. She went to church, golf, and did errands with me. At home, she was constantly in visual sight of me. We never flew anywhere but drove on vacations so she could be with us. Our hotel and restuarant picks centered around being with her. My wife and I miss her terribly, with a heaviness and sorrow that runs deep. I cannot talk about her without getting teary eyed. Guilt, love and a profound sense that she was so special in her behavior and demeanor, make this process very hard. We now have a beautiful husky mix female that we will breed with a long-haired german shepard to get the “Lady look” but her presence acts more to bring home that fact that there can never be another Lady. I am crushed.

  7. My son and I bought Lady 14 years ago this month. She was only 8 weeks old. We fell in love at first sight. We lost her suddenly last week. I’m broken, going around in a daze. Every where I I see her. I’m am so depressed, difficulty sleeping. Lady got my son and I through so much. I was diagnosed with MS, lost my nursing job because I couldn’t work any more, and my husband divorced me one year after we bought her. In a way she was our rock. I held her the hold day, wrapped her up and took her close to me that night. I held her while she took er last breaths. It was 6:30 in the AM. I just held her until everyone woke up. I called my son at 7:45. We took her to the vet to have her cremated. That was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Miss and love you, Boo!!!

  8. Kris says:

    My cat died 5 weeks ago this Sunday from renal failure and I am still grieving him. He was a Maine Coon named Alexander, who I adopted from a shelter. Since I was his 4th home in less than 2 years, he had a few “emotional” problems, but that all was sorted out and he was without a doubt, the best pet I’ve ever had; sorry my old dog friends, Spotty and Kim! He was smart, loving, funny, crazy, very vocal and never let my lap stay empty for long; he loved to cuddle and we had a special bond. I only had him 9 years and 4 days, and that doesn’t seem fair, but I am grateful for the time I had with him. It’s still difficult each day, because there hasn’t been a morning when he didn’t greet me or a night when he wasn’t in my lap watching TV. And what they say about shelter pets is true – you didn’t save them, they saved you.

  9. Blair says:

    Thank you for writing this article. Our dog was hit by a car on Saturday night during a move from one house to another. She was tragically killed right in front of my 14 year old daughter and I. It is by far the most horrific thing I have ever been through. We are devastated. We are broken. I can’t function. I can’t eat. I uncontrollably burst into tears. I am having a hard time writing this comment but I really feel it is therapeutic in some way.

    This dog was my daughters soul mate. She was her sister, her best friend and her companion. Everything we do revolves around this dog in one way or another. We all love the dog but my daughter had a really special connection with her. My daughter has struggled with anxiety and depression and the dog really prevented this and gave her a “happy place” to be in. We were just playing with her 1 minute before the accident. It was so sudden and so tragic. She died right in front of us and we were paralyzed and in shock. My daughter cant sleep and she is having nightmares about it when she does.

    We have lost three other dogs over the years, all to old age, and while it was painful and hard, it was nothing like this. We are just devastated. I know time heals but this is so much worse than anything I have ever experienced and it really makes you more sympathetic to other people. When someone says they lost a pet, treat them the same way you would if they lost a sibling or parent. It is really that difficult.

    Thank you to everyone who posted their own stories. They were hard to read but so heartfelt.

  10. Michele Horn says:

    My Gino, a 15 y/o Italian greyhound had CHD and I had to put him down one week ago. I cannot stop crying and I hope I made the right decision for him. I cradled his head and whispered I love you as he passed. We buried him on our property I have 3 other dogs but Gino was my heart. I had him from 6 weeks until he passed. In March, after his first crisis with coronary heart disease, they told me he had a 6 to 12 month survival rate. He was on 3 different kinds of meds that he took twice a day at feeding time. That is now the worse time for me, when I have to feed the others. The others don’t look into my soul like Gino did, I miss him terribly and I really want him back

  11. Ed says:

    My heart goes out to everyone here, especially those who lost their pet suddenly or tragically. My wife and I lost our beloved Cocker Spaniel, Faith, 2 days ago, just shy of her 13th birthday. She had suffered from ear infections off and on for years but was in overall good health with the help of regular ear and eye treatments and pills. Then 2 months ago she developed a tumor on one ear that steadily grew. The vet didn’t know if it was cancerous and did provide an option for surgery, but we decided that we would just take her home and keep her as comfortable as possible. Whether it was the effects of the tumor or other worsening health issues, she quickly sank in the final week and we had her put to sleep at the vet place. My wife chose to stay in the car but I wanted to be with Faith. I held her head in my hands and with tears watched it sink slowly and peacefully to the table when the injection took hold. I had previously prepared her final resting space in our back yard and we buried her there with a heart-shaped stone on top. I am grateful that my wife and I had time to prepare and grieve before this, but I am so heartbroken and lost right now. I had previously thought “losing a part of oneself” was an overused expression, but it aptly applies to me. I was the first to see her when she arrived at the airport from the breeder, and the last to see her when she took her final breath. I was her primary care provider and her bedtime companion. Faith was like my IV connection, providing me a dripline of life. I feel only ¾ alive right now. I’m thankful that I harbor no feelings of guilt or regret, which would have only compounded the feelings of grief or loss. I don’t believe in a pet “afterlife”, pet “spirits”, etc., but that is just making it extra hard for me – Faith is gone and that’s that. What helps me somewhat is a belief in God Who breathed life into Faith for our benefit. At least I can talk to God and thank Him for gifting us with Faith, even though I can’t bring myself to talk to Faith directly. What I’ve learned so far is that grieving will happen for weeks, months or even years, we all grieve in different ways and that there is no wrong or right way to do it, and there can be a way to channel some of that grief into something constructive and meaningful. I expect the pain to get even worse before it gets better, but just having a place like this to unload lessens my grief just a little bit. Thanks.

  12. Liz says:

    The stories and article above have moved me to tears and to expressing my own grief, finally.
    Three weeks ago we lost our 7-year-old German shepherd. She was apparently healthy but dropped to the ground in our yard one day in front of my eyes while playing with our other dogs. She was unresponsive then gone in less than 2 minutes, despite our attempts to resuscitate her. We think she suffered from a cardiac arrhythmia or infarction, maybe a brain aneurysm or PE. I had my eye on her the whole time, and it was no one’s fault, and she didn’t suffer, but it was traumatic because of the suddenness. There with us one minute, happy and healthy, then not there, gone forever, the curtain down on her life.
    We still have not completely grasped the loss of her.

    I’ve had 4 German shepherds, all dying in different manners and at different ages, but the loss of this one was especially hard. Unlike the others, I adopted her at 12 weeks of age from the local pound. She was a disaster who wrecked my home and life for the first 2 years of her life. I even tried to find another home for her but no one would take her. As exasperated as I was, she had a vulnerability, and I was troubled about giving her up, afraid she could wind up with someone who couldn’t meet with the demands of this difficult dog, who might ignore or abuse her.
    At some point, even if you don’t realize it, a dog becomes your dog and I finally accepted, she was mine.

    In the remaining years of her life, I taught her and she taught me. I watched her blossom as I never thought she would, from a problem dog to a great dog. She exceeded everyone’s expectations. I was tenacious in working through her challenges, but she must be given credit: she was as smart or smarter than any of my other dogs. Her intelligence was obvious early on, as well as her sweet nature and desire to please and be with me, despite an innate stubbornness and wildness. She was aggressive towards strangers and strange dogs at times, but as it turns out, she never hurt anyone, not even our tiny, frail, elderly Maltese who has outlived her.

    She never, ever snapped at me or my family, or anyone, for that matter. She matured into a gentle, motherly dog and loved all of us, but she remained an “alpha dog”, full of life and energy. She loved her life. She was always in a good mood, always up for anything. She went to visit nursing homes and was loved by everyone there.
    I will always remember and cherish the way she had of looking directly at you, from close by or from across the room, holding you in her gaze with a look of love and loyalty and that “connecting” that all animal lovers know.

    I fell in love with her and knew, this one would be hard to lose.

    In reading the items above, it occurs to me that maybe I’m not alone in what I’ve realized with her death: that what a dog gives me is a strength that I don’t have on my own. They are better than us. Losing them leaves an emptiness that is not possible to fill, at least for awhile, and never completely. The only positive feeling I can find is gratitude for the joy they bring to our lives. Whatever you give them, they repay you, thousand-fold.

    The Dog really is one of God’s most perfect creations. I’m grateful for an outlet to share my thoughts and grief with others who perhaps understand where I am right now. And to be able to extend my sympathies to all of you who still grieve……

  13. Jeannie says:

    I just put my sweet baby boy Opie, an 11 year old wiener dog to sleep on Sunday, just a few days after Thanksgiving. He was our special little guy as we adopted him for shelter after the puppy mill he had been trapped in was dissolved. He was so scared when we got him and not use to people or other dogs at all. We already had one wiener dog and although it was a challenge for the two of them to find their way together they did. Opie eventually fatted up and got us to us. I remember for the longest time he slept on the floor on a puppy pillow and little by little he made his way to the bed. Just last week before we lost him, he slept every night next to me. In fact, Opie would have rather sat on my lap then any other place in the world. And although he loved my husband, Opie loved me, his mama.
    Your article helped me so much. i have been dealing with so many of the emotions that you mention and the number of times that you had your morning routine made me think about all of ours. I carried him to bed every night. I

  14. Jeannie says:

    I just put my sweet baby boy Opie, an 11 year old wiener dog to sleep on Sunday, just a few days after Thanksgiving. He was our special little guy as we adopted him for shelter after the puppy mill he had been trapped in was dissolved. He was so scared when we got him and not use to people or other dogs at all. We already had one wiener dog and although it was a challenge for the two of them to find their way together they did. Opie eventually fatted up and got use to us. I remember for the longest time he slept on the floor on a puppy pillow and little by little he made his way to the bed. Just last week before we lost him, he slept every night next to me. In fact, Opie would have rather sat on my lap then be any other place in the world. And although he liked my husband, Opie loved me, his mama.
    Your article helped me so much. i have been dealing with so many of the emotions that you mention and the number of times that you had your morning routine made me think about all of ours. I carried him to bed every night. I would pick up my water bottle and then pick up Opie and off to bed we would go. We had him for 7 years and 2 months so I did that more then 2600 times.
    I feel the guilt too. He was fine one minute and the next we heard him cry from outside and he couldnt use his back legs. it took along time for me to except his fate but it was by far the hardest thing i have ever experienced. I think because he loved me sooo much, and he had no judgement, pure, true, love and devotion. He didnt care if I had morning breath or if my hair looked crazy. He would crawl up on my chest and give me all the kisses his heart desired. When I would come home he would bark until I picked him up. the routine is the hard part. I am inspired though by your article because it makes me realize that i am not alone in these feelings, that the guilt of “what could I have done” “what didnt I notice before it happened” is normal and other people feel it. So thank you. I try to remember every time I cry out his name and beg him to come home that I am so blessed. I got to carry this scared tiny little guy out of the shelter and bring him to my home for 7 good years with lots of travels and adventures. Opie got to see the world with me and my husband. And I am blessed because I got to carry him in to the vet when it was it was time to say goodbye. Opie died in the one place he loved to me in my arms.
    Writing this out helped as well. thanks

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