womenTALK: Blog

Friday, Apr 20th 2012

When a Pet Dies

authored by Sheryl Kraft

I hate goodbyes. I’d rather make a quiet exit from a room than go through what to me is a somewhat awkward and difficult process. But I realize that slinking out is considered poor form; so I steel myself for the moment, convincing my better half that it’s the right thing to do, and go through the motions. And invariably, after I do, I feel a mixture of relief and vague satisfaction.

Last week was the tipping point for my dog Chloe. She was rapidly deteriorating; a series of seizures, followed by confusion and endless sleepless nights when she'd pace the floor, confused and troubled, knocking her nose into things as if searching for the answer to alleviate her discomfort.

Oh, if only dogs could talk.

In the past few years it had been easy to ignore Chloe's advancing age; unlike older people who often times will shrink, lose muscle mass, turn gray, get wrinkles, lose their balance and the spring in their step, my dog did none of these: people would often ask me how old my 'puppy' was. The spark, that lightness of being, her combination of naiveté and awareness that she had as a pup was still very much evident. Although she sometimes hesitated when faced with a steep flight of stairs, she mastered the ups and downs, just a tad slower than before. Rather than greet me at the door, I came to know where to search for her - in that same corner spot she'd been napping in for years. I'd bend down and gently coax her out of her deep sleep – but not before closely observing her to make sure she was still breathing - to let her know I was home so she wouldn't startle.

Last week when I brought her to the vet after an especially tough and sleepless night, I was finally ready to hear what he had told me many times before.

"There’s really not much we can do," he said, a little too matter-of-factly for me. But then again, I understood. It was time to say goodbye.

I had one day to prepare for Chloe's euthanasia. I made the decision to leave her at the vet; I feared that once home, she'd rally, tearing the rug up as she rocketed to the kitchen cabinet where we stored her treats; perching atop the couch cushions to watch for the mail truck or the occasional squirrel dashing by. I knew she'd bark when she wanted a treat, that she'd scour the kitchen floor for fallen crumbs. I was certain that she'd linger outside for her last walk, especially if the night air was warm and alluring, to listen for the crickets in the distance.

And I knew if she were home I'd never bring her back to the vet the next day.

So, I spent part of that day before busy-ing myself with errands and work; another part saying goodbye and rerunning Chloe's long and wonderful life in my head, remembering and being grateful for all she has added to mine. And when it got too painful to think, I did something else I rarely do – I reached out and asked for help. I called and emailed everyone I knew who had a dog. I asked them for tips – anything that they could tell me that would make it easier to let go. And to my amazement, people responded in droves. Some checked on me throughout the night and into the next day, others shared their own stories; many even cried in solidarity.

I had time to process my grief, though a short week later, I'm learning that the grief shadows me in quite a similar fashion as Chloe did; it's always by my side, touching me at unexpected moments, chasing me until it catches me and forces me to look it squarely in the eye.

And many friends have recently lost their pets, too. I think it's a midlife rite of passage; we added pets to our growing families and watched them grow up alongside our children. Or for those of us who remained childless, they were our children, cared for with the same love and devotion. Now the too-short life of our pets is ending when our new life as empty nesters – true empty nesters – begins.

I have a very wise friend and fellow blogger, Roxanne Hawn, who has helped me tremendously through this process. Roxanne writes the award-winning blog, Champion of My Heart Roxanne graciously answered all my questions, although by the end of the process she admits to being in tears, too.

Q. How do you deal with the grief and pain of losing a pet?

A. Toss aside preconceived notions about grief, and ignore any naysayers you find. The grief associated with the death of a dog is just as real, just as painful. It’s important to give yourself time and space to feel whatever you feel. I've lost dogs far too early from cancer. I've lost dogs after a long, happy life. While it's a tiny bit easier to accept the passing of an elderly pet, loss is loss.

Q. You’ve owned- and lost – a lot of dogs. What helped for you?

A. One strategy I've used involves getting a special candle—typically in some long-burning, safe container—and burning it for a certain period of time each day. While the candle is lit, allow yourself to feel just as rotten as rotten can be. Sob. Wail, if you have to, but really feel your grief. It isn't that you cannot feel sad during the rest of your day, but having a ritual around your grief can sometimes keep it from bubbling up at inopportune times—like in meetings at work or while picking out fruit at the market.

Q. I found that reaching out to other people really helps.

A. In this age of social media, don't hesitate to post a photo and note online so that your friends and family can provide support and love. Or think about asking friends and family to help you raise money for a local animal shelter in memory of your dog.

Q. What other things – perhaps things people don’t normally think of – might be helpful?

A. As you process your grief, I think it helps to formalize your memory process. That might mean making a dog memorial scrapbook with favorite pictures and documents. It might also mean creating a memorial video tribute with photos, video clips and favorite music. Particularly in cases where a dog is terminally ill and time is short, I encourage people to live each moment in gratitude. Every day is a gift. Sometimes every hour is a gift.

You might also want to read:
Pet a Dog. Lower Your Blood Pressure

Comments

Oct 15, 2013 18:Oct 6 | genie said

pet loss and my Charly

Never feel badly about any decision you made concerning your loved pet. One of the hardest things to do is to let go, even if you know in your heart of hearts that it is something you are doing for your beloved pet and not for yourself. It has been years since my Charly left us. He was age 17 but had fought an illness which should have had him gone at least 3 years before. My wonderful vet would say I would know when it was time and he was right even though I told him "NEVER" Charly had a will to live and he did just that until one Sunday he stopped eating and drinking and I found myself trying o force water in him and he looked at me with big, loving brown eyes and I knew any attemps I was making were not for him but for me. I knew it was time because Charly wanted no more. It was hard to do but we went to the vet and he finally was at rest. People say he's just a dog, get another one but that is not true. He was not just a dog--He was Charly, our very special friensd and member of our family since I adopted this little black and white shihtzu when he was 3 yers old. A funny little guy who was full of love!! Believe me I still mourn his loss and he will always be missed and If I am "CRAZY" so be it. Everyone loves in different ways-no right or wrong!! You are dealing fine. God bless you and all who have lost a beloved pet.

Mar 05, 2013 12:Mar 12 | Priscilla Shank said

Calli, Ginger and Nell

The house is empty, there is no one here to love or give love. Nothing can be said that tells how empty my heart and house are. I told my friend in the spring we can go to Nell and Ginger's graves to plant flowers, now Callie is there can't express my feelings.

Feb 21, 2013 14:Feb 2 | Priscilla Shank said

Callie

Callie is gone, she broke her leg on the 19 of this month February she was to have had surgery the 20 of this month but everything was against her bad kidneys, age and weight. It seems she is here in spirit, I almost called her name a bit ago. She was family and loved with all my heart, now she Ginger and Nell will rest close together.Heart broken. Priscilla

Jul 04, 2012 07:Jul 7 | priscilla said

Ginger and the others

July 04, 2012, over three months since Ginger was taken from Callie and me,my other dog, Thought I was doing slightly better but this morning the tears are flowing like a fountain with my missing her. She was a precious little stinker and I loved every minute of her funny and cute little ways. Priscilla

Jun 24, 2012 09:Jun 9 | priscilla said

Ginger

Close to three months ago April 02, 2012 Ginger had a seizure that killed her, had trouble to get hold of a Vet. on and emergency basis, when I did all I got was "have you been here before, there will be an emergency charge and on and on it went. Finally said "I don't care I just want help for my dog". My precious Ginger was dying and what I got was a questionaire, she died on the way there, Vet didn't even check to see if she was breathing, his assistant did, Vet. said" I, am sorry, sorry for what getting off his butt and doing nothing. He has nothing but a less than great reputation concerning animals but he was all I could get hold of and that wasn't much. Crying buckets of tears.

Feb 21, 2013 13:Feb 1 | Priscilla Shank said

Callie

Callie, broke her leg February 19, 2013, on the 20 the Vet called asking me to come to the clinic. I, asked "can you fix Calli's leg?" she said that is what we want to talk to you about. Callie's kidney's, age and weight were against her, not to likely she would have survived surgery and that she never would be completly well. She seemed uncomfortable and unable to walk at all. I,was with her when she died, pet her and told her how much I love her. Less than a year since Ginger died, with both Ginger and Callie gone I wonder what life is about. Priscilla

Aug 08, 2012 19:Aug 7 | sue said

my precious dog, Tyson

I am sorry about your dog Ginger. I know exactly how you feel. In May, 2012, I took my 4 year old english bulldog, Tyson to the vet due to breathing problems. He said my dog needed surgery (quite routine for my type of dog). This surgery was to clear his pallette & make his breathing easier. He referred me to an emergency clinic because they had several team docs who knew how to cope well with surgery. After surgery (Monday), they said he would be in hospital all week. He had a breathing tube in after surgery & said that after taking out the tube, he would be under observation for at least 24 to 48 hours. If his breathing was good, he would be released. Probably on the Friday. Wednesday morning, they called saying they would be taking out the breathing tube that day & would be in for observation for 24 or 48 hours. Sounded good. Doc called me that afternoon to say the tube was out & Tyson was doing so well, he would be released that day. Was told to pick him up. When i expressed concerns, i was told that these dogs do much better at home than being anxious in the hospital. When I came to pick him up that evening, I had to pay up an extra $l,000.00. i already paid $7,000.00 prior to surgery. After paying, they brought Tyson out for me. He looked so bad. Breathing so rapidly. When I asked about this, they said this is normal. And when I get home, keep tapping on his chest to clear his breathing. I kept expressing my concern about how he looked. I took him out reluctantly. I got him home around 7:00 p.m. He was listless, breathing so hard, & trying to hide. By 9:00 p.m., he collapsed right in front of me. Rushed him back to the hospital, but my poor, sweet dog had already died at home. He could't breathe. The guilt i feel is so unbelievable, I cry every day. He was only home with us for 2 hours. If I would not have been told that his look & behaviour was "normal" when I asked on discharge, I would have brought him right back the second i arrived home. So, Priscilla, I totally know what you are feeling. On top of he $7,000.00 fee they charged me for killing my dog, they had the audacity to charge me another $l50.00 fee for cremation (they call it "after care".) I refused to pay it. The Vet who did the surgery admitted she made a mistake in discharging Tyson only hours after his breathing tube was removed. Priscilla, I hope you find some kind of peace. I am still trying. I loved my dog more that I realized. He was a sweet, gentle dog, who loved life and brought a smile to all who met him. I am sure your dog, Ginger was wonderful as well. Well, it was good to share/vent with someone who "gets it".
sue

Jun 24, 2012 09:Jun 9 | priscilla said

Ginger and the other precious ones

So lonesome, my little Ginger dog had a seizure April 02, 2012 in the evening and died on the way to the clinic, this morning is especially hard as it is close to 3 months since her sudden death. Had trouble to get hold of a vet. it was after hours, I, was asked "have you been here before, there will be an emergency charge" on and on with questions. I said "I don't care just want help for my dog. Ginger died on the way to the clinic and all the vet cared about was money. Ginger was dear to me and I have cried daily because she is not here.

Apr 24, 2012 06:Apr 6 | Lynne said

loss of Chloe

My heart goes out to you as I still miss very much my dogs; Krystal, Stormy and Sammy. I still cry on their anniversary of their death. My present dog, Dallas, is truly going to break my heart as he has gotten me through some very tough times. So Sherry, cry your heart out when needed and remember the wonderful times that Chloe gave to you and then remember to laugh at her antics. Keep her in that special place in your heart.

Apr 24, 2012 11:Apr 11 | Sheryl said

Thank you so much, Lynne. I

Thank you so much, Lynne. I left the house today to work at a Starbucks; the house is just too sad and lonely right now. I appreciate your words of advice.

Apr 23, 2012 13:Apr 1 | Steph Auteri said

This is so heartbreaking. My

This is so heartbreaking. My condolences, Sheryl.

I've experienced the loss of several hamsters and parakeets over the years, and was hit hard each time. I dread the day when I'll have to say goodbye to one of my cats. They mean everything to me, and I can't imagine life without them. (I often joke that if it came down to it, I'd leave my husband before I left my cats.)

It's so hard to love someone so fully, and then have such a limited time with them. It's why my father doesn't want anymore pets. He can't deal with the heartbreak of their limited lifespan.

I understand that. But they ways in which my pets make my life feel fuller is something I'd never want to be without.

May 02, 2012 10:May 10 | Elizabeth Gregory said

Heartbreak

"It's why my father doesn't want anymore pets. He can't deal with the heartbreak of their limited lifespan."

Back on February 21 when we drove home from the emergency vet hospital where our male shepherd had just had his spleen removed due to rupture. The vet had told us most of the time a splenic rupture is the result of hemangiosarcoma, an aggressive form of cancer which had no cure.

I told my husband then that the dog who'd just had surgery and the female at home were going to be our last pets. I told him I can't keep going through such heartbreak. Our shepherd died Sunday, April 29, after a good two months. We let him do his "bucket list", even bark in the yard telling the neighbors that's what we were going to do. He loved to bark and we'd always brought him in when he did. He took his walks every day, patrolled his yard, ate as much as he wanted, got a treat every night, a Jumbone occasionally, and now I'm going through the heartbreak of missing him. We've always had two dogs and now our female shepherd is the only dog. She's almost ten, so I know I'm going to have to go through this again. But like your father, I know it's something I cannot keep doing.

Liz

Apr 24, 2012 11:Apr 11 | Sheryl said

Thanks, Steph. You made me

Thanks, Steph. You made me laugh with the husband comment :)

Well, it might be no more pets for me, too. Just too hard to have to lose them relatively quickly. I know it was a long life for Chloe - almost 15 years - but not long enough for me!

Apr 24, 2012 11:Apr 11 | Sheryl said

Thanks, Steph. You made me

Thanks, Steph. You made me laugh with the husband comment :)

Well, it might be no more pets for me, too. Just too hard to have to lose them relatively quickly. I know it was a long life for Chloe - almost 15 years - but not long enough for me!

Apr 22, 2012 22:Apr 10 | Jane Boursaw said

I'm so sorry about Chloe. I'm

I'm so sorry about Chloe. I'm still traumatized from losing my cat Bill, and that was 20 years ago. I love Roxanne's advice, especially the candle and allowing yourself to feel as rotten as can be. That's great advice for any loss, human or animal or anything important in your life.

Apr 24, 2012 11:Apr 11 | Sheryl said

Bought a bunch of candles and

Bought a bunch of candles and am planning on using Roxanne's advice; need it right now. The house feels too empty without a dog in it!

Apr 22, 2012 20:Apr 8 | HeatherL said

So sorry for your loss. Thank

So sorry for your loss. Thank you Roxanne for some great tips because I will soon be going down this same road.

Apr 22, 2012 20:Apr 8 | HeatherL said

So sorry for your loss. Both

So sorry for your loss. Both our dogs are getting up in age and exhibiting some of the same signs you talk about. This is such a hard decision, but you did the right thing.

Apr 24, 2012 11:Apr 11 | Sheryl said

thanks, Heather. I hope when

thanks, Heather. I hope when the time comes for you to decide, you are able to cope well.

Apr 21, 2012 20:Apr 8 | Julia said

We had to put out dog down this past Wednesday

As per the subject matter I put my beloved dog down. Now I have a 2 year old maltese who only knew Baby Lulu. She is looking for her. Yet we have difficulty leaving the house. We are pay much more attention to her if that is even possible. I am just wondering how long does it take for a dog to go through a grieving process. We have put dogs down before but nothing like this as this was all shocking. The vet had been misdiagnosing the dog for over a year. They said she had some congestion while she had a tumor/mass underneath her trachea which closed off her breathing for one. To watch her going through these episodes especially the past 3.5 weeks was horrific. Then they found out her esophagus was swollen and she had water in her lungs. We took her to the doctor last Friday and Wednesday we put her down for humanity reasons. She could not breathe. Licking everything in site to find a breathe while I was treating her to thin out phelgm which was not the problem. I told the doctors about this a year ago and kept getting the same answers. I was in the Er twice in 3.5 weeks not counting the vets. I am so upset. They said there was no solution for the trachea except maybe doping her and steroid but they could most likely fix her stomach. We felt if she cannot breathe I was not going to destroy her quality of life by just having her doped all the time so we put her down. If you can imagine seeing the dog like a crazy animal and panting and licking and I am just trying to give her the meds or trying to make her relax and she could not breathe. OMG it was terrible. Now we have to deal and I do not mean it in the wrong way on how to handle the little maltese's life so she gets past this supposed depression which I believe she has. She is a happy happy dog but we have seen her less active since Lulu is not here. She knows there is something wrong and she constantly is looking for her. We are at a loss. Any information would be great..thanks so much..Julia

Apr 25, 2012 11:Apr 11 | Roxanne said

Julia ~ I'm so sorry for your

Julia ~ I'm so sorry for your loss. When our Dalmatian died in 2004, our big dog (lab + greyhound) took it really hard. We did many of the things you mention. We played more. We took more walks. We brought him with us on outings, but he still seemed REALLY lost without her. Over several months, he got better, but after 6 months, it was clear that he was still quite lonely. SO ... even though my heart was nowhere near ready, we went ahead and adopted another dog, and he was very happy. So, my advice would be to keep doing what your doing, and maybe schedule some play dates with friends' dogs in the meantime, then when you are ready, consider adopting another dog.

Apr 24, 2012 11:Apr 11 | Sheryl said

Hi Julia, Thanks for writing.

Hi Julia, Thanks for writing. I'm so sorry about what you have had to go through, both with your former dog and now your maltese. Sounds awful. I wish I had some advice for you, but I don't, although I will reach out to some dog experts I know. Possibly they will have some advice for you.

Apr 21, 2012 16:Apr 4 | Sheila said

How to Grieve For A Dog Who Has Past

I'm so very sorry for your pain. A lost my old girl about 2 months ago and a friend sent me this link. Maybe it will help you too.
http://olddogcareguide.com/how-to-cope-when-your-dog-dies-five-stages-of...

And maybe our respective pals are playing together on the other side of the rainbow bridge.

Apr 24, 2012 11:Apr 11 | Sheryl said

Thanks, Sheila, and I'm sorry

Thanks, Sheila, and I'm sorry for your loss as well. Thanks for writing and sending the link. Hopefully our dogs are romping together and having a fun time!

Apr 21, 2012 15:Apr 3 | Casey said

I have tears in my eyes after

I have tears in my eyes after reading this - sending sympathy and hugs to you and your family. Pets take such an important role in our lives that it's silly to think we wouldn't grieve as deeply as we loved them.

Apr 24, 2012 11:Apr 11 | Sheryl said

Thanks, Casey, well said.

Thanks, Casey, well said.

Apr 21, 2012 08:Apr 8 | sarah henry said

Sorry for your loss, Sheryl.

Sorry for your loss, Sheryl. And I'm glad Roxanne has helped you through it. She has some excellent advice.

Apr 21, 2012 07:Apr 7 | said

You left her at the vet for

You left her at the vet for the last night of her life?

Apr 21, 2012 07:Apr 7 | Sandra said

So sorry about Chloe.

So sorry about Chloe.

Apr 20, 2012 19:Apr 7 | Merr said

Sheryl, this is so moving,

Sheryl, this is so moving, and I related. Your Chloe is beautiful and so are you.

Apr 20, 2012 16:Apr 4 | Kristen said

I'm so sorry about your dog

I'm so sorry about your dog Chloe. My own dog is starting to show his age--he won't jump down from the bed anymore, I have to carry him. And I fear his eyesight, which was never good, is faltering too. Hugs to you

Apr 20, 2012 15:Apr 3 | Alexandra said

This was so moving and

This was so moving and beautifully written. I can remember when we had to "put to sleep" my dog Acey in my childhood. I have not had another dog since, and "Ace" still holds a special place in my heart.

Apr 20, 2012 15:Apr 3 | Lila said

What an absolutely beautiful post!

You've captured the difficulty of goodbyes, whether to humans or pets, and the rituals we need to keep going afterwards. You and Chloe were lucky to have each other!

Apr 20, 2012 15:Apr 3 | Living Large said

So sorry for the loss of your

So sorry for the loss of your Chloe. I have lost many pets and it never gets any easier. Two things I've found helps me and that is creating a special memory album in their honor and also planting a tree, bush or special flower in memory of them. I always watch the plant grow and bloom each season and remind myself that although my furbaby is gone, their memory and love lives on in the beauty of nature.

Apr 23, 2012 09:Apr 9 | Sheryl said

Thanks for sharing your own

Thanks for sharing your own coping strategies, LL. I love how you call your dog your "furbaby;" perfect way to put it.

Apr 20, 2012 14:Apr 2 | Roxanne said

Again, Sheryl. I'm so sorry

Again, Sheryl. I'm so sorry for your loss. Thanks so much for the opportunity to give some input on how you and others can process the grief after losing a pet.

Apr 23, 2012 09:Apr 9 | Sheryl said

Thank you, Roxanne, for

Thank you, Roxanne, for giving all us pet owners such sage advice!

Apr 20, 2012 13:Apr 1 | Brette Sember said

These are helpful tips. I'm

These are helpful tips. I'm so sorry for your loss.

Apr 23, 2012 09:Apr 9 | Sheryl said

Thank you, Brette. My hope is

Thank you, Brette. My hope is that the tips provide comfort for anyone going through a similar loss.

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