Sharing the Loss

by Drs. Foster and Smith on February 16, 2010

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**Guest post from Ellen B.**

For those of us who have experienced losing a beloved pet, we know the grief is real and deep. The emotions of going through pet loss are personal and everyone grieves in their own method and speed.

One thing that helped me was to talk with other people who had also experienced the loss of a beloved pet. They listened to me, shared my grief, and shared some of their own insights based on their personal experience. I think these select few people were what helped me grieve my loss, and to move on to being able to savor the memories.

Talking about fond memories of my dog still helps me “Keep the Joy Your Pet Gave You Alive”, as Dr. Holly suggested. Let me tell you about my dog, Lucky.

Lucky

Lucky

Lucky was a black lab mix that we adopted at our local shelter when he was 6 years old. At first I wasn’t sold on the idea of a dog, but my son was very persistent. After many visits to the shelter, many talks with pet “people”, and many family discussions, we decided a dog would be a good addition for our family. Lucky brought a new type of love to our family. He adored everyone in our family, but particularly liked to follow me around. He also was like a personal trainer-he motivated me to go on our daily walk…even on days when I thought I was too tired. Other than our walks, one of my fondest memories of Lucky was how he was ALWAYS in the middle of the party whenever one of my children had friends over…like a chaperone! To Lucky, a sleepover was a little piece of heaven right here on earth. We were lucky to have Lucky.

rainbow_bridgeOne morning, we were totally caught off-guard, had no idea of the cancer rapidly growing inside him. The night before, he nosed me and insisted that we go for walk. Tail wagging, he lead me on our normal route sniffing and happy. Never in my wildest dream would I have thought the next day his veterinarian would be telling me cancer had taken over his lungs and was shutting down his central nervous system. Never would I have thought he’d be crossing the Rainbow Bridge the next morning.

As Lucky lay in the veterinarian’s office, unable to stand and struggling to breathe, we had a decision to make. If he would survive long enough, we could try a treatment to extend his life…maybe a few months at most. As much as I loved him, we decided that we did not want to have our Lucky dog, who had always been strong and active, to lay immobile and struggle for every breath. What was right in our family was to let him pass peacefully. I truly feel that Lucky understood and was ok with us helping him to die with dignity. He passed in my arms that day at the age of 12 ½.

Like I said, that decision was right for our family. It may have been the wrong decision in other families. I hope if you question a decision you made in regard to your pet’s health, that you accept it as OK. Pet loss is difficult, but I firmly believe our pets know we make decisions with love.

If you are dealing with the loss of a pet or an imminent  loss, I hope you’ll connect with a supportive friend. There is a group of us here at Drs. Foster and Smith who have shared our personal experiences of pet loss. We welcome you to connect with us by leaving a comment sharing your insight, fond memories or questions. Let’s “Keep That Joy Our Pet Gave Us Alive.”

Other resources that you might find helpful in dealing with pet loss:


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Pet Adoption: Think It Through
December 27, 2012 at 1:48 pm

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Terry February 16, 2010 at 9:56 pm

When I lost Otto, our Golden Retriever, it was like losing a child. But I wouldn’t trade the time we had with him for anything. The joy he brought to our family is priceless. It’s sad when they must leave us, but the memories are sweet.

Bonnie Ramba February 17, 2010 at 9:48 pm

One of the saddest days of my life was the day I had to take my sheltie, Jasper in to be put to sleep. What a hard decision to make. There are some criteria that helps us to know the right time. Most importantly, is your pet suffering? My answer to that was, “yes”. I didn’t want Jasper to leave me but I knew allowing him to suffer was not the loving choice. I feel you made the right decision about Lucky. Jasper & Lucky are at the rainbow bridge and that thought gives me comfort.

Chris February 17, 2010 at 10:22 pm

Many of my friends don’t get why I am so bummed. I know a few people who were in the same circumstance at one point in their life. They’ve been pretty helpful. I’m wondering what other peoples thoughts are on getting another dog. I really miss mine but it’s only been a few weeks. Any opinions or experience with how long to wait?

Ellen B. February 18, 2010 at 9:17 am

Thank you all for sharing your story.

Terry, I couldn’t agree more that what pets add to our family is absolutely priceless. Which brings me to Chris’ question: how long to wait. Personally, I adopted a new pet fairly quick. We knew we wanted another dog, and we had to time it right to be able to make the transition as easy as possible for the new pet. My children were home during the day that summer, so I wanted to adopt while the new dog would seldom be alone in the house. Our family was able to still miss Lucky, but welcome Kobe with open arms. I’m sure we’ll be hearing from other people who waited a long time, if ever before getting another pet.

Bonnie, thank you for your words “loving choice” – so difficult but definitely loving. I can see Jasper was a very loved and “lucky” dog.

Ariana Adams April 16, 2010 at 8:46 am

In December I had to make the most difficult decision of my life: to put my 12 year old Kuvasz to rest. She was such a sweet soul and I never realized how difficult it would be to let her go. I miss her every day. We did adopt another Kuvasz in January and while she will never replace Leanyka, she fills my life with love and laughter. I’m so incredibly happy to have her in my life. I believe she’s an angel sent to me by my sweet Leanyka, who wanted to be sure that I would continue to be loved and guarded.

Ellen B. April 16, 2010 at 9:48 am

Ariana,
I’m so sorry for your loss. That loving decision is the hardest thing to do, and I’m sure the Leanyka felt your love for her. How wonderful that you have a sweet new pet in your life. Like you said, there’s no replacing our pet who crossed over the rainbow bridge, but we can always welcome new joy into our life. Thanks for sharing.

Katie April 29, 2010 at 8:23 am

I loss my best friend of 16 years yesterday, due to seizures that the doctor believes was attributed to a brain tumor. I have been crying since yesterday. Im not married and Cordy was my life. I made the decision to have her put to sleep due to an episode of 5 seizures in 6 hours. The doctor gave her 2 shots to help stop the seizures, but the next day, she should have been back to normal, and was not. she couldnt walk, couldnt see, could barely keep her head up and i made that decision. Everyone tells me it was the right thing to do for Cordy. I have so much greif and guilt associated with this decision. Wondering if she could have bounced back with more time. My mom, tells me no, that it was the tumor and she looked like she may have had a stroke too. I feel like ive made a multitude of bad decisions, starting with the shots they gave her to try to stop the seizures. she just never came out of the stage they put her in. I cant seem to be at peace that this was the right thing to do. I miss my baby so much.

Ellen B. April 29, 2010 at 9:29 am

Katie, my heart aches for your loss. After 16 years of having Cordy in your life, I can only imagine there must be a big empty hole in your life right now. Please, please don’t feel guilty about your decision. It’s a living nightmare to have to make such a decision, but you made a very loving decision. It sounds as if it was the only realistic decision.

I talked to Barb S., one of our Vet Technicians here at Drs. Foster & Smith, and this is what she had to say about Cordy’s situation: “Remember that although seizures can be difficult to witness, pets do not seem to be in pain when they are going through them, although they may vocalize and lose control of bladder or bowels.” Barb also recommends this pet loss article and http://www.petloss.com, which is a great site to leave a tribute to your pet and is a good way to start the healing process for you.

When I had to make that decision, I kept thinking that he had the right to die with dignity. You let Cordy die with dignity when the time had come for him to go. I cried for days too – and was thankful for my parents who listened to me! Sounds like you’re very lucky to have a mom helping you through this tough, tough time. It’s obvious that Cordy lived a very love-filled life with you. I believe he is at peace, and I’m sending you many positive thoughts to help you get through your loss. Cordy will forever be in your heart. You have my deepest sympathy. Thank you for sharing your grief – through our stories, we may help other people know that they’re not alone in feeling so lonely and miserable after such a loss.

Rosemary June 24, 2010 at 9:40 pm

Having had more experience with losing pets than I care to think about, I have come up with two simple philosophies. One- If you love them, when they are ready to go, you let them, even if it seems impossible for you to. Two- A new pet NEVER “replaces” them. They just succeed them, and create their own place in your life.

In the last seven years, I have made the painful decisions to euthanize a 15 year old dog, an 18 year old cat, a 16 year old cat, and a cat that was only 8, but had severe health problems. I am how faced with making a decision soon about my 17 year old cat. He is hyperthyroid, has epilespy, and is starting to look very frail. I am taking him in for his bloodwork next month, so we will have some idea of how bad he is. If the results are very bad, Sandy will be allowed to go to Kitty Cat Heaven, and I will cry and miss him terribly. But I will survive, and life will go on.

Ellen B. June 25, 2010 at 10:17 am

Rosemary,
You’ve gone through a lot of losses – you have my sympathy on having to make so many tough decisions. It is obvious that you realize that the joy that pets bring to our life is well worth it. I’m sorry you are in a tough situation with Sandy. She’s lucky to have you to take such good care of her. I admire your attitude. Thank you for sharing your story.

JulieD July 22, 2010 at 10:42 pm

Ellen- Thank you for writing this. You’re right by saying that your decision was right for your family and everyone needs to make the decision that’s right for them and their pet. Often, people try to give advice and tell you what to do but only you can make the decision. I know how you feel because at the end of the August, will be 2 years since we had to say good bye and let our precious Cinder go. It still hurts. Sigh.

@Katie, I’m so sorry for your loss. Ellen is right that we all grieve differently. I do have to say that we felt the same as you, could we have done something else? Could we have done something else to buy more time? After we put our Cinder to sleep 2 years ago, we were so lost. What you’re feeling is so normal. There will be a lot of crying and will be for some time. The important thing to remember is to take care of yourself at the same time you’re allowing yourself to grieve. I do hope the best for you and maybe one day you’ll be able to open your home to another dog. All the best.

Rosemary July 28, 2010 at 9:32 am

Sandy was euthanized yesterday, and has gone to Kitty Cat Heaven. I miss him, but it was time to let him go. I’m sure he has already met up with his littermates, and all the other cats he knew and loved while he graced our house.

Ellen B. July 28, 2010 at 9:44 am

Rosemary, I’m so sorry for your loss. Like I said before, I admire your positive attitude. I’m sure Sandy appreciated your loving decision to let her go. 17 years is a long time to have a pet, I will keep you in my thoughts as you go through this tough time.

Maureen September 29, 2010 at 1:50 am

In March I lost my beloved Pug Priscilla, she was 15 and died from a Stroke. I am just happy that she did not suffer long and now she is at “Rainbow Bridge”, free and happy with all the other dogs. Miss Priss was the love of my life and not one day passes where I do not think of her, because we had such a wonderful life together!

Ellen B. September 29, 2010 at 9:08 am

Maureen, I’m so sorry to hear about Priscilla. When our heart is touched so deeply, the pain doesn’t just go away. May the good memories with her live on forever. Sending out {{{hugs}}} to you. Thank you for sharing.

Sheryl Jones September 29, 2010 at 9:40 am

I lost my 16 year old cocker spaniel, Sparky, to bladder cancer almost a year ago to the day. I still miss him. But there was never any doubt that I did the right thing to release him from his illness. The thing I worry about is that I kept him alive too long because I couldn’t stand to let him go. I got another dog in January, but there is still a void that she can’t fill. I came across this quote on a mailing list and I really love it:

It came to me that every time I lose a dog they take a piece of my heart
with them. And every new dog who comes into my life, gifts me with a piece
of their heart. If I live long enough, all the components of my heart will
be dog, and I will become as generous and loving as they are.
~Unknown

Doreen Comito January 24, 2011 at 6:13 am

Thank you for writing about Lucky and telling about how you feel about your loss. We loss our 12 yr old Siberian Huskies 4 days ago. She was my baby. When we got her my 2 sons were married and my daughter was getting ready to go off to college. Nanook,that was her name, she became my newest baby. We loved her the same as my other human children. Two years ago she was diagnosed with Cushing Disease. We did everything we could to help her,cooking special meals,putting her on a diet and other things to help her. But we loss her after she put up a tough fight. I feel like my heart has been ripped out. I miss her so much. It helps to know that other people know how I feel.Thank you for writing about Lucky and for letting me write about Nanook.

Ellen B. January 24, 2011 at 9:08 pm

Doreen, I’m so sorry for your loss. That feeling of having your heart ripped out is a horrible, horrible thing. I hope you’re proud of the special care you gave Nanook, what a wonderful pet parent you were for her. Although I now have my wonderful little Kobe, it doesn’t replace Lucky. Pets are so loving, they never leave our hearts….but the good memories are precious. Thank you for sharing Nanook with us. Sending healing hugs to you.

Sheryl, your quote is perfect. Thank you so much for sharing, many people will relate.

APRIL KUSTER February 12, 2011 at 5:34 pm

this is in memory of our SHADOW we lost her today 2/12/2011 we rescued shadow when she was 2 months almost 10yrs ago she was an amazing dog i have been through other losses with shadow and to all of you so sorry for your losses. i have been through cancer in all three of my rottwielers who i lost. shadow started showing signs loss of appetite, very tired, lathargic, and excessive want for water and today could hold nothing down got her to the vet on emergency i knew it was bad but never expected the results this was all in 4 days. she had pancriatitus,diabetes,liver failure and bloat. we are broken hearted as you all know so thank you for your stories. R.I.P. MY SHADOW!!!!!!!!

Ellen B. February 14, 2011 at 8:28 am

April,
Our stories of loss are very similar, I’m so sorry your precious Shadow passed this weekend. There’s not an easy way to lose a fur-kid. Although the suddenness that we both experienced to so difficult on us, it’s nice that they did not suffer long. You’ll be in my thoughts as you go through this very tough time. Thank you for taking time to share your story. May we all keep happy memories alive.

Ellen May 10, 2011 at 5:27 pm

Last night we had to have our Charlie of 15 years put to sleep. I can’t stop crying and the pain is unbearable. We lost our other dogs of 14 years each a few years ago, so I know, intellectually, that this will pass. But, it is so terribly bad and I can’t stop thinking of how frail he was as my husband put him in the truck, in the rain, for the trip to the vet.I can’t get that out of my mind. He was so sick. My husband held him when they did it. So, I feel terrible for my husband.
I had come home that afternoon to find him laying on the backyard grass in the pouring rain. That morning he refused to eat and he could not walk. The vet said he could no longer go on. But, I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. I just remember wiping off the rain especially on his long ears and I hugged him but I didn’t know this would be the last time.
The hardest part was when I was making dinner tonight. I saw the chicken pieces that we gave him for his treats after dinner and the salmon pieces which we shared on salmon night. And, his food bowls and blanket. I feel devastated. And, I can’t really talk to anyone because I just can’t stop crying.
I thank you for this website and a place I can express my feelings even through I’m crying all the way through.

Ellen B. May 11, 2011 at 8:26 am

Ellen, I’m so, so sorry for your loss. I really could relate to almost every word you wrote. What I didn’t write in my story above is that 3 hours after putting Lucky down, we had 100 people to our house to celebrate my daughter’s graduation. Being very, very busy with the party and company was probably a good thing..forced me to keep busy. For an hour or so in the evening, I gave myself deserved time to go to my room and cry my heart out. Keeping busy, yet taking time to cry out the heartache, might help you too.

Thanks for sharing your story. Others will read it in the future and be comforted because you put difficult feelings into words to which they’ll relate. With each story people share, it brings me back to my Lucky. My family and I have such fond memories of him, and I never want to lose those precious memories. May Charlie always live on in your heart as he runs like a puppy on the other side of the rainbow bridge.

Ellen

Ellen May 11, 2011 at 10:04 pm

Thank you for your kind words. I was doing a little better today until my husband came to me with a green towel and
asked me where it belonged. (He had just done some laundry.) He didn’t know that was the towel I used to wipe off the rain water from Charlie before he went to the vet for the last time. I kept wiping his long ears as they were especially wet. (I have a little stuffed animal which looks like Charlie and I now keep stroking his ears.) Anyway, after seeing the towel, I’ve been pretty much crying since.

Right now, I want to put the towel someplace where it won’t be used again. I’m not sure that’s the best thing to do. Perhaps when I can let go, I may think differently.

How strong you were to be able to handle that party after Lucky’s passing. I don’t think I could have done it.

Finally, thinking about the Rainbow Bridge does help. I never heard of that before but the image is such a nice one.
Only problem is that I’d like to be there so I can see all the wonderful pets who are on the other side. If I can’t be there yet, I can imagine Charlie playing with his friends again. Also I had a dream last night. Charlie was dancing and running and happy so maybe he really is on the other side of the bridge with his friends and is trying to help me.

Thank you again.

Stacey March 15, 2012 at 9:42 am

We said goodbye to our big lughead of almost 12 years (he made it 11 years and 11 months) after the cancer we had helped him fight since 2007 finally invaded his brain and numerous organs. They always say pitties have this big ole’, hard head and are so tough but cancer doesn’t care how tough they are – it wins too often in the end. Many people cried over his loss and we still grieve. It always kills me when people say well at least you have more at home it was only one of your dogs. (We’ve rescued 6 keepers since we had gotten Chaos.) I don’t understand the mentality that you’ve got more…what would they say to a person with 7 children if one dies? At least you’ve got 6 more at home to keep your mind off of it? Oh well, he’ll never be in pain again and he’ll be in our hearts forever. We miss you Chaos Carson.
#CELEBRATE

Julie October 11, 2013 at 12:11 pm

This is a wonderful website. I lost my 10 year old cat, Tink, a week ago. I feel so much pain and my husband doesn’t understand how I could be grieving for so long and so hard. I cry almost constantly. Nighttime is the worst. Tink relieved night anxiety that I have by laying on my right shoulder with his soft face pressed against my cheek and his right leg stretched across my neck. We would sleep like that for nearly the entire night. I wouldn’t move because I didn’t want to disturb him. He was a comfort in depression and a joy in life. There is so much that I want to tell about my little Tinker-Bees, but I know I need to keep it short. It really helps to know that my grieving isn’t irrational and that I will get over the intense pain and be able to enjoy the memories, which are bountiful. I have decided that the pain felt in the loss of a beloved pet is only relative to the joy, comfort and pleasure that pet gave you over the years. The pain is more concentrated, but thankfully time does heal, although maybe not completely.

Thank you all so much for helping me realize that grieving over a pet as intensely as grieving over the loss of a family member is not so unusual.

Julie October 18, 2013 at 2:17 pm

It’s kind of ironic how we think we are taking care of our babies all those years, when, in reality, they have been taking care of us. Tink was taking care of me even in his last moments of life.

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