People who suffer from the loss of pets undergo identical psychological pains as those who suffer the loss of a human loved one. But unlike those who suffer from the loss of a human, occasionally those who suffer a loss of pets have been ridiculed by people in their own lives. A co-worker could say, “It was just a dog.” A partner could say, “She lived a fantastic life.” While a friend may encourage you to go get another dog straight away.
When my 14-year-old gold retriever, Jake, could no longer stand up by himself or, once up could not squat to visit the bathroom, I knew it was time to end his suffering. He was also beginning to suffer from memory loss. On occasion, I could see he didn’t know where his food or water bowl was or which door to go outside. As difficult as it was, I made an appointment with the vet a few days later on and spent 48 hours completely spoiling him. I slept on the ground with him at night. I fed him spaghetti and pizza (his favorites!) I took two weeks off work to be with him.
When we went into the vet she laid down a blanket for him to put on. But with his paws, he pushed it aside to lay on the cold tile floor. I put on the floor with his arm over his chest as the vet administered the meds which would end Jake’s life – and that his anguish. I sobbed. Even after he was gone, I laid with him cried.
That has been over a couple of decades ago and even as I recount this, tears are welling up in my eyes.
The five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) were identified and articulated in 1969 by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her book, On Death and Dying. In the days following Jake was euthanized, I don’t remember ever being in denial. It is not denial as in not thinking the dead person is gone but jealousy as if your feelings of despair. When I went back to work and somebody might say, “How are you?” I would burst into tears and say, “Just dreadful. I had to put my dog down earlier this week.”
I did not feel the second stage, anger, either. The life expectancy of a golden retriever is 10-12 decades. I was fortunate to have Jake longer than average. And because I had him long, bargaining was not a part of my grieving procedure. But I can see how people who suffer a loss of pets can easily do this. It’s that negotiation with a higher being. “Only let him pull through this and I will make a monthly donation to the local animal shelter.” Or, “His 15th birthday is only four months away. Let him live until then and I will…” fill in the blank.
No, I jumped over measures two and three and landed head-first in Stage Four: depression. I was very sad. I was so very lonely. I’d heard the saying”heavy heart” earlier but I did not understand until then it is more than an expression; it is a physical feeling. My heart actually felt heavy. The home was quiet when I got home from work. My well-meaning friends kept saying I need to find another dog. But no dog could replace Jake.
Only other pet lovers truly understand the pain related to the reduction of pets.
Whether your dog is at the end of life or dies unexpectedly, mourning is not any simpler either way. Let yourself go through the stages of grief at your own pace so that you may heal emotionally.
It required quite a while before I could walk into the house and not expect him to be lying on his bed in the center of the household room. My approval (the fifth stage of grieving) started when I received his ashes in a wooden box, wrapped in a blue velvet bag, a plaque with his name and dog printing, and a certificate that stated, “I’ll be awaiting you in the close of the rainbow bridge” But that was only the start of this stage. I put his ashes on the bookshelf in his favorite area – the family room. I passed them each morning when I went to work. Occasionally I would touch the velvet bag and say, “Bye friend” Other times I would just say goodbye to him. You may be interested in visiting vets, like Waxhaw vet or exotic pet care, they do vaccinations here.
Like those days when I’d say good-bye became less regular, I knew I was on the path to healing. And six months after I was prepared for another dog.
Some people who suffer a reduction of pets have the same strain as the puppy who passed away. I just could not do that. In reality, I went to about the other end of the strain spectrum. I got an Olde English Bulldog puppy. Where Jake was obedient she was rebellious. Where Jake was furry, she was stubbly. Where Jake was royal, her beauty was”she’s so ugly she is cute.” When she was a small puppy I used to look at the blue velvet bag on the bookshelf in the family room and say, “Jake – I wish you were here to teach her the ropes”
Now two years old, I love Jes just like I adored Jake.
If it’s time to bid farewell to your very best furry friend, allow yourself to pass through the five stages of grief. No deadline fits everyone. Only you will know when you are ready to advance to the next stage. Whatever you do, do not allow anyone to marginalize the pain that you feel when you suffer from the loss of pets.