From The Dog Blog Archives
Return To Article List
Goodbye, Jill: how to handle the loss of a pet. - 1/3/11
My little poodle, Jill, died on New Year's Day. Nothing makes it easy, but I'm thankful that she went peacefully beyond the veil. I just found her curled up in her little blanket, in her little kennel. I knew it wouldn't be long, so it wasn't a surprise; she was 15 years old, after all. But it's so strange, how a life can be there one minute, and not the next.I feel so sad, but I've been missing the Jill I knew for a while now, because she had not been herself for a long time. She lost both of her eyes to glaucoma a year ago, and never really was the same after that. She truly seemed depressed by her loss of vision, which I hadn't expected. At the time, I made the decision to have her eyes removed, at the recommendation of my vet, rather than euthanize her, because dogs don't depend on their sight as much as humans do and I didn't think she would be troubled by blindness once she adjusted to finding her way around the house. But Jill was an active little animal that wanted to be able to follow my every step and be part of everything I did. Once she was blind, she would wander around the house getting lost in corners, and even though I would pick her up and put her in my chair with me, or carry her around, she was restless and disoriented. So my happy little poodle has been gone some time now, and her death was less painful for me than it might have been. I'm also thankful that I didn't have to make the decision to have her euthanized.
This is the reality that all of us who have dogs in our lives have to face. They don't live long. We are responsible for their lives and we are responsible for their deaths sometimes as well. I've had to make The Decision for other dogs I've had, and it's always difficult. When is it time? Am I really doing what's best for my dog? There have been dogs, I'll confess, that I was having a hard time caring for, and I was afraid that my decision in part would be about making my own life easier again; dropping a burden I didn't want anymore, and the ensuing guilt over feeling that way. Other dogs I truly couldn't imagine life without, and couldn't let go when maybe I should have.
One of my clients was facing this same decision, and she told me wise words that her vet had given her. He said, "Think of three things your pet likes to do. Go for walks? Chase a ball? Watch squirrels? Then ask yourself: Does he still enjoy these things? If yes, maybe he can hang around awhile longer. If no, it might be time." For myself, I have usually been able to just tell it was time. It's almost as if my dog told me.
Sadly, sometimes it has to be about money. Veterinary care these days is really expensive, even for routine visits. If a dog is very ill, it can cost into the thousands. Everyone has to decide how much they can afford to spend on a sick animal, and this is very personal. Don't let anyone make you feel guilty because you didn't re-finance your house to keep your dog alive. Part of that consideration might be the age of the pet and how likely he is to recover and have more years.
No matter what, you're going to grieve when your pet dies. Our animals are part of our emotional life in a way that is unique in history. We invite them into our homes and they are family, as much as any definition of that word can be made. Don't think you have to deny your feelings, or let anyone tell you, "It's only a pet". Cry, remember, look at pictures, make a little space with a picture and a collar or favorite toy to honor them. Pray if you need to, to Whoever you know listens to you. We are all us part of the universe, and that life was just as valid as any, just as important. Most vets will cremate your pet and let you have the ashes. Some people like to have an urn to keep them in, or maybe you would rather scatter them over a favorite place. If you are seriously grieving and can't seem to cope, there are even people who will counsel and help you. Call your vet, and ask. Don't be embarrassed. They get those calls all the time. If you can't call your vet, look online or call any counseling center for people.
Rudyard Kipling lost a dog, and he wrote these lines: "There's trouble enough in the natural way, from men and women to fill our day; so why when we know we have trouble in store, why do we always arrange for more? Brothers and Sisters, I bid you beware, of giving your heart to a dog to tear"
My heart is torn now. But I have other dogs to love. There will be other friends to make in my life; not to replace Jill, but to love and play with and enjoy in their own place. Change happens, and I learn to embrace it,hold it to me, and let it go in its time. Goodbye, Little Dog.