A Well-Loved Companion: Saying Goodbye

posted in: Community, Mindfulness | 0

“How about this one?” my daughter said. The dog she was pointing to stood out from the rest. Nearly full grown, she wanted to be near the others in her kennel at the animal shelter, following them around almost to the point of annoyance. And then, our first meeting. Oh, she could not stop kissing me, she was so thankful. But she had not been at the shelter for the required 10 days, just in case someone claimed her, so I kept checking on her.

The ten days were up, and still she couldn’t go home with me, not until she got over the kennel cough she had picked up. And I kept checking on her. She was getting progressively worse, so I asked them if I could foster her. She came home with me and I spoon fed her as she sat in my lap, she was so weak. There’s something about a dog you save from the brink of death that creates a bond that can’t be broken.

That’s how Dodger came into my life almost 16 years ago. More than my other two dogs, she became very attached to me, following me around the house like a … well, like a dog. In her later years, she became deaf so she would not let me out of her sight. Dodger wasn’t the easiest of the three. She’d bark at anyone who came to the house, she let Tim know with a low grumble when she didn’t want to be messed with, she’d get grouchy with her other two canine siblings, but she knew I was her alpha.

Because she could be a little difficult, I often joked with Tim that “Dodgy’s going to live forever!” But about six months ago, at the age of 16, her vet saw that her kidneys were failing and he said they would probably give out before the end of the year. Outwardly, you couldn’t tell anything was wrong with her. She still had lots of energy, although her walks were getting shorter, but what do you expect from a 16 year old dog? Then, a few days before we were to leave on vacation last week, she took a turn. Within hours, she stopped eating and drinking and couldn’t stand up and we knew it was time. The next day, I thanked my friend for being in my life and said goodbye.

We had her cremated and will scatter her in our garden, like the other two we lost before her. West Coast Pet Memorial Services is sensitive to the importance of pets in our lives and include a guide for coping with the loss of a companion pet. I want to share some information from this guide, for those who are grieving their own pets.

Grieving a lost companion pet, they say, is a normal response to loss and trying to suppress that grief only prolongs it. No one can hurry the process, and everyone’s grief is different. You might experience exhaustion – physical, emotional and spiritual – or changes in appetite or sleeping patterns. This is all a normal part of the process, which doesn’t follow any rules or timetable.

The purpose of grieving is to integrate the experience of a pets death into your present life. So while you will always love them, the hope is that as time goes on, the feelings of sadness will become less difficult.

Guilt and uncertainty are two common emotions that people experience after the death of their pet. You think you should have done something differently, or you could have prevented or postponed the death. Remember that death is a part of life and that you don’t need to find blame. Realize that sometimes you are powerless over what happens. Be gentle with yourself, remembering that as a human being you are not perfect. Chances are, you did everything right and it was just your pet’s turn.

It might help to create a celebration of life for your pet. Our tradition of scattering her ashes in our garden reminds us that life is reborn in other forms, witnessed by the plants that her ashes nourish. I have also kept each of my dogs collars. Dodger’s is adorning a vase that holds wildflowers. You can create a temporary altar out of nature items, or hold a memorial service. Consider donating time, money or talent to animal advocacy groups.

If you find you need help with the grieving process, there is support. Gateway Services Inc. provides grief support for those who have lost a pet, through their Pet Compassion CareLine. Call 1-855-245-8214 to reach a counselor 24/7.

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