Hump Day: Grieving process for beloved pet can be mighty tough

Hump DayHump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011
Moncton Times & Transcript
Editorial section

When my friend Bob called me on Monday morning, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach that it was some bad news. We’d had many discussions in recent months about the failing health of his beloved dog Riley, a nine-year-old Springer Spaniel mix who’d been starting to show his age.

As the weeks went by, “starting to show his age” turned into much more than just that, however. Riley went suddenly blind in one eye and then, shortly after, completely blind. I admired Bob greatly for his attitude. “I’m not going to put him down just because he’s blind.” As long as Riley adapted well, he was sticking around.

I’d seen Riley after he became blind and he seemed to be getting along OK. He would knock into things here and there, but seemed to be adjusting and could walk around Bob’s house without getting into too many mishaps since he was used to the layout. Animals often adapt very well to disabilities. Other senses take over and they just move on with their lives.

In the past few days, though, whatever caused the blindness seemed to progress quickly and other problems appeared. Finally, the sad decision to put him to sleep was made. Bob brought Riley to celebrate one last Thanksgiving with friends and he even got his own holiday meal complete with turkey and all the trimmings. Everyone got to say their good-byes.

Riley was such a sweet dog. He got along famously with other dogs and even with cats, so taking him places was no problem. When I visited Bob several weeks ago and we decided to go out for lunch, I didn’t hesitate to leave my dog Milane with him home alone. The worst he would do would be to lick her to death. Of course, we came home and they were fine. We opened the door to the house to find two happy dogs wagging their tails. Not bad for having just met an hour or two beforehand!

A few years ago, before I got Milane, Bob dropped by my house with Riley to meet my two cats, Cindy and Casey. I knew Casey would be fine after a period of adjustment. He’s a big loverboy who would cuddle up to Satan, I’m sure, so I knew Riley was safe with him.

Cindy, however, was another story and I think she’s about the only animal in Riley’s nine years on Earth that he couldn’t charm. Within an hour, Casey was sitting near Riley without a care in the world, while Cindy was still at the end of the hallway near my bedroom with her back arched, fur sticking up on nd and hissing like a banshee. Riley was good-natured, but he was no miracle-worker!

The last time I saw Riley was a few weeks ago just a day or so after he’d gone completely blind. It was the second time that he and Milane had interacted and everything went perfectly, as it had before. Milane ran over to eat all his food as soon as we got in the house (she has a tendency to be rude like that) and they each managed to get a butt-sniff in here and there. All was good.

Having not seen Riley every day, however, I could definitely see that he was going downhill. The blindness was sad to see, but it didn’t really seem to bother him. In the two weeks since, however, things continued to move in the wrong direction. Despite trips to the vet, there’s only so much you can do.

While Riley was not that old of a dog, nine years of age is still “up there” for a larger dog. Also, he was the last surviving member of his litter. His siblings died even younger from various maladies. Perhaps it was just genetics – and nine years was pushing the envelope. While he was very healthy for most of his life, it was just his time to go.

In the end, the incredibly difficult decision was made to take Riley to the vet on Monday morning and have him put to sleep. The end was here. The quality of life was going fast if not gone already. The neurological problems that popped up in the final days were omens for even worse things to come.

The painful decision to put a beloved pet down is heartbreaking. You don’t want to do it too soon. You don’t want to do it too late. Often, the pet simply lets you know and stops eating. That’s a tell-tale sign. Then it’s easy. But just as often, the pet is still eating and has good days and bad days. That’s when the feelings of doubt in the pet owner’s mind step in. Acting like a puppy one day… can barely move the next. Sometimes there’s no clear-cut answer.

I talked to a vet the other day that had just lost his dog suddenly a few weeks ago. Despite working with animals all his life, it was the first time he’d personally experienced such a sudden loss with his own pet. “Now I know how people feel,” he told me. Until it happens to you, you just can’t imagine, even if you work with animals daily.

One day, hopefully not for several years yet, I’ll have to bid a fond and tear-filled adieu to my bossy girl cat Cindy, my cuddly boy cat Casey and my sweet little fluffy white girl dog Milane. Each one of them has brought and continues to bring joy and companionship to me. They are loved. And I’m pretty sure by the purrs and wagging tails that they know it, too.

Rest in peace, sweet Riley. You were a wonderful dog. I hope you’re having fun running through the fields of Heaven, chasing squirrels and feeling like a puppy again!

5 Responses to Hump Day: Grieving process for beloved pet can be mighty tough

  1. Although losing a beloved pet is truly heart wrenching – when my wife lost her old cat friend Marilyn Minou, her despair made me cry so I had to go outside to breathe –, the thing to do is go get another one. Most people refuse to do so because they feel they are betraying their departed pet. Rex can never be replaced. Rex will always be Rex. True. But all that affection-turned-grief in their heart really hurts, and getting a new pet is the best way to turn it again into affection. And people will be surprised that Rex will always be there, in their heart, even after the arrival of that cute new little pup Mario. And you’ll be able to pour all that love on a new friend that will soothe your soul and love you with all it’s little heart. Trust me.

  2. With all due respect, I disagree that the answer when losing a pet is to get another one immediately. Pat, you mentioned when your wife’s cat died, her despair was too much for you to handle. Perhaps it is you who can’t handle your wife’s grief and why you suggest getting another pet.

    While I understand everyone must deal with the death of a pet in his or her way, we must also mourn them in the same way we mourn our human companions.

    I host a local tv show and my last show tackled the subject of pet loss. The psychologist who was a guest agrees that is healthy and important to grieve and not to rush out to get another pet.

    The mourning process is just that, a mourning process. It takes time and it is painful. I grant you that. My beloved dog, Shadow, died over two months ago and I still grieve for him. He was/is a member of my family. I don’t have the energy to adopt another dog for any forseeable future.

    Shadow leaves behind a brother, Jazz, who is definitely grieving for his best bud. The two of them were inseparable. Jazz is quite different since the loss of Shadow. I’m trying to help him through this tough transition.

    While I don’t begrudge others who do go out and get another pet, that is not the answer for many people.

    I want to honor Shadow’s life and I personally must mourn for him. He was a beloved member of my family and he is so sorely missed that words can’t convey or expresss those emotions accurately.

    Thank you.

  3. When my little shih-tzu was put to sleep, I had already gotten another pup, a yorkie. It didn’t really ease the pain of losing Bogey, but Willie, the yorkie, was going to another person if I didn’t take him right away; so I did. I found a site that helped with the loss of a beloved pet, called “The Rainbow Bridge” I recommend it to all who are grieving the loss of a family pet.

  4. This is Pat’s wife weighing in… I believe in grieving as hard and as much as you can and not hold anything in. I made a fool of myself in the vet’s office when we had to put my beloved Marilyne to sleep, but I did not care. I was devastated and cried like a professional Egyptian mourner.

    I then gathered my cat’s dead body in a towel and held her close to me all the way to Cocagne. I prepared a little casket for her, spread wild flowers on her and buried her under a rose bush I loved.

    It may sound odd, but I believe in touching and tending to the dead. (I touched and stroked my deceased my mother’s face and hands, to my brothers’ horror, but it helped me tame the grief and death.)

    After dealing with Maryline death in my own way, I felt greatly relieved and was ready to give love to the pet I still had, sweet Bradwejn, our Papillon spaniel.

    It may seem a hysterical response to some, but extreme mourning helped me recover more quickly. I still miss my feline alter ego, but I now have two Papillons dogs who are alive and require all my love.

    But I do agree with Brian. Getting another pet right away is a personal decision to be weighed carefully. And everybody mourns in their own way.