An excerpt from...
Healing the Pain of Pet Loss: Letters in Memoriam
A Naturally Centered Being
My dog Taki was halfway through her tenth year when she died last March. A 35-pound mixed-breed terrier, her main goal in life was to supply me with unending love and devotion. Until the day she died she never lost her puppy-like joy; people were often surprised to hear that she was 10 years old and not 10 months old. A friend once said that he had never seen any creature more full of love than Taki. He was right.
I first met Taki when she was eight weeks old and living at an ASPCA in New York City. I had gone to the shelter only to help a friend find a cat and had absolutely no desire to get a dog. But when I walked in and saw this little puppy with her hair sticking straight out, wrestling with and thoroughly frustrating a German shepherd pup three times her size, I simply couldn’t resist. I knew right away that this was the dog for me.
Over time, an emotional and even spiritual bond grew between us. It seemed as if we both knew what the other was thinking and feeling. On those many occasions when my fiance and I got into a heated discussion, we noticed that Taki would quietly slink away. She didn't like to see or hear us fight. My fiance (and now my wife) grew to love the dog as much as I did.
Last February we brought Taki to the vet for her semi-annual check-up. We noticed that she had lost two pounds, but I thought this was because we had recently taken her off cortico-steroid medication for her allergies.
The vet ran some blood tests and suggested that we might want to have a full set of x-rays done. But because the blood tests came back negative and because Taki was acting normally and showed no signs of illness, the x-rays seemed unnecessary. I was certain the weight loss was due to the medication change.
A few weeks later, we noticed that there was a little discharge following her bowel movements. Because she showed no other signs of illness, we waited until Monday to have her checked out. The vet found a tumor in her pancreas and said immediate surgery was necessary. The night before the operation was the first time Taki showed any signs of being ill. Her stomach became bloated and she refused to eat. That night she slept underneath my side of the bed (not her normal place). I think that maybe she hoped that I would take away her pain, so she stayed near me.
Although I was optimistic that the operation would be successful, I also felt a tremendous sense of powerlessness. During the surgery the vet saw that Taki was riddled with cancer, so much so that she didn’t think Taki would recover or even make it through the anesthesia. Even if she did manage to survive the operation, the vet felt strongly that Taki would only live for a few, very painful days. We chose what we believed to be the only humane thing to do and had her put to sleep during the operation.
The next few days were the most painful of my life. The suddenness of Taki’s death left my wife and me completely unprepared. Even my mother’s death didn’t hit me as hard, but that was perhaps because it was preceded by a long illness which allowed me to be more prepared when she finally died. My wife and I would frequently break into tears (this still happens — I'm crying now as I write this). Taki’s death seemed so unfair. I felt as if the center of my soul had been destroyed. Once, when I accidentally moved her old collar, I heard the clang of her dog tags and I thought for one glorious moment that she was still alive. Her absence haunted our apartment. In the days after her death, I was also torn over my previous decision not to get a full set of x-rays. If I only had... she might still be alive.
During this time, my friends, especially those who had come to love Taki, were very supportive and helped us by talking about the good times we had with her. Some people might find these kinds of memories too painful to talk about, but I believe that it helps to eulogize a pet and to acknowledge how important they were to you.
I realized that for most of Taki’s life I had only been aware of my responsibility to her. I had to feed her, walk her, clean up after her and care for her when she was sick. So many times I couldn’t do something or go somewhere because I had to go home and take care of the dog. Of course, I didn’t mind this responsibility, but I think it made me blind to all the many things she gave me and to how much I depended upon her.
It was only with Taki’s death that I could truly appreciate the companionship and love that she gave me and the truly joyous way she welcomed life. I came to understand that there is a dog’s way of living, a sort of canine philosophy, that treats even the most mundane things — like our daily walks — with openness and excitement. No matter what we did, it was okay with her — as long as we did it together. I finally realized that a dog like Taki is a naturally centered being, with a balance that we humans seldom attain.
Three weeks after Taki died, my wife and I started to think about getting another dog to fill the sudden void in our lives. I think that the time we spent grieving for Taki made it possible for us to accept a new dog into our lives so soon after her death without feeling guilty. Within a week we found a wonderful Irish Setter puppy. Puppies have this marvelous way of not letting you feel too sad.
I hope my letter will help other people whose pet has just died. I found that it was very helpful to allow myself to experience the grief I felt and to express those feelings fully. There is no need to be ashamed of grieving the loss of a pet and there is certainly nothing to be gained from denying your pain. It doesn’t really matter if no one else understands what you are going through. Your grief is real to you and only by experiencing it openly can you hope to grow from it. In my case, it also helped a great deal to get another dog once I felt ready to take that step.
Good luck and I hope this letter helps.
D.M., New York
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