Archive for Monday, December 6, 2010

Critter Care: Life in transition after loss of beloved companions

December 6, 2010, 9:58 a.m. Updated December 6, 2010, 9:58 a.m.


I stand on the back porch, look up at the russet leaves floating down and breathe in the comforting scents of their season. The birdbath is full, fresh sunflower seeds wait in small piles. A faint breeze blows.

I love autumn, but this one is melancholy.

Will you write about it? my friends ask, and I shake my head. No, I say. It’s too personal. It was just between me and each of them.

As I watch, a bird swoops in and lands on the feeder. Squirrels now dash fearlessly across my back yard, which is otherwise silent.

My dogs are gone.

They and my cat, Cassie. I lost them all within eight weeks, and the pain is so intense that sometimes I’m certain I won’t be able to bear it.

Their ghosts float and echo through my house, and sometimes I can catch them out of the corner of my eye, but they disappear as quickly as I can look.

Jack was first, at the end of August, and his decline happened so quickly — quite literally in two days — that I felt I couldn’t even process it properly. His big red body was there, taking up so much room, yapping his demands for a good butt-rub, and suddenly my living room was open and empty.

The life was drained from it.

Cassie, with that horrible cancer in her mouth, was three weeks to the day later.

I lay in bed that first night, waiting for her to come up to my pillow and bang her head hard into my nose to ask for a snuggle. She had done that right up to her last evening with me.

My bed was now empty.

And then, four weeks and four days after that, my beloved Bailey told me that she was tired of the fight.

With her went just about everything else I had left in me.

For days I clutched her favorite teddy bear and carried her collar around with me. I touched the big dark spot on the wall that she always rubbed as she circled before lying down. Now I bring her picture up on my computer each morning, so I can look at her, see her gentle brown eyes and the long hair flowing from the edges of her ears.

I know it’s all part of the process. It was all inevitable. That’s how life goes. But still, I’m left here, and how do I pick up all the pieces?

Eating isn’t fun anymore without two big noses asking me what I’ve got and can they have some?

I don’t want to sit on the sofa. That was Jack’s place.

And why does the office chair look so empty and barren without a little black fur ball snoozing on it?

I still listen, when I step out of the car in the garage, for the babyish, high-pitched yelp that came out of that big ol’ Doberman, telling me he had heard me pull in and to hurry into the house.

I glance down the hall, waiting to see a tri-color face peak around the corner, checking to see whether I’m looking back.

You have to get another dog, friends tell me.

I get on the computer, open PetFinder, and with each picture I see, I ask,

“Could it be you? Could I love you as much? What little habits do you have that I would learn about, that make you you?”

I reject the border collie — too much like Bailey. The yellow lab isn’t right either. Not enough like Jack.

I close the computer. It’s just too soon. I go into the bedroom, touch the canisters that hold their ashes, tell them I still love them. Then I call my friends.

“May I come over and play with your dogs?”

It’s a perfect temperature outside this morning. Bailey loved cold weather as much as Jack hated it, but today ... today they would have agreed upon, and if I had chosen today to work in the yard, they would have followed me around lazily, flopping down in the grass, rolling, sniffing at the air.

I sweep some leaves from the porch and think about getting ready for work. My two remaining cats wait for me when I step inside. Benton rubs against the side of the pantry, asking whether I’ll open a can of food for him for breakfast instead of waiting until dinner. Deena is on her perch, lying on her side, reaching out to me with one paw. I smile and scratch her head.

My life is totally changed, and yet, I realize, one thing remains the same: I will always have companion animals. There will be more dogs. Maybe not today. Maybe not even before the holidays. But there will be more.

And that may be the finest testament to my dear departed friends.


Lenette Hamm 6 years, 9 months ago

Oh how I feel what you're going through. I lost three pets last year within 5 months, the last was my faithful dog at the age of 14. In less than a week, it will be a year since her death and I'm already reeling...

John Sheppard 6 years, 9 months ago


Amy Heeter 6 years, 9 months ago

I'm sorry. I lost two cats this year too. It is difficult for those of us who make real long term commitments to our animals. Perhaps life is easier for those who take on pets on a temporary basis as they never feel the impact of loss we do when they slip away. I think they have another form of loss though because they never really feel that intense bond. I have chosen cremation so that when I cross over our ashes can be spread together as it should be.

Bunny_Hotcakes 6 years, 9 months ago

Excuse me, I think I have something in my eye.

I lost a cat this fall too. He seemed fine, maybe slowing a bit due to age, and then he slowed down entirely too much. Within four days we knew it was time and said goodbye. He was cranky and hilarious and had behavior issues and was a barfer but I loved him all the same and I miss him every single day. He was a pain in the butt but he was MY pain in the butt.

Don't torture yourself with Petfinder too much. It will be time soon enough. Take time to mourn your little buddies properly. Two dogs and a cat tells me you have a big heart and soon enough it will have room for more pets.

It took me over six weeks to be able to even consider another animal, and even then I couldn't stand the thought of having one that looked anything like the one I'd lost. Sometimes I wonder if we should have waited longer, but I felt like we needed to adopt a buddy for our current cat and I missed having the craziness that only a pair of cats can provide.

Best of luck, and you have my deepest sympathies.

Joe Blackford II 6 years, 9 months ago

Take comfort in knowing Jack, Bailey & Cassie chose you with whom to share their lives. They spent many a moment pondering what nonsense you would expect from them; placed their trust in you to look out for them as they slept in your presence.

We have a new puppy in our home for the first time in 24 years. Actually, two new puppies. The first, Bee, a Toller, was cautiously introduced to our 16YO lab, Meanie; who had so often exhibited non-Lab behavior. Bee brought new life into Meanie's spirit, and her daily walks stretched from around the block to 2, twice a day. She tolerated oh so many nips; without ever expressing her reputation.

My wife was out of town when I had to make The Decision. When she called, I said everything was fine. I told her the Atchison Humane Society had 5 half-Toller puppies. She said she would tell her traveling companions. A co-worker looked them up on petfinder, called the Humane Society & got the particulars.

Tears were shed when my wife returned. The next day we drove to Atchison (from Manhattan). We interviewed 5 half-Tollers; picked the female who showed the most interest in a quail wing; and introduced her to Bee. Monkey seems to be the Best Xmas Gift Ever. They are inseparable (or they mope in their crate while the other is off to lessons). They do silly things, not unlike our previous dogs, but they have years ahead for trying to best the records.

We are so fortunate they chose us to console & brighten our lives. Your new companion is waiting to chose you.

Sharon Dwyer 6 years, 9 months ago

Sharing our hearts and homes with dogs and cats opens us up to much love and, ultimately, tremendous sadness. I for one think that it is worth it in spite of the pain. My home is a geriatric menagerie and I have lost one dog and three cats in three years. One of the cats was sixteen and dying of kidney failure when I adopted her, her previous owner having died. She spent her final weeks in kitty hospice in my bed instead of at the shelter. We shared a bittersweet, rare bond.

Even through the pain of loss I feel moved to reach outside myself and provide a home for another needy, lovable critter. It's the right thing for me, though others may need more time.

bearded_gnome 6 years, 9 months ago

Sue, dogs are a very special gift to us, we need them.

please don't rush getting new one(s).

Petfinder is good. I've looked there but Gnomedog sorta found us through circumstances.

when he came he was very scared of anyone he did not know. now, he is friendly and outgong six years later. daily obedience and long walks, lots of love and affirmation.

I am so glad to give to him because he gives back so much more. he senses when I am upset or sick, senses these right away without my speaking a word. his big paw is just so darned cool on my chest. unconditional love is sure hard to find in the world, except from your dog. Gnomedog helps me get stronger physically.

Sue, charish the good time and the memories with these three. you are a better woman because of them.

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