Column: A fond farewell to a friend

September 26, 2012


My dog, Victoria, is dying. She has congestive heart failure. It all began in December 2011 when, one night, she began to cough and have trouble breathing. When I took her in to see my veterinarian, she told me that Vicki’s left heart valve was leaky. But there was still time; medications and rest could prolong her life. In July, Vicki took a turn for the worse; her right heart valve had begun to leak. But my wonderful veterinarian adjusted the medication, and Vicki is still around and happy, at least for a while.

There have been a few changes in our life together. Vicki cannot go out and run in the fields like she used to do. She still goes out into the fenced area but no more running free. I can tell that she misses this. Every day when she awakens, she runs to the door to the outside and looks at it hopefully. And the medication makes her lose control over her bladder every now and then. It’s probably my imagination, but I sometimes think that she looks a bit embarrassed at the puddles. I also find myself spending a bit more time at home these days to be with Vicki and the other dogs. And I probably give them all more treats than I used to do.

So far as I can tell, Vicki really doesn’t know she’s sick let alone that our days together are numbered. In fact, I have to make sure that I don’t look upset when I’m with her. She may not know that she’s sick, but she can quickly tell if I’m upset. She’s sweet about it and comes over and licks my face to comfort me. I usually have to go in the bathroom to hide for a few minutes when that happens.

Losing a dog or any companion animal is a hard thing. I don’t have any children so, like so many Americans, my dogs and cats have become children substitutes even though I know that’s not really a good thing. Of course, dogs don’t live as long as people, so when we adopt a dog and bring him or her into our lives, it has to be in the knowledge that we’ll probably outlive them. On the other hand, at 60, I often think that maybe I’ll get lucky and my dogs and cats might stick around as long as I will. Unfortunately, that probably won’t be the case for Vicki, not unless my demise is unexpectedly imminent.

It is hard to lose a dog. It’s losing a friend and a family member. Dogs give unconditional love to their human companions. They steal food, mess up carpets and can bark in the middle of the night loud enough to wake the dead, but they are wonderful companions. As I contemplate losing my friend Vicki, alas, in the not to distant future, I do feel sad, but I also feel grateful. She has been a wonderful, loving friend and companion for more than a decade, a decade that was not easy for me in many ways.

She has made me appreciate the joys of that special relationship humans and canines have shared for tens of thousands of years. She and my other canine and feline companions have enriched my life and filled it with love. There can be no greater gift, and every day that I have with her is an additional gift, one I intend to appreciate and never forget. For those of you who’ve never had an animal companion, it’s not too late. Visit the Humane Society, who gave me Vicki, and find a special friend and fill your life with joy.

— Mike Hoeflich, a distinguished professor in the Kansas University School of Law, writes a regular column for the Journal-World.


Charles L. Bloss, Jr. 5 years, 9 months ago

When we lost our last black lab, we were devastated. We have a black cat, and they were exceptionally close. The cat sat in the rock garden for 3 months waiting for her friend to return. We have no children by choice, as I was in a dangerous profession and did not want our kids to become orphans should something happen to me. Thus our dog and two cats are much closer to us than maybe some people. I understand what the writer is going through. While grieving we went through stages, such as we will not get another dog because the pain of losing them is too great. About three months after her death a friend who owns a wonderful animal shelter called. They had an 8 year old black lab and did not have room for her. They had her in temporary foster care. We knew her chances of being adopted were slim to none due to her age. We took her and once again were in love with such a wonderful animal. We will outlive her, and have to go through losing a dog again. I have good friends who outlasted either 3 or 4 dogs. Losing the last one was so difficult for them that they did not get another one. I wonder why GOD made it this way. My best friend since I was in my early teens told me when I retired that I should get a dog. He had dogs all of his life. I took his advice and have never been sorry. The letter was awesome, my deepest sympathy to the writer!

number3of5 5 years, 9 months ago

My husband and I lost one of our companion animals this year, a beloved mastiff named Bigfoot. Bigfoot had suffered and accident about 4 years ago and tore the acl in his knee. It took a year and multiple vet trips to finally get the correct diagnosis on this injury. We could not afford the expensive surgery required and he refused to take medication for his pain. He suffered each winter and eventually was using his back legs as one and walking on his front legs. This spring it was so bad he had difficulty going outside on cold wet days. When he took a nose dive off the couch trying to get down, my husband said it was time. We had him put to rest the next day. Now in my garden, there is a path that leads to the stone that marks his final resting place. Missed and not forgotten.

Terry Sexton 5 years, 9 months ago

Health issues aside, Victoria is one lucky dog.

Kathy Theis-Getto 5 years, 9 months ago

Made me tear up. Would that we all loved our neighbors and enemies alike with the same fervor.

jonas_opines 5 years, 9 months ago

I'm gonna bawl like a baby when my dog dies. Luckily, he's only 3 and a half.

rwwilly 5 years, 9 months ago

Excellent letter, Mike. We lost our dog, Pedro several months ago and still can't stop remembering and laughing about his life and antics. He died of the same issue...bad valves. It's hell losing a pet you have had that long. I try to remember Dr. Seuss' advise, "Don't cry because it over but smile cause because it happened."

Richard Crank 5 years, 9 months ago

For those who have pets, dogs in particular, I highly recommend two Washington Post pieces by Joe Yonan. The first described his deep grief at losing his dog,Red. The second was a fellow up Q&A with a counselor specializing in pet-loss grief. If you can't get the right Internet search done to find them, ask for help at a library service or reference desk. They worth the time and effort.

Rich Crank KU Libraries staff member

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