Pet Loss – The Struggle Is Real

Our family is in mourning.  Our beloved dog Rowdy took his last trip to the vet and his final bow.  It was not an easy decision.  Yes, Rowdy had cancer and in recent weeks struggled to breathe but like most matters of the heart, the decision to “put our dog down” left us torn and in doubt.

Rowdy was old in respect to dog years and while there was no ignoring the battle wounds of aging, he was still a puppy at heart.  Giving Rowdy steroids in the past two weeks created a false sense of hope and at times, Rowdy would rebound with his tail wagging, wanting to play and greeting us at the door.

But, nothing lasts forever and taking steroids was a temporary fix.  In truth, Rowdy was not going to get better.  Medicine was nothing more than a band-aid clouding the decision that needed to be made.  Still, clarity can quickly become skewed and the nagging question weighed heavily from one moment to the next; should we wait?

There is never a good time to say goodbye to someone who you love and care about and quite honestly, if that someone is a pet it can be equally as hard.

For us, that goodbye came over the past couple of days. Everyone had the chance to shower Rowdy with lots of attention and love and in the end, everyone said their farewells to a loving and loyal dog.

Nothing can really ever prepare you for that moment in time that leaves your heart aching and feeling like someone just punched you in the gut. Watching my husband lovingly and painstakingly walk his dog out the door and into the car absolutely broke my heart.  I wanted to run to the dog and pet him just once more.  I wanted to hug my husband knowing this was tearing him apart and seeing the kids cry cut deep.

But that moment had come and in tears I watched the car drive away and slowly disappear down the road. There was no turning back and reality in all of its ugliness had coming knocking at the door.  Ready or not Rowdy would not come home and there would be no ignoring the wave of grief that was about to wash over our hearts and our house.

Yes, our family is grieving and there is no avoiding the emptiness that has settled deep into our home. The house is eerily quiet and somehow it feels different.  Sadly, there are reminders everywhere of a dog that loved without condition and was a gentle old soul.

In truth, I would sometimes feel annoyed with the dogs.  I work out of the home and there were days when my patience was tested for sure.  Yet as I write this I would give anything to hear Rowdy and Sadie barking when the UPS driver comes to the door.  It would be a welcome sound to hear Rowdy snoring outside of my office or to see that little tail wag with pure joy just once more.  I find myself listening for him and expect to see him sleeping in his kennel when I walk past the laundry room.  But instead there is now one kennel, one dog and Rowdy’s empty dog bed looms in the corner and is but a cruel reminder that Rowdy is not coming home.  Our 4-year-old dog Sadie is confused and lost, refusing to eat and afraid to leave our sides. She misses her pal.

Pet loss is hard and the struggle is real.  People lose beloved pets every day and are forced to walk down the path of loss and grief.  Yet, grieving the loss of a pet is often judged and misunderstood.

There is little to no support for pet owners and sadly, they sometimes feel isolated and alone in their grief.  Following the loss of an animal is, for some, equally as painful as losing a person in their life.  The pain of pet loss can swallow a person whole paralyzing them with a suffocating grief and struggling to just breathe.

Isolation and the fear of judgement can lead people to stuff their emotions and hide their grief.  Eventually, the inability to grieve and face your pain will build and can lead to far bigger issues.  Unresolved grief can lead to depression, sadness, negativity, anger and pain.  It is important to lean into your grief, to take steps to grieve through the pain and eventually move on with your life.

Nancy, a former colleague and friend,  shared her thoughts in and around the loss of her cats.

“In my experience, non-pet owners cannot relate to the loss of smaller pets.  I don’t know why.  When I lost my two horses, everyone was sympathetic.  Whether or not they owned a horse or not!  But when my cats died, I found little to no sympathy.  At first I was hurt by this, but now I understand that they just simply have never enjoyed the experience of having a dog, cat, rabbit, bird, turtle, etc in their lives that made them happy.  Sadly, they have never experienced the unconditional love that so many of us have felt with our pets. Thankfully, I have many friends with dogs, cats, birds and they were all loving and supportive!  Many of them just listened as I cried and told them what happened.  I needed to let those feelings out so I could move on.  You do too!”

Grief is hard and grief due to pet loss needs to be faced.  If unattended to, grief can paralyze you and keep you stuck in a place you no longer want to be.  It is critical that you find someone you can trust and lean on those who care about you and are willing to listen.

Pet loss and grief are personal and there is no time stamp or rule book in and around your grief.  You need to allow yourself the time to grieve and in whatever way is right for you.  There are a lot of myths out there surrounding grief and it is important that you don’t buy into those myths.  Don’t let anyone tell you how to grieve.

You deserve to grieve and you are not alone.  Cry if you need to.  Talk about your loss.  Be gentle with your heart and know it is completely normal to feel grief and pain from the loss of your pet.  Some people will not understand and quite honestly, society in general is uncomfortable with grief.  Do not let the discomfort of others or a lack of understanding stand in the way of you facing your grief and pain.

If you find yourself stuck and unable to move beyond your grief or you are heading to a dark place know that there is help and there are resources out there.  Don’t retreat and fight the exhausting battle of grief alone.

A pet often becomes an integrated part of the family weaving its way into the very fabric of our daily lives. In essence, pets ARE a valuable family member.  The fabric tears when a pet is gone and it can unravel quickly if we do not grieve and take steps to heal.  Losing a pet is devastating.  It is not just losing a pet but it is losing a loyal companion, a best friend and at times, a rock that people depend on every day.  Pet loss is HUGE.

If you have lost a pet or someone you know has lost one, please do not minimize the depth of the loss.  Pet loss matters and it will bring change to a person’s life.  Does life go on? Yes. Can you still live a life filled with happiness and joy?  Of course.  Life will not be the same but you can heal and move beyond the pain.

Animals are a blessing and the unconditional love they provide is amazing. Who doesn’t love the feeling of joy you get when after a long day of work your dog happily greets you at the door?

For us, things have changed this week.  Things feel different in our home and each one of us is handling it in our own way.  That is okay.  Just last night I woke up and thought I heard Rowdy bark only to realize that it was a dream.  Sadly, I had to try to fall back to sleep knowing I would not hear that bark again.

Life goes on and we are pushing through one step at a time. It helps to focus on the good memories and the unconditional love Rowdy gave to all he met.  We are a family in mourning and we miss a big hearted, old and quirky dog named Rowdy.  He will forever have a special place in our hearts.

Pet loss is a part of life.  Life will go on but you need to grieve.  Take the time and take care of your heart.  Love yourself unconditionally just like your beloved pet did.

 

In Peace and Love

 

Michele

 

 

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