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Hoping with the Loss of a Dog
Caring for a deteriorating or critically ill pet, and watching that animal eventually die, can be devastating for the owners. The story that Bonnie Mader, co-founder of Pet Loss Support Hotline, tells may help you cope.
My husband, Jeff, and I recently said goodbye to Emmy Lou, a beautiful, red Australian shepherd that Jeff adopted before his 15-year-old son Evan was born. Emmy was Jeff’s first dog, and I shared the last 10 years of her life with Jeff, Evan and our seven cats.
Watching Emmy Age
As Emmy aged, it was hard to watch her grow frail, particularly after she had spent years living an energetic, playful life. In her last couple of years, she could no longer hear, her eyesight faded and her arthritis became crippling.
Jeff and I missed taking Emmy for walks and playing ball with her and, in many ways, we said goodbye to her in stages during those two years before her death. We talked about adopting another dog and agreed that we would wait until after her reign in our home had ended.
Emmy’s quality of life declined quickly during the first week of March. She became incontinent and when we assisted in helping her stand she appeared to grimace in pain. She stopped barking to let us know she needed to go outside. Jeff and I did all we could to keep her clean and dry. Even with our efforts, her bright personality was gone and she truly seemed miserable. We couldn’t stop time and she wasn’t going to get better.
On a Thursday we decided we’d spend one more weekend with her. I called my friend, veterinarian Cheryl Scott, and made arrangements to have her come to our home Monday morning to put Emmy down and help us say goodbye to her.
For a few hours that Saturday morning, I staffed a booth at a local pet fair to raise awareness about our Pet Loss Support Hotline and our new Program for Veterinary Family Practice. It was hard for me to see people walking around with their happy, healthy dogs. Emmy was constantly on my mind.
The New Puppy, Marshall
During the day, a man walked by holding a darling puppy named Marshall who’d been rescued from the pound and needed a home. I told the man about Emmy and that I wasn’t ready to adopt another pet yet.
However, I think he had some intuition about my vulnerability because he kept coming by my booth with Marshall, who had the cutest Emmy-like ears. With every stop he made I noticed that my defenses were weakening. I’m usually strong-willed, yet my vulnerability about losing Emmy was taking an internal toll that I was unaware of, and I became susceptible to this puppy who needed a home.
I decided that morning that the home he would have would be Jeff’s and mine.
The circumstances weren’t ideal, and I was concerned about surprising Jeff by showing up with a puppy we hadn’t planned to adopt. It was Emmy who seemed to tell us we were doing the right thing by bringing this puppy into our lives at this time.
When Emmy and Marshall met, Emmy wagged her tail. Jeff and I hadn’t seen her wag her tail in weeks. We hoped that perhaps this was a sign that she would “bounce back” and regain some quality of life.
Unfortunately, she didn’t and, on Monday morning, we kept our appointment with Dr. Scott.
Jeff and I sobbed as Cheryl, who also cried, gave Emmy a peaceful death outside in the morning sun on her favorite blanket. Marshall stayed quietly nearby until it was time for Jeff to pick up Emmy’s body and take her to where he had a grave ready for her in our backyard.
Marshall quickly became a much-loved family member. We couldn’t have predicted how meaningful it would be for us that Marshall shared our last weekend with Emmy.
Jeff and I are feeling very old trying to keep up with Marshall’s puppy energy. He’s about five-months-old now and already weighs 35 pounds. I swear that his feet doubled in size the week after he was with us.
We take him for walks every day and have met more of our neighbors in the past few weeks than we have in the past few years.
We’ll Never Forget Emmy
We’ll never forget Emmy. We talk about her often, reminiscing about her life with us. And already I find myself wondering how I’ll adjust to losing Marshall someday. That’s normal. After all, I’m still recovering from losing Emmy.
I’m up for the emotional risk involved in loving Marshall. He’s already brought so much joy into our lives. Jeff and I pride ourselves in being responsible “pet parents” and we feel good knowing that Marshall has a fine life with us.
All my former pets live on in my heart. But it’s Marshall’s turn to live in our home.