Thursday, March 17, 2011

Dealing with Pet Loss: In Loving Memory

I disagree with this recent post I read on remembering that animals are not humans. This past Tuesday I had to put my dog of 15 years to sleep, and I have to say that it was one of the most painful experiences of my life. I got my dog when I was 9 years old, and she slept in bed with me every night until I went to college. Since Christmas of last year, her health and quality of life has deteriorated significantly: everything from arthritis to cataracts.

In Loving Memory: Sophie Osgood 3/15/2011

But what I really believe makes animals have "human" qualities, I never saw leave her. Right up until the end, she knew who I was, trusted me, and loved me unconditionally. What's more human than love? Than trust?

Because I had chosen to be there when she had actually passed, I believe that this effected me more than if I had just sent my father to do it. I felt strongly that not only was she my dog and this was my responsibility, but I also didn't want her to be alone or scared - call it silly if you want, but I didn't want my dog to feel that just before she left.

As she fell asleep in my arms and slipped away under my hands on the vet's table, and her body was placed in a box for us to take home and bury in the backyard, I could only think that a) I would remember this for the rest of my life, and b) this was the way to we had to do it. We brought her home, wrapped her in all of her favorite blankets, and laid her to rest by a pine tree in the backyard, all sitting around a fire. We then went inside to talk about her, memories we had, our favorite things about having her in our lives. If this doesn't sound like a "human" funeral, I don't know what does.

Sorry to disagree, but I believe that not only can animals possess human qualities beyond simple companionship, but that mourning their loss is equivalent to mourning the loss of a family member. Google "dealing with pet death" (as I did when returning to my Boston apartment) and you will see countless resources on how the pet grieving process is to be taken seriously: that your feelings do matter despite what people say.

And if you are one of those people who disregards sadness over the loss of a pet - not only do I not respect your lack of compassion, but I pity your lack of this experience. As painful as it was to say goodbye to my animal, I would not take back one moment that I had with her.

Rest In Peace, Sophie Osgood. 3/15/2011


  1. Your post brings me back to all of my grieving processes because they are so similar - the story is the same as what I went through with my first dog, Ashley, in 2001, and your dog Sophie, in that top picture especially, I swear, has the same face as my second furry baby, Chewy. I just relived both stories earlier this week, telling my mother-in-law, as I had a terrible scare with my dog Buffy this weekend.

    The grieving process is real. The love that we share and our pets grant us is absolutely UNDENIABLE. (I don't think I would have made it this far in my life without it... No, scratch that: I KNOW I wouldn't have made it.)) Animals are very much a part of our human existence and our domesticated animals fit more into our society than any others. To steal a line from a Temple Grandin title: animals make us MORE HUMAN.

    When I argue that "animals are not human" it is in the same vein as I would say "women are not men" - in order to celebrate the differences and not to take those differences for granted. It is simply a reflection on the fact that my way of thinking (animals are human aka "just like me") can be very limiting for all parties involved.

    My blog is about food and I am not a vegetarian or a vegan, so the discussion of animal meat is constantly a hot topic. HUMANE treatment of animals still ends in death - there are many meat-eaters that feel that because the animal's life ends in death, the quality of that life is not relevant. There are many that believe the animals are depressed be they "know" they are only being raised to die. I disagree. I believe the psychology of the animal comes from the current treatment, not some looming future date over which they worry. THAT is a human thing (worrying about the future that is not here yet, animals live in the NOW. Treat them right every day and they can have beautiful, happy lives with just one bad day... Their last one :(

    As for the grieving piece, I will tell you this - I broke down hysterically this week when I saw an episode of Dr. Oz featuring John Edwards (the psychic medium). Both my parents died at a young age and I am now left with no grandparents either, but it was no HUMAN story that got me... I broke down when John Edwards was talking to one family and said, "I also have a dog coming across with them..." In all my years of elementary school, there was only one time I believed my teacher (a nun) was wrong, that was when she told us that dogs don't go to heaven. My mother was furious with my teacher, had me speak to our pastor and other nuns, but everyone kept saying, "Heaven is the happiest place ever, if having your dog there will make you happy then it will be there!" I had two problems with this: the use of the pronoun "it" and the fact that a dog would only make it if Their owner held that desire - I wanted ALL dogs there!! So, the utterance from John Edwards put a 26 year old worry of mine to rest! :)

    ...and now you think I am even more nuts than before this all started!! :P

    So I don't know if your vet gave you a copy of The Rainbow Bridge when they gave you Sophie. I first read this when my vet's office gave it to me after Chewy died. (Get a tissue ready...) I know, someday I'll be picking up Chewy at the Rainbow Bridge, I'm pretty sure my mom already picked up Ashley, but if not, it's only because she was waiting for Chewy! Here's a great poem/story about where you will see your Sophie next:

  2. Hi Nicole,

    Thanks so much for sharing your story with me - it means a great deal to have someone reach out and make me feel just a little less alone in this process. I can only imagine the pain from losing 2 dogs, let alone one: they have such unique personalities - Sophie's was just sweet. Loving and sweet. Which made it even more difficult to let go; I absolutely agree that animals are a part of our "human" existence as well, and can understand your point of human vs dog is similar to man vs woman.

    This stuck me especially on your point that dogs live in the NOW and not concerned with the future - which made it all the more heartbreaking when I was dreading the countdown to the final vet visit, and she just let me take her in the car with me and, with complete trust, let me carry her into that office.

    I have to believe that all dogs "go to heaven". It's such a strong connection that I can't imagine it being confined only to humans. I feel as though they are such pure and loving creatures, that there is no way they do not. My grandfather actually passed away 2 years ago, and he adored my dog - so I imagine that I "handed her off" to him, and they're hanging out till I can see them again.

    I absolutely love the Rainbow Bridge Poem. I found this one that I particularly loved, as well:


    Do not stand at my grave and weep.
    I am not there, I do not sleep.
    I am a thousand winds that blow,
    I am the diamond glints on snow.
    I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
    I am the gentle autumn's rain.
    When you awaken in the morning's hush,
    I am the swift uplifting rush
    of quiet birds in circled flight.
    I am the stars that shine at night.
    Do not stand at my grave and cry,
    I am not there, I did not die...


    Thanks again so much for your comment -hope that your dog Buffy is doing well from the "scare"!

  3. I just sent this to my sister, who lost one of her cats recently. All of my pets have been cats, and I've been through this grieving process four times. People who don't understand have something wrong inside them. Love is love, family is family. If you would see innocence and trust and love, if you would see a beautiful soul, look into the eyes of your animal friend.

    I'm sure I would have liked your Sophy very much. My two boyz are Max and Murphy.

  4. Hi Melody - so sorry about your sister's cat. I actually have a cat who's 5 years old, his name's Jonah. While he's not the childhood pet, I still can't imagine losing him, either.

    I still think about Sophie all the time, and the "trauma" (I guess?) of having to put her down has seemed to subside, and I'm mostly just missing her just being around. I do remember how much pain she was in, though, even though her "soul" was there right until the end - her looking up at me, so trusting that I would take care of her. That's what I think really killed me about it.

    I'm sorry again for your sister, and I know it sounds irritating, but I do feel as though it got better with time. The important thing is to acknowledge that her grief is real.


  5. Melody,

    I am sorry about your family's loss. Ashley is right, the grief is real. Pet owners will understand, those who have never had pets might think we're nuts, but they simply have no reference for it. I have tried explaining it a couple of times to some friends and realized, you can't - to them it is the equivalent of grieving over a broken chair. In my eyes - not understanding the love of a pet is their loss of an amazing life experience.


    Perhaps this has been my own way of consoling myself after so many years, but I know that look you are talking about:

    "her looking up at me, so trusting that I would take care of her"

    and I think you should take comfort in the knowledge that you DID take care of her. You did everything you could and then you took her away from the pain when the vet said that was all that was left.

    The look is haunting, and will probably be with you (us) forever, but you responded to it with the strength and compassion that your love for Sophie made possible.

    The saddest part of the process is that *that look* is the last one we get to see. We don't get to see the relief, the gratitude, or anything that can assuage our guilt for the actions we had to take. However, after all of these years, I have come to believe that they would have been there if possible. I have to remind myself of that, because *the look* is a strong memory, but I believe when we are put in that situation, we are answering that call to care.

    Just saw your comment and wanted to share that with you. Hope all is well.

    All the Best,
    Nicole :)
    (and now Buffy is limping around with a sprained paw again - she is such a beautiful mess!)

  6. Nicole,

    Perfectly articulated. Thanks so much for your response. I believe that you are 100% right: the haunting feeling is a guilt that can't be assuaged due to us not seeing a sense of relief or that the pain has gone away - we just see them go away and it hurts. It still lingers, but I know that I did the right thing and sometimes that's all you can do to give them the peace that they need. She was one in a million, never will be another beagle quite like her :)

    I appreciate your comments as always, hope you are well and that Buffy is doing better :)

    Thank you,

  7. If you don't have family or friends who understand, or if you need more help, ask your recommend a pet loss counselor to Dealing With Pet Loss


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