On Losing a Beloved Pet

Written by Christine Kane

“Relationships are forever. They are eternal. Not just permanent in this lifetime. Once you establish a relationship, it is an eternal relationship.” – Abraham-Hicks

Years ago I was at a workshop, sitting in a circle of women. One of them was grieving a death in her family, expressing anger and isolation.

She said, “…and you know what?  If one more of my idiot girlfriends acts like she knows what I’m going through and shares some dumb-ass story about when her stupid dog or cat died, I’m going to explode.”

Of course, that anger wasn’t the truth of who she is. Anyone who has experienced grief knows that she was probably just trying to mask her intense sadness.  Anger pretends it can do that.

For some reason, though, I thought of that woman at 1am this past Tuesday.

Atticus, who had been my special pal for 13 years, finally passed away after a long hard final week of a five-month illness.  Silently, I assured that woman – wherever she is now – that my heart was shattered enough to satisfy even her needs.

Even though Mr. Patticus weighed in at only 4 pounds at his passing, I felt the grief of a hundred tons of spirit.  After all, the sadness of letting go has so little to do with these earthly issues — like weight and form, or human and pet.  It’s a matter of the heart.  And thank goodness, our hearts don’t know such limitations.

I’ve been so touched by the number of people who have stopped their busy lives to share their stories when they found out about my beloved kitty.  I love how common we all are – even the most stoic or the most mental among us can share with stunning detail an instance when they lost a dog, or a cat, horse or bird.

When a treasured pet dies, you may find yourself going through a kind of mental gymnastics – most of which is just a feeble attempt at distracting you from what you’re desperately trying to avoid: the heavy and unbearable sadness of letting go of something so sweet, so precious, and so connected to you.

Most thoughts can be noticed, accepted, or released – yet when you are in the thick of your grief, sometimes it’s hard to remember to do any of those things.

So, the following items are random.  I’m posting them for someday. I’m posting them because you might need a friend-in-writing at some 1am of your own.  Print this out and save it for that time.

These are pieces of my experience, and pieces of stories from other people.  This is my attempt to remind you of the truth, so that you can get back to doing what you are meant to do when you lose a pet – which is to purely experience the release of this being you treasure.  In that alone will you find healing.

Guilt

Guilt will sneak in at unexpected moments, telling you that you did it wrong, that you didn’t do enough, that you caused this to happen, or that it’s all your fault.

Guilt is tricky.  It seems like situations cause it to rise up out of nowhere.  But really, guilt just hangs around, waiting in the wings – and it waits to find the perfect situation to make an entrance.

In the highly charged situation of a sick pet who doesn’t have a voice, guilt is always available to fill the silent spaces.  And it serves no purpose.

You find your pet, you love your pet, and you do the best you can. That’s all you can do.

That’s what you did.

Blame

Blame is guilt going in the opposite direction. You’ll want to blame the vet, or the driver of the car, or your boyfriend for taking you out that night when your dog ran off, which wouldn’t have happened had you been there.

Blame serves one purpose:  to distract you. It’s not that you aren’t allowed to have moments of blame and anger – but remember that no matter how much of it you experience, eventually the sadness will be what’s waiting for you at the end of that long line of stuff.  And you’ll have nowhere else to turn but in its direction.

Blame might postpone the sadness – but not forever.

Second-Guessing

A friend of mine told me that one of the worst things about putting her cat to sleep was the second-guessing that happened afterward.

Second-guessing is just guilt on Halloween.  It puts on a mask called “Rational Thoughts” that offer you all the reasons why you did the exact opposite of what you should’ve done.

Atticus died as I held him on my kitchen floor.  During this last hour, I was overtaken by fear. The second-guessing began. Had I made the wrong choices? Should I have had him put to sleep? I didn’t do any of this right, did I?

I was able to catch myself and remind myself that all I needed to do was be fully present to this moment, and we would both get through it. That’s all you need to do, too. Your presence is more powerful and more healing than your untrue thoughts.

Knowing

When you’re contemplating putting your pet to sleep, and you ask people how you’ll know whether or not to do it, and when it’s time, they will all tell you one thing, “Oh. You’ll know. You’ll just know.”

The truth is that you might know.  And that’s great.  But you also might not.  I kept waiting to hear a “knowing.” But it never came.  My homeopathic vet told me that it might never come, and that you just have to do the best you can do.

Life

It’s imperative that you experience life during this time.   When Atticus was dying, Spring was in a “Hey it’s been raining for six straight days!” cheerleader-like exuberance, so I made myself go out into the woods with my dog.

I witnessed Pink Ladyslipper in bloom. I smelled the wet ground. I watched some Pileated Woodpeckers going to town on a fallen tree. I met a month-old puppy and reveled in his puppy breath.

It was as if the earth was shouting at me, “It’s all life!”

I didn’t believe it. But it helped me remember that it was all there for me to return to when I’m ready.

Give yourself time for life and remember that, as Eckhart Tolle reminds us, the opposite of death is birth. Not life. Life doesn’t die.

Time

No matter if your dog was only three when she got hit by a car, or if your cat lives to be 29, you’ll want more time.  You’ll bargain for it. You’ll pray for just one more year. You’ll swear that you’ll be grateful 365 days straight.

Atticus had a lifetime of me bargaining for more time. Homeopathy pulled him from the jaws of death on several occasions.  I was (and am) grateful for all of it.

But it didn’t make it easy to let go when the time came. I still held tight. I even made a few feeble bargaining attempts. But eventually, I had to surrender and focus on gratitude for the years he lived.

Of course, surrender doesn’t make the sadness go away. It’s just that you no longer are clinging quite so tightly.

The truth about time is that it is only ever now.  And all those nows that you had with your beloved animal were perfect.  But this now is different from those nows.

Protection

My mom had two dogs when she was little, and both of them died unexpectedly.  One day her dad announced that he refused to allow any more pets in their home because he couldn’t stand to go through any more broken hearts.  He managed to hold fast to his rule, and my mom never had another pet in her life.  I never said this to my mom, but I find it interesting that her dad died of a massive heart attack at a young age.

You might want to swear off animals forever. You might tell yourself that you can’t possibly go through this ever again.  While it may take some time to allow another pet into your life, the idea that you can protect your heart from pain by sealing it off from love is ludicrous.  As one of my Platinum Coaching clients wrote on her coaching form last week:

“I’ve spent so many years, pretty much all of my life, working so hard to avoid feeling pain that I never let myself see beauty either.”

As long as we’re on this planet, we might as well experience it, revel in it, take it all in, live big, cry hard, laugh a lot, and love every being that will have us. What’s to protect yourself from?

It’s an honor to love something so much that your heart breaks when it moves to another plane.  It’s an honor to be loved back, too.  There’s joy to be found – even in your sadness.

Judgment

Some people will find you ridiculous. You will cancel engagements and get rolled eyes.  Your family might whisper about you.

“It’s just a cat.”

“Why all the fuss over a dog?”

Don’t waste your energy being mad. Whether it’s the joy of a pet, or having your own business, or getting fired, or losing a parent – if someone hasn’t experienced it, then they just don’t understand.  They will someday.  In the meantime, be willing to be judged.  You’ve got more important places to put your attention.

Surrender

Lastly, let’s talk about the moments of sheer peace, surrender, and enlightenment. You will have these, too.

You will have minutes, maybe hours or even days where you feel a deep surrender to the process of life. You will marvel at your clarity, at how you are able to release with love this being that you cherish with all your heart.  You’ll wonder if Pema Chodron will be phoning soon to ask you how you do it.

Love these moments. They are truth. But don’t berate yourself if you burst into tears the very next hour, and beg your pet not to leave, and bargain with God to make sure you never hurt again in your life.  It’s a part of the roundabout cycle of loss.

The peace will descend again too.  It’s who you truly are.  And it will return. And it will last longer each time. And your heart will slowly take it in and heal itself into the full joy of being once again.

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{254 comments ... read them below or add one}

Patricia April 7, 2013 at 1:42 pm

I cannot thank you enough for this post, I found it at just the right time. Everything you’ve talked about I am currently going through. I put my sweet little dog Alex to sleep this past Thursday. He was a 4 lb Toy Fox Terrier, would have been 8 in June. He was happy, vibrant and so loveable. As he aged his little legs started to give out on him but he would keep on trying to run and then tumble. He didn’t have good balance either but always managed to keep on going after falling over. These last few months he seemed spacey to me and not really “aware.”

He suffered from liver issues and was treated on and off for many years. About a month ago his levels were checked and were a bit high but the vet said they were “okay.” This past Thursday he suffered a terrible seizure and I took him to the vet, his liver values were up more and the vet said it was possible that the toxins from the liver were going to his brain. We of course wouldn’t know anything for sure without doing more tests, xrays, etc. She also said that even though we could treat the liver his quality of life would not be so good any more, especially if the toxins were already going to his brain.

I knew in my heart at that moment I couldn’t let him suffer any more. I’ve watched him deteriorate in so many ways this past year but he always seemed to be such a fighter I couldn’t let him go. This time I felt it and knew it was time.

I’m now racked with the “what if’s” and guilt even though at the time I knew it was the right thing to do. If only our pets could tell us how they really feel, tell us how much pain they are in then it would be easier. I lost a dog before getting Alex, she got run over by a car. The loss then was just as terrible as now, though this time I had to make the choice.

I know I will be fine in time and I still have another dog Fergie who seems just as lost and sad as I am without Alex here.

[Reply]

Christine Kane Reply:

Sending you love and light, Patricia.

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Brenda Reply:

Patricia,
I, too made the decision of having my beloved chihuahua mix put to sleep. He had Cushing’s disease that never seemed to respond to treatment. The Cushing’s disease caused his liver to enlarge to 4 times the normal size. His normal healthy weight was 11 lbs. At the end of his life his weight had increased to 18 lbs. His tummy measured 23.5 – 24 inches, so much bigger than perhaps his healthy 16 inches at most. He too had a seizure at 2:15am on his last morning with me. The vet suggested an abdominal ultrasound, but I chose not to have it since the vet explained that it would not likely change the outcome. The vet thought that Teddy had 3 months left, but they would not likely be good months. I made the decision to bring him in the next day to be put down. It was certainly one of the most difficult things that I have ever done. My son and I were with him until the end. I miss him and will love him forever.
Brenda

[Reply]

Lisa Reply:

Dear Patricia

I too lost my beautiful foxy cross suddenly who drowned in our pool after recovering from a major unknown illness where one vet told me I should consider the ‘alternatives’. Thankfully I took her to another vet for a second opinion who was able to resolve the issue and she returned to full health.

My beautiful girl, Missy, who was 8 years old was a big part of my life after my husband and I of 30 years separated. Missy was by my side and the most loyal companion since that separation took place over 3 years ago. She slept with me every night and protected my room like she was some hard nosed guard dog. She was my best friend and I didn’t feel lonely because I had her.

I feel the utmost guilt because I didn’t keep her safe. My mind keeps going through the “should have” “could have” “why didn’t I”? I also feel guilty because my son who suffers from anxiety and depression found her and had to call me and tell me. I know its been very hard on him and he will probably never erase the image from his mind.

I’m taking each day as it comes but thankfully I have a beautiful family, friends and work colleagues who have all been very understanding. I don’t know how I would have coped had that not been the case.

Just remember Patricia that your little buddy loved you and there will always be a place in your heart for him. That is what I am telling myself about Missy. I will miss her so much and am still coming to terms with life without her. I thought when the kids move out, it would be me and her, but alas thats not going to be case.

I wish you well and hope that your grief has somewhat abated.

Kind regards, Lisa (Missy’s Mum)

[Reply]

Kat April 9, 2013 at 12:55 pm

I found this post at just the right time. We had to put our beloved 16 yr old cat, Sprite, down this morning. She was adopted very soon after the beginning of my husband’s and my relationship, so she’s been there almost right from the start…he worked nights back then, and I wanted a cat around me to help with loneliness (plus I’d moved a couple hours away from friends and family). She was such a good girl, and was a wonderful companion to our daughter (who wasn’t born until Sprite was 7). It was so hard to watch her health decline, and when I look back at old pictures, she was just not herself anymore. We’ll miss her so much, and I will be weepy for a long time, I think.

[Reply]

Christine Kane Reply:

Big hugs to you, Kat.

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Tracy May 26, 2013 at 3:43 am

I’m suffering from putting my beloved cat to sleep yesterday, and feeling all the emotions you list – guilt, blame, second guessing, knowing, etc. Other articles simply say cry, don’t feel guilty, give it time – but your article is much different. I can tell you’ve experienced the same type of grief firsthand, and you truly understand. Thank you – I can look forward to the surrender stage, although it feels so distant right now.

[Reply]

Christine Kane Reply:

Tracy,

Sending you light today.

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Clare July 30, 2013 at 4:39 pm

Thank you so much. I lost my beloved cat on Saturday night. She was almost 18 and had experienced a wonderful life. But I am heartbroken. This post is incredibly helpful, reassuring and comforting.

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Jayne October 11, 2013 at 9:19 am

My beloved companion Bonnie (7 year old) Maltese x Sydney Silky terrier went to sleep on Wednesday afternoon 9/10/13. She and her brother Clyde have been my best mates since they came home with me at 8 weeks of age. Until ten days ago they had never spent more than a day apart. I am so sad and am missing her dreadfully. As I cry Clyde heads out the doggie door but he will return for a hug when my sobbing stops.
And how she was taken from us is what I cant get my head around yet. I had put them in a local boarding kennels for six days so that I could take a short break away with some friends for my birthday. On the morning of the day I was due to pick them up from the Kennels I received a call and told that my lil Bonnie had been hit by a car. You can imagine my disbelief as far as I was concerned she was in a secure environment, but somehow she was some 1.5 km’s from the kennels. I have no answers as to how she got out and I may never know. How many others have lost their babies this way? At least the person that hit her took her to an emegency animal shelter and we had her for several more days before she sucummbed to Pnemonia and I had to make the heart wrenching decision to put her to sleep. She is missed every moment , her joy at life, the love of a walk, the ride in the car, sleeping in the bed, her waggy tail and soft licks on my chheeks are still so fresh in my mind. I wonder what her brother is thinking?

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Monique February 5, 2014 at 3:09 pm

thank you so very much for this post. i have saved, shared, and printed it. it is by far the best i have ever read to support the intense and seemingly insurmountable grief of losing a beloved pet. i have been an animal lover my entire life and spent the last decade actively rescuing animals. i left active rescue in 2009 to focus on my aging household of peeps “left over” from those days. i have lost, deeply and a lot, and mostly peeps who came from very bad situations, who were broken mentally and/or physically. this year alone, in jan., i lost 4 within 10 days, the first three within 4 days of each other. the last one, my molly, has hit me the hardest, harder than any loss to date. she was not only my constant companion for the last 4 1/2 years, but she was a rescue with her pal, max, sitting on death row riddled with health issues and no place to go. angels were on the job to spare their lives and intersect with mine. my million dollar babies, who gave me their love in 50 million ways. i lost max last january to mouth cancer. i had to make the very difficult decision to hand his care over to God and end the suffering that i could no longer ease for him. i still had molly then… more losses, including the ones earlier this year, but i still had molly. and then she was gone… just like that. i am in fierce denial and questioning my very reason for being on this earth. how could this happen? everything you wrote is 100% on key as to what i’m feeling. how to go on living… one step at a time and some days, backsliding. so many more need me at home…

thank you for easing my burdens significantly.

kindest regards,

monique

[Reply]

Christine Kane Reply:

You are most welcome Monique! My heart goes out to you.

[Reply]

Nancy Tessier February 10, 2014 at 1:34 pm

Hello,

I lost my beloved cat Sylvester 10 days ago. He was almost 13 and diabetic. This incredible cat was my bestfriend and I am overwhelmed with sadness. I do not have children and thought of him like a child.

I miss him beyond words. My heart aches.

[Reply]

Christine Kane Reply:

Sending you so much love and light, Nancy. The only thing that really heals this pain is time. These little creatures are such blessings in our lives.

[Reply]

Suzy Winchester February 18, 2014 at 10:21 pm

I lost my beloved cat Bailey suddenly and unexpectedly 4 nights ago on Valentine’s night. He was only seven and I feel cheated. We had an incredible connection. He was my lover boy as he loved to love and be loved. He followed me everywhere and slept next to me. I’m single and have no children.

I miss him so much. I have another cat and she misses him. She started eating after the 2nd day and is sleeping a lot! I showed her Bailey’s body after he died. She looks in one direction and then to the chair he sat on. I know she’s wondering where he is.

[Reply]

Lucertia Fritts April 12, 2014 at 1:43 am

We lost our beloved Tiger this week, he was 20yrs and 10 months. We saw lost of eating, breathing through mouth. His last couple days were painful to walk yet he went outside to do his business. Sleeping, deaf, no teeth he was in pain. I was seeing it for weeks my husband did not want to give up. I told him be thankful for all the years he had with us. My heart still hurt today, for putting our 10 yr old down because his was dying at vet office. So I thank God for Tiger and ask God to accept my baby and enjoy heaven with his brother.

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J. Vaughan July 13, 2014 at 7:38 pm

Thank you so much for this…. It’s just what needed after grieving all day. We put our 7 and a half year old Great Dane down today, after many years of health challenges. I promised him that quality of life over quantity of life would be my responsibility. After going through all that we have, and making the decision to officially move forward a few days ago, I held my boy as he peacefully passed on. Having just lost my mother 6 months ago, and I was with her also when she passed, I thought I was prepared for the experience. Alas, I was not, and have been taken over by a grief like I have never felt for a pet before. Knowing that other people can relate, and I’m not alone, is very comforting. I will keep this article open on my phone, as I’m sure I’ll read it many more times. Thank you so much.
And to my sweet darling boy, as the pet grave marker I just ordered says:
“If love could have saved you, you would live forever.”

[Reply]

Monique July 15, 2014 at 4:57 pm

MacKenzie, My Angel

MacKenzie and her siblings, born feral around Sept 2002, hailed from a local animal services center. Their fate was slim and I decided to take the little family home to tame them and find them homes. MacKenzie was the first of her siblings who tamed and from that first step towards me, she and I were BFFs. Additionally, she started exhibiting many behaviors and mannerisms specific to my cat, Dominoe, who went to heaven in 2000. She even looked like Dominoe. For the last almost 12 years, I had the pleasure and honor to have both my girls by my side.

I lost my beloved MacKenzie, Friday evening, 11 July 2014, right after getting her home from gallbladder removal surgery last Thursday, 10 July. Her health had been failing for about a year and a half. Despite a period of reprieve in 2013, weight loss resumed late last year – early this year, and supportive therapies were having little success. She became very thin again, struggling with in appetence, and generally not participating in life. For the last few months, she moped around the house and mostly slept deep under the bed. To encourage her to eat, I would give her valium and canned food, including AD, to entice her to eat. She would rarely eat without the valium. The first ultra sound in April 2013, showed a slight shadow in her gallbladder. This past June, the shadow was definitive, thus indicative of a stone or stones. As she was asymptomatic except for this test result, my vet and I decided to resume supportive therapies in March. It was becoming more and more difficult to medicate her. She was not happy; there was a haunting sadness in her eyes. I had not seen her sleep in her favorite spots for months. She remained in a depressed and wasted state.

Supported by my vet, I made the difficult decision for MacKenzie to have this surgery, hoping to restore her health while her vital signs and chemistry results were still good. She championed through the surgery and was recovering well. The gallbladder was removed; the surgeon found a stone the size of a pea (the gallbladder in a cat is only the size of a pecan). When I went to pick her up Friday afternoon, she felt very cold. Her temperature had dropped 5 degrees in about 4 hours, which was the last time her temperature was checked. She was transitioning from IV fluid support to tube feeding and fluids through her feeding tube. Not only was she very cold to the touch when I first saw her, she was weak and unable to walk. I sat with her wrapped in blankets and heating pads for an hour. Her temperature was up by a degree, all vital signs were good. She was still weak and not able to walk without stumbling, but the vet thought she was OK to go home given all the other positive vital signs.

Once home, I settled her in my upstairs bathroom, where I was going to rehabilitate her in the company of a little kitten, Ariel, who is also recovering from trauma. Within an hour MacKenzie was gone. The last time I checked on her, I shifted her position to get her comfortable as I noticed her breathing was a bit raspy. She stretched and took one more breath and was gone. The agony I felt was indescribable.

I have been involved in animal rescue for many years and have a large, mostly aging, multi-species animal household. Unfortunately, loss is a very real and frequent part of my life. Loss is never easy. Some loss is better to process than others; MacKenzie makes 10 for just this year. Losing MacKenzie is as heart wrenching as losing my Molly this past Jan. My heart is broken and my brain is screaming to understand. An autopsy revealed an ailing heart. It is possible she had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) and perhaps her heart couldn’t process a blood clot or some residual stress from the surgery/anesthesia. Despite the fact that she championed through the surgery, something happened to cause the sudden death. Biopsy results have been submitted and may or may not provide any answers. It is a seemingly insane exercise to try and find answers and meaning while my own heart is barely beating. My will to live is only alive as many at home still depend on me.

I found this website when I lost Molly in Jan. of this year. I printed it out and have referred to it often over the last few months, esp. since Molly isn’t the only peep I have lost. And now MacKenzie… I have also read all the comments and they offer additional comfort, esp. knowing I am not alone. This blog and comments are the singularly most healing reading I have ever found to help with the passing of a loved one.

I know from having faced grief and healing as a result from losing Molly and others, that healing does and will take place. Right now, I feel like I can remain in a silent, agonizing scream frozen for all time.

[Reply]

Jennifer July 23, 2014 at 12:28 pm

I miss my sweet kittycat so much. Was so blessed to have his love and companionship for 16 years. After being sick for 2 months and losing 3/4 of his body weight I had to say goodbye. This happened last October 2013. I can remember many many times in the past while cuddling with him – I would look at him and think – you are so beautiful and I can’t conceive of ever losing you. I knew that I would “lose-it” when the time came to say goodbye. No person, pet, or thing can EVER created the joy and love that I had with him for almost 1/2 of my life.
The past few weeks I have sort of started “re-grieving” over his absence. I still cannot believe that I cannot ever hold him or pet him again. How can this be? I understand the circle of life – but it doesn’t stop me from being sad that his daily joyful physical presence is unreachable. Trying to remember all the great times and memories only make his absence more stark – it does not cheer me up. But I feel very comforted in knowing that there are many others who love their cherished pets as much as I do. Thank you for sharing your experiences. Peace.

[Reply]

Sean August 23, 2014 at 8:47 am

Thank you for your beautiful article, Christine, it really speaks to what seems to be a universal experience amongst all of us who get what always seems an all-too-brief a visit from our “angels in fur”.

Love to all of YOU who are currently going through the pain hurricane — keep clinging to the joy and feelings of love that you got (and still get) every time you saw or thought of your beloved pet. That’s the timeless LINK, right there. It’s different from what you are used to, but I think it’s the same inner bridge, the same inner CONNECTION — the vortex between dimensions, if you like. It’s the continuation of LOVE, rather than its illusory end…

[Reply]

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