Pet grief can also be sneaky grief as we pretend it’s not that bad, it’s just a pet. Or maybe, she was old and in pain. She had a good life, or she went over the rainbow bridge. Those sorts of statements just divert the loss and try to make us feel better. The fact is there’s no way around grief. It must be dealt with and processed. I thought I’d write about pet loss after Duke died in 2017. I just never felt like it so I didn’t. Now, it’s time to write about it even though I still don’t feel like writing about pet grief. It is an important topic and pet loss and grief are real. Let’s acknowledge this truth and embrace it.
I thought I’d be okay after saying goodbye to goodbye to Kristie, my faithful canine companion through my most challenging life transitions for the last 15 years. I mean she was old, had dementia and had a good long spoiled doggy life. I knew this was coming. I felt like I had processed the anticipatory grief well. I cried, I said goodbye, I cried some more. I noted the losses and remembered all of the good. I accepted the fact that it was her time.
The truth is even though I did the “right” grief processing, I was grieving afterwards. No way around it. I noticed the first week after I was off, I couldn’t focus, I was making little mistakes, I was forgetting things that I “never” forget. The grief also showed up as needing a LOT of sleep and being super tired. Rather than fight it, I leaned into it and just let it be. I named the grief and owned it. My clients were super understanding as I let them know, hey, I might be off and here’s why. Bill was super supportive and kind about giving me space while taking good care of me.
My last bit of self-care to help process the grief was to go out camping in my new to me motorhome. I write the first draft to you from inside as we close out the weekend of the inaugural run. That’s another story for another day.
For those who have pets and dread their loss. Know you’re not alone. For those who have lost your pet, know you aren’t alone either. Pet grief is real and it affects us.
For those who think pet loss and taking a day off or more to grieve their passing is a bit much, I hear you. Please be kind and I wish you could understand the love and deep companionship pets can bring. Pet’s become part of our family. Our fur babies and things we lovingly spoil and dote upon. Regardless, please allow your friends and family to grief, be respectful about their loss.
A Tribute to Kristie:
I didn't set out to write a tribute but this is what came to me to write. Kris, the boys and I picked out Kristie at Christmas time in 2005 as a sweet puppy for the animal shelter. She passed the test with our wolf hybrid rescue dog - meaning that Nikita didn't eat her and wanted to momma a puppy. Kika as we called her taught Kristie to be a good dog, guard the ranch and kids. She was my buddy as I detoxed from my 16yr high tech job while trying to figure out what life after could look like. She was there as the boys grew from children into teenagers - all of the fun that entails. She went RVing with us all over. She was tormented by the older cats and adopted Peanut as her kitty baby. They were best buddies. She mourned with us after Kris was killed in the motorcycle accident. She was there by our sides as we attempted to put back the pieces of our lives. She was by my side as I figured out was surviving and thriving looked like for me and the boys.
There were times she seemed to be so old and in pain even in 2010. I thought we might lose her then after a particularly harsh winter. She taught Hans how to play tuggie and momma’ed him as a puppy. She fell in love with Duke when he arrived to play with Hans and become part of the pack. She fell in love with Bill as he became part of the human family. She watched as Hans got sick and died so young and quickly from liver failure. She trained Bill to spoil her and even learned a new trick of giving her paw from Bill. She watched Duke as he slowly slowed down and the cancer took him so peacefully. She was well into her retirement as lone dog.
Kristie remained spunky, begging, showing us her smile with her teeth when she was happy or being cheeky. Her ever faithful thump thump of her tail when she saw you. Her back hips were sore but she’d happily go for walk-walk and play. Her and Sawyer would race around the house playing when she felt good. She loved the grand daughters and wanted to check them out and verify they were safe hourly. If baby Teagan cried you got the Kristie stink eye – like hey, it’s making noise - go fix it human. Evie’s small person stature and food spilling was a favorite for Kristie. Kristie was a happy loving dog as she aged into her twilight years.
I knew something was off as she started to stare and look confused now and then. She’d just daze out into space and get lost. She got lost in my tiny office with her head in a plant one day (my office is 10'x10'). She’d eventually come back and wag her tail lightly as if to say, “Hey, Mom, what happened?“
I loved having her come to work with me every day in my office and hang out with me. We’d pray & meditate in the morning and work together all day. Her vision/hearing started to fail– we never really knew which - she started barking when anyone startled her or came in the house. When I found her struggling one morning to stand - half falling over, all sideways and drooling unable to move, I knew something was really going on. It was like she was having a stroke. She had and accident as well and that wasn’t like her at all. That day was a “bad” day for her – she slept mostly and didn’t really want to do anything else. Next morning, she was back to her old self like nothing had happened, jumping up for koobies.
That stoke event began the slow downhill slide, more off days of staring, getting lost in the yard and house. I diagnosed her as having doggie dementia as her symptoms seemed to be consistent with that from the google machine. She started to pace and wander like a dementia patient. I was bemused that I should be caring for a dementia dog and also my dad in memory care. I’m blessed that Dad and Kristie were able to have the sweetest visit – two old dogs my dad said.
She wound down her life and tail wags and smiles became fewer and fewer. Accidents and sleeping became more frequent. She never was unhappy nor snarly – unless you were a dog or stranger – she wasn’t having any of that. She was going blind from cataracts and possibly deaf. In the end she didn’t want to walk, eat, and couldn’t keep food down or in. Saying goodbye to my old friend was sad and hard. She was the last remaining dog from my old life with Kris and the boys on the ranch. She’d been there for everything. I’m all alone in my office. I’m pet less for the first time ever and I miss her. It's so quiet.
I’m finally publishing this another week after I wrote the draft- sigh. I just haven’t found the oomph to finish and publish. Work, clients, conferences, and anything but dwelling on this subject of grief is easier. I miss my dog gal and companion. I know she’s out of pain and no longer suffering. My grief is moving and I continue to process it. It still makes me sad and I miss her.
For the time being we’re going to be pet less. I’m done taking animals to the vet to learn of a terminal illness and choosing euthanasia vs. continued pain and suffering. Augh, over that 100%. Three dogs in a handful of years is too much pet grief for a while. I’m embracing the idea of not having any responsibilities to care for anyone, not kids, not animals. Just my family and myself. It’ll make travel easier and less cleanup and lower finances. I’m reasonably sure I’ll get another fur baby at someday. For now, I’m mostly okay with the quiet and stillness.
How do you deal with pet loss?
Teresa – Mourning my Kristie sweet fur baby girl
Teresa Q. Bitner, M.Ed., PMP, ACC - Resiliency, Change and Loss Coach
Partnering with those who have been knocked down my life and want to build resiliency and move forward and live a bold life.
Author of Soul Love: How A Dog Taught Me to Breathe Again
PS. Looking to bounce back in 2020?
I have a few client openings as we move into fall. I’d be honored to partner with you to help you bounce back and move forward. I’m still offering 30min laser coaching at a pay from the heart price. You pay me after we’re complete for each session based on the value you receive. Looking for more in depth coaching - I offer multiple services.
Pet Loss Resources
Rainbow Bridge - history and poem - https://medium.com/@humanegoods/where-does-the-term-rainbow-bridge-come-from-and-why-is-it-synonymous-with-the-loss-of-a-pet-deb9b4bd6bfe