Pet Loss Coping With the Grief

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Pet Loss Coping With the Grief

by Don W Sloan

Our Yellow Labrador Retriever was Family, in every sense of the word. In fact, she was BETTER than family in many ways.

She never asked for money, or the car keys, or told boring stories at family reunions. She never complained about her latest aches and pains or gossiped about family who WASN'T there.

No, Honey was, without doubt, the friendliest pet and Best Friend on the planet - although I'm sure others would lay claim to that title as well. Full-body hugs were her specialty, and a cartoon-like grin that stretched (literally) from ear-to-ear. She was, in a word, special.

So, when she developed significant stroke symptoms one day just before her 13th birthday, we rushed her to the vet, who said she would not walk again, and that she would have only about 25% of the quality of life she had enjoyed before (arthritis we had treated separately, and effectively - that had only slowed her down from a gallop to a trot).

Not walk again? The words were devastating.

We brought Honey home and listened to her labored breathing as she lay in her bed, with all her toys around her, but with no inclination (or ability) to play with them ever again.

We brought food and water to her and patiently held the bowls as she ate and drank very little. She was not the same pet, and never would be. I could go on about the other symptoms, but any dog owner who has ever gone through this can identify with them and with the situation. Honey had reached the end of a life that she had enjoyed to the fullest, every day.

And so we decided, agonizingly, that what Honey might say, if she could speak, was that she would not want to go on this way. Even carrying her outside to urinate was embarrassing for her. You could see it in her eyes.

We returned with Honey to the vet the next morning and stayed in the room with her as she was euthanized by injection. The doctor was so kind, and waited as we said our last good-byes. And then, in a few moments, it was over. The Best Friend we had ever known was gone.

We had Honey cremated and scattered her ashes over 10 acres of farmland near our home, where she had enjoyed running after rabbits (she never caught one and probably would not have known what to do with it if she had). It seemed fitting somehow that this be her final resting place, and we can still look over the pastures and I can almost still see her running flat-out, ears flapping, in pursuit of rabbits or squirrels or anything else that managed to get in her path.

And we can still, on rare nights, hear the echoes of her sweet bark, greeting us on our arrival home from work. The vet told us something I'll never forget: she said "You'll always hurt for her - but one day it won't hurt quite as much." And she was right.

The intervening years have brought healing, and, only recently, the idea of getting another puppy. But we still miss Honey, and the joy she brought to us. All dog owners, I'm sure, can relate to the joy of companionship and the sharp, empty pain of loss.

But it is the life of Honey that we remember and celebrate. We were lucky to have her for the time we did, and we will always miss her. But, as the vet said, maybe one day it won't hurt quite as much.

Don Sloan is an experienced dog trainer who has worked for ten years with the Humane Society, teaching dogs (and their owners) how to get the control and obedience they want! Visit his website at

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