Saturday, May 1, 2010

Dog Gone: Everything You Wanted to Know About Losing a Pet But Were Afraid to Ask

Seven Saturdays ago, my daughter and I did the hardest thing we've ever had to do. We said goodbye to our best friend, Mac. Everyone at the vet's office was so understanding. After we left on that cold, snowy day, I didn't want to go home and face the emptiness in the house, so we went to Paradise Bakery and ate and cried. And cried and ate. And cried some more.

We had $10 off Victoria's Secret coupons, but neither of us felt like going to the mall, so instead we wandered into World Market. "How are you ladies today?" asked the cashier. "Just great," I responded. I'm usually very truthful not only for ethical purposes and because I'm a horrible liar, but that one rolled off my tongue pretty easily. I surveyed the international array of merchandise at World Market in attention deficit fashion, with randomness and rambling.

In school, I'd studied the stages of grief: denial, guilt, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. These applied in losing a pet, although in a different way than losing a friend or family member. Mac had been ailing so there was a sense of relief. But I spent a lot of time in guilt mode, even though I'd felt as if I were a pet hospice worker for the last month of Mac's life. With a pet, there's always more that can be done, but when an animal has lived a lifespan and is suffering and failing in so many ways, it puts the owner in tremendous conflict between the cost and benefit.

One surprise the week after Mac's passing was the extent of my "dog reflexes." Unlike the kids, Mac didn't grow up, go to college, and launch. So each morning, I looked for him, then realized he wasn't there. I rushed around to get ready to leave , then panic because I'd not let him out yet. I looked for "accidents" on the floor. I seemed to hear his tiny prancing footsteps. I'd realize I had not fed him yet that day.

My daughter and I dealt with our feelings in different ways. She created beautiful pastels, I believe more than a dozen. I blogged.

Friends, family, and even strangers were kind at the loss of my furry friend. There were many phone calls, as well as text, email, and Facebook messages. I especially appreciated those who took the time to read my long blog post on Mac's much celebrated life. Not everyone can relate to losing a dog, perhaps because they haven't. One response was "oh I saw" (referring to my Facebook status). That person may have been more sympathetic if I'd mentioned a leak in my dishwasher. Then there were the "it's just part of life ... deal with it" responses.

Within a day or so, I had to get Mac's kennel and toys out of sight. It sounds dorky, but it was really hard to wash his food bowls for the final time, and even harder to put them away. It was an eerie moment when I heard the bowls shift in the sink. I was in another room, and it sounded just like when Mac was eating at his dish. And it was very tough to come back from an out of town trip and not have Mac's hello to greet me.

Shortly before Mac left us, I went to a lecture on near death experiences. The speaker taught that the translation of "death" in Aramaic was "not here." This definition implies a comforting continuation elsewhere for the departed one which I carried into the weeks after Mac was gone. And in turn, one of the most healing moments was talking to my cousin John. I told him that I had a mental picture of my aunt (his mother who died last August) and Mac, both happy and healthy, walking through a grassy field. "I see that, too, Sus," he said. "I totally see that."

After a couple weeks, I was on the Internet looking for puppies. And when I took Mac's leftover dog food to the Humane Society, they asked me to be a foster dog volunteer "when I'm ready." Not right now, for a lot of reasons besides needing time after my loss. But I'm fascinated by the mere sight of dogs. A friend and I went to a restaurant near Salt Lake's Liberty Park last weekend, and I sat by the window and pointed out to her every dog that walked by.

My daughter wants a puppy. I'm sure she'll be first. And that's okay. Being a puppy grandma sounds fine to me.

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