The bond between dog and person can be deep and enduring, sometimes as meaningful as that we have with a soulmate. It was always hard for me to read about the loss of a beloved pet, because I knew that day would come for me again, as it did just a few weeks ago with the passing of the vibrant and beloved Riley. Like Julia, my dog was my soulmate in important ways. What I loved about Julia’s post can be summed up in the last few paragraphs, where she talks about her beliefs and her mindset about the death of her beautiful Taiga. And he really is a beauty, isn’t he? And her other point is exactly what she says in the first sentence: the loss of a pet you adore is as difficult as losing a family member. Because our pets often become our family. I have clients who use my grief affirmation deck after the loss of a pet. This would be such a thoughtful gift for someone, a recognition of the significance of this beautiful furry soul in the life of a friend. Because I use it now as I work through my grief at Riley’s loss. Here’s Julia and Taiga:
Regardless of what non-animal people may say, losing a pet is just as much of an ordeal as losing a beloved friend or family member of the human variety. In some cases, the loss of a pet can be worse because our pets love us unconditionally. The simple, uncomplicated bond between loyal pet and owner makes the loss of that pet a life changing experience. The grief from such a loss is real and difficult. It can take some time to get over.
It’s been 3 years, 1 month and 23 days since I lost the dog of my heart, Taiga. Most of the time I’m fine now, but occasionally something unexpected will happen to remind me of the empty space that is where he used to always be and I will have a moment of sadness, sometimes tears.
As I am writing this, my tears are calming, but while I was looking at photos to find ones to add to this, they were flowing freely. Such good memories of a dog who captured my heart in a way no other pet had before are bittersweet. They are sweet because I was so blessed to have him in my life. Bitter because he is only with me now in memory and I will never hug his furry white ruff again.
I took him to the vet the day he died, and I willingly let the vet stick the syringes in that ultimately ended his life. I laid on the floor beside him and held his furry white head in my hands as he peacefully went to sleep. I stayed there with him for an unknown number of moments after I knew he was gone. When I was done saying goodbye to the vessel that used to be him, I paid the bill, got in my car and cried all the way home.
As I drove and cried, I was already beginning the healing process. I had known for a few months that I would need to decide what to do with my darling dog. I’d already had the thought of his advanced age in the front of my mind for a couple years by then, knowing he wouldn’t be around forever. Since he was a rescue, I wasn’t sure of his exact age, but I’d had him 12 years and he’d been “about 2” when I adopted him. The Great Pyrenees expected lifespan is 10-12 years, so I was already at the maximum time limit.
He had been losing much of the function in his hind legs in the previous 6 months, and my heart was heavy every day when I watched him struggle to get up. Our walks up the street had gotten shorter in distance but longer in time. He’d occasionally stumble down the stairs on the way outside. He slept most of the time, but still had an excellent appetite. He loved it when I sat on the floor and brushed him all evening while we watched tv.
One day after a rainy night we were walking up the road as usual. He tried to run through a muddy ditch as he sniffed a few yards ahead of me and got bogged down. By that time, he was nearly 30 pounds under his ideal weight of 100 lbs. but it was still a struggle to help him get out of the ditch as I supported his dragging back legs while he pulled with his forelegs. When he was finally out, we were out of breath and I think both of us were shaking, I know I was. That had been the moment I knew his time was nearly up, and from then on I started to prepare myself for life without Taiga.
Our above trip to the vet was only a couple of weeks later. I’d been going back and forth in my brain wondering what to do. I firmly support euthanasia, but I wasn’t sure I could voluntarily have somebody take my beloved dog’s life. Turns out, it was Taiga that let me know he was ready. I had been in the process of doing research for a blog post on my pet business page titled “Euthanasia, how do you know if it’s time?” A lot of people I’d talked to said they just knew, or that their pet let them know. I doubted, then questioned how they could know that.
Then one Sunday night, as I slept, Taiga came to the side of my bed, put his head on the mattress and panted. He stood like that for what seemed like a long time as I rubbed his ears and looked into his eyes in the dim light. Finally he sighed heavily and laid down beside the bed, and gave another big sigh. I let my arm fall towards him and fell asleep still rubbing his shoulders. When I woke up the next morning, I had new clarity and even a bit of relief. Even though I felt resolved and confident in my decision as I dialed the number to the vet to make his final appointment, my voice wavered as I spoke to the receptionist, and I was sobbing as I hung up the phone. That was the last morning. By suppertime that evening he was at peace but there was an empty space by my side.
I know without a doubt that the views I have about life in general helped with my grieving process for that big white furry beast. Think of when you go on a trip and leave those you are close to behind. It is likely that loved ones get sad and worry about missing you. This is because your absence is going to be an uncomfortable change in their life. They will need to adjust to you being gone. Meanwhile, you are excited and looking forward to the new, exciting adventure ahead.
I think of death as a similar scenario. It is always harder on the person being left behind than the loved one who passes away. Whatever happens in the time after life on this earth, it is the next step in a timeless circle that has been happening for thousands of lifetimes. I know Taiga has finished his time here and has moved on. It doesn’t help him in any way for me to be overly dramatic and sad about him being gone. He wouldn’t WANT me to be sad. He always tried to cheer me up and comfort me when he was alive and I was down. He’d push his muzzle into my cheek and force me to look up so he could bump me with his nose.
It doesn’t do me any good either. It is what it is. He got old, his body failed him and I could take away his pain and help him pass away peacefully. I cannot bring him back and dwelling on the said and done won’t ever change it. It is that mindset I move forward with. Every second of my life since the day of his adoption was blessed with his presence, and I thank the universe that I was the one chosen to share those years with him.
Julie Spaur is a certified health coach and the founder of Barefoot Jewel, which focuses on how to be your most authentic self. She lives in Central Florida with her soul mate, 2 dogs and 3 cats. Find her through her website, Barefoot Jewel, here.