Grieving the Loss of a Pet

I want to talk about a subject that all pet owners either have experienced or will experience, and that is having to say goodbye to a pet.

3d09ba60d58ba45791f98ec552e353e2

Death is part of life.  The death of a pet can be traumatizing and extremely upsetting (especially depending on the reason why).  Pets are part of the family and I know for myself, I have a close bond with my pets.  Pets provide you with unconditional love and support and to no longer have that can be really hard to deal with.

I recently wrote about about how it was three years ago that Dean and I had to say goodbye to our boy, Bandit.

12718168_10156573603110444_1202599432060419570_n

Bandit was the first dog that I ever had and the loss I felt is one I still feel today.  I had a close bond with Bandit.  He was with me through some really amazing times in my life and was with me through some of the hardest times in my life.  He stood by me when people in my life did not.  He always knew how to make me feel better when I was not feeling good (either physically, emotionally or mentally).  That made losing him so much harder.

And just recently, my sister, brother in-law and nephew had to say goodbye to their twelve year old Golden Retriever, Herbie.  It was a tough day for everyone, especially my five year old nephew.

Now, there are people who may read this and roll their eyes by saying “it’s just a dog, get over it”.  They’re entitled to their opinion, but I’d wager these people have never had a bond with a pet.

Grieving the loss of a pet and being upset is totally normal.  When I worked at a distress centre for two years, when it came to any kind of loss, we would say “a loss is a loss”.

When we lose anything, it’s normal to be upset.  The loss of a job, the loss of a relationship, the loss of a house, the loss of a family member.  These are all major losses.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve the loss of a pet.  I will try provide some insight on how to deal with the loss of a pet:

Acknowledge the pain you feel.

As I stated, the loss of a pet is real.  Please do not try and suppress the emotions you feel.  Don’t let anyone tell you to just “suck it up and get over it”.

Also, if you have other pets, know that they will experience grief as well.  All Max wanted to do after the loss of Bandit was cuddle with me.  He felt the loss of his brother as much as I did.

Yes, it is totally normal and ok to randomly burst into tears following the loss of your pet.  

Coming home after having to say goodbye to Bandit was the worst.  I saw his blanket and and favourite toy on the ground and lost it.  I decided to go into work the next day to try and take my mind off of things, but I found myself running to the bathroom as I could not hold back the tears.  It didn’t help as my coworkers and boss at the time didn’t care for the fact that I was in emotional pain.  There was not a lot of understanding there and that made the pain worse.  Enough to say that I no longer work there.

Talk to someone.

Just as with any loss, look for support.  Talk to people.  Cry on their shoulder.  If you don’t have people in your life who understand what you are going trough, there are many online support groups out there of people who understand your pain.  Reach out.  It’s especially important to reach out for help if you feel symptoms of depression coming on. Do not be ashamed or embarrassed by that.

It’s normal to not want to go back to the vet where you had to say goodbye.

The vet that we used to go to was along the route that I used to cycle by for my long training rides.  For a about a full year, I couldn’t go past there without getting emotional. I couldn’t even bring myself to go into the examining room when we took Max there to get his shots.  It was too much for me. Vets deal with with this all the time so reach out to them if you need to.  They understand your loss and a good resource to go to in dealing with your grief.

The pain never goes away but it gets easier with time.

For at least the first couple of months, the pain was unbearable.  I wanted to crawl into a corner and cry for hours every single day.  Eventually, I no longer felt that way, but  everyone is different.  The anniversary of having to say goodbye to Bandit is also getting easier to deal with.  I no longer spend the day in tears.  I acknowledge the day but no longer stress over it.

Life will be different.

If you go from walking, feeding and playing with your pet (especially for many years) to no longer doing any of that, it will take time to adjust.  Bandit used to sleep in the bed with us and loved to snuggle right next to you.  It took time to get used to him no longer being there.

Self care is important.

As with any major loss, take time to grieve and grieve in your own way on your own time.  Don’t force yourself into social situations if you are not up for it.  Take care of yourself.

Remember them.

Don’t try and erase your pet from your memory.  While this can be emotionally difficult, create a memorial for them.  We got Bandit’s ashes in a rock that we have on our mantle. It sits in the sunshine as that was Bandit’s favourite thing to do.  We also have a framed photo of him sitting next to it.

10534492_10154392449960444_7892373387623838776_n
The memorial we had for Bandit beside our old house.

I aslo have him as my screen saver on all my electronic devices as well, I have a photo of him as my background photo on my personal Facebook page.  He may be gone physically, but he will always be in my heart.

Don’t rush into getting another pet.

I will say this, you can not replace a pet.  Please do not try to.  We already had Max and adopted Freckles later that year.  Freckles was not a replacement.  No dog could replace Bandit.  Add to your family when you are ready.  Only you will know when the time is right.

There is nothing that you or I can do to prevent the loss of a pet (or anything in life for that matter).  I know I will have to deal with the loss of a pet three more times at some point (hopefully years from now).  All you can do is try and deal with the loss the best you can. All I can do if offer my support, empathy and sympathy to anyone who has gone through the loss of a pet.

Take care and hugs you all.

 

Bandit – A Tribute

Four years ago today was one of the toughest days of my life. It was the day that Dean and I had to say goodbye to our sweet little boy, Bandit. It’s a day that makes my heart hurt and also makes me hyper sensitive whenever something is up with my dogs now.

As Bandit untimely lost his life to a brain tumour, and I still look back and think about what more I could have done to help him. I often find myself saying “if I would have taken him to the vet sooner” and “if I would have pushed to get an MRI done” while still knowing that it would not have made a difference. I couldn’t have saved him. Nothing would have saved him.

Yet, for years I blamed myself. I felt so much guilt and anxiety over it. I finally had to see a therapist because my anxiety became unmanageable. I felt so much shame over as people would say “it’s just a dog”. But as you will read, he wasn’t just a dog. He was my family. And it was a major loss for me.

Our sweet little boy of 8 (almost 9 years), suffered a seizure three weeks ago and without even knowing it at the time, that was the turning point for his health. He spent the night at the Emergency Vet Clinic the night the seizure happened and was tested for a variety of health issues that would cause a dog to have a seizure. The couldn’t find anything specific at that time by just doing a blood test and when Dean picked him up the following day, he seemed to be better. Looking back over the month of May, there were signs that his health was declining. He wasn’t his usual energetic happy go lucky self.  Things he used to get really excited about, he was no longer really interested in. Over the past couple of weeks, he started to have issues with his front right leg. We thought he must have pulled a muscle at daycare but I knew it was more than that when it started to drag a bit when he walked and actually saw him fall over when he was outside peeing on the fence.  I took him to his vet two days after his seizure to get him checked out. Based on what the vet saw, he assumed it was a slipped disc in his cervical spine and put him on anti inflammatory meds and rest. The vet mentioned that it could also be a tumour based on the fact that nothing had been found in his blood work (and that was also a feeling the emergency vet had as well). I didn’t want to believe that was the case as I knew the outcome was not going to be good if that was it. I took him home that day believing it was a slipped disc and immediately cut all physical activity for him.

Over the next few days, there were moments where it looked like he was walking a bit better but he himself was not better. He wasn’t hungry like he usually was. If you called his name, he didn’t respond right away. He woudn’t really make eye contact with you and his one eye was so red. Then, his balance started to go. He was restless and panting so hard Tuesday night, we were worries he was going to have another seizure. We realized this was not a slipped disc.  The vets were right in thinking it was a tumour. By Tuesday night, he could no longer stand without falling over. Dean and I realized the painful choice we had to make.

We woke up Wednesday morning hoping that he would be better but instead, he was worse. He was no longer Bandit. We knew that day was going to be our last with him and the hardest day of our lives together. I’m grateful that I was able to spend the day with him sitting on the floor telling him how much I love him and how he was my little sunshine (for years I couldn’t hear that song without bursting into tears). Dean and I were grateful that we were able to be there for him in the end.

Anyone whoever met Bandit instantly fell in love with him. He loved nothing more than being where people were (especially if you had a treat for him). Although he may be physically gone, he will never be forgotten and Dean and I are grateful that we have so many wonderful and hilarious memories of him. I would like to share some of them.

Wheat fields

We got Bandit when he was an 8 week old 8lb puppy. I specifically remember the day we got him, I was in the kitchen in our apartment at the time and turned around to see him sitting there and staring at me. I then said to Dean “Dean, did we make a mistake?”. He said “of course not”.  Let’s just say, he was the best “mistake” we ever made.

2754_154721710443_5258520_n

Bandit was definitely a stubborn puppy. I remember the first time I took him out for a walk, I started walking and then got to the end of the leash only to look back and see Bandit just sitting there staring at me refusing to move. I think I called him for a couple of minutes but he refused to move. He wanted me to carry him over to the grass so of course, that’s what I did. He eventually learned how to walk on a leash without sitting there waiting for you to pick him up.

As we lived on the 9th floor of an apartment, we had a balcony. Thankfully, the space was too small for Bandit to ever fit through, but not his toys. He would always take his toys out there, push them over the balcony on the bottom opening and sit there and watch them fall. It was the funniest thing until you realized that you had to go down and get the toy. As well, someone did not appreciate having a squeaky toy dropped on their head as they walked out of the building one time.

Probably one of the worst things Bandit ever did was destroying my cycling helmet (which was not cheap). I remember it was the week we started leaving him out of his crate while we were not there. I went to work and came back a couple of hours later to check on him. When I opened the door to our apartment, I saw a pair of cycling gloves laying on the floor. As I walked in, I saw Bandit sitting in the middle of our apartment shaking and had a look of guilt on his face. It was so cute but so terrifying to think about what he must have done to be acting like that. I then walk in our bedroom and see pieces of foam lying everywhere and then I saw my helmet. He tore out the the inside and started to take apart the outside of it. I screamed when I saw it turned to him and yelled “Bandit! What did you do?!”. Enough to say he was back in his crate for at least another four months after that.

Bandit had many more memorable moments including running into multiple screen doors at full speed, jumping up on the counter at Petsmart to get a treat, his obsession with stacking his toys by his food dish while he eats, running full tilt and clearing my parents couch, his love of carrots,his love of Greenies and pretty much every treat possible, his love of my mom’s slippers and running with them through the house, him untying my dad’s shoe laces as he tried to tie them up and his love of stealing all of the blankets at every chance he got.  Plus, he loved to sit with my dad in their motor home and beg for food. He knew his spot at the table.

Begging for food

Bandit was the perfect dog. He knew when I wasn’t feeling good and he knew when I was sad. I could always count on him to be there for me. There are so many things I’m going to deeply miss about him.

Happy Bandit

I’m going to miss his excitement when he saw myself or Dean. I’m going to miss dropping him off at daycare as he loved going every Friday. I’m going to miss snuggling with him especially when it was cold out and he would crawl under the covers so he could lay right next to me. I’m going to miss his nesting in every blanket he could find. I’m going to miss him pawing at me in the middle of the night to lift him up onto the bed (as he never wanted to jump onto Max). I’m going to miss the way he followed my mom around as when she was around, Dean and I didn’t matter. I’m going to miss him barking at me and running to the gate to greet me if I came home and he was outside. I’m going to miss looking outside and seeing him sitting there in the sun.

Sunshine

Most of all, I’m going to miss the unconditional love he always gave me.

Sweet Bandit

Goodbye Bandit (also known as the Bear). I will always love you and you will live on in my heart until the day I die.

Bandit

photo-87
I still have his tags on my keychain

Talking to a friend of mine who has also been through this with her dogs said something that made me think.  Maybe Bandit was helping Dean and I realize that we were meant to go on an add to our family through adoption?  We would have never adopted Freckles or Dolly otherwise.  It will never take the pain away of the sudden loss of him but, realizing that maybe he was trying to send us a message makes the pain of his loss much more bearable.