My experience with pet loss and grief

Losing a pet can be a painful and difficult experience to process. Many clients don’t know that I lost my Shepherd Ginger on February 15th. She was 12 ½ years old.

For the last month before she passed, I could tell that something was a little off. I was persistent and we scheduled a vet visit and she did have a UTI but that didn’t completely fix the issue.

We went in for another visit, bloodwork and x-rays and could see something wasn’t quite right on the x-ray. We went in for another x-ray and bloodwork a few days later and she had half of the blood she was supposed to.

She went in for exploratory surgery the next day and they discovered she had a spleen tumor that had burst. That is the liquid we saw on the x-ray in her belly. The vet confirmed the cancer had spread to her other organs when he opened her up.

I was in tears when I dropped her off since the surgery was high risk and I knew the outcome was poor. However, I wanted a diagnosis and to know what happened. I love watching vet shows and get emotional when the vets have to help their clients cross the rainbow bridge.

Of course, I cried when the vet called to give me the news and then I cried again when I got the card in the mail.

I process grief by staying busy. It helps calm me down to have something to focus on. I can do great for a week and then hear a song or find a toy or bone in the house and shed some tears. Worked helped keep me busy but I went into a pet store two weeks later and broke down. Thank goodness for understanding staff. That is part of the grieving process though. After feeling embarrassed I was able to laugh later that day.

I was going to share her passing on facebook, but I just wasn’t prepared for the condolences and messages.

Ginger was my most well-traveled dog. We attended numerous dog training seminars and workshops together. She was a great travel companion. I loved being able to let her off leash, go on pack walks with other dogs and learn from her. We went to Niagra Falls, Chicago, Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Ohio, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.

We had lots of adventures together. She loved to swim, fetch, figure out puzzle toys, do scent work, run agility and learn tricks. She loved to learn.

She was also dog selective, and I didn’t always let her out to play in social groups since she didn’t like large groups of dogs. I loved her personality and found ways for us to enjoy our time 1-1.

She helped me learn how to help dogs with their nails and how to trust in their handler on a walk.  I continue to focus on the good memories we had and how she made me laugh when she would swim like an Olympian. She never did anything halfway. She gave 150% in every activity she pursued.

I’ve had some amazing pets in my life. From Blackie, our black lab mix growing up who would get on the bus with us to Christy my childhood cat who would always have kittens in my parents’ closet.

After I got married, we’ve had 4 other amazing dogs that have passed: Sandy, Ranger, Sheba and Shelby and 5 cats: Floyd, Louie, Babe, Dodie and Jinx. The best gift we can give our pets is to help them when the time is right. I have beautiful memories of all of them.

But getting help for your grief is important. Don’t discount the impact pets’ have on your life. Some animals are with you throughout monumental times of your life. Grade school, middle school, high school, graduations, marriages, divorces, deaths, moves, children and more.

Pets don’t judge you and they are often some of your most loyal companions.

Many people feel silly or that they shouldn’t have such strong feelings for a pet, but consider how often that pet provided comfort when you cried, solace when you needed to be alone and pure happiness when you were doing activities together.

I know past colleagues and I often joked that we should have bereavement leave when our animals pass away. Or it may warrant a sick day or two or maybe even three.

But in all seriousness, please take the time to talk to a counselor or therapist if you are having difficulty. There are coping strategies available and outlets to help you. Take the time to search them out and if you need help, please let me know.