Animal Inventory Blog

Keeping track of animals in popular culture.

Grieving

Posted by lisagbrown on September 24, 2008

The death of an animal family member is unlike any other death. Companion animals fall asleep with us at night and wake up with us every morning. They wait for us eagerly to return from work. They see us at our best moments and at our worst. We sometimes spend more time with them than we do with our spouses or best friends. After losing an animal friend, every aspect of a normal daily routine can remind people of their animal’s absence — the empty space on the bed where the animal slept, the early morning silence that replaces breakfast sounds, the utter quiet when opening the front door.

There are some brilliant, warmhearted children’s books about coping with the death of an animal. But what about the rest of us? Although the bookstore psychology shelves are lined with books about grieving, there are not many accessible resources to help people cope with the loss of an animal. In fact, our culture generally assumes that relationships between humans and other animals are not real friendships, and the expectation is that the mourning process will be similarly superficial. For example, think about what it would feel like to ask your boss for a day or two off from work so you could grieve the death of your cat… it is not hard to imagine that you would be viewed as melodramatic and eccentric. Further still, even the kindest of friends will suggest the inevitable “you should get a new cat (or dog, canary, goldfish, goat…).”

When humans die, friends and loved ones gather at funerals to express grief, to find support in community, and to share stories and memories about the person who has passed. Yet there are no similar outlets for mourning over an animal. People end up feeling completely alone in their grief. To complicate things even further, animal guardians must often choose when and if to put their animal to sleep, and the decision is usually fraught with complicated questions — what course of action is in the animal’s best interest? How much money can I afford on expensive medical treatments? How much emotional upheaval can I endure? Regardless of whether the decision is clear-cut or complicated, it is never easy. And ending an animal’s life in order to prevent the animal from suffering, rarely provides much solace for the human who has to make that choice. In fact, it often adds more layers of grief, responsibility, guilt and confusion.

Last week, the world lost two wonderful dogs. Quinn was an enormous black lab mix, the kind of huge, clumsy dog who didn’t know his own size. His tail constantly slapped bystanders with its happy, harried wagging. He had perfected “the lean” whereby he would joyfully rests his whole body against the legs of any human he happened upon, because all he ever wanted was to play, and be petted.

And then there’s Wilson. Wilson was well within his rights to hate humans. As a puppy, he was kicked and abused until he was completely deaf, and many years after leaving his abusers, an old bullet was found lodged in his skull — apparently they’d used him for target practice, as well. But the French bulldog couldn’t have been more loving, more open to friendship with people. He charmed everyone who met him, and didn’t even realize that, by all accounts, he should have been completely traumatized by his past. Instead, he decided to love the people who loved him, and he never seemed to think it was more complicated than that.

These beings meant something to me, and for the humans they lived with, the sun rose and set on their furry little faces. They will be missed.

Photo: There are animals we love, and then there are the animals that change us. Murray (pictured above) was both. Three years after his death, I still miss him.

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4 Responses to “Grieving”

  1. Debra D. said

    Lisa,

    What a compelling and poignant entry. Thank you for sharing.

    I, too, have recently lost an animal companion – a sweet cat named Punkin. It’s not “practice” grief or superficial as you noted in your post. The grief is very real. I am fortunate that my employer did allow me some time off, but I know that few people receive such generous accommodation.

    My own blog has fallen silent because of it. I’ve taken comfort in the great posts of other animal and book bloggers lately – knowing there is so much great stuff out there (including Animal Inventory!) reassures me that I can feel ok about taking a break and at the same time inspiring me to get back to writing…soon.

  2. Judy said

    This is beautifully written and heartfelt. I still expect to see Siskel at the front porch when I return home each day. And thoughts of Ebert still make me smile. I look forward to my next visit from Yoshi. 🙂
    Love ~ Judy

  3. meandmyshadows said

    Oh my…thank you for sharing this. I’ve only been a dog love for 71/2 years, so I’ve never lost a pup who held my heart. I can hardly think about it. I have 4 dogs and they are just my life…I’m so sorry for people who have lost a companion.

  4. Lisa’s article ready hits home for us-Thank you for sharing. This the story of our beloved dog, Bengi:

    On Monday, October 6th,tragedy struck our family. Bengi, our six-year old Wheaton Terrier/Bulldog died from a head injury, caused by a freak accident. We are in shock and heartbroken over this: For those of you who met him, you know how great he was, for those of you that never had the opportunity, I need to tell you about him as I as I deal with this loss. I know all of us think of our dogs as special, he was no exception. Adopted at one-year old, he has been with us for just over five years. He was truly one of a kind-The bond we had was a once in a lifetime experience, unique and very special. Being part terrier he was challenging at times, but more often just fun to be around: If he had a motto it would have been “Life is good!” Every day he made us smile. His big brown eyes were warm and loving, his wagging tail raised high signaled both happiness and the air of confidence. He was a loyal companion.

    We are in shock that something like this could happen, it defies explanation. He was our anchor as we struggled through the illnesses that took our other dogs: Rajah, Chewy, Tonkah, General. We expected him to be with us for years to come: So healthy, so robust, sometimes intense, but warm and fuzzy too. Truly, one of a kind. People always asked, “What kind of dog is he?” When we explained the mix, people would frequently reply with “What a cool dog!!” Built like a Bulldog, looked like a Wheaton: Someone once referred to him as a Wheaton Terrier on steroids.

    Like most dogs he was a creature of routine. Mornings we would be spending time in the office preparing for the day. During the day, he’d be by my side, frequently accompany me on errands and/or to training sessions with other dogs: Some of you had the pleasure of meeting him if he was assisting me, otherwise he sat quietly in his special place and you probably didn’t know he was there – Riding was his favorite thing, didn’t matter where, he was always ready to go. We recently renewed walks in the woods, couldn’t wait to get started, just bubbling with excitement. Fetch, tug and occasionally keep away were his favorite games. Chew toys were also a source of enjoyment along with and occasional sock or if available, underwear would suffice. Evenings would usually find him on the couch resting (Yes, we allow our dogs on the furniture, with permission of course) from a busy day. As the evening progressed both he and I would be catching a few winks: Bengi would be found comfortably lying on his back, paws upright, an occasional burst of snoring was not uncommon. At some point the lights would go out and we would retire to the bedroom, Bengi in his bed next to me. However, that was always subject to change during the night. Around 3AM Bengi would decide to join us in the good bed and as many other sleep deprived humans do, we adjusted to make room and allowed him to stay.

    Bengi was open to accepting all canine visitors, sharing space, toys and most of all, us – He never showed signs of selfishness, just go with the flow. He has been instrumental in training/mentoring the NEADS puppies we helped to raised as part of the prison puppy program for Deaf & Disabled Americans: He welcomed Libby, Nora and most recently Pebbles into our home without a fuss, and by example influenced their development.

    My reasons for sending this message: As I said, this is helping me cope. But, as a pet owner I want to impress upon you the importance of making every day count, take nothing for granted-Life can change in a flash. We had some one-on-one time that day, he seemed to understand how I felt about him ( I would tell him daily) and he was excited we were going for a ride together- He and I had a way of communicating. You know what followed.

    Last but not least, I have been trying to think of a way to honor his memory: I know these are difficult times for everyone, but if you could join me in doing something special in his name, a donation, no matter how small, to NEADS: Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans or The Potter League would go a long way to helping others, in memory of our Wolly-Bully, Bengi.

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