As a dog breeder it is not uncommon for people to make contact with us after their beloved family member has passed away. The pain of their grief is enormous and sometimes I grapple with what words to choose that might help ease their burden.
In some cases people make contact when heart rending decisions need to be made: do we or don’t we put our dog to sleep? Other times the dog has passed away and people ask if I think they should get a new dog. The main thing they tussle with is the notion of not wanting to be disloyal to the memory and love of their dog just gone…not wanting to ‘replace’ their dog.
I want to share my thoughts on these two questions with you all, and I do so as I currently wrestle with the grief of losing our beautiful truck of a dog, Percy, a few days ago. Percy was put to sleep in my arms at home, at just five years of age.
Live or die – the hardest decision
The decision to enthanase or not is one that many people have to face in their lifetimes. Simple fact is that a dog does not live as long as a human. My family and I were confronted with this awful decision concerning our Percy but a few days ago. I will now share what I have learnt from past experiences and this most recent heart breaking one.
Percy was in pain and that was not going to change. His condition was due to his abnormal size – a giant of a Cardigan corgi. (I never quite had the heart to tell his breeder. For it mattered little, we loved him whatever he was.) He became paralysed in his back legs and despite 24 hours on an anti inflam drip at the vet clinic and high drug rates, no treatment was helping ease his misery. Unlike Wilbur’s paralysis some months earlier (see article The Demise and Resurrection of Wilbur), Percy’s condition was not the result of an accident. It was a failing of his body with no reason to have hope this would be any different into the future.
I blubbered our decision to euthanase to the vet and vet nurse who respectfully waited as we said our goodbyes to our brave boy. By this stage we were all on the ground outside the back door of our house; it was impossible to shift Percy back inside due to his level of pain and fear. At 31kg, he was double the size of his breed. Not fat, so much as huge: huge head, huge paws and all that sustained on the dietary intake of a mini dachshund one tenth his size.
What I blubbered was this. We love him so much that we will now take over his pain and make it our own. When his pain ceases, ours will begin and we will do that for him. We love Percy enough to let him go.
I was not alone in my tears, as all present were moved by the integrity, love and suffering of this massive creature before us.
Question of ‘replacement’
This topic is one I have personally grappled with over the years too. After all, how can it be that I could somehow go out and get another dog when my soul mate and shadow of maybe 13 plus years had just left me?
I would have real problems with this. I was devastated with grief on the one hand, yet on the other hand compelled by some inner drive to seek a new family member.
As the years have passed I have come to a greater understanding of these seemingly contradicting emotions. Interestingly, the insight came to me from a human tragedy some years ago now.
We had moved into our first home in Melbourne and my new elderly neighbour was an instant friend. A lovely warm person. After a few weeks she showed me a photo one day of a young woman in her mid thirties. It was her daughter. She then explained her daughter had passed away at 37 from cancer, leaving two young children and her husband.
They had been a very happy and loving family and she explained that her son-in-law was shattered through her passing. She then quickly went on to add that she could not understand how someone so-shattered managed to meet someone else and marry within 12 months of her daughter’s passing, as her son-in-law apparently did.
She went on to say that she was coming around to it all now, some 18months down the track and some two and a half years since her daughter’s death. But it had taken a while.
She explained that the new wife was delightful and also had two young children; a Brady Bunch affair. She said they seemed very happy and they would go out of their way to include her in all family functions and called her ‘mum’ and so on. She accepted they were happy, and that made her happy, but still felt it had all happened too fast; her daughter had been ‘replaced’ too fast.
I went away and though about this for some time. How could it be, that someone who was so in love could so quickly start over? And then it hit me. And it holds true for me and my dogs too. Here goes: the speed with which a new relationship begins to forge is not an insult to the mate gone, but in fact a tribute. By this I mean that the greater the love and bond, the greater the hole left behind. That seemingly bottomless canyon of desperately missing someone who can never come home again. Pain so immense that something must come in to start filling the void for fear one will be lost forever in grief; like the astronaut unleashed from his ship and endlessly floating in space.
So to people who ask me, I say getting a new dog has nothing to do with ‘replacing’ your old dog. For nothing can ever replace that love and bond and what that creature gave so selflessly to your world. No chance. But when the pain of loss is so great, sometimes we must inject positives into our world if we are to go on. Welcoming a new dog to the family is one way of doing this; a darn good way for many people.