When Death Cometh to Man’s Best Friend

Published November 23, 2012, Pawtucket Times

Like many of my fellow aging baby boomers who are childless or even empty nesters, I am a pet owner.  Over the years my pets have evolved into my pampered little “children” and have become my ‘faithful companions.’ However, when death comes to our little furry, four-legged friends, coping with their death can make even the most Spock-like “intellectual” person shed rivers of tears and become emotionally unraveled.

The End is Near

The early Sunday morning call from our Seekonk-based veterinary clinic delivered a message we were not prepared to hear.  We were told that “Murray’s temperature had soared to 105 degrees and his system was beginning to shut down,”    It was no longer regulating the insulin for our 13 year old, diabetic Chocolate Lab  – or trying to find a cure for the sudden onset of arthritis that reduced his movement to a very painful crawl.  The doctor recommended we come down to the office as soon as possible – to end Murray’s suffering.

Just two days earlier, concern with Murray’s declining health led us to take him to our long-time veterinarian for a Blood Glucose check.  Maybe our diabetic dog’s blood sugar was not under control.  We expected that his sugar was off, and adjusting the amount of insulin he received twice a day would be an easy fix to these sudden medical problems.  Or perhaps the new medicine prescribed to reduce his arthritic pain would finally kick in making it easier for him to walk again.  Our faithful frail pet, blind from cataracts, was well into his 90s, if you calculate his age in terms of human years.

Saying goodbye to those things in life that you love does not come easy.

Traveling to the vet’s office we drove in silence.  Tears flowed as we drove past each memorable landmark, while flashbacks of fond memories brought me back to the happier days over the last decade.  In my minds eye I watched a younger Murray chase a bouncing yellow tennis ball in my backyard or seeing him taken a belly-dive in the Slater Park pond when no one was looking –  chasing the resident swans or Canadian geese.  These always put a smile on my face.

For 13 years, Murray, our “little boy” gave us comfort – always by our side, and now the time had come to put him down.  On Sunday, June 5, 2011, in the sparse examining room we approached Murray, laying uncomfortably on top of a floor scale cushioned by an old blanket.  He was panting and his eyes fixed straight forward.  I noticed the portal injected in his back leg – ready to accept the lethal dose.    In a matter of seconds, when I gave the doctor the ‘ok’ – she would begin the medical procedure to put my pet out of his pain.  Patty and her son Ben, tearfully bent over, saying their goodbyes – stroking him, making sure he knew he was not alone.  Stroking his face I whispered one last “good boy.” With tears rolling down my cheeks it was time to end his suffering.  Calling for the lethal pink drug led to a quick injection of that deadly substance.  Within seconds our 13 year old Chocolate Lab lay motionless on the blanket.

Murray’s collar, plastic bowl, worn black leash, chewy toys and a few old photographs are the few tangible items reminding us of his existence as a member of our family, but the memories are plentiful.  While grieving his loss, those special times swiftly came back to me from over the years…his backseat rides in our car with his head hanging out the window; or saying the name “Sheba”, our neighbor’s female yellow Labrador, which brought him to the window to look across the street at her house; and how he warmly accepted the adoption of a rescue dog, Abby, into our household. We adopted the younger Chocolate lab from the Paul J. Wildenhain Memorial Animal Shelter.

A pet’s death, like my wife, Patty and I experienced recently, did have the same emotional impact as experiencing the loss of a parent, sibling or even a closest friend.  However, we seemed to cope with this loss quickly, but for many it often times takes months or even years to heal.  Some have even told me that they would never adopt or purchase another dog or cat because of the intense and emotional pain and trauma they experienced.

Murray was cremated and his ashes have been placed in a wooden box, which sit on the mantle of our fireplace in the living room.  Someday we plan to bury his ashes in his favorite stomping ground, our back yard.  When this occurs, sitting outside in the cool nights of summer, Patty and I will surely remember our beloved Chocolate Lab, Murray.

Grieving Over Your Loss

My family and pet owners world-wide know it’s painful to lose your pet, considered to be one of the family. It even took months for our grieving dog, Abby, to begin to eat her food.  Sometimes she still walks the house wondering where her companion is, sniffing out areas around the house that still has his scent.

Moira Anderson Allen, M.Ed., author of Coping with Sorrow on the Loss of Your Pet, in her website states that intense grief over the loss of your pet is both “normal and natural.”  While some people may not understand your strong emotional bond to your pet and pain after the pet dies, “all that matters is how you feel,” Allen says.

According to Allen, grieving pet owners can also express their feelings and memories of their deceased pet in poems, stories and letters to the pet, Allen says. While feeling the loss, the person may feel guilt for not doing enough, denial of the death and anger at the veterinarian who failed to save the pet.  Grieving can also cause depression, too.  .

Allen recommends, “Don’t deny your pain and grief and acknowledge your feelings.”  She recommends that a grieving pet owner work through feeling with family and friends, their veterinarian or ask a local human association to recommend a pet loss counselor or support group. (For more information about pet loss, go to, Allen’s website, Pet Loss Support Page, at http://www.pet-loss.net).

As we grieve, life gets busy with the day to day activities of living, strangely healing our pain.   But we will always remember Murray, the best dog and companion we have had in our over five plus decades of living.

Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

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