Anyone who spends any amount of time on dog forums understands what we mean when we say “The Bridge.” The wonderful story about how our pet waits at the Rainbow Bridge for us brings great comfort when our companion is no longer with us.
Dogs have a much shorter life than we do. It comes as a shock when they are no longer in our lives, even if it is at an old age for them. When they leave us at a young age it is beyond belief.
If our companion becomes seriously ill with AIHA, IMHA or non-regenerative anemia we struggle to understand why they are sick and how we can help them recover. We take upon ourselves enormous responsibility for their life. This often comes at a cost to our own internal moral code. We never thought we would be responsible for deciding life versus death. That dilemma might lead us to make faulty decisions and distract us from what is most important, trying to help them live.
And if, after a heroic struggle, we are unable to save them, we can be so hard on ourselves. Perhaps if we had given them some other treatment or visited a different vet they might have survived. In the end we may blame ourselves, sure that we are at fault.
A member of our group has offered to help us think about this and find ways to make ourselves feel at peace with our pet’s death. Her experience is very moving. Please appreciate how much she has extended herself to help you understand this grief and how her inner power has helped give her solace. Team Second Chance has a Bridge forum where owners can talk in private with us. Please ask about registering.
“God’s finger touched him, and he slept”
When you consider your dog to be more than just a pet but also your friend, companion and family member you can feel their loss very deeply. You may feel unable to function and the sadness can become all consuming.
It is not certain what the outcome will be when our dog is diagnosed with AIHA/IMHA. While he is ill we go through an emotional and draining roller coaster ride that mentally and physically exhausts us. When she does not survive this makes the emotions even more overwhelming.
When I lost Kahlu I felt physical pain like a constant lump in my throat. I guess I had a broken heart. Many people may experience loss of appetite and insomnia.
Many times when this disease takes our dog, we had to make the devastating decision to euthanize our friend. Even though we knew it was the kindest, most compassionate thing we could do, there was usually guilt involved.
We may think, “maybe I should have waited a bit longer before I decided to do this?” Or we may feel we waited too long and should have ended it sooner? We will begin to blame ourselves thinking “I must have done something wrong, so many dogs survive, why not mine? What if I would have done this and I guess I should have done that.”
I felt bad that I did not want to hear about people whose dogs were doing fine. I was so jealous! Sometimes this jealousy even turned into anger. I felt anger towards the first vet that we saw who was clueless about what he was dealing with, towards some of my friends that just did not want to talk about this condition and did not understand how I felt. I even felt anger towards myself.
The loss of a pet can certainly confront us with our own mortality. If there are children in the house this can be a starting point for very serious discussions. Adults don’t always like to talk about the death of a pet either. Many find help from their religious or spiritual beliefs. No matter what those beliefs are there are many questions and uncertainties about what happens after both we and our dogs die.
“To Everything There Is A Season”
Everybody grieves differently and moves forward in their own way. Here are some things that helped me. I am a talker and it helped me to talk about my dog and the disease to anybody that would listen. Some people just want to talk only with people they are close to or not even talk about it at all.
I felt the need to spread the word about the triggers of AIHA, because it is also where my guilt came in. I clearly over vaccinated my dog and did not want anybody else to do that. I started to spread the word about AIHA at local agility trials and started to collect some money through raffles and the sale of course maps. The money was donated to the Meisha’s Hope foundation:
Do your other pets grieve? In my opinion they certainly do. I even think that our other dog Ripley sensed that Kahlu’s last day was coming, because he never left his side. Ripley was very subdued and tired after we came home without Kahlu. Ripley’s presence helped me a lot over the grief of my loss. He got some special attention and TLC. I tried to keep a certain routine and I think that was good for both of us.
Luckily I have some great photos of my dog and also great memories of wonderful times. However it took me a few months to even be able to look at these pictures and not start crying. Whenever a picture came to mind of Kahlu when he was ill I would try to think of those good times we had together.
“How Do I Remember Thee”
There are many options on what to do with the ashes of your dog. This is a very personal decision. You might not even want a cremation. Some people have a grave in their back yard or perhaps spread the ashes at a special place the dog loved or keep them in a nice container in or around your home. There are even places where you can get the ashes made into jewelry.
For me the right thing to do was putting Kahlu’s ashes in a stream where we used to walk and where I had so many wonderful memories. We had a memorial on a sunny day. Our whole family was there, including Kahlu’s “brother” Ripley and our new puppy Enzo. This ritual helped me a lot to move on.
“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole”
Getting a new dog is a very personal decision. When I got home after Kahlu died, I sobbed and told my husband that I never ever want another dog. I didn’t want to go through the illness of another dog again.
Luckily this feeling did not last very long. I got my new puppy Enzo only 2 months after Kahlu died. Enzo is so sweet and innocent he saved my broken heart. Of course this is not necessarily the right choice for everyone. Some owners might want to wait for a year while others wait just a couple of days. Whatever you chose to do you must be ready to move forward and build a new loving relationship.
To me, Kahulu is not gone. He is in my heart and my thoughts, like all the dogs I lost before him and the ones I lost after him.
It came to me that every time I lose a dog they take a piece of my heart with them. And every new dog who comes into my life, gifts me with a piece of their heart. If I live long enough, all the components of my heart will be dog, and I will become as generous and loving as they are. –Unknown
JUST A DOG
From time to time, people tell me, “lighten up, it’s just a dog,”
or “that’s a lot of money for just a dog.”
They don’t understand the distance traveled, the time spent,
or the costs involved for “just a dog.”
Some of my proudest moments have come about with “just a dog.”
Many hours have passed and my only company was “just a dog,”
but I did not once feel slighted.
Some of my saddest moments have been brought about by
“just a dog,” and in those days of darkness, the gentle touch
of “just a dog” gave me comfort and reason to overcome the day.
If you, too, think it’s “just a dog,” then you probably understand
phrases like “just a friend,” “just a sunrise,” or “just a promise.”
“Just a dog” brings into my life the very essence of friendship,
trust, and pure unbridled joy.
“Just a dog” brings out the compassion and patience
that make me a better person.
Because of “just a dog” I will rise early, take long walks and look
longingly to the future.
So for me and folks like me, it’s not “just a dog”
but an embodiment of all the hopes and dreams of the future,
the fond memories of the past, and the pure joy of the moment.
“Just a dog” brings out what’s good in me and diverts my thoughts
away from myself and the worries of the day.
I hope that someday they can understand that its’ not “just a dog”
but the thing that gives me humanity and keeps me from being
“just a man” or “just a woman.”
So the next time you hear the phrase “just a dog,”
because they “just don’t understand.”