The grief over a lost pet

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This grief may be so difficult that the person may feel more upset over a pet than a human loved one; there are many feelings, and stages that are involved in losing a pet. Five stages that are included in losing a pet are denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and resolution. Pam Brown once said, "If there is a heaven, it's certain our animals are to be there. Their lives become so interwoven with our own, it would take more than an archangel to detangle them (Brown, n.d.)."

I awoke to a fresh spring breeze gusting through my window, the sounds of newly born birds chirping, and the smell of blooming flowers. Yet, for some reason something inside me begged and pleaded for me not get out of bed. Something shouted inside me, shouted inside this little twelve-year-old girl that this world was full of anger, hate, and unconscious drones moving around like people, people that were not living but just existing. Against my bodies, wishes and my horrible thoughts I heaved myself up and began to start my morning. I remember it was about 9:00 AM and I had a chiropractor appointment at about noon. I wandered around the house as if I had never been there before, feeling lost, in an unfamiliar body but with no reason for this feeling just pushed myself on. Assuming the feeling would go away eventually, I stumbled into the kitchen in my pajamas. Only to be greeted by the only thing in the world that filled the void inside me, my dog Shiloh.

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A flash of memory came to me and I lived in that memory standing in my kitchen remember the memory of the struggles it took me to convince my mom that getting a dog was the best possible therapy and telling her that it would heal everything. I began to chuckle to myself, I was not sure if I was laughing because she believed me and let me get him or because I had strung a line of BS to her in hopes of a yes answer and here it turned out that my BS was right.

I got Shiloh from our local pet store. Every Saturday this pet store would have one cat and one dog up for adoption. Once I had convinced my mom this was the answer to everything, we got ready and went to look for my psychologist in a dog's body. The drive to the pet store was exhausting I could hardly contain myself. I remember watching the lines on the side of the road stream by the car; I thought that maybe if I concentrated on something, that it might put me in some sort of hypnosis and before I knew it that, we would be there. That did not work, actually it made me quite ill and when I looked up, we had driven maybe about a mile so much for that brilliant idea. I began to imagine what my dog would look like black, white, or spotted. Maybe with long hair and those enticing puppy eyes every dog owner knows. I thought up thousands of names, only stressing myself out more, what collar I would pick, would I get a boy or a girl dog. The most overplayed question in my head was if my line of BS was going to come true, would it fill that feeling of hatred, loneliness, and worthlessness. Then I found myself asking would he or she like me? That to me was one of the most apparent reason I needed help, I was worried if a dog was going to like me.

We pulled into the parking lot of the pet store, the sounds of the tires rolling across the pavement and the screeching halt awoke me from my hypnosis. There was that last question ringing in my ear, would he or she like me? I realized we were there and felt this tension in my chest, hands, and me as a whole. This is what I had been waiting for and all of a sudden I felt scared what if I picked the wrong dog what if that feeling that everyone talks about, the feeling of knowing it's the right choice is not there. I gathered my thoughts and pushed my stomach from my throat back to where it belonged and left what I hoped would be the last of those feelings in the car.

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As my hand grasped the handle and opened the door the sound of the one dog reverberated in my ear. At that moment nothing else mattered, I was for once in my life numb to those awful feelings. The nervousness, fear, and anxiety must have latched on to someone else that was in close range. There was a line in front of the two cages all of a sudden a thought came into my head what if someone in front of me adopts the dog first. I quickly tried to grab the thought and throw it away I did this so vividly that I thought perhaps I had acted it out in the middle of the store, luckily, I was not that crazy. That is when I heard the little boy in front of me say "EW, mommy, I don't want this dog." A sense of relief flew threw me. As the people in front of me moved aside I saw him, sitting in the cage alone completely aware of his feeling of being unwanted not feeling good enough to go home with a little boy. His dark brown eyes glazed over almost like tears, his color almost like the grainy sand, and little spots almost like God had peppered him just on his feet before he sent him on his way. My attention focused on why in the world this little boy did not want him. That is when I noticed his back right leg was limp. The woman informed us that he did not utilize this leg he was born with it but had more want of love and loyalty then I had ever felt. I realized he was just like me but just did not have the capability to say it. I imagined him screaming out as I had done multiple times to my father I am here! Love me, want me, and give me the chance to show you how wonderful I am. I needed him, I wanted him, and there was without a doubt in my mind that I wanted to be that person to give him what I so longed for. In that instance, I looked at my mom and said, "He is the only thing I want in life right now, and he is mine."

We brought Shiloh home, the whole ride home I glared into his walnut eyes and noticed that that glaze was gone. In my eyes, I had given him what I longed for and for that moment, I felt peace of mind, a feeling that everything was going to be okay. That day he became my everything, my world. I signed on to a silent pact that day, a pact of friendship, loyalty and love that would be unmatched by anyone. A dog that loves unconditionally, without judging and does not need anything explained or asked he just knows. I loved him and he loved me, my question was answered he did love me. There was nothing in the world that would take him away from me, we were invincible together, or so I thought.

A year had passed by and it was the best year of my life, he was perfect. He amazed me his leg never bothered him it was as if his hardest struggle in life had floated away. He ran on three legs and pounced around in the yard as if he were a gazelle roaming the plains of Africa. I recall thinking to myself that a person who has never owned a dog has missed a wonderful part of life.

I came back to my senses standing in my kitchen the morning of my chiropractic appointment wondering why this day is so different from any other day, Why I thought about all of this so in depth. I stared at those same walnut eyes thanking God for letting me own such a courageous, loyal dog. I went into the bathroom only to notice I still was not dressed, my hair was disheveled, pointing in all directions, much like roadways on a map. I decided that since it was only 9:00 in the morning that I had time to take Shiloh outside and play for awhile, knowing that he would not judge me on how I looked I stayed in my pajamas. Opening the door I felt the crisp breeze glide over my face, my bare feet on the sun bathed porch, noticing the great warmth under my toes. I stretched as far as I could reach, staring at the sun as if I were grasping it in my hands, Shiloh did the same. As I opened my eyes, I realized the cows across the street were intently focusing on us as if they wanted to engage in a staring match. We sat in the front for awhile, just listening to the rustling leaves, the crackling of pine trees branches as if they were all stretching in unison enjoying the same things we were. I sat there, admiring how simple life could be when you had what you needed right by your side. The smell of freshly baled hay filled the air and the sound of the baby calves across the street calling to each other to play. A day like any other day, the smells and sounds of a normal day, but something was still lingering, something that was unknown, which I think, is why I was so sensitive to this incognito feeling. I walked through the dampened dew grass, reached down, grabbed the felt covered toy, and began to toss it around for Shiloh.

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My mom had woken up and come outside to look for me. She stood on the porch and told me that I should probably start to get ready for my appointment seeing as to how I was still in my pajamas and frankly a mess. My mom turned and went inside to get ready. Little did I know that the feeling I had been having all morning would soon show itself in true form. It was almost as if the next seven minutes were stuck in a time warp. As I turned around for Shiloh I noticed he had went across the road to the barn. Worried and frantic I did the first thing I thought of and last thing that he would consciously hear, I called his name, SHILOH come here! He then did what he did best, listened to me. Shiloh came running across the pavement of the road; I remember hearing his toenails clipping on the pavement. A sudden sense of relief came over me, followed by complete and utter trauma. I could smell the diesel, hear the sound of the roaring engine, I ran for my life and let out a horror-filled shriek that took a part of me with it. I saw I was too late, I saw my everything, my world take the impact that I raced so hard to take for him. I fell to my knees, feeling the cold mud mush around my knees. I felt nothing, not a heartbeat. I heard nothing, no birds, no wind, the trees that were just stretching in the wind had stopped as if they knew the severity of the situation. A part of me died that day that I have never gotten back.

My mom rushed outside, I had not moved, not blinked, not conscious. I came back to reality, and I came back with such anger, anger I had never experienced. I cursed every word that seeped through my body and directed it at the driver. As quick as the cursing began, it stopped I went into the house in silence and stared at my reflection telling myself it was a dream, to wake up damn it! I closed my eyes and counted to ten, nothing changed. This was reality. I sat in the house, in silence. My mom ran in the house told me she was going to the vet, I said nothing.

My sister stayed with me while my mom did what I was not able to do, and I blame myself every day. I sat there for hours while my mom was gone and repeated "please let him be okay God, please let him be okay." I received a phone call from my mom that he needed to be euthanized, and asked what I wanted to happen with his body. I said, "He needs to come home, bring him back to me." A little while passed by and then I heard the crunching of the gravel, the squeaks of the brakes, and the car door shut. A sense of relief came over me he was home, but not home with me, home in heaven. I told myself I would not look at him. I found myself busting through the door like a horse on the racetrack. My baby, my Shiloh was in a sky blue bag tied shut, and alone. The day we got him came to my mind and I realized I could not save him from his loneliness again. The unbearable anger came over me, I briskly opened the bag as if maybe they made a mistake and he was alive or maybe if I opened it quickly enough he would breathe again, just for me. I ever so slightly touched his face, and quickly pulled back he was cold. I grabbed him from the bag and immediately cradled him, rocking him back and forth. I do not know how long I sat there holding him, but I do know that at twelve years old I learned what it felt like to lose a child.

The sound of the shovel hitting the dirt was deafening. I wondered how I was going to be able to put him in this hole, my hand began to tighten around the bag like a vice grip. It dawned on me that someone was going to have to break both my hands before I would toss him away. The sick feeling came to me that if I could just keep him maybe it would not be so hard. The thought of letting go became harder to do than anything. I was angry at Mother Nature, the birds were still chirping, people laughing, cars zooming by. I expected the earth to stop turning and everyone to grieve with me. Shiloh was not just a dog he was my world, I wanted to die with him, lay next to him for eternity. The shovel stopped, it was time I had to let him go. As my fingers started to release from the bag the crackling of the bag unstuck itself from my hands as if Shiloh himself were clinging to me, begging me not to let him go. I sat in the cold dirt next to the hole, the grass creeping up my knees; I lowered my arms, hesitantly, not to let him go to quick in fear that I might hurt him. He was dead, he felt nothing, not the whistling wind, the warmth in my hands, or my pounding drum beat that my heart was letting out. So loud that the angels that were watching could hear it, perhaps it made some angelic sound that drew them to me.

As I let go, I felt like I was letting go of everything I knew about myself, all the esteem, every fiber of my being was being buried in the hole with him. I stood there the guilt overwhelming me I should have went to the vet's office with him, that cold sterile place, without his mom, how could I abandon him in his most precious time of need. If I could have been there maybe they would have saved him, maybe my need for him to live would have been enough if I had been there. That day will forever be a part of me. "If you have a dog, you will most likely outlive it; to get a dog is to open yourself to profound joy and, prospectively, to equally profound sadness" (Garber, 2011).

After the death of Shiloh I became extremely depressed and cried daily, I could not get over it. I waited for a year and hoped it would get better and now almost ten years later I have for the most part had resolution. It was not until I took the course Vet 123 that I learned why it was so difficult.

There are different stages in what we call the grieving process. These stages are not linear, meaning that a grieving person can move in and out of stages in any order. These stages include: Denial, Bargaining, Anger, Depression, and resolution (Mccurnin, 2010). The denial stage is a defense mechanism that helps to ease the humans from any unbearable news or reality. This is shown in the way that the client will act; they will often want the veterinary staff to repeat diagnoses, prognoses, and treatment plans (Mccurnin, 2010). The stage of bargaining is when the grieving person acts out helpless attempts to control and change the reality of the situation. They will often try and find "miracle cures" or even attempt to treat it at home with home remedies. The client may also get second opinions and even replace a pet too soon. In hopes that this new dog will ease the pain and suffering they may get a dog that is the exact same breed, color, and even name the dog the same name (Mccurnin, 2010). The sad thing is that most will try this and then when the new dog does not fill that position, the owners will often become mad. The next stage is Anger. Anger is very difficult to work through and work with. This is when they will feel overwhelmingly guilty. Guilt is the hardest for people to relinquish. This stage is usually directed at the veterinary staff, they feel that perhaps it was the clinics fault that their pet did not survive. Once they are able to let go of the guilt and anger the process continues (Mccurnin, 2010). The Depression stage consists of feelings of extreme sadness, worthlessness, and the grieving person may not function normally. You become irritable, sleep depravated, and very restless. This stage must be worked through and should not be avoided (Mccurnin, 2010). The final stage of the grieving process is resolution or acceptance. Once the grieving person reaches this stage things balanced themselves out, they feel okay, and are able to function normally. The pet has not been forgotten and new attachments can be made without hesitation or guilt. (Mcurnin, 2010).

Usually the grieving process is easier for children than it is for adults. There are some factors that change how a person grieves such as: multiple losses, a loss that was associated with a special person or event, traumatic death of a pet, loss on an important day, inability to be able to afford treatment, and guilt about the death (Mccurnin,2010). Many people deal with grief very differently, for a lot of people their pets are their children. 50% of people consider their relationship with their pets as extremely strong (Mcurnin, 2010). So in knowing this people may react and act in very odd or even absurd ways sometimes due to how they grieve. Some other instances that make the grief process more difficult is a disappearance of a pet, witness a violent and unnecessary death of a pet, sudden illness or trauma, and not being present when the pet dies or not being able to say goodbye.

The loss of a pet is difficult for everyone involved, including the veterinary staff. Euthanasia of a pet is the number one cause for burnout in the clinic (Mccurnin, 2010). Some reasons that the death may be more difficult for the veterinary staff is that the pet could not fight the disease and died after much time and medical effort. The staff also becomes attached to these pets. Often in euthanasia the client may be present during the euthanasia which makes the situation more stressful. Due to problems arising during the procedure and the clients witness this (Mccurnin, 2010). It is never uncommon for a veterinary technician or any member of the staff to cry with the clients, this can often help in some situations. However over time in the practice you will acquire the skill to read situations and now how to respond (Mccurnin, 2010).

"Dogs don't know about beginnings, and they don't speculate on matters that occurred before their time. Dogs also don't know - or at least don't accept - the concept of death. With no concept of beginnings or endings dogs probably don't know that for people having a dog as a life companion provides a streak of light between two eternities of darkness .For those who love dogs, it would be the worst form of a lie to call any place where dogs were banned "Paradise. Certainly no loving God would separate people from their canine friends for eternity" (Coren, n.d.).

In conclusion the death of a pet is one of the hardest things you could face. The feelings that you get when losing a pet can come in many forms, and may take a few weeks to months to years. It all depends on how you grieve. The day I lost Shiloh I remember wondering if I was ever to get over it or if I would ever be able to own another animal knowing the unavoidable reality in the end. I pondered if it was really worth it in the end worth the pain, unhappiness, and the worthlessness. The same things I had wished away with getting Shiloh in the first place. It was all worth it in the end for it is better to have loved and lost then to have never loved in the first place. I have learned so much from this tragedy, because I feel that that was a turning point in my life and that is one of the reasons I am where I am today. I want to help and save animals to the best of my ability to be able to send that dog back home to his or her little girl.

"Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains un awakened" (France, n.d.).