This is a bit off topic for me, but my wife, daughters and I made the very difficult decision to euthanize our beloved family pet, a black Labrador mix named Bogie (Humphrey Bogart Bello). Bogie was 15 years old and in very declining health, but that did not make the decision any easier. He has been a part of our family, and by our sides (sometimes a thorn in them!) for most of his 15 years. We have seen him go from a rambunctious, high strung, almost uncontrollable young pup, to a mature, quiet, gentle senior citizen, with many milestones and stories in between. He had developed some serious physical (and mental) conditions that led to our decision, and I know, in my heart, we made the right one; still, as I indicated previously, it wasn’t easy.
We took Bogie to the vet on Saturday, intending to treat one of his many conditions, and our request for treatment resulted in a discussion about what was best for him, treatment or an end to his suffering. With the gentle assistance of our caring veterinarian at Hilldale Veterinary Hospital in Southfield, MI (Detroit suburb), we chose to end his suffering. We stayed by his side as the vet administered a sedative; we petted and kissed him as he fell gently to sleep. Finally, we said goodbye and left the room. We could not bear to stay and witness the specific procedures that would end his life, although some families, I understand, choose to stay to the very end. We just couldn’t do it.
I am a grown man; I have watched all of my grandparents, my father, most of my aunts and uncles, and even a nephew pass away from old age or serious illness. Obviously, the loss of Bogie is different than those losses. This is not human loss, and, in the natural scheme of things, a dog has a relatively short life span as compared to humans. A person who welcomes a dog into the family, knows (in the recesses of his mind) that he will, someday, face this type of experience. Yet, I cannot believe how distraught I am; to my great surprise, I am quite grief stricken. I find myself missing the little things. Bogie is not there to happily greet me when I get home. He is not at the kitchen window, barking as people walk by. His dish sits empty in the utility room. I can no longer hear him sneaking a drink in the toilet. I can eat without him staring at me, longingly, for some of my food. He is not at the back door, barking to go out. As bogie got old, and could no longer jump on furniture (shedding black hair on every piece he came in contact with), he would sleep at the side of my bed. When I got out of bed, I had to remember he was there and navigate around him. Over the last few days, when I awake, I engage in my "navigate around Bogie" routine, forgetting he is no longer there. I no longer find clumps of his hair (or other things he left, in his old age), all over the house. These are simple examples of the many little things in my life that have changed with his passing. I miss them all, and thinking about them, and him, brings a smile and, at the same time, tears.
Yesterday, I received an unexpected package of information from our family veterinary hospital. The package contained a letter expressing sincere condolences and a list of resources available and things you can do to mourn your pet and "ease the grieving process". I was surprised to find that there are many resources for the grieving "parents" of pets. Since there are probably many people who are sharing or about to share this same, sad experience, I decided to share these materials, with the hope that they will help ease the grief of others:
1. In the Detroit area of Michigan, where I live, there is a "grief support group" for pet loss, at a local church (this one meets the second Monday of every month). For more information, go to www.beyondthepawprint.com.
2. Michigan State University (which has a degree program in Veterinary Medicine) has a "Pet Loss Hotline" for grieving pet owners. The number is (517) 432-2696. The Michigan State link is to a Pet Loss Support website offered by the university.
3. Nationally, there is the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement , I’ve linked the website, but the web address is www.aplb.com. This is an amazing site that allows visitors to post memorials, provides helpful tips and articles (I love "All Pets Go To Heaven"), hotlines, and support groups. The Association will also send condolence cards from friends of grieving family members. There are chat rooms for grieving family members to visit.
4. There are numerous books on the subject of pet loss and healing. Here are a few:
- Brown, R.J. (2005). How to Roar: Pet Loss Grief Recovery. Morrisville, N.C., Lulu Press.
- Byock, I. (2004). The Four Things That Matter Most: A Book About Living. NY:Free Press.
- Hansen, M.V., Becker M., Kline, C., Canfield, J., & Bryan-Hunt, J. (2005) Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover’s Soul. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications.
- Carmack, B. (2002). Grieving the Death of a Pet. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress.
- Reynolds, R.M. (2000). Blessing the Bridge: What Animals Teach us About Death, Dying and Beyond. Troutdale, Oregon: New Sage Press.
- Sife, W. (2005). The Loss of a Pet: A Guide to Coping With the Grieving Process When a Pet Dies (third edition). NY: Howell Book House.
5. Finally, here are some additional websites on Pet Loss and pet loss products and services:
- Forever Pets: www.foreverpets.com
- Our Pals: www.ourpals.com
- Nikki Hospice Foundation for Pets: www.pethospice.org
- Pet Grief Support and Candle Ceremony www.petloss.com
- Pet Loss Support Page: www.pet-loss.com
One of the recommendations contained in the materials that I received about the grieving process was to write something about your pet. The materials said that the writer would "feel better" after writing about him; I’m not sure this particular recommendation works. However, I know that I will feel better with the passage of time, and I am happy to share these tips, publications and websites with others who are going through similar experiences.
Bogie: We love you and we will never forget you. Rest in Peace, my good friend, rest in peace.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series—Mark Bello is also the CEO of Lawsuit Financial and the country’s leading expert in providing non-recourse lawsuit funding to plaintiffs involved in pending litigation. He is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.