It’s happened twice already today. I came down the stairs this morning and you weren’t there with your ears perked up, waiting for my invitation (“You wanna go for a walk around the block?”), all ready to go. Then, just now, I came inside the house from the garage and you weren’t there to greet me. I peered around the corner to the crate that you still, after 12 years with us, slept in. Empty.

Empty. That’s how I’ve been feeling all day. Really, it’s how I’ve been feeling for the last few days when you weren’t eating. For a Lab like you, that’s a bad sign. You ate through periodic neck pain and some arthritis of your knee. You never stopped eating during the short period you were in congestive heart failure (two years ago almost to the day — man, we almost lost you then). But lately, that fast growing tumor in your nose was affecting your sense of smell first, and then your sense of taste. You gave up on dog food a month ago and then you gave up on people food (eggs for breakfast, chicken and steak for dinner — expensive tastes, no?). Yesterday morning, you wouldn’t eat for me. After a few hours of me begging you, you let me feed you a couple of mouthfuls while you lay in your crate. You were not enthusiastic. It was time to call the vet — a kind and compassionate man who knew you well for 12 years and who was kept apprised of your deteriorating condition — and prevent the real misery and pain coming your way fast.

Tears. Hugs. More tears. Ugh.

 

 

A lot has been written about how to cope with the loss of a pet; how to prepare yourself, how to tell the children, how to pick the right time to… you know. A few weeks ago, my wife and I brought Dash to his doggy-cardiologist for his scheduled follow-up visit at Pittsburgh Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Center. PVSEC is a wonderful, full-service medical center for pets. Its veterinary specialists and staff are, without exception in our experience, kind and compassionate professionals. Anyway, while we were waiting for Dash’s tests to be completed, we started reading some brochures on the wall of the waiting area about coping with the loss of a pet. Written by Moira Anderson Allen, M.Ed., here is what she has to say about talking with children about losing a pet:

You are the best judge of how much information your children can handle about death and the loss of their pet. Don’t underestimate them, however. You may find that, by being honest with them about your pet’s loss, you may be able to address some fears and misperceptions they have about death.

Honesty is important. If you say the pet was “put to sleep,” make sure your children understand the difference between death and ordinary sleep. Never say the pet “went away,” or your child may wonder what he or she did to make it leave, and wait in anguish for its return. That also makes it harder for a child to accept a new pet. Make it clear that the pet will not come back, but that it is happy and free of pain.

Never assume a child is too young or too old to grieve. Never criticize a child for tears, or tell them to “be strong” or not to feel sad. Be honest about your own sorrow; don’t try to hide it, or children may feel required to hide their grief as well. Discuss the issue with the entire family, and give everyone a chance to work through their grief at their own pace.

 

We named him “Dash” after the young boy character in the movie The Incredibles. My boys loved that movie, so why not? In reality, Dash was the most laid back dog ever! He did almost nothing quickly except eat, which he did at a ferocious pace. He was a sniffer — two walks every day gave us plenty of time to sniff the bushes, say hello to the neighbors, greet all the other dogs in the neighborhood. (Plenty. Of. Time.) Everyone loved Dash; everyone, persons and dogs all. Until the end, when his walks were short and his sense of smell impaired, he was unfailingly polite and attentive to other people and dogs. Dash hardly barked at all during his long life, and my wife and I were reminiscing this morning: we never heard him growl. Ever! He was smart and sensitive — the way I’d expect all good Labs to be — and he was funny, too, in a canine sort of way. Dash had soul. He was an integral and beloved part of our family, now spread out in so many places that the final FaceTime over the weekend would be the last they saw of my old boy. Our old boy. We prepared ourselves for this day as much as we possibly could, but clearly, not well enough.

 

 

You were a good boy, Dash. You were so loved, and you gave that love right back. Without the certification, you were a therapy dog to everyone you met. In the coming days and weeks, our emptiness will be filled with whatever circumstances and emotions invariably replenish that void. But for now, your kind and gentle spirit is free.

Your soul is in us now.

Goodbye, Buddy Boy.