CANINE CONNECTION: Accepting the death of a beloved pet

I sat on the edge of my bed with the small cedar box on my lap and grazed my fingers gently over the engraved letters on its surface, P-I-P-E-R.  

I marveled at how small the box was in comparison to the grandiose soul that belongs to the remains now held within the confines of the box and wondered if time really does heal all wounds. I can’t say that losing him is any less painful today, than it was three months ago. But what I do know is that I am able to recall the love much easier and overlook the loss.

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During this moment of reflection, the memory of delivering Piper to the cremation centre, Until We Meet Again came to mind.  I recalled backing my truck up to the front door of the facility and how I was greeted by the most compassionate of souls I have met. As Piper was placed respectfully on the gurney, it was David’s arms that literally prevented me from crashing to the pavement on my knees in a sobbing mess uttering the words “I can’t do this.”

That is when I heard a gentle but confident voice say, “That’s why we are here.” I will forever be grateful to David for the incredible empathy he showed which helped me though that difficult process.

Still sitting on the edge of my bed, I smiled to myself as another memory passed through my mind.  The last time I was at the front doors of Until We Meet Again pet memorial centre was 10 years ago, with my Doberman, Alex.  I seemed stronger, tougher then, or maybe the 12 years I shared with Piper softened a hardened heart.  I’d like to think his gift to me was compassion.  

Piper was not quite two when Alex passed away. I brought Piper into my life after my first German Shorthaired Pointer (GSP) ‘Harley’ passed away at eight due to cancer.  I knew then, as I know now, that I would bring another GSP into my life.  So when the inevitable question was asked: “Are you going to get another GSP?” I knew what the answer would be. But, as back then, I also knew that bringing another GSP into my life would happen when the time was right.

When that question is asked the intent is always well-meaning. Often it is a way of a friend or loved one breaking the ice around the sensitive subject of the death of a beloved pet.  

The question, usually spoken lightly, is not usually taken lightly as it inevitably provokes deep emotional pain, not only of the memories of the pet who has passed but also of a fear of replacing that pet, or more so, replacing that pure love.
There are some people who are able to quickly replace the pet that has died, with another. I thoughtfully ponder that decision, wondering if it is the fear of feeling the emotions of death that makes someone fill that void quickly or if the person really is able to let go and move on. Whatever the reason, it is a very personal decision that should not be judged or questioned by others.

For me the timing to bring another GSP in my life is not in line with my decision to do so.

There is still an ache that touches me daily when I think of Piper but right now, I have to focus my attention on my aging 14-year-old German Shepherd, Zumi.

Someone so eloquently pointed out when he stroked the top of Zumi’s head and looked into her clouding eyes: “She’s living on borrowed time.”

As hard as it is to consider this, especially after recently losing Piper, it is true. I love Zumi, just as much as I loved Piper. There is no difference in the depth of how much I love all my dogs, they are all unique which gives them all a different place in my heart, but it’s the same heart emoting the same love.

So for now I put memories of the past aside, give my attention to the present and know that the future will unveil itself when it’s meant to.

Joan Klucha has been working with dogs for more than 15 years in obedience, tracking and behavioural rehabilitation. Contact her at k9kinship@gmail.com.

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