“How do I know when it’s the right time to say goodbye to my dog?”
“Did I do the right thing?”
“Why doesn’t anyone understand my grief?”
“How can I ever love another one?”
I have numbly spoken these words, draped in sorrow. I’ve been on that roller coaster of uncertainty when, after calling my vet clinic to make the euthanasia appointment, my dog rallies and starts eating again or rediscovers her zest for life. I’ve sat at that table sobbing in front of silent coworkers after receiving a phone call about my dog’s kidney failure. I’ve cradled the bridle of my childhood equine partner.
Friends, clients and colleagues have shared their battles of indecision at the end of their animal companion’s life, and the deep absence when that spirit is gone. Losing our creature partner is an intimate and sometimes lonely experience. Often, people don’t understand our relationship with an animal or our grief when our companion has died.
I am sharing stories here of the love and loss of the dogs, cats and horses who have found me, and how their lessons have helped me make end-of-life decisions for my next animal loves. Especially, how their love has helped my heart stay open through grief, to welcome new hearts.
When those caramel eyes, that wiggling butt, the warm breath from a fuzzy muzzle, or a maestro purr joins our life, we also invite their goodbye. Their dependence is magnified when a canine companion is diagnosed with cancer, a senior horse is too weak to stand or a kitty’s thyroid begins to fail.
Sometimes they begin to wander, lost in their own home. They bark in a corner or flinch and pant at the beep of a dishwasher. They feebly rise from a five-hour nap, swaying on once sturdy limbs. We struggle to balance their quality of life with our reluctance to say goodbye.
We push the unspoken fear into a box, bind it tightly and shove it onto a high shelf. Out of our sight, it quietly collects dust. But one day we find the box at the breakfast table, the tape undone like our breaking heart.
If I sit down with my grief at the table, unbutton my jacket of composure and surrender to tears, the paralysis of fear leaves the room. I find comfort remembering and writing about my companion. Welcoming memories about the love that never leaves my heart.
When the animal I loved and who loved me is gone, I am not less. I am not broken. I offer my heart to an animal companion as that heart is offered to me. The gift is not diminished because it is temporary. Nor is the memory of the love when the animal is gone.
By sharing stories of love and loss I hope to encourage others to do the same. “Saying Hello to Goodbye” is my journey of opening my heart to love, and trusting the beauty of love will keep me whole when I say goodbye.
Wendy Dahl, MA, SAMT, CBATI
Animal Behavior Consultant and
Small Animal Massage Therapist