When I lost my last service dog to cancer, I was inconsolable. In many ways, I never got over her death. Indeed, when I received my next (magnificent) service dog, I talked so much about my last one that the trainer actually thought about taking him back – because I didn’t appreciate what I had.
I did appreciate my new service dog. It’s just that he couldn’t replace – nor should he replace – my last one. It took me a long time to realize that. One animal doesn’t “replace” another any more than one child replaces another. Each is different and evokes different thoughts and feelings. But one thing I have learned over the years–and a life with many dogs–is that the degree of love I feel for each of them is exactly the same.
My mother said it best. Years ago, in a fit of temper probably from assuming that my brother or sister got a larger share of something I wanted, I asked her: “Do you love each of us the same?” My mother thought about it for a moment and said, “I do love each of you just as much, but for different reasons.”
The beloved dog of a dear friend was diagnosed with cancer a few months ago. The disease spread quickly and when she saw that he could no longer manage and was in pain, she did what had to be done: she took him to her veterinarian who ended his life. But for my friend, his life will never be ended because she will carry him in her heart forever. Other dogs may come into her house and probably some or all will capture her heart with as much fervor and joy as the last one, but she won’t forget this dog any more than I will forget my last service dog – nor, in fact, every one of the dogs I’ve had in my life.
I learned with the loss of my last dog that, in spite of my liberal persuasions and my desire to be tolerant of other people’s attitudes, I cannot, simply cannot, stand people who respond to the death of a pet with the catchphrase: “It’s just a dog.”
There’s no point in explaining the rage I feel nor the despair when some idiot says something like that. And, yes, I use the word idiot in its exact, primary meaning: a stupid person, fool, ass, halfwit, dunce, dolt, ignoramus, cretin, moron, imbecile, simpleton; and the list goes on.
I used to think the world was divided into “cat people” and “dog people.” But I don’t think that’s really true. Most people I know love them both, although there are some notable exceptions. What I firmly believe now, however, is that the world is divided between dog lovers and dog-idiots (the latter doesn’t deserve a dog!).
But, back to the original point of this article: the loss of a pet. Whether it’s a service dog or companion pet, our sadness is just the same – deep, and impenetrable. Fortunately, today, with a greater understanding of the importance of dogs, there are available some resources and options. Here are a few organizations, accessible online or via telephone, that can help you connect with other people who understand what you’re going through:
- The Argus Institute at the Colorado State University Veterinary School: http://csu-cvmbs.colostate.edu/vth/diagnostic-and-support/argus/Pages/default.aspx
- The ASPCA grief counseling hotline: (877) GRIEF-10.
- Cornell University pet-loss support hotline. Tel (607) 253-3932; http://www.vet.cornell.edu/Org/PetLoss/
- The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement: http://www.aplb.org/
- Books to help you prepare — or endure — pet loss: https://riedelcody.org/blogs/kerrym/top-5-books-pet-loss-and-grief
If you have recently lost your dog, you have our utmost sympathies. Please believe me when I say, “I understand.”
– Dr. B