Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Grieving The Loss Of Your Dog
This is a photo of my beloved dog Chloe who passed away in October of 2008. Chloe was a sweet girl who started out her life as a puppy therapy dog. In fact, that is how I met her. I first met Chloe when she was 9 weeks old. I was volunteering at a local hospital as a puppy "therapist" where I would take puppies on loan from an area shelter and visit cancer patients with them. It was rare that I would have the same puppy two weeks in a row as they would often get adopted out during the week. However, Chloe was still unadopted when I returned one week later to pick up a puppy to make my rounds at the hospital. Chloe came home with me that night. I also had a black lab mix at home named Brutus who was 4 years old.
It took Brutus about 1 full week to warm up to this tiny new puppy who loved nothing more than to nip at his legs and tail every time he moved. After that, they were the best of friends. Chloe was so soft and gentle with everyone she met...for her entire 12 years of life. When she was 2 she developed allergies and after having her tested it was discovered that she was, as I can still hear the veterinarian's words in my head, "allergic to life". She was allergic to dust, mold, grass, trees...on and on. Basically, Chloe was allergic to the indoors and outdoors. The part of her body that took the worse hit from her allergies were her ears. If she wasn't on steroids and antibiotics, her ears would become so inflammed from the irritation of her allergies that often times her ear canals would be swollen shut.
This went on for the next couple years of her life but by the time she was 4 her ears were so badly damaged and in a constant state of inflammation and infection (and not responding to medication) that her vet recommended a procedure called a total ear canal ablation. Total ear canal ablation involves removal of the vertical and horizontal ear canal, the ear drum and part of the middle ear. It is the ultimate treatment when nothing else works. It removes the infected ear and allows fluid to be drained from the middle ear. The process involves removing the entire amplification system of the body, and if this surgery is performed on both ears, the dog becomes deaf. This was a very difficult decision for me to make but at the same time my Chloe had suffered so much and so often that I decided to have the procedure done. She did remarkably well post operatively and lived the rest of her life feeling much better and also deaf.
At this point I had to come up with some different ways to communicate with her. It amazed me how well and how quickly she adapted to her lack of hearing. She made eye contact with me often and learned very basic hand signals for commands such as come and stay. I believe having an older dog around helped her too. Chloe would follow Brutus around if he got up to go get a drink or eat or go outside. Everything went rather smoothly until 2005 when my beloved first dog Brutus died in his sleep at almost 14 years old. Until we meet again, Boo!
So now it really got interesting in my house because it was just Chloe and me. My son was in college at this time and living on campus. My first memorable experience of life with just Chloe and me in the house was the first time I came home from work and she was asleep and had no idea I was home. Not wanting to startle her, I did not go up to her and touch her. I gently stomped on the floor and when she felt the vibration she awakened. Wow! That was pretty cool. So this is what we did if she was asleep whenever I came home.
Ok...now we started having some fun with it. Sometimes when I came home I wouldn't stomp my foot to alert her. I would just "be" there and see how long it took for her to pick up my scent. I would watch her go from a sound sleep to the beginning signs of thinking "something is in the room but I'm still too sleepy to care". The first sign was the twitching of her nose. This would go on for about 10 seconds then her eyes would twitch a few seconds before she would open them. When she saw me her thick husky/golden retriever tail would thump on the floor with authority. She was always so happy to see me. This game was also a lot of fun when it involved treats. When she was asleep I would lay a treat in the other room and she would go through the same process until she awakened. She would then follow her keen sense of smell and head right for the treat. Every time. No fail.
On Chloe's final day, I came home from work to find her without the use of her legs and with loss of bladder control. My cousin and a friend of mine helped me get Chloe into the car and we all went to the vet. It still hadn't hit me that this might be "it". Brutus died in his sleep and I never had a pet prior to him so I didn't know what was ahead for us. Chloe's veterinarian examined her and was very honest that there was nothing that could be done. She had lived a loving, long and happy life and this was the end. So I had to make that awfully difficult decision to put her down, even though I understood it was the right thing to do for her. My cousin Tracey, my friend Angie and I sat on the floor with Chloe, her head resting in my arms and we took as long as we needed to spend her last hours together. After about what seemed like 2 hours I was ready to let her go meet up with her brother Brutus. Chloe's vet explained exactly what would happen and how it would happen and in a matter of seconds it was done. Peacefully. Quietly. Chloe was in her final sleep.
Our dogs become a member of our family and the decision to put them down is a very difficult and emotional one. There are all kinds of helpful materials online but for me I knew it was the right decision when it was clear her quality of life was extremely & permanently compromised. Letting go is difficult. After the grieving process there does come a time when you remember the joy your dog brought to your life and your tears turn into smiles as you remember them.
Thank you, Chloe and Brutus, for being a huge chapter in my life. See you at The Rainbow Bridge.
The Rainbow Bridge Poem
Just this side of heaven is a place called the Rainbow Bridge.
When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to the Rainbow Bridge.
There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.
All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.
They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.
You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again.
The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head. You look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.
Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together…