The death of a dear old dog is something dog lovers worldwide brave several times in a lifetime oh, the magic of that friendship! The depth of that love! That so many are willing to invite and invite again such profound grief into their lives.
Upon their passing, cowboys write songs:
"When ol' Blue died, he died so hard, it shook the ground in my backyard." from "Old Blue" by Ramblin' Jack Elliott
Pulitzer winners write books:
"Each morning I used to check to see if the old guy was actually breathing, and each day I tried to take his measure: Was he hurting? Was he happy? Was the trade-off between being alive and being infirm worth it? And when the time comes to ask myself those same questions, at least I will have had experience calibrating the answer. Sometimes an old dog teaches you new tricks." from "Good Dog. Stay." by Anna Quindlen
The time to prepare, and your vet can help you with this, is when his quality of life begins to deteriorate when he starts having trouble getting up, keeping food down, controlling his bowels; when he gets sick and spends more time in pain than not. Quindlen is right we all hope not to suffer through our golden years, and we owe it to our pets to ask the difficult questions on their behalf.
One of the best ways to brace yourself for the loss of your faithful and furry friend is to get another one. This isn't cheating, and it won't erase the pain of your loss nothing will. But it will make coming home a little easier. After 12 years of being greeted at the door with anticipatory whimpers and the driving thump of a tail, that silence is too much for most of us to bear and so we begin again.
A question many people get stuck on is: How does the death of one family dog affect the other family dog? The answer is painfully simple and unacceptable to some: It really doesn't. People grieve. Dogs don't.
Few people readily accept or easily endure the loss of a beloved pet. There are innumerable books dedicated to the subject; there are community and online pet-loss support groups; there are hotlines devoted to helping people deal with the loss of a pet (call the Center for Companion Animal Health Pet Loss Hot Line at 800-565-1526). There have been movies made, songs sung, poems recited. ... All that to say: You are not alone. Sometimes, a deeply felt understanding of that is enough.
And if in your sorrow you feel in need of a laugh, I offer this, from "The Indenture of the Dog Lovers" by William F. Buckley Jr.:
"Skipping home late in the afternoon from school, 7-year-old Greta asks her mother, 'Where is Dada?' Her mother had spent the entire afternoon bracing herself for this encounter, because the awful truth of the matter is that Dada was tragically run over shortly after the little girl went off to school. Her mother, consulting friends and professionals, had decided to tell her daughter the plain truth, and take the consequences. Accordingly, she replied, in sober tones, 'Darling, I must tell you something: Dada has been killed.' The little girl looked up, wrinkled her nose, and then said, 'Where are my cookies and milk?' Vastly relieved at her daughter's stoicism, the mother bounded to the kitchen to give her daughter her snack, after which Greta said, 'Mummy, where is Dada?'
"'I told you, dear, Dada had an accident and was killed.'
"There followed a lachrymose pandemonium which the mother could not arrest. Finally she blurted out, 'Darling, I told you when you came home from school that Dada had been killed.'
"Little girl: 'I thought you said Papa had been killed."'Woof!
Dog trainer Matthew "Uncle Matty" Margolis is co-author of 18 books about dogs, a behaviorist, a popular radio and television guest and host of the PBS series "WOOF! It's a Dog's Life!" © Creators Syndicate Inc.