Pet Grief: Mine, my daughter’s, the dogs’.

Grief expression is different between adults and children, humans and animals, the innocent and the guilty.

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In my last post, I documented the death of my youngest dog Koba who was fatally poisoned after ingesting antifreeze. That was about two weeks ago, Christmas morning. I let the two of my dogs sniff the body inside the carrier that she passed away in. I let the two of them watch me as I carried her to the backyard and dug a hole for her. I let them watch me place her body in the hole in the ground. I allowed them to sniff her body at each point. They watched me cover her body with dirt and place Large Stones over the grave. The carrier is still outdoors in the backyard and I will probably dispose of it but until then, whatever scent remains of her can be visited when they choose to go to that corner of the backyard. They know she’s gone.

The holidays have come and gone, and things have pretty much returned to normal as far as the day-to-day activities. Well, things are as normal as they can be considering the trio is now down to a duo. Koba was the only girl of my three dogs balancing out the testosterone level. Her energy was definitely something that kept everyone going. Koba was a near-perfect companion to my husky dog Jordi who also has a high energy drive. The two of them would run around in the backyard together for hours keeping each other company. There was some play fighting and shows of submission and domination between the two as they played out their natural roles as male and female, as well as younger and older / alpha dog. I feel that if Jordi could talk he would express the most grief as a void in this part of his life has been created. He doesn’t have anyone Sprint around the yard with anymore. He doesn’t have anyone to lick and nip at his ears, to the point of annoyance anymore. He doesn’t have anyone to chase through the house or to play tug-of-war with the toy rope anymore. Of course he still has Biscuit as a fellow canine companion. But Biscuit never was much for social interaction, and the relationship between Jordi and Biscuit is civil at best. Ironically, the two have been behaving quite well since Koba’s death. Have they bonded over their shared loss? Can they feel the shift in dynamics? Are they responding to me and my daughters emotions?

Speaking of our emotions, my daughter cried only briefly Christmas morning and went back to bed shortly after watching me bury our dog from the comfort of the backyard door. She didn’t want to see more than she had to. I ask her later that day how she was feeling and she just shrugged. I did not push the subject and let her come to me on her own, which she still hasn’t. Three days ago was the only other response related to her grief. With my daughter and I relaxing on the bed, and the two boy dogs struggling for room at the bottom of the bed, we playfully teased each other saying that there was only room for one dog. “You always let your dog have all the room.” My daughter claimed, referring to Biscuit. “No, sometimes your dog is up here too.” I replied, referring to Jordi. And just like that she snapped back at me: Jordi isn’t MY dog! Koba was MY dog! But she’s DEAD and it’s your fault! This was only the second time I saw her cry about it. I apologized again and asked if she forgave me. Again, with the shrug. When I prompted my daughter to talk about it she still refused. Death of a pet is a normal occurrence in many families and I’m hoping it’s something that she can get through without much traumatizing.

My grief has also been mostly internalised. I was upset near the end of my dog’s life when her death was inevitable and I was mostly overwhelmed with guilt and shame. By the time I knew she needed help it was too late to save her. But I refused to believe she was really dying and when I did accept that fact, I refused to put her down. My grief is mostly comprised of shame for the neglect in keeping her safe, and then letting her suffer. In an effort to share my story and prevent someone else’s misery, I also decided to document this on my YouTube channel(CatsDogsHarmony). As expected, I received quite a bit of negative feedback. There was emphasis placed on my negligence to take her in as soon as possible. I got some support from one viewer, reflecting on the caring and devotion that I had for my animals previous to this incident. But overall I was labeled and unfit pet owner. The damage was done, and the death of a perfectly healthy dog overshadowed any and all positive stories I had shared thus far.

So I accepted the criticism in stride knowing that although no one could ever know the whole story, there was truth to my being at fault. And so, I grieve not only for the loss of life but for a loss of character in myself that I know I possessed but did not act on. I still have to dispose of her carrier, and clean up my garage where the incident first took place and where she spent time in some of her last days. There are shreds of chewed-up newspaper, remainder of a blanket that was slept on, and trails of blood and diarrhea that have dried to a sticky mess. All reminders of a slowly dying dog that could have been put out of her misery much sooner. I’ve avoided both things in an effort to…-to what? Avoid remembering? Deny that it happened at all? Deny facing my responsibility in the death of a living being? These are all valid questions and part of the grief that I must continue to go through. I still have to take care of myself and I still have other animals depending on me for their well-being. So though it is a terrible lesson to learn, it is one that I am taking to heart and learning to live with.

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“Keep the harmony!”

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