This photo shows Cotton the way I am choosing to remember him. It was taken when he was about 4 years old and had just been rescued from a puppy mill breeder and was, excuse the expression, sick as a dog when he arrived. He almost died from malnutrition and heart worm. Carol Fama and her staff at The Doberman Rescue of the Triad in North Carolina were the angels who nurtured him back to health. On a beautiful fall day in 2009, we adopted Cotton and took him to his forever home with us.
I’m writing this now as a way to heal my grieving heart after losing him on August 31, 2019. He was my Boo Bear for nearly 10 years. He was getting slow and grumpy in his old age. He could no longer manage to climb stairs, had a finicky tummy, and I think his eyesight was failing as well. We had just moved to Arizona, into a single story house and he seemed to really enjoy his new home and the fact that he had 24/7 access to the rest of us (and didn’t need to sleep downstairs by himself any more). He seemed to like the heat - probably felt good on his old bones.
We knew that he wouldn’t be with us for much longer, but he still loved life, food, his companion Floxie, his toys (when Floxie would let him play with them), and US. He loved me. He grounded me. He opened my heart.
My favorite times with him were the simple rituals - our morning snuggle when I’d get on the floor with him and sweet talk to him, watching his toes curl with pleasure at the sound of my cooing. He’d put his head in my lap and look up at me with pure love. I miss that the most. Petting his big head, hugging his furry shoulders, scratching his ears.
My not-so-favorite times with him were when the delivery people came to the door and he’d get totally whipped up into a fury at the intruders. There were times I tried to intervene and he bit me. No kidding. Not fun. I also don’t miss cleaning up after his accidents in the house.
Just a few days ago, Cotton got into the oleander bushes in our back yard. Oleander is toxic when eaten by dogs. In fact, common oleander (Cerium oleander), which is a popular landscaping plant in warm climate areas of the United States, is severely toxic to dogs, cats, and horses. Oleander contains compounds that act as cardiac glycosides. These are toxins that affect a dog's heart by interrupting the electrolyte balance there. The result is life-threatening heart rhythm disturbances. All parts of the oleander plant, including flowers, leaves, fruit, stems, and roots, contain cardiac glycosides and are poisonous if ingested by a dog.
I don’t know when he actually ate the leaves, but he came back inside, vomited everything up including his breakfast. Within hours, we’d managed to get him to the veterinary hospital to be told the shocking news that there was little to nothing that could be done for him. His sweet heart was failing him. How devastating it was to make the decision to ease his suffering and say goodbye to him as he lay on the cold metal bed. Tom and I held his head, stroked his fur, and said our thanks and our good byes as our own hearts were breaking for him.
Grief is a the normal reaction to loss. There was also a trauma associated with a loss this sudden. I had fully expected the vet to say “We’ll need to keep him for a few days, but he’ll be fine.” Not so. It was his time to go. I know that, in time, I will accept this. I’m not quite there yet.
In my work, I support people who are grieving the loss of a love in their lives. Well, it’s my turn to support myself right now. I’m writing this post, not really to educate, but to heal my hurting heart. I miss him so much. So, what do I do when I need the loving support that I give to others at their time of grief? I cry, write in my journal, talk to my family, friends, and my coach (which I did this morning), and read my books. This quote from a wonderful book The Grief Recovery Handbook for Pet Loss by Russell Friedman, Cole James, and John W. James, was very helpful to me and normalized what I’d been experiencing.
“Regardless of age, expected life span, or cause of death, you will have an emotional reaction to the death of your pet. Anything else would not be normal. But one of the more typical reactions is a sense of numbness, especially in the first few days or weeks after the death. It’s as if our brain shuts us down like a circuit breaker so we don’t feel the enormity of the pain. In a sense, the numbness represents an overwhelming amount of feeling rather than being an indication of no feelings…so this is another reminder not to compare your feelings – or lack of them – to anyone else’s.”
I wrote a piece awhile back that I just opened and read to a friend. It’s 9 Tips for Grief Recovery – From My Dog. Good, solid advice, from my Boo Bear who is trying to comfort me from wherever it is that he went to after his soul left his body.
My heart goes out to you who are grieving the loss of a beloved pet. We’re all part of the human family that experiences loss and I hope you will extend yours to me in my time of sorrow. And, I’m going to let Love love me through this.
Love and Blessings,