Grieving the Loss of a Beloved Pet

Yes, I'm not ashamed to admit that I cried when Old Yeller died. Reading that book as a kid was almost more than I could handle. As a boy running along the shores of Catahoula Lake in central Louisiana, I have always had dogs as hunting companions, best friends, and guardians. I will never forget Huckelberry, a grayish berry-spotted Catahoula Cur dog following me on long hikes through the woods, watching me pole fish in the creek, and retrieving ducks during hunting season.

Animals have always been a major part of my life, except for those years in the military when it was not possible. Even so, I never knew how truly attached people can become to their pets until the loss of my little 10 yr. old sable-colored Sheltie named Newt on Halloween this year.

Around midnight he woke me up in a slight panic. Something told me this was the dreaded moment. Since being diagnosed with cancer and the X-rays revealing a growing tumor in his lungs, I knew it was only a matter of time before I would be without my best friend of all these years.

I got out of bed and held him in my arms. He stopped shaking and calmed down a bit. After 15 minutes, he started breathing heavily, so I gently placed him on the carpeted floor and lay beside him looking into his eyes and petting him. He seemed at peace, staring at me but struggling to breathe. I was helpless. He always came to me when something hurt over the years knowing that I would make it better - but not this time.

My heart was breaking of course, knowing these were the last few minutes I would have this precious little creature in my life. He labored for a while and then suddenly took one last small breath. He exhaled and it was over. My best friend had died. Suffice to say, this little dog knew how much I cared for him as he left this world. Old Yellow was nothing compared to this.

I sat up all night thinking of the little things he would do, including waking me up on the sofa late at night when I would fall asleep in front of the TV, telling me that I should be in bed. Or letting me know it was time to toss the Frisbee by placing it carefully in my path in the house so that I would find it. And every afternoon welcoming me home with an infectious energy providing stress relief and a smile to my face.

This emotional creature grew to love and depend upon me, as much I loved him. Not only was he part of my family, but my extended family loved him as well. My parents and my sister more or less treated him as my child - essentially, he was.

The morning after Newt passed away, I struggled with how to handle his burial. After searching the web and discovering that I was certainly not alone in grieving the loss of a dear pet, I decided that the burial and memorial should reflect what he meant to me. My parents agreed to let me bury him under the dogwood trees, up the hill from a small creek on their property. I purchased a large thick-plastic container with locking handles instead of building a wooden box. After lining the interior with a velvet blanket, I carefully laid him inside. I arranged some pictures, stuffed animals, flowers, and a note inside, and lowered the container into the shoulder-high hole.

That was a few weeks ago now, and I still miss him each day. He had become a major fixture in my life. After talking with friends and family, I understand now that it can be like loosing a child. Elderly persons who have pets as their only companions, children who have grown up with close pets, and those who treat dogs as members of their families, can all experience very deep feelings of grief and loss.

Part of living is dying, and only time can remove the sting of death from our hearts and minds. This broken-hearted writer is asking you not to underestimate the level of grief a friend or relative can experience when loosing a special pet. I have always thought that how someone treats animals reflects how they treat people too. I can never replace what he meant to me nor will I try. Newt was greatly loved and will be forever missed.

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