Friday, January 25, 2013

All Dogs Go to Heaven

It's been a little bit of a running joke between my agent, my editor, and myself that, when asked what my thoughts were on the cover art of my book coming out later this year, my response was as follows:

"I'll take just about anything except a large 1980s-looking flower or a woman walking down a path of dead trees.  If I see one more cover like that, I'll throw it and whatever helpful book it's attached to out the window."

So, it was not lost on me that the other day, as I was struggling with what was about to become another loss for the kids and me, that I found myself crying and walking down a path of dead trees.

And that made me smile a little.

Last night we put our beloved family dog down, something I've known was coming for a long time but didn't know how hard it would be until it happened.  She has been struggling for a while with arthritis and old age and a brain that couldn't tell her legs how to function anymore.  I warned the kids earlier this week that it was probably coming and then picked them up from school yesterday so that they could go with me - something I had promised them I would do so that they wouldn't suddenly come home and find her not in her usual spot, loudly snoring on carpet in the living room.

As with all loss, even when you know it's coming it doesn't make it any easier.  I have two kids home from school today who cried themselves to sleep last night and woke up crying again this morning.  My oldest, hoping that her friends would provide a little distraction, stoically went to school armed with a note to her teachers that should she get upset, I will come pick her up.

This hasn't been an easy 24 hours, to say the least.

Our dog was our first baby. My husband and I got her from a shelter a few years into marriage, thinking that children might be on the horizon and figuring that if we could keep a dog alive and happy we would be okay to proceed.  In those early years, that shy puppy was the ideal camping and 4-wheeling companion, easy company, and we probably have more pictures of her than we do of any of our kids.  With one ear that was always floppy and one that stood straight up, she always appeared to be listening to us.  And her permanent look of concern about whatever it was we had to say was always a comfort.

When we brought our oldest daughter home from the hospital, we worried that the dog would retaliate because she would no longer be our focus.  Instead, she took on the role of "mother," staying awake all night to watch over the baby, crying when my daughter cried, and generally working herself into such a state that I worried I'd have to sedate her just to get her to sleep for a little while.

In the later years, she was my comforter and my friend, allowing me to bury my face in the soft neck of her fur and cry in the middle of the night when I couldn't sleep and everyone else I knew would have gone to bed long before.  There was a look in her eyes, in the early days of the loss of my husband, that made me think that she knew her dad was gone and she never stirred when I would curl up beside her on the floor and hold on to her for dear life.  She would just sigh softly and let me cling to her.

I know that we did the right thing, but that doesn't make it hurt any less right now.  The kids have lost a friend and I have lost yet another connection to my husband which confirms what I've known for a while - that while the pain of loss eases over time, there are parts of grief that are endless.  Last night, as we drove home, our tears dried a little only to start all over again when we walked in the door.  I didn't realize how the jangle of tags on a collar had become part of the soundtrack to my every day and how even though she hasn't been very active at all in the last year, just knowing she was around made me feel less alone.

There have been signs though, that maybe the kids and I are not as alone as we think we are.  When we went to the room for our final good-byes, the vet had laid down a blanket that turned out to be an old, worn out child's blanket with Star Wars figures all over it.  And since my husband worked in the space program (and loved the Star Wars movies) and our dog was actually named after one of the programs he worked on, the irony of this was not lost on me.

And in the past couple of days, we've had a visitor at our house.  A black cat has been hanging out on our back porch, peering in the door only to run away when we come close.  He reminds me of the cat that my husband and I had when we were first married, one that did the exact same thing until we gained his trust and he came in.

"He's always wanted an all black cat," my mother-in-law told me all those years ago.  "I don't know why, but he's always talked about it."

The appearance of that cat has provided the kids with a welcome distraction.  They live in hope that he might become a part of our family soon and watch for him as he darts past the door.  And I can't help but think that maybe someone has sent him here to help us get through this a little.

We are by no means the first family to lose a beloved pet.  But I know from experience that that loss is often brushed off by others because it's easy to say "it was just a dog."  And that's okay.  No one has to completely understand what we're going through, just as we might not understand the same for others.  And we're lucky to have each other so that we can share happy memories and our current sorrow.

My youngest asked me, "Do you think Dad will be able to teach her how to fetch in Heaven?" (Fetching was never a talent of hers.)

And all I could say was, "I don't know.  But I know he'll be happy to see her."

Take care of her, B.  We miss you both.

Widow Chick (aka, Catherine Tidd) is the owner of and the author of the upcoming memoir Confessions of a Mediocre Widow (Jan. 2014).  She is also a writer for The Denver Post's Mile High Mamas and a contributor to several books on grief and renewal.


  1. Sending you big (((HUGS))). Losing a pet is never easy, especially when that pet belonged to both you and your husband.

  2. No, it is not "just a dog." I am so sorry. I remember how devastated I was when I had to put his kitty to sleep. When he died, she cried before I did. "...there are parts of grief that are endless..." So damn true. (((hugs)))

    1. I know. And I wish it wasn't true! Even after 5 years (and even though I feel like we're doing really well for the most part), it still surprises me how much our lives will always be affected by what's happened. We try to stay on the positive side, but sometimes it's just sad.

      Thank you so much for your comment.

  3. I cried the minute I started reading this...I have an 11 1/2 yr old who is still doing ok, but struggling with arthritic legs. I often catch him looking up...I tell him, you can't go to to Mike just yet....I felt every bit you wrote....I have lost several dogs, I hate making the decision and only one died on his own in my arms. I am sorry you had to go through yet one more loss. There are lots in shelters who need homes, though. Don't be "dogless" for long...they are worth the pain. I mean, what can be worse than what we have been through? (((HUGS)))

    1. Thanks, Sue. The kids have talked about another dog, but I'm waiting to see how things shake out in the next few months. I really don't want to get a pet that we're too busy to truly dedicate ourselves to. But she has definitely left a hole in our lives. And when we're ready, we're definitely going to the shelter! Those dogs are the BEST.

  4. Catherine, my friend, I am so sorry to learn of the death of your dog, and I know how much it hurts. With their unconditional love, these precious beings weave their way into every aspect of our lives, and the empty space they leave behind is enormous. You've hit all the important points in your beautiful post, and your children are fortunate to have you as their guide through yet another significant loss. You don't have to explain to an animal lover why you're feeling as you do; we all "get" it. Sending you warm wishes from my heart to yours.

    1. Marty, thank you so much for your comment. You know that when you comment on a post, I know I must have written it right! :>) Thank you for your thoughts and warm wishes. I appreciate the support so much.

  5. Sorry about the loss of your dog and your husband. I don't know how hard it is to lose a spouse, but I still remember how hard it is to lose the family dog. Mine looked remarkably similar to yours, face, ears, being understanding and a comforter. She was my constant companion and best friend from when I was 3, to 17. I wrote an essay in college about her that made many of my friends or family cry. I still have dreams about her now and again, even though I'm now 22.
    I hope you and your kids feel better as time goes on, and getting another dog will help too. Never a replacement, just a new friend. A house isn't a home without a dog .