A pet owner’s most dreadful day

Despite good times with friends and family this holiday season, there was an undercurrent of sadness and anxiety when we thought about our dog, Zoe.

We knew a pet owner’s most dreadful day was approaching.

Zoe Love

Zoe gave us unconditional love, even on her last day. (photo by Shallow Reflections)

We postponed the inevitable doing things we said we’d never do, e.g. putting her in diapers and pretending it was a normal stage of canine aging, making excuses when the diaper failed, and saying things weren’t that bad.

We wanted to push through the holidays. It is inconvenient to grieve during Christmas week, and we have control over when to end a pet’s life.

It is that very control that makes it so rough. You ask yourself repeatedly, “Is it really time yet?”

So what if she awoke several times in the night clicking her toenails on the hardwood floors, walking around confused, coughing, having accidents requiring a trip outside and a diaper change? So what if she stumbled and fell occasionally because of the weakness in her back legs? So what if she was anxious when we were out of her sight, crying at the door when we returned home?

Anyone looking in on our lives would say the time was overdue.

Even we couldn’t deny it, when we came home from church the Sunday before Christmas, to a particularly horrific scene.

We cried and held her, and said that quality of life for all of us was suffering. At 13 years old with spinal stenosis, shrunken muscles, incontinence and a bit of senility, we knew the time was right to let her go.

Zoe entered our lives in 2003 when she was 4 months old. We had just packed our son off to college, and the nest was empty except for a cranky eight-year-old mutt.

Deion was old for his age, suffering from arthritis, obesity and loneliness. We thought we got the new dog for us, but it turned out when Deion caught a whiff of puppy breath, he was rejuvenated.

It was not love at first sight. He tore through our invisible fence embracing an electric shock in his effort to rip her head off. It literally scared the crap out of our sweet, gentle Zoe, and even though she was bigger than he was, she didn’t fight back.

Despite this rough beginning, Deion fell in love over the course of the first week, and Zoe became his inspiration to energize, lose weight, and live nine more years.

Zoe and Deion in snow 2

Zoe getting Deion back in shape (Photo by Shallow Reflections)

I cried for three days when I read Marley and Me, so you can only imagine how many tears I have shed since Zoe’s death.

For the first time in 20 years we are dog-less. I never imagined how quiet and empty a house would feel in that state.

Now when I smell a foul odor, notice someone slurping water, or hear a bored sigh during conversation, I have to look at myself instead of blaming the dog.

And the nose prints on the window are mine, looking for her tracks in the snow and imagining her younger, playful self leaping with joy.

Zoe footprints 2

I wish I could let her back in. (Photo by Shallow Reflections)

I don’t know where dogs go when they die, but through his tears Patrick read this comforting prayer, while we held her in our arms at the moment of her death:

“Heavenly Father, Creator of all things, thank you for having entrusted us with a loyal pet. Thank you for letting Zoe teach us unselfish love. Thank you for the memories that we can recall to brighten our days for the rest of our lives. Finally in gratitude, we return Zoe to you. Amen.”

♥ Zoe – August 2002 – 12/28/15 ♥

How have you coped with the loss of a beloved pet? How do you preserve the memories?

A Pet Owner's Most Dreadful Day


Photo credit: deposit photos_Copyright:eriklam
©2016, Stevens. All rights reserved.

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45 thoughts on “A pet owner’s most dreadful day

  1. Molly, I laughed and cried. I read a book that gives biblical evidence for God’s creations to have everlasting life. While humans have souls, animals have spirits. I wholeheartedly believe this. Dogs bless us for such a short time but they memories they create are everlasting!

  2. How sad. Zoe sounds lovely. I have to admit I am not a dog person, and I’ve never had a dog, but I see how attached people get to them and how much they feel their loss. I can understand that – dogs very much make themselves integral to their families, don’t they?

    • Thank you Silly Mummy. I never was a dog person until we had our first one and now that we’ve had two, I definitely see how they become part of the family. It is sad to lose them. Zoe was special and we will always miss her.

  3. So bittersweet. We had to put down our beloved dog Simon, last summer, also 13. Simon had all the symptoms of Zoe. I’m so sorry for your loss. You gave her a good life, though, and for that you should be proud.

    • So sorry for your loss of Simon, Laurie. It is such a tough decision and so painful to lose them. We are still not over it and never will be, but doing better. Thank you for your kind words.

  4. I’m so sorry for your loss. This is heartbreaking. We have our first dog now, who is about mid-life, and I so dread the day when it comes. I can’t imagine her not being here, not always being happy to see us, not always waiting for us, not always loving us. The greatest lesson she has taught me is how to live in the moment and how to love unconditionally. Since the kids have come along, she has been relegated further down on the ladder, yet still she loves us and is such an integral part of our family. I can’t imagine how the loss of such a close family member must feel – and don’t want that day to come for us.

    • Don’t think about it now, Faye. I’m so glad you have a dog and have so much more time to enjoy her. It is a tough road when you have to say goodbye. Thank you for your condolences. We are doing much better now but still miss both of our dogs.

  5. I am in tears after reading this. My dear aunt just lost her fur baby after 16 years of companionship. Her grief is overwhelming. Only one who has truly bonded with an animal can fathom the pain and loss at their death. I am sharing this with her because I believe it will comfort her. Thanks so much for this post.

    • I’m so sorry to learn of your aunt’s loss, Rica. It is so devastating, and I am comforted with the knowledge that our loss can help her. Zoe’s story has touched so many and the stories people have shared with our family has blessed us. A loss and a win at the same time, which is a beautiful legacy to have for a beloved pet. Hugs.

      • Just thought I’d give you an update. After a few weeks of mourning, we’ve convinced my aunt to open her heart to another precious fur baby. She’s retired and so desperately in need of a companion to care for and fill her days with a bit of excitement. She spends a ton of time at dog parks and taking walks, so not having a pet is really hard for her. She gets her new baby this Friday — she’s already named him “Patrick.” Thanks again for your lovely post.

        • Thank you for the update, Rica. I am glad your aunt is going to get another fur baby and I love the name Patrick. I hope Patrick can help fill the huge void left by her recent loss.

  6. My dogs have always held my heart in their paws. When I lose one, I do what you did here; I wrote about it, starting in grammar school.

    Letting them go is the hardest decision. But you do know when it’s time. When their life isn’t worth living and your heart can bear it no longer. We are more merciful to our pets than our selves…

    This beautiful post is listed in the email I got when you just followed me (which is why I am commenting on an old-ish post).

    • Thank you Elyse. I appreciate your comment. Even though the post is oldish we are still feeling the effects of our choice, in the form of sadness and missing her. It has been such a comfort to us to have others’ who understand first hand share their experiences with us. We know we are not alone in our feelings of loss. Thank you so much for the comment.

  7. I took my Mossamoe to Tufts in Ma. (from Northern Maine) who bought him more time (I thank God!) He has collapsing trachea and chronic bronchitis. They did a lot of tests, culture and necessities for his collapsing trachea. Subscribed meds because of bacteria growing in his lungs which have kept him stable these past few months. However, his condition is worsening now, and I know the time is nearing. I CANNOT even think about it though it is on my mind constantly (does that make sense?)!

    He is a little Pomeranian that I carry from room to room with me because he also has luxated patella of the knees and cannot walk on the slippery floors. I sleep on an air mattress on the floor at night to be near him so he won’t be afraid. When he whimpers, I am there to hug him. I don’t go “anywhere” except to my Moms on Sunday because he has separation anxiety (I do too!). I even cancel all doctor and dentist appointments so not to leave him. He is soooo attached to me and I am soooo attached to him. I just don’t know how to do this!!!!! I just know my heart is shattering into a million pieces like a broken mirror that I’ll never be able to put the pieces back together………

    I have never had to take high blood pressure meds, but was put on them about 3 months ago along with tranquilizers, so I”m a mess! Have others of you been affected the same way? Am I abnormal or what?!???

    I know a dog’s sensitive nose can pick up on subtle scents such as adrenalin that he associates with sadness and fear It is also true that they intuitively understand the body language associated with it. They can immediately pick up on this and adjust their behavior accordingly. They actually know a human’s posture when they are in fear. Therefore, their whole stance can change just by observation! So I try to stay positive and not show what I am feeling. I try to pretend to be happy. However, I also realize that I am probably not fooling him one bit!

    I realize that a dog’s master is the center of his entire world, so sensing my feelings of sadness will have an effect on him too. Perhaps it already has, as he has become a little more subdued than usual, and just as of yesterday, sometimes even refuses his food. How does one “act” happy so it will come through as such to their fur baby?!?!?!??? Has anyone else felt that their feelings and actions have contributed to the setback of their fur babies health?!??? PLEASE…….if anyone has an answer for this! I feel like I might be the cause of his recession!!!!!!

    Do you really think we really know “100%” when the time is right? Do we keep trying new meds. and “willing” them “one more day/week/month”?

    A dog also has an almost psychic ability to sense when something unpleasant is about to happen such as going to the vets. They know they are in for something unpleasant, but know they will return home with their master and it will be put to rest in the past. Will he know when he is making his last trip because of my gestures and temperament? Will he know and fear the worst? Is there any way to placate him when one is falling apart themselves?

    I DON’T KNOW HOW TO DO THIS!!!!!!!!!!

    • All I can say is that when we made our decision for Zoe, it was difficult despite knowing it was the right one. She wasn’t nervous going to the vet’s and she was calm when she got her injection. It is very emotionally painful leading up to, and in the days after but has gotten easier. We had several discussions with our vet prior to making our decision which helped. When quality of life is poor for you and the dog, it is time to take a close look at options. I hope you can find a sense of peace about it, Janet.

  8. You will know when the time is right!
    I am already saying no more dogs because of the hurting (but also because my husband) ~ my 17 year old is aging fast now and has been with me since just before my father past away 7 years ago ~ I had given her to him but he need to go into a nursing home ~ she has been the reason I have survived his passing and I just don’t know how I am going to handle it when she passes.
    So sorry for your loss

  9. Oh dear, I feel so sad for you because I know that pain. It’s awful. It is like losing a member of the family because our pets are exactly that if we treat them properly. Our beloved German Shepherd Lab cross had to be put to sleep in the prime of his life because he was very ill. It broke our hearts and we have never replaced him. We still sense him when we come home from shopping because he always used to be there, nosing in the bags when we put them down.

    I am currently thinking about becoming a foster carer for our local animal home so we can enjoy having a dog around again even though each one will be short term (unless I lose my heart to one and won’t let it go!!!)

    So sorry about Zoe. Sounds like you gave her a lovely life and very caring end.

    • Thank you for sharing your story Gilly. They do win us over and leave a huge void when they are gone. So sorry you lost your dog in his prime. I hope you can do the foster care. It certainly is different not having the comfort of a dog in our home. We are adjusting, but we still hear her too and sense her presence.

  10. What a lovely piece. I’m so sorry for your loss. No matter how long our pets are with us, they always leave us far too soon. And making the choice to let an ill pet go is our most difficult duty and most sacred respinsibility. While I mourned deeply (and probably always will) after the loss of my first dog, I found donating in my pup’s name to the Bangor Humane Society gave me some feeling of peace. And when the time is right, finding another dog in need of love brings back the craziness, the mess, and the chaos that we pet parents find so very sublime.
    Again, I am so very sorry for your loss but I hope you find a little peace knowing that you gave your beloved pup a wonderful life and a peaceful end.

    • Thank you Laurie. I love your idea of donating to Humane Society in memory of the lost pet. It reminded me that we did that when Deion died and it made us feel good to give back since that is where we got him. We will do that for Zoe too so it can help them care for animals that need loving homes. It is a difficult decision but as you say, it is a sacred responsibility.

  11. they take up a special corner of our hearts don’t they? We had to make the same decision with our dog when he reached the stage where we were holding on to him when we needed to let go – he was 14 and it was a very tearful goodbye on our part. He has a lovely grave in the corner of our backyard with a memorial marker and flowers – our cats sit there to keep him company and that makes me smile.

    • Thank you Leanne. You have been where we have, and certainly understand the sorrow. I like that your cats are keeping him company in his final resting place. We have to let go of the dog, but never the memories and the joy they brought us.

    • Thank you Jodie for your kind words of sympathy. There is a risk of pain every time we love someone, even our pets. They trust us to take care of them and make the best decisions we can for them. The one loaded with the most responsibility after we’ve decided to bring them home, is the one that makes their departure final. We appreciate your compassion.

  12. Look, I am the girl who has the ashes of her dog in her bedroom so that I don’t have to sleep far from my dear Jack Russell, Spencer, who died almost three years ago, so I am NOT the one to consult for grief resolution on pets! I have two other perfectly glorious dogs, but there are some dogs and some people who connect on a very different level, and neither of my current amazing dogs can replace Spencer. I have his photos all over our house, and they will never come down because I need to see him around me. You will cope, and it will get easier as time goes by, and that is the only thing that salves the pain… time. I am sorry you have to go through this, but I am grateful that people like you love animals in the same way I do. xx

    • Thank you for your kind words, Lisa. We who love dogs do understand how painful it is to part with them. I’m glad you treasure the memory of Spencer. We have Deion’s ashes in our office with us all the time we work on the computer. Zoe will join him in a few days. It is comforting to have their remains with us. We just couldn’t scatter them or bury them. We’ll get another dog someday but we know it won’t replace our Zoe or Deion.

  13. Such an awesome responsibility to decide the fate of one that you love—-almost too much for the heart to bear. We have a pet cemetery out in the raspberry patch where our cats would hang out to enjoy shade and analyze the birds. We also have a wonderful vet who will make a housecall when the time comes and we have felt tremendous gratitude for this kindness. I grieved for a full year when Digitalis the Cat died—-that 17 yo boy got me through some pretty rough years and Jim was the only guy he actually was not aggressive towards—-we always say this is the reason I married Jim! Our cat Zack was killed in our driveway by a loose dog and that was tough to cope with as well—-but cope we do, and our broken hearts stretch and reform to love these critters again….and again. And you will too…….rest and heal, my friend.

    • It is indeed an awesome responsibility, Elise. Thank you for sharing your stories about Digitalis and Zack and for your consoling words. We are doing okay and I expect things to get better each day. Support from our friends and even people we don’t even know have helped us more than we can say. I like your image of broken hearts stretching and reforming to love these critters again…and again. I know we will.

  14. I lost my little furry friend this past summer. Today would have been her 17th birthday. She lived a long and happy life. I think of her often (daily) and smile. When I had to have her put down someone said “Heaven is where all the pets we ever loved come running to greet us”. I believe that’s true. Someday I’ll see her again.

    Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Thanks for sharing your story with me Gillian. It is comforting to know that you think of her a smile. We know we will get there but so far we are mostly crying. I love your image of having our loving pets run to greet us in heaven. Thank you for your comforting words.

  15. Molly 🙁
    In the midst of sloppily wiping my nose from the runny nose and tears, you managed to get a chuckle out of me!
    When explaining the odors and sounds that were you rather than Zoe.
    You never fail!
    Your babies are together again! Zoe and Deion lively as ever chasing each other around the Heavenly gates. (I truly thing Jesus takes our puppies home w him as, to me, dogs are just perfect souls!)
    God rest her soul, Molly. I have been praying for you more than ever this week!
    Sending lots of hugs and prayers to you and Patrick. So sorry.

    • Thank you so much Amanda. It was prayer that has helped us through these past few days, and I expect will help us cope with our new reality of an empty nest. I’m glad I could make you chuckle in the midst of the sadness. And I’d like to think Zoe and Deion are together again and we will see them again someday. xoxo

  16. I’m so sorry, Molly. it is indeed the most dreadful part of being a pet parent. I had both of my dogs cremated and then we spread their ashes at their favorite places to run and swim. I made photo collages of some of our favorite pictures of them and we have those displayed around our house along with our other family photos. There truly is nothing that warms the heart like a cold, wet nose. Sending you a big face lick from Atlanta.

    • Thank you Lee. You certainly do understand the difficulty of this phase of dog ownership. We are going to do some photo books, and maybe now I’ll finally order some nice urns for both Zoe’s and Deion’s ashes. We have Deion in a rather nondescript tin can at this time. He was a crusty old guy so maybe that suits him just fine, but Zoe will have to have something more feminine. I’d like to get some with capacity for their photos on the urns. Thank you for your kind words. I’m afraid the face lick will be pretty salty at this stage of the game. Hugs.

  17. Oh Molly, this brings back so many memories of our lost 4 legged loved ones. With one of our dogs, I vowed I could not get emotionally involved with another pet. It just hurt too bad to have to say good-bye to her. We lasted 3 weeks and Eric talked me into our last dog. Chelsea was a golden retriever and was the very best. I should have used her as a therapy dog because she was so very sweet. I will say I was so busy training her that I did not have time to really miss her as bad as I would have without a new one

    When we had to have her put down I said enough pets. Eric and Darby’s dogs always were with us and even now they have two and they visit us for their treats, etc. Sometimes I start to weaken but then know at this time in our lives it is nice ot to have the extra expense so just enjoy their sweet dogs.

    We have buried all our pets and their pets with their favorite toys on the farm. When Janine lost her cat of 17 years, she had her frozen until we could bury her on the farm! We still talk about our sweet pets and how much they touched our lives. We sure know how your hearts are broken at this time.

    Emily told Glen when she was 3 and Chelsea was put down, “Pa, when you have a day off we need to take Chelsea’s pills to Heaven so she can get better and come back home with us!” Now that is a tear jerker for certain. Hugs to you as you try to find “normal” without your sweet dog.

    • It surely is difficult, Lorraine. Thanks for sharing your memories with me. Children are so wonderful at times like this. Cameron’s prayer was: Dear God, I pray for Grandma and Grandda and Zoe. Watch out for Zoe and have cake with her on your birthday. Amen.” We said no more dogs, but already thinking maybe in a couple of years….we’ll see. Thanks for your comforting words.

  18. I made a little photo album with all the photos I had of our lab. It was amazing to find her in the background of birthday picture, confirmation pictures, even a picture of my son at age 16, dressed for the prom. She was such a big part of our family. We still talk about her.

    • I love that idea Linda. Patrick and I were going through old photos last night, but I didn’t think about making an album. I’m going to do that – a book for her and Deion that we can look through and remember their sweetness.

  19. I have established a pet cemetery near the house. It’s on a side hill looking at my back woods and is seeded with grass and clover. I make pine boxes lined with sheepskin for their final bed. I make grave “stones ” out of thick wood, painted black and marked with their names and something specific to each baby . This is my tribute to each of them and helps me through the hard days and gives me closure. It is a tough process. We have Susie, Maggie, and Abby and Leah’s Rex’s favorite toy from Montana, his duck, all with markers.

    • Such a sweet way to memorialize your beloved pups. Losing Zoe seems worse than losing Deion because we had her to comfort us when he died, and now the house is so empty. We set up a photo and some of Deion’s favorite things on the buffet in the dining room when he died, and we’ll do the same for Zoe when we can emotionally do it. We planned to buy a nice urn for Deion’s ashes that would have his photo on it but never did. Maybe now we can buy two that match for our two best dogs. It is easy to want to get another dog to fill the void, but we are holding off. No one can fill her void. Thanks for your empathetic comment, brother. I know you understand what we are going through.

      • We had to make that decision for our wonderful chocolate lab, Cali, last May.It was our last act of love for her….she just made it to eleven. It was so easy to say never again because of the pain of losing her. Now, eight months later, a chocolate lab was born across the road from us….she has chance to have a wonderful life, because we’ve given all of our dogs the “Life of Riley”. She is a week old now and we named her Ryli. We’re going to adopt another dog….because they bring so much joy to our home! Welcome, Ryli….!

        • Thank you for sharing your story of Cali, Valerie. How wonderful that you know have a new chocolate lab to enjoy! It sounds like it was meant to be….It is nice to have two dogs since they need to have other dogs as companions. Best wishes to you as you embrace a life of sloppy kisses and nose prints on the windows!

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