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When Your Pet is Gone

When Your Pet is Gone

There used to be a dog food commercial on television that always brought tears to my eyes.  It showed a young girl running up a flight of stairs and calling for a friend.  The friend, a red haired Irish Setter puppy, struggles up the stairs like any clumsy puppy would.  The next time she calls, the dog is a vibrant, full grown dog full of energy, chasing after his teenage companion.  As the commercial ends, a beautiful woman calls, and an elderly Irish Setter, with a white muzzle struggles up the stairs to be with his friend.   The commercial brings tears to my eyes every time because I love animals - especially dogs, and as with humans, you can see in this commercial aging and passing on are simply facts of life.  

Years ago my wife and I were faced with a decision we did not want to make. Our beloved German Shepherd, Baron, was debilitated, and even though we loved him, we knew it was time to let him go, and go with dignity. Through tragedy comes some benefits and what I would like to do is share with you, what I learned from the experience.

Pets are part of your family.  They play with you, they protect you, they are there when you need a friend, and they do all of this out of love.  In return, we take care of their needs, give them love, attention, food, shelter and medical care - just like our other kids.  The difference is our pets grow old faster than we do and their lives pass us by.   More than likely, you will outlive your pet and you should understand what this will mean. 

If you have to make a decision to euthanize your pet, hopefully you will have a warm and understanding veterinarian as we do.  When our veterinarian from back east, Dr. Cuccaro, saw an animal in decline, he suggested ahead of time that the owners start looking into making decisions about treatment, termination and dealing with the remains.  He and his wife helped us and they made the transition easier for us.  Dr, Cuccaro allowed us the choice of either being with Baron or leaving the room.  My wife wanted to stay with Baron.  I was glad we did, because it allowed me to see how painless it was for Baron, and he was no longer suffering at the end.  The choice to remain should be made based on what you can handle.

At the end, Dr. and Mrs. Cuccaro spoke to us and showed us the urns containing the cremains of their past pets.  We decided to do the same thing. 

If there comes a time that you find the need to euthanize you pet, or if it died from other causes, you might have to deal with your children.  Whatever you do, don’t tell young children you put the dog to sleep and now he’s gone.  What will the child think is going to happen to him when he goes to bed that night?  How does that simple bedtime prayer go? “Now I lay me down to sleep… If I should die before I wake….”   Well the dog went to sleep and is not coming home what chance does this child think he has?  Be honest but gentle when explaining.  Tell them the dog was ill and suffering.  You didn’t want the dog to suffer anymore and now the dog has died and gone to heaven, or some other place you believe wonderful pets go. 

If you have chosen your veterinarian wisely, you will have picked an individual who is understanding and treats animals and their owners well.  However, you must understand veterinary medicine is not only a profession but a business as well.  Just as you work to support your family, running a practice is how the veterinarian supports his family.  If the doctor assists you in relieving your pet of his pain and misery, then you have an obligation to pay for the services rendered.  Too often, people tell the doctor to put the animal down and then say, “Why do I owe you anything, the dog is dead.”  

Dr. Cuccaro used to teach a veterinary technician course at a local community college.  He invited me to teach a grief class for his students.   I told them it is difficult to deal with people who have just lost a beloved pet.  The waiting room is filled with people - some with sick animals and others with healthy animals for preventive treatment.  The person, who just lost a pet, comes out of the treatment room and sees people with their living animals. It is a very emotional time for this person.  The staff can do little but say how sorry they are, and then sometimes ask you to settle your account.  It may sound cruel, but hospitals that treat people want their money too. 

If you have a friend who has lost a pet, ask them how they’re doing.  Tell them something nice that you remember about their pet.  Many veterinary hospitals and some stores and gift shops carry sympathy cards specifically for the loss of a pet.  Receiving such a card from the Cuccaros and their staff meant a great deal to my wife and me.  When one of our friends loses a pet, we give them a copy of Rainbow Bridge.  It helped us when Baron died.  Our friends who we have shared it with have always thanked us for giving it to them.   There is also another short prayer called “A Pet’s Prayer”.  It is sweet and comforting, and like Rainbow Bridge, assures the owner that someday they will be reunited with their furry friend. 

What you shouldn’t do is tell people it was only a dog or cat.  It was more than that to them - it was a friend - someone they shared many moments of their life with.  Don’t tell them to get another pet right away.  Let them grieve and make their own transition.  They will know when the want to share their lives with another pet.

Our dog Baron was supposed to be a canine with the police department of which I was a member.  We adopted him when he was rejected.  The canine officer who was supposed to have Baron as his partner died suddenly and unexpectedly within five weeks of Baron.  During his career he had had a number of canine partners.  His two favorite dogs had died and he had their cremains.  Just prior to closing his casket at the funeral home, his family placed the urns of those two favorite partners in the casket with him.  Partners in life and eternity; they shared a bond that can’t be broken. 

About the Author------------------

Keith Bettinger is a retired Suffolk County (N.Y.) Police Officer. He’s been writing for law enforcement publications for more than 35 years and has received 22 awards for his articles, stories, poems, and books. He has a Master’s Degree in Human Relations with a major in Clinical Counseling. During his career he received the department’s Bravery Medal, Silver Shield Award, Meritorious Police Service Award, Special Service Award, Professionalization Award, Department Recognition Award, five Headquarters commendations and six Precinct commendations. He also was a field training officer and an instructor on Post Shooting Trauma and Critical Incidents. Keith has written three books, Fighting Crime With "Some" Day and Lenny, End of Watch and Murder in McHenry. He has also contributed stories to the following anthologies: I Pledge Allegiance, Cop Tales 2000, Charity, True Blue, To Protect and Serve, and Dad’s Bow Tie. He also shares with Jack Miller, the screenplay Master Cheat. Keith lives in Las Vegas with his wife Lynn.