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Pets Dealing With Loss

Pets Dealing With Loss

by Dr. Carla Case-... on Mon, 08/19/2013 - 3:18pm

 

                                                    by Melissa Kilpatrick

 

 

In May my husband, Patrick, and I lost our beloved beagle, Lilly. It was sudden, unexpected, and heartbreaking. I've lost other pets in my life and human family members as well, but this hurt was deep. I found myself crying for no reason that I could think of other than I missed her. Patrick didn't have the same reaction as me but it was obvious that he missed her. Our other dog Ryder was also grieving. I had heard clients talking about the behavior of their remaining pet or pets after a loss but never really thought about it. It became all to obvious to Patrick and I that like us, Ryder had to go through the emotions and behaviors of grief, too. The entire atmosphere of our home and the energy of all of our lives changed. Things are better now, but are still different.

 

Lilly had been a rescue of sorts. She belonged to friends who were separating and neither of them could take her. Patrick had fallen in love with Lilly the first time he met her. Whenever he would go for a guy’s night of video games at our friends’ house, she would always sit with him. Later, he would tell me that he always felt like she belonged to him. He begged me to let him bring Lilly home when our friends offered her. Having recently adopted a Jack Russell mix that had separation anxiety which resulted in loud, ear piercing screams and the destruction of anything he could get his muzzle on, I was a bit reluctant to say yes. Finally, I gave in. She and Ryder were instant pals. There didn't seem to be any pet or person she didn't instantly like. And cats, she LOVED cats and seemed offended when the feeling wasn't mutual! Lilly was standoffish with humans a bit at first though. She would sit by your feet for a head scratch if she wasn’t as far as she could possibly get from you, and if she decided to get on the couch it was to lie across the back.

 

It didn’t take long for me to notice that Ryder didn’t howl anymore when he was alone or become destructive when he felt neglected. It appeared the presence of this curious little beagle was making for a smoother household. I would find them snuggled together when napping and they would wait for each other on walks. Things were going quite well indeed.

 

After moving to Savannah from Tennessee six years ago, their routine had not changed much. If one needed to see the doctor and the other not, they would cry for one another from opposite sides of the front door as we left. Ryder is not a big fan of going to the vet, but with Lilly's allergies she often had to visit. Lilly had decided not too long after joining our family that getting to lay on the couch and be rubbed and loved was not a bad thing. She and Ryder would lay together on the couch. Usually, Lilly would let Ryder get comfortable then she would lay next to him with her head on his back or she would just sit on top of him if the mood struck her. He would grumble but never tried to get away. At bed time there would be a similar routine. Ryder would 'burrito' in his blanket then she would lay on his lump or snuggle in very close.

 

One Sunday afternoon Patrick, Ryder, Lilly, and I were lounging around. Lilly had been on the couch with me and had hopped down. She decided to sit with Patrick and Ryder on a different couch but seemed reluctant to jump. Patrick called her one last time and as she crouched to jump, she made a horrible scream. Lilly looked at me with terrified eyes and at the same time turned to run. Her left hind leg was dragging behind her and I burst into tears. Some "dog mommy" sixth sense kicked in and I just knew. Three days later Lilly had declined so rapidly that we had no option but to euthanize. My heart was broken. Was there something else I could or should have done?  I wanted Ryder to be with us but Patrick did not. He was afraid Ryder would be disruptive. When we returned home without Lilly, Ryder was looking everywhere for her. He seemed anxious and on edge. No one slept well that night or for several that followed. Ryder would look for Lilly whenever we went outside. He would go to her favorite spots and try to pull me in the direction of areas we would visit when going on long walks. He didn't eat for a few days and when he did it wasn't very much. We moved a week or so later and this didn't help. Ryder's separation anxiety returned; he walked in and out of rooms as if he were looking for something. If both Patrick and I were leaving we had to sedate him prior to and we could not walk out at the same time. Patrick or I would go out and a few minutes later the other would follow. If one of us left and the other was staying, Ryder would pop his head up and have a panicked look in his eyes. Being that Patrick teaches and is on summer break, I was usually the one walking out feeling like a failure. We discovered that even though we had washed Lilly's bed it must have still smelled enough like her because he seemed more relaxed when he laid on it.

 

It's been almost two months now. Ryder eats on a mostly regular routine and has started playing with his rope toy and tennis balls again. Now that we are in a new place he hasn't tried looking for Lilly outside. Just recently, he no longer stands at the door crying every time we leave. He does however howl at us for several minutes when we first get home. It's as if he's saying "How dare you leave me all alone!". He sleeps a lot now and seems bored to live in a house with just two humans.

 

We know that no dog will ever replace Lilly in our hearts nor could one possibly have the same silly, fun, out-going demeanor as she did. But there is definitely something missing for all of us.  There are more days between the moments of sadness now. I am able to look at her collar, photos, and the box containing her remains without bursting into tears. Oh sure, sometimes I still look for two dogs when leaving a room and shutting the door behind me. I'll even admit to thinking I've caught a glimpse of a brown tail wagging near by and realizing as I turn my head that there is no longer a brown tail in our home. I think Ryder must have these moments sometimes, too. He will excitedly turn his head then drop his eyes and make an expression that says "oh, I thought I saw something, but never mind". I know he must be lonely.  We do have plans of rescuing another beagle. Soon!

 

 

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