This is a post I have long thought about writing, but have put off. It’s sort of personal, and it sort of seems silly at some levels, but at other levels, it is consistent with the broad theme of transitions that this series has examined.
The story itself is about the loss of a wonderful pet that our family experienced in 2011. Cookie was a sweet little Maltese we got for my daughter’s sixth birthday. We got Cookie when we lived in Taipei, and she made the trip with us to the USA in 2006. She was really an amazing animal.
If you’ve had many pets and experienced the grief associated with losing a pet so many times that it no longer hurts, this post probably won’t be of interest to you.
But if you have had only a few pets, and if the loss of that pet caused more genuine grief than others can imagine, keep reading.
Many people have pets in their lives from early childhood. I wasn’t one of those. My parents didn’t allow me to have a dog until I was 16. I don’t recall exactly why that was, or why that changed at 16, but when we got that sweet mutt, she was certainly a lot of fun. She lived outside and after I left for college she really became my father’s dog.
He loved that dog greatly. She brought out a tender side to him that I hadn’t seen much. When she died (I was married by then and not around), my mother told me that Dad cried and cried for the dog.
They never replaced her.
How does this relate to the death of our Maltese in 2011? I had never experienced that kind of grief like my father had gone through.
A Gift for Our Daughter, A Family Pet
A funny thing happened when we got our little girl a birthday present in 2003. We thought we were getting her a dog, but little did we realize we were bringing home a member of the family.
Cookie had only been home two days, when I managed to step on her. She was a small little bundle of white fur, and active. She managed to get under me, and we had not yet grown used to watching where we stepped.
The result wasn’t a permanent limp or a visible injury, but she was hurt nonetheless. She never really was able to jump. She could jump off a chair or the couch, but never ever was she able to jump up.
If she wanted to get in a chair, she would walk over to the chosen seat, give a little bark, and then wait. And usually one of us would walk over, and lift her in to the chair.
When we got her, we were living in Taipei in an apartment, and she was quickly housebroken (pad trained). She was very easy to manage in a small house, because she was a small dog.
When we returned to the USA in 2006, she came home with us on the flight. She travelled wonderfully easy, and adjusted to her new larger home in Texas.
She was happy, and we were too.
A Quick Departure
One night in April 2011, we were preparing to head out for a banquet for my wife’s work. Cookie was obviously feeling a little bad, wheezing and coughing a bit.
But since she ate her supper, and didn’t seem in too much distress we resolved to go on to the event, and if she was still feeling bad when we got home, we would take her to the vet in the morning.
We arrived back home a couple of hours later, and she was obviously in worse shape. It was long after the closest vet had closed for the day, so we started toward Austin to the animal emergency hospital.
We had not be driving long when I realized she was gone.
Our little family pet, more like a child than a dog, was dead. We were devastated.
I think as I look back at those events from just over a year ago, I have to confess that I am surprised at my response. In many ways I felt more grief than I did when my parents passed away. The issue is not that I loved the dog more than my parents, but I had been living apart from my parents since I was 18 years old. I was accustomed to not being with them.
But the grief I experienced when Cookie died was real because she had been a small and faithful family member for 8 years. She had travelled with us from Taiwan (and did phenomenally well) and had vacationed with us a few times.
For weeks after she died, I would get sad, even to the point, many times, of tears. My wife and daughter were the same way. We would all have little cry sessions together.
I did a bit of research about grief and loss of pets during that period. I think I wanted to discover if what we were feeling was normal (it is). I was surprised at the depth of emotion and grieving people go through when they lose a pet.
It turns out what I went through, and what my girls went through, is entirely normal. Grief over the loss of a pet is real. It hurts. It occupies your mind and tears at your heart.
But if I got through it, you can too.
How did we make it through? We cried a lot, we laughed at times, we remembered the sweet little friend we loved, and eventually the pain was a little less painful, and we got through it.
Thanks for letting me share this little glimpse in to what I went through when we lost our family pet. I hope you don’t have to go through such an experience, but if you do, know that grieving the loss of that pet is entirely normal. It can be lived through, and you can find joy in another pet.