Tag Archives: mourning a dog

Ghosts of dogs gone by

Our homes are filled with the ghosts of dogs gone by. If you’ve loved dogs all your life, chances are the lucky one currently sharing your home is surrounded by phantoms of dogs past.

In one way, that’s a wonderful thing. When your now dog does something adorable that past dogs have done, like the way he wiggles around on his back, you get a flash of memory that lets you smile and remember.

In another way, it’s sad and harmful to the dog in front of you. We tend to think about the stuff that was good, that we miss, that was comfortable. Stuff our now dogs can’t live up to.

Rose-colored glasses

We have a dog training student who dearly misses her last dog. Her almost-constant lament is that her 11-month old dog isn’t like her last dog, Mortimer. “I just want him to be a good dog, like Mortimer!” she says. 

There are good reasons Oscar can’t live up to the standard she’s set. For one, he’s an adolescent, intact terrier boy. As anyone who knows, or has been, an adolescent boy knows, it’s a particularly volatile time of life. Another reason; Mortimer was an old, mellow dog when he died. He’d lived with her for a decade and a half, knew her, knew the rules of the house. Their relationship was long-standing, suited both of them, and was comfortable. 

And it’s been 17 years since she’s trained a puppy. Everyone tends to forget the hard work, constant attention, and continual frustration that includes. She remembers the end product, not the difficulty of producing that perfect dog.

Get over it

It sounds kind of harsh, but we’re constantly telling her “Mortimer’s gone. This is Oscar.” Oscar doesn’t deserve to be shrouded by ghosts of dogs past. Actually, he’s a pretty neat little guy. Handsome, smart, willing to learn, and he’s got a great “work ethic” – up for any training game his owner will play.

The biggest challenge for his mom, Christine, is to focus on the good stuff about Oscar, instead of the jumping on guests, biting the leash, running away when called. We’re working on all those pleas for attention.

Christine’s assignment this week is easy. Every day, while she’s drinking her morning coffee, look at Oscar and write down five things she likes about him. And only three can be the same good stuff as the day before. 

Focusing on the dog in front of you is sometimes hard. There are days when we miss the last dog, or the dog from 20 years ago. The pangs of loss are almost tangible. They’re indicators of the great love we’ve shared. Luckily, there’s no limit on love. 

Look to the future

The dog in front of us will never be the same as the last dog we had. Dog people know that every dog is a unique personality. If this dog is the same breed, there will be some similarities defined by genetics. But there will also be traits and quirks unique to this dog. Seeing the dog you have, embracing those unique characteristics, is part of the joy in the relationship. 

Christine and Oscar are getting there. There will come a day when Mortimer’s ghost won’t be superimposed on Oscar. Instead, he’ll be off to the side, watching with that doggy grin. Matched by one from Oscar, and a smile from Christine.

Dogs’ lives are too short

The longer you live, the more dogs you love, the more mourning you’ll have to do. As author Agnes Sligh Turnbull said: “Dogs’ lives are too short. Their only fault, really.” 

Picture of a short-haired brown dog's face for the post Dogs lives are too short

A friend of a friend got some awful news this week – her dog has an untreatable condition that will soon take the dog’s life. “Coco” is small and only nine years old. The woman expected to have many more years with her best friend. And now has to reshape her vision of the future.

Dog bucket lists

In the last couple of years we’ve seen stories about dogs completing “bucket lists.” And if it helps the people cope with the impending loss of their dogs, that’s what they should do. But we’ve never been big fans of lists of “things to do before death.” 

If there’s a goal you want to reach, accomplish, attempt – make plans and go do it. For yourself and your dog. 

If you’re facing a similar situation, instead of projecting new stuff on your dog, do more of the stuff your dog loves. Not all dogs will enjoy, or even understand, a sudden change in routine. As we’ve said many times, most dogs are big fans of schedules.

Preparing for the day

Some people think it’s better to have time to prepare for a dog’s death. We’re not so sure. Over the years we’ve lost dogs in all different ways – none of them is “better.” Sudden is shocking. Slow is a constant ache. And, no matter how you try, you’re never prepared for the quiet emptiness when you come home.

Coco has been diagnosed with the same silent killer that took our dog Teddy a couple of years ago. That’s probably why the news is hitting us hard. We’ll never “get over” it, but we have learned to live with it.  

And, fortunately, the community of people who understand and sympathize is easier to reach and larger than it was before the internet. Back in the day, there weren’t social groups whose common interest was dogs. And non-dog people just don’t understand the impact. 

Sorry for them

Actually, we feel sorriest for people who have never known the love, and loss, of a dog. They don’t understand the selfless, unconditional love that dogs bring to life. As badly as it eventually hurts, loving a dog is never a mistake.  Their loss never overshadows the smiles they brought. We can’t let it. 

It’s advice we’ve given many times over the years. People, mourning their dog’s death, will say “I’m never getting another dog. It hurts too much.” 

Yes, it does. But to honor  your dog’s life, you can’t let their death be more important. Dogs’ lives are too short. The joy they bring is disproportionately large. Hug your dogs.