Although it’s a subject not many of us want to broach, our beloved canine companions aren’t going to be with us forever. The often overwhelming grief we feel when we do have to let go of our pets is a testament to how much joy and love they provided us during their all too brief tenure.
Just the other day there was an unseasonable sprinkling of snow here in the UK, which reminded me of my labrador, Sam. We had to put him down in April 2008 at the ripe old age of 14 as he had severe hip-dysplasia and was effectively immobile. We knew it was a kindness. The vets visited the house and gave him the injection while the family sat by and comforted him in his last moments. Rather than watch the vets take him away after the procedure (he was a big old beast), I took a walk to clear my head, and it began to lightly snow. Now, whenever a few flakes of white drop from the heavens I think of the boisterous jet black dog that was by my side from my boyhood through my teenage years. It’s a strange, difficult to explain feeling somewhere between nostalgia, sentimentality, and joy. Maybe some of you readers can relate.
Stories like these may be commonplace but that doesn’t mean they’re any less touching or significant. Whilst my relationship with Sam still affects me in some small way, many dog owners’ connections with their pets are so close that after they say their final goodbyes a truly beneficial and inspirational life change occurs. The positivity of the relationship they once shared still resonates so strongly.
If you’ve recently lost a pet or are wrestling with the inevitability of having to be cruel to be kind, we’ve collected a group of stories which will hopefully provide clarity and comfort. You may have said goodbye to a friend, but you’re not alone.
One inspiring story of a dog owner converting the loss of a friend into a positive life experience comes from Brian Mayes, who sadly euthanized his family’s beloved dog Buddy in 2011 when he was 15 years old.
Buddy had never been a healthy dog, suffering from a severe heart condition and kidney issues, which led to him undergoing five kidney stone operations. However, this never hindered his spirit and, as Brian attests “until the last week of his life, Buddy remained an active, loving member of the family whose contribution to our lives was immeasurable”.
As Brian readily admits, Buddy’s happy existence would never have been a possibility if it wasn’t for The Mayes family’s means: “My wife and I were fortunate in that we were always able to afford and provide the necessary medical care”.
But on the morning of Buddy’s death, when the Mayes’ realized the extent of how much he had changed their lives, they decided to help families less financially equipped for dog ownership to provide medical care for their pets: Buddy Care Foundation was born.
A non-profit organization, Buddy Care Foundation’s mission statement is “to help save the lives of loved and valued canine companions, so that no family has to make a decision to end a life due to financial hardship”. A noble goal and a fine example of how, even in death, our connections to our pets can have positive repercussions.
Gonzo the Golden Retriever was the constant companion of Beth Lacey Gill for nearly 14 years before she had to euthanize him in 2012. A vital, beloved part of the family, Beth’s parents came to their daughter and Gonzo’s side to support them both through end of his life. Beth held his paws at the final curtain call.
“I could never have been able to recover from the loss of my dear boy (not that I’ll ever be the same, really) if it weren’t for my amazing family, friends and the vet. My family surrounded me with love. My friends made donations in our names and held my hands throughout Gonzo’s memorial ceremony (where we planted a tree with some of his ashes at a nearby park). Paradise Animal Hospital was incredibly kind, even going so far as to send me a condolence card from all the staff, and to hug me and walk me back to my car when I picked up his ashes.”
Gonzo’s death affected Beth profoundly and, just like the Mayes, she decided to make this negative experience have a positive impact on her life. Two months after Gonzo’s passing, Beth began fostering dogs. In some part this was because she missed Gonzo, but Beth also felt this was a way she could thank him for all the love and affection that he’d shown her over the years.
After Beth’s fifth foster dog left her to be adopted by a new family, the group she fosters for inquired as to whether she’d be interested in adopting a golden retriever puppy. At first she was hesitant, but when she discovered the puppy had the same birthday as Gonzo, she felt it was a sign. Now, when her puppy celebrates a birthday, the two of them can commemorate Gonzo’s life. A ceremony they performed a few weeks ago on October 1st.
“Gonzo would have been 15. And as we did on the anniversary of his passing, we sent a Chinese floating lantern up into the sky to let him know he is just as loved now as he was then. It’s so amazing how our pets love us, and I feel so lucky that I was able to know a being as loyal and sweet as Gonzo was.”
I think a great many dog owners can relate.