Coping With the Loss of a Pet

callie dog

I have always been a dog lover. My parents had a cockapoo when I was born, and when I was in first grade, we got two darling cocker spaniels named Jake and Molly. They each had their own distinct personalities—Jake was a mischief-maker who loved to cuddle and steal snacks from anywhere he could find them, while Molly was more of a pensive pup who liked to keep her distance but loved us all the same. They were so much fun, and they defined the childhood memories that my brother and I share.

It wasn’t until my mid-twenties, though, when I realized the difference between growing up with a pet and raising a pet to call your own.


I met my now-husband, James, in 2011 and one of the things I loved about him right away was how much he adored his dog, a two-year-old English mastiff named Callie. I loved her immediately, too. After growing up with small dogs, I was totally intrigued by Callie’s size—she was 150 pounds even though she was the runt of her litter—and how her weight had no bearing on the fact that she thought she was a lap dog. She was sweet and smart and loyal and I wanted her to be my best friend.

After a few months of dating, James moved to Dallas, where I live. Callie accompanied him on the multi-hour road trip from Tallahassee. Ever the trooper, she rode shotgun in a moving truck, simply glad to be on the journey. Due to a variety of circumstances, Callie ended up living with me in my one-bedroom loft apartment. I was in heaven having her as my roommate. I know it broke James’s heart to be separated from her but by that point I had staked my claim as her mama so it lessened the blow a bit.

Coping with the Loss of a Pet | DARLING

 She was sweet and smart and loyal and I wanted her to be my best friend.

We took Callie everywhere—to the park and to dog-friendly restaurants, of course, but to less obvious places, too, like friends’ houses (she was always the life of the party), dog-friendly hotels (our favorite is the Hotel San José in Austin), and my office (a distinctly non-dog-friendly space where I got really good at sneaking her up the back staircase). We threw her a birthday party and included her in family photo shoots and asked her to be our flower dog in our wedding (she said yes, of course). She had sleepovers with many of my friends (you think she’s giving up her space in the bed because a girlfriend is in town visiting?) and she snuggled with our nieces and nephew and just generally made everyone around her really happy. She was our girl, our number one confidant, and our best pal.

This past June, Callie was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, an aggressive form of bone cancer. She was only six and a half years old. We were devastated, to say the least. We proceeded with the recommended amputation of her front left leg, where the original tumor was, and she came out of that surgery like a champion. I will never forget picking her up at the cancer specialist’s office just 24 hours after her surgery—unfazed by the cone of shame, she hopped out into the lobby on three legs, so happy to see me as I held out my arms and told her how beautiful she looked.

During the next several months, we returned to the office frequently for chemotherapy and blood work. Callie became the mascot of the office with her sweet personality and desire to cuddle despite her size. We felt grateful that we had the resources to provide her with the care we wanted to give. We know that for some people, dogs (and their illnesses) receive a varying degree of worth, and that is totally okay. But to us Callie was family, our first baby, and we knew that at the end of the day we’d want to look back and know we had done everything we could.

She had a clear lung scan in November, which was a huge relief, but things came crashing down just before New Year’s Eve when Callie lost all feeling in her back legs, as well as her ability to walk. It was a sudden and soul-crushing revelation when we learned that the cancer had reared its fierce and ugly head, spreading tumors throughout her lungs and down her spine. She wasn’t in pain, but it was time to send her to heaven.

callie

We flew home early from a family vacation to spend time with her and say goodbye. I won’t recount those last few hours with you here—it still too painful. But I will say that the family members, friends, and veterinary professionals who rallied around us and reminded us that we were not alone in our suffering lifted us up. When Jake and Molly passed away, I was heartbroken. But there was something acutely different this time around with this beautiful dog that I felt like I had helped raise. It’s easy to start wondering if your grief is a bit silly—we had lost a dog, not a human, after all. But that thought was a lie, and one that made us feel worse for wear. Thanks to our community of pet-loving friends, we were reminded that grieving the loss of a pet is more than okay; it is normal and it is right. Pets are truly family—they show us unconditional love and loyalty and support in ways that many humans never will.

I distinctly remember reading this blog post a few years ago, crying into Callie’s fur and making her promise that she would never leave me (even though I knew she one day would). Blogger Natalie Holbrook beautifully captured a sentiment I now know all too well:

“Puppies are a certain kind of heartbreak, I know that truth intimately. We love them like our children, though it isn’t a fair comparison. When we bring babies into our family, we have every reason to believe that they will survive us. We plan for eighteen years plus the rest of our lives to love them, and barring illness or accidents, we do. But puppies won’t stay for long. Ten years, fifteen at the most. We bring these fur babies into our lives anyway, knowing full well that inevitably, they have to break our heart. We willingly set ourselves up for this great, huge loss. We know the hole they are going to leave behind when they go. We know that puppies will always have to leave us too soon.”

I have tears running down my face as I re-read that quote, and I’m reminded of how true the thought is. The only thing I have to add is that it’s worth it; oh, how it’s worth it to give your heart to a dog and to fully embrace her as a part of your family. The pain of a loss will hurt—for a very long time, maybe always—but the joy that our furry friends bring us truly outweighs that pain a million times over.

We love you, Callie girl, and we always will.

How has your life been touched by a pet?

Images of Callie via Heather Hawkins



POST TAGS:

Rachel is the Development Director for the Touch A Life Foundation, a non-profit organization committed to the rescue and rehabilitation of exploited and trafficked children in West Africa and Southeast Asia. She currently lives in Dallas, TX, with her husband, their baby girl Ruby, and their cuddly English mastiff.

23 COMMENTS
  • Nicole from Petrest September 28, 2016

    Just seen this article pop up on twitter. So sad for you, Pet loss can be just as heartbreaking as human loss, and it is totally ok to grieve. We help many owners through pet loss and bereavement, you may wish to look at our blog here: http://www.petrest.co.uk/blog/

  • Katherine March 14, 2016

    Nicely written and full of feelings everyone can relate to. You are welcome to read about our Dallas, the best yellow dog in the world: http://observationsindailylife.blogspot.com/2011/05/dog-party-diary-of-best-last-day.html

  • Denise March 13, 2016

    Well written, and oh so true. I wanted to share two quotes that have comforted me in the past when coping with the loss of a pet. I hope they may bring everyone who’s grieving right now some comfort also.

    “If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together…there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart…I’ll always be with you.” Winnie the Pooh, by A.A. Milne, 1926.

    And, another Winnie the Pooh…”How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

  • Christina March 8, 2016

    We lost our dog in this exact same way, at age 5, from osteosarcoma of the spine last month. That was the heaviest I’ve ever grieved. Thank you for your beautiful article.

  • Lauren Steimle February 22, 2016

    oh my goodness, this made me tear up and I lost my dog almost 8 years ago. it’s so hard because the phrase is simple, “my dog died” but when you have one its SO much more than that. it is indeed a family member and let’s be honest, companies should probably start offering at least 1 day of PTO for that, haha. but seriously…

  • Astor February 20, 2016

    We had out little girl all of our marriage, 19 years. We lost her 2.5 years ago. My little boy, born one week before she passed, is now undergoing chemo for lymphoma. Everyday is special. He’s responding well to treatment. I was hoping for 10-12 years, but if we make 5 years it will be amazing but then again he is an amazing little boy! Life without is much harder. I’m not “replacing” them, I’m honoring them by remembering them. I’m softer for have pets taking care of another life or even saving a life depending how they come into your life.

    • Rachel Brown February 22, 2016

      I love that, “I’m honoring them by remembering them.” Thanks for sharing, Astor.

  • Beth February 20, 2016

    Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful thoughts, Rachel. Callie was a champion and a brave and loving companion. I’m thankful for the many wonderful memories (and gorgeous photos) you will always have of your sweet and faithful girl. Thinking of you.

  • Mariel February 19, 2016

    This warms up my heart so much.

    I truly sorry for your loss, Rachel. Dogs are more than friends. More than family, even. They become a huge part of who we are, and have wholly accepted us and gave us the same kind of unconditional love.

    My beloved dog friend Meru died last February 5. She was 12 years old in human years. It’s been a few days, yes, but I still the pain of losing her. Everywhere I look, any thought that comes to my mind, any sound, anything, reminds me of her. Home is where she thrived. Where we thrived together. I grew up with her and needless to say, matured alongside her, even though we do get quite immature at times which is fun to say the least. She was my kindred spirit. I have never felt so close to any other being besides my family. She knew when I was sad and would really try to rub her nose on my face to make me feel better. And boy could she be persistent! In quiet times, she would randomly just sit beside me, gaze into my eyes for a bit and fall to a deep sleep, fully content that my presence alone is enough. Who could ever do that? It is strange yet comfortably familiar that there are moments when we would suddenly look at each other in the middle of doing something and knew, in that second, that we both share the same feelings.

    Some would say that animals are different than humans, but I do not agree. Animals are more than capable of love. Their souls are entwined with ours and no matter what others would say, Meru and I were, and still, kindred spirits and that is all the truth there is.

    Yours in sincerity,
    Mariel

    • Rachel Brown February 22, 2016

      Thank you for your thoughtful reflection, Mariel. I am so sorry for your loss.

  • Christi February 19, 2016

    I commented on IG today as well. Such a touching article and couldn’t be more well timed for me after the loss of our Great Dane/Mastiff Denali to the same disease, osteosarcoma. He’s still pulling at my heart and captivating the daydreams I have while watching the evening light flood the living room. Thank you so much for writing this. Everything helps during this grief journey.

    • Rachel Brown February 22, 2016

      Ugh, osteosarcoma, such an evil beast. Thank you for your comments – you don’t know how much they have meant to me.

  • Isabella February 19, 2016

    Such a beautiful article. I’ve lost my beloved Lester, a gorgeous Epagneul breton, two days ago, after 16 years of true love and friendship. I totally agree about what you say about the difference between growing up with a pet and helping to raise it. In my family we’ve always had dogs, my father brought home the first one when I was just 3 months old, and then I grew up with 3 other dogs. But Lester was the one that I choosed and took care of, until the last hours of his life. Thank you for this post.

    • Rachel Brown February 22, 2016

      Thank you for reading & commenting, Isabella. I am so sorry for your loss.

  • Amanda February 19, 2016

    Beautiful article! I just lost the most beloved, sweet, affectionate cat this week and my heart is broken. Thank you for reminding me that it’s ok to feel such grief!

    • Isabeau February 19, 2016

      I lost my cat this Wednesday. He was amazing. So loving and affectionate, so playful and funny. I have never met a cat like him before and I doubt I will again. He was only 4 years old. I love him and I miss him. The hole in my heart feels bottomless and it’s hard to imagine a time when it won’t hurt. I’m so sorry for your loss. I know how much this hurts.

      • Rachel Brown February 19, 2016

        Isabeau, I’m so sorry for your loss. It is amazing how pets develop such fun and life-giving personalities. Four years old is definitely way too young – I totally empathize with your pain. Thank you for reading and also for your condolences, they mean so much.

      • Astor February 20, 2016

        So sorry to hear that. Everyone here can emphasize with your feelings.

    • Rachel Brown February 19, 2016

      Aw, Amanda, I am so sorry. It is more than okay to feel grief, and I am so, so sorry for your loss. You are not alone!

POST A COMMENT