I recently saw a t-shirt that read, “Yes, my dogs are my children” and thought, “That is totally me!”
My four-legged child, Hamish, came into my life as a puppy 11 years ago. He weighed in at 2.6 lbs., and easily fit into my cupped hands. At 11, he is now 16.5 lbs. of personality, completely oblivious to the fact that as a Cairn Terrier, he is from a small-sized breed. In his mind, I suspect, he thinks he is part-human, part-German Shepherd, bravely keeping his family safe from the terrors of… anything that moves (including images on TV).
Our world was turned upside-down in late September when I noticed an odd lump on his side. Vet appointments, lab work, x-rays and surgery followed, as well as a cancer diagnosis. The treatment options available to us to stay ahead of the cancer (not cure) were ruled out one-by-one as too painful, too uncertain and too expensive. And so the horrible wait began for another cancerous tumor to grow. For a variety of reasons, the veterinary oncologist advised that this wasn’t an “if” scenario, but a “when”. Sadly, the “when” came only a month later.
I am already beginning to experience the feelings associated with grief and the loss that is coming. I’m struggling with deep sadness as I try to hold on to the time that we have left and avoid picturing what life will be like without him. Anger that I am losing another loved one to cancer. Worry over how my other dog will react to his absence. And then there is the guilt…
As I was researching how to keep him comfortable for as long as possible, I found the website for the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement. Although I have not fully explored the site, I immediately checked out its Quality of Life Section.
The section’s introduction notes, “One of the most common complaints we hear is that people fear they may have waited too long – or not long enough – before having their beloved companion animals euthanized.” This is exactly my fear. How will I know when it is time? I don’t want to miss a moment of what is left of Hamish’s life, but I don’t want my inability to let go to prolong his pain.
Thankfully, Veterinary Oncologist Dr. Alice Villalobos created the Quality of Life Scale for those of us facing this tough balance. The APLB site includes the scale and more information can also be found on Villalobos’ own website.
Other resources I have found helpful are:
In a 2014 post, blogger Caleb Wilde accurately noted, “Yes, it may be a dog, but that dog was one of the truest friends you’ve ever had. It was loved and it loved you.” Hamish is dearly loved. And when it comes time to say our goodbyes, he will be dearly, deeply missed.
Are you grieving the loss of a pet? Although society may not always recognize the pain a pet owner experiences when losing a pet, you do not need to process your loss alone. Please call your EAP if you need support.
Heather B. joined Empathia in 2004 and is a Communications Specialist. She has a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communications from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Theological Studies through Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.