I was six years old the first time I witnessed the loss of a pet. I am not sure how hard it hit me at that age . I do remember missing his company. I do know it was all resolved when my brother went out and bought me my next pet, ” Moses”, a handsome black and white domestic short haired cat, with the personality some would say you only see in a dog. He was a fun personable cat, a friend indeed. He slept in my room with me, he followed me everywhere. And for 6 years he touched my life like no animal before has done. I remember on a cold September morning, my father coming into my bedroom to tell me he found Moses’ body down on the road. He buried his body as he said I would not want to see him in the state he was in. And that it would be better to think of him with happy memories. I remember being so angry with my father for denying me the right to see my best friend at his end. Looking back on this I realize I was just going through a stage in the grieving process, the stage of blame. Knowing now of animals that have been hit by cars and attacked by wild animals, I realize he was just saving me from a worse memory. In a short time my madness turned to sadness and the feeling of emptiness that one endures with the loss of a close friend. My friends were sorry for me, but didn’t understand why I was still sad beyond say losing a baseball mitt or something. Inevitably, my friends made me tuck away my sadness and loss and keep it hidden deep in side. I remember feeling guilty for expressing my grief any further to them. Looking back again I can say they wouldn’t have understood the relationship Moses and I had ( other than he was a “cool cat” ) so how would they be able to conceive the loss I felt?
Years later I rescued an amazing cat which my family named Peppercorn, At the time he probably rescued me as much as I rescued him. We enjoyed many happy years with ” Pep” before he succumbed to a life ending disease and we knew we had to make a decision for our friend. I euthanized Pepper with the support of my family in the presence of my wife and daughter. I was tempted to hide my grief deep inside again for my daughter’s sake, but decided against that. We all loved that cat and we all shared in the good times and our grief is a reflection of that love we shared. My daughter deserved to understand that the grieving is a natural and normal process for all loving people.
Years later we rescued a dog who had a difficult start to his life. My wife promised him that he would never have to endure those kind of sufferings and fears again. He was a dog that became known by many names (Teddy, Bubba, Chupacabra, T dog, T Boy Johnson ) and he would come to any or all of them. He was an amazing dog that touched the lives and hearts of each of us. We did not think of him as having been rescued, but of us having the privilege of being part of his life. He was as much a “Costello” as any of us. He developed a severe form of epilepsy which required him to be on medications life long, These medications, which kept him comfortable and in control of the seizures for years and years, would inevitably be the cause of his demise. He developed a liver disease from the medications. My family helped out with round the clock treatments for this wonderful animal for 9 months to keep him comfortable and happy. Then one fateful September night, he went in to status epilepticus (a form of ongoing persistent uncontrollable seizures) So at 4 am we said good bye to our best friend. My wife’s promise to T dog not to let him suffer was kept. The pain ripped through each and every one of our family in various ways for what seemed a lifetime of unyielding sadness…. But the pain did end eventually and we were left with warm happy memories of a pet we were fortunate enough to share in their life. And we share those memories together in our family and feel stronger and privileged to be part of that “club”.
Over the years I have come to realize that grieving for a loved pet is a natural, normal and personal process. Because they touched our lives so deeply they are deserving of our grief. And from this grieving comes healing and that we may grow to form fond memories of our lost pet. It will strengthen us and make us a better human being for knowing this love.
So why do we continue to adopt and attach ourselves to these pets of ours, when we know one day we will have to make decisions for them that we never want to make and that saying good bye hurts so much. I have often said it is the price we pay for those years of the only unconditional love and devotion we will ever have.
What I never get the chance to say to my clients is … it is the price we pay to be honoured with the most valued and treasured memories that can warm us in the coldest of times. We have loved, we have been loved, and we will love again.
Dr. David Costello