The smell. The mess. The hair EVERYWHERE. Nagging the kids to keep the food and water dishes full. Having a dog was such a nuisance. In my eyes, it was more work – another mouth to feed which created a mess that needed to be cleaned up. She walked in front of me, knocked me down. I complained. A lot. I said some very unkind words, most often in front of the kids.
I resented her.
I didn’t exactly have pets growing up. There was a turtle at my dad’s house. My mom got a kitten one year but I was in my early teens and too preoccupied with friends. Animals just weren’t my thing.
A few years back, after getting settled into our first house, we started talking about getting a dog. We already had a cat so it seemed like a natural addition. We adopted Brindy from Tennessee. She was a beautiful lab, at least that’s what everyone would say.
I’m not sure when my feelings toward her shifted but it was gradual. People would ask if I had pets and I would reply, “We have a dog and a cat but I’m more of a house plant that doesn’t need to be watered kind of person.” I didn’t like other people’s animals. I just wasn’t an animal person and I was okay with that.
In the Blink of an Eye
It was a warm and sunny Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. I was doing dishes when something drew my attention to the back yard. In the blink of an eye, she was gone. A terrible, freak accident had taken Brindy away from our family. She was 3 years old and still in the prime of her life. There were tears. There are still tears. I have never cried over a human so much in my life and here I was (still am) crying about a dog that I supposedly despised.
The following days were a blur. There were tears at random moments. Silence so deafening I would give anything to have her back. My youngest son is too little to quite understand her death but my oldest is fully aware. Trying to console him has been awful. We’ve been gifted books that are targeted at children to help them cope with the loss of a pet but I can barely get past the first line without sobbing hysterically. I thought to myself, How am I supposed to read this to him when I can’t breathe after looking at the first page? Hold that thought – why am I so distraught over a pet I thought I couldn’t stand?
Then It Hit Me
Brindy was part of the family. She was there by our side for the past 3 years. She came with us on every trip possible and loved to go on car rides. She went to baseball games and BMX races. All of our friends loved her. She was incredibly tolerant of kids. She was obedient and loyal. She would snuggle with my husband or one of the boys when they needed emotional support. Brindy was part of the family and I never saw that – until after she was gone.
Now there is this big gaping hole.
I know the grief will improve with time. I know we will move on and adopt more dogs down the road. The difference will be that I will love them. I will actively love them and show my gratitude. I will accept them as a member of the family. I won’t resent them because a pet has so much to offer beyond shedding and slobber. Pets keep us calm. They ground us. They are loyal, often to a fault, and will always have our backs. They do not judge nor do they hold grudges. Pets are loving, playful, fun, and belong in families. With Brindy gone, I feel like our entire family dynamic has changed. We’ll get used to our new normal over time but man, does it suck right now.
Tips from the Heart
If you have a pet, it’s inevitable that it will pass. None of us live forever, not even beloved Fido. Here’s what I have learned:
- Allow yourself to feel every emotion and express these emotions in front of the kids. It helps them feel safe to express their feelings.
- Encourage other family members to share what they are feeling and make sure they know they can express whatever feeling it is they may have inside – sadness, anger, guilt, etc. Use language that your children can understand.
- Get a book to help your child cope with the loss of a pet. Read it first to make sure its message is in alignment with your family’s values.
- Do not put yourself, or a family member, on a timeline. We all grieve differently and some will move on sooner.
- Children will ask questions about the deceased pet at random moments. Be prepared and follow their lead.
- Seek the service of a licensed mental health counselor if feelings of sadness persist.