When a new pet has entered my life, I have made a spoken vow to each of them, to give him or her a safe, loving home. And when the time comes for them to leave, I will be there and help them, that they won't have to suffer. It's easy to make that promise when you're holding a fat healthy puppy or kitten and it looks like you have all the time in the world to be together, but we all know that pets age much too quickly and our time together is short.
Many people have asked me, "How will I know when the time has come?" My answer must seem unsatisfactory to them. I tell them to watch and listen and their pet will tell them. It might be a look, a sigh, a head in the lap along with a whimper. It may be that the dog who would eat anything, now doesn't want even special treats offered by hand. It might be a certain light that no longer is visible in the eyes. Some pets try to be alone or to hide. Whatever the signal, it'll be there and it's your job to see it.
I was there with each of my pets when they died. I held them and whispered familiar words in their ears. I felt I owed it to them to be there. They would have done the same for me, if the situation was reversed.
Then comes the almost unbearable pain and the second guessing. Did I do the right thing? Was it too soon? Should I have done it sooner? The tears start up at unexpected times and non-animal people don't understand. They brush it off as if a close friend hadn't just died. But we know better.
How do we get past the pain? Some people say they'll never have another pet, it's too painful to say goodbye. Some people say they need time before they get another pet. Both those solutions are acceptable. I handle it a bit differently. When I've lost my dog and feel depressed and sad, I need a puppy. I need to laugh at the silly, stupid antics of a puppy. A puppy demands my attention and leaves me tired at the end of the day. It makes the pain of loss feel a little less sharp. I need to feel the warmth of a small living being tucked against my neck and to smell that sweet puppy breath.
You may be wondering why I'm writing this now. My dogs are all healthy at this time and I'm not personally dealing with a loss, but two friends of mine are and it's been on my mind a lot recently. Everyone who has experienced the joy of living with an animal has to face this eventually and we all handle it in our own way. This is mine.
My thoughts are with you and what you're dealing with. You are not alone in your grief.