by Teena Stewart
When we decided to move from Benicia, California to Hickory, North Carolina we became empty nesters. Two of our grown children stayed behind with a third already in Colorado. Jackie, our 13-year-old Scottish Terrier came with us and was nestled on the back seat of our packed car as we began our cross country drive.
“This will be an easy trip,” I said to my husband when we were somewhere in Nevada. “No kids to worry about.”
As if on cue, hacking and gagging sounds of Jackie regurgitating came from the back seat. We laughed and pulled over to tend to our “kid’s” needs. Even dogs can get motion sickness.
When we reached North Carolina it was a different world. We traded a tiny, fenced in postage stamp sized California back yard with no humidity, mosquitoes or flea issues for a huge, unfenced rolling backyard with mosquitoes and fleas. Though Jackie loved the yard, the hilly terrain was a work out for her so she spent much of her time indoors sleeping. Fortunately our deck had gradually sloping ramp to the yard. She would have had difficulty navigating any steps.
Fleas, which we hadn’t had to deal with since we had lived in Pennsylvania, became an issue. Like many terriers including Kippen, the Scottie we had before her, Jackie developed a sensitivity to flea bites. One thing lead to another and soon she was on medication to curb the issue. Jackie deteriorated quickly. The move, her age, the battle with allergies and even the heat became too much. Soon she was unable to control her bladder. We had to make a difficult decision to put her to sleep.
There we were far away from our own children not knowing hardly anyone and now our last “child” was gone. Both my husband and I were devastated. Our lives seemed so empty. Depression swept over both of us. Our hearts were raw with grief. Our sizable house echoed our loneliness. Gone was the friendly wag and gentle nuzzle that said, “I love you.” I missed rubbing her ears and gently tugging her beard. I even missed her doggy smell.
So many things reminded me she wasn’t coming back: that goofy chicken squeaky toy she played with and the rubber handled tug of war toy she liked to challenge me with. I even missed her snoring, something that had developed in the later days. Those were some of the darkest days of our lives but we weathered through it.
In the past few months I have known several people who have lost their pets. Some post of their loss on social media sharing their deep sadness. The best thing I know to do is to say how sorry I am and to allow them to work through it. Grief we experience over the loss of a pet is every bit as heart-wrenching and valid as grief over the loss of child, sibling, friend or spouse. We should not feel ashamed to grieve for our pets.
Shortly after my first Scottie Kippen died, I had a dream that was so real it made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. I dreamed she walked into our bedroom at night and I could hear her toenails clicking on the floor. I woke with a start clutching the covers, staring into the dark shadows of the room sure she was there. Though I had suppressed my grief during my waking hours, what was stashed away in my subconscious rose to the surface reminding me of how deeply I missed her.
Some people rush out immediately after losing a pet and get another. Others need time to let the grief subside before they can open their heart to another animal. We each deal with grief in unique ways. If you hope to find an exact duplicate of the pet you lost, you will be greatly disappointed. Each animal has its own unique personality and quirks.
To this day when I see someone else walking a Scottie, my heart does a little flip. It makes me miss my good friend. We don’t currently own a dog. For the first time, we are cat owners. Not long after Jackie died my sister, who lives about a half hour away, called to ask if we wanted a kitten. A little long-haired black stray had found its way to her house and they already had two cats. She nick named her Kitty Furball. We had always been dog people and neither of us had experience with cats, but something made me say yes. Skat, AKA Kitty Furball quickly snuggled her way into our hearts. She’s an indoor/outdoor cat and is so easy to care for. In her tiny voice she meows to be picked up so I can tell nestles with her and tell her I love her. She keeps me company in my reading chair. She entertains us with her antics and hunting prowess and is easy to love.
Experts tell us there are five stages of grief. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. When Jackie died it was hard to accept that she was really gone. Numbness crept over us. I also experienced anger and frustration. I knew from my past Scottie ownership that the breed was susceptible to flea allergies. I blamed myself believed I did this to her. Then came the bargaining. If only we hadn’t moved. If we had tried a different flea medicine or paid more attention to what the meds were doing to her. The depression was the hardest. it seemed to last forever.
We still miss her. That will never leave but we have finally learned to live without her though we still miss having a dog.
On a shelf in my garage is a pottery dog bowl, a squeaky chicken, and a folded wire dog kennel, kept because they remind me of her and with the hope that someday maybe we’ll get another dog. Lately we’ve been talking about adding an addition to the family. I think it’s time. There’s room for more love in this house.
Teena Stewart is a published author and a professional artist. Her handmade gifts including gifts for pet lovers including pet silhouette necklaces, coasters, and ornaments can be found on her blog http://www.serendipitini.com or her shop http://serendipitinipet.thecraftstar.com/