It’s like depression in one way. People don’t understand grief for a lost pet unless they’ve been there. We’re there now, once again.
A couple of years ago, I updated an early post about grieving the death of an Australian shepherd who had been with us for 14 years. She’d done her shepherdly duty in guarding the perimeter of her family flock that included three young adventurous sons. She’d been part of who we were, and we mourned her loss.
The grief I felt had been just that, not the causeless depression that feels like grief in one of its phases. It a real emotion, intense then spent and gone, and it was a signal that life was returning, that recovery was real.
Well, it’s happened again. We’ve lost a small friend named Bailey who’s been at my side every minute I’ve been home for years. About 14 months ago, we found out he had an enlarged heart and congestive heart failure. That means the heart wasn’t working well enough to keep fluid out of his lungs. The combination of swollen heart and diminished breath provoked a deep bronchial cough, the first signal he was in trouble.
His breathing became more and more labored, but he sprang back into action after bad spells and remained as perky as ever. He was a little, high speed dog of mixed terrier ancestry, and his inbred role was to generate excitement. Until a few months ago, life was at top speed.
He dashed for his food, scrambled over a bare floor to get out the door, raced back and forth to us with urgent messages. We had to run to see this, now, now, now. He alerted the house to obvious dangers with his sudden piercing bark.
He was an instigator dog who’d explode the adrenalin in us but primarily in his Aussie partner, Casey. He was the much bigger dog who could do the real defensive job.
Bailey’s work was done as soon as he’d roused his friend to action and sent him barking and charging out the door to face uncertain threats. Bailey would dash after him, take a few bold steps, then stop to watch the soldier advance to action. Usually that meant circling about barking, trying to find something or someone to go for.
Casey would stop after madly searching and look back. What am I doing out here? I’d fling out my arms with the same question. What? I don’t see anything. I’d look at Bailey who was sitting quietly. Ah, another drill to keep us on our toes.
A couple of days ago, Bailey dashed out of the house again on a similar mission, this time advancing far out into the yard. I heard a sudden yelp, saw Casey nosing his fallen friend and ran like hell to his side.
Bailey’s heart had finally given out, and he lay there, twitching in a few last spasms. He was clearly beyond help. His wide eyes saw nothing, a now blue tongue hung out one side of his mouth. A few final heart beats, and he was gone. Just like that – in one violent moment.
We were in shock, within the hour had buried him, then had to switch on a social face as our oldest son and his new girlfriend pulled up the driveway for a weekend visit. There was sympathy all around, but our feelings were diverted as we got to know a charming new friend.
They left, and grief set in. I cycled through a spinning misery of anger, depression, then painful yet warming memories, a release in a cry. Then sadness that still has a long way to go.
I’d worried this death had triggered a bad depression, but it hadn’t. All good grieving, getting the feelings out, feeling the feelings. It’s sad, it’s natural. Recovery tested again and wins – but at what a cost.
It’s quieter in the house now. Way too quiet.