Saying Goodbye to a Dear Old Dog

When the life of a dear pet nears its end, you often hear it said that you will know when it’s time. You will know when it’s time to do the right thing. You will know when it’s time to let them go. You will know when it’s time to euthanize. I’m not so sure this is always true.

Sometimes it’s a tough call. Sometimes you have to make the tough decision even when you don’t know for sure if, in fact, it’s time. Sometimes you just have to do the best you can. Sometimes there aren’t clear-cut answers. Death doesn’t work that way.

When you think about it, it’s a very big responsibility making life and death decisions for another living creature in your care.

Last week Dear Hubby and I made the tough decision to euthanize our dear old dog, Elsie. It was hard. Very hard. But we chose to be Elsie’s advocate, to make the call as best we could, and to be with her at the end.

We are grateful we had an extra six weeks with Elsie following her leukemia diagnosis.

But letting go was still hard. It always is.

Elsie as a pup in 2003. Photo via That Mutt

Sometimes, I think about my life in dog chunks, a timeline of dog lives intertwined with mine. There has always been at least one dog in my life, so of course, by the time you get to be my age, this adds up to be a fair number of dogs.

Pets come into our lives and then leave, too soon, of course. Time with pets is limited, but we willingly give our hearts to them anyway. It’s worth it. The joy outweighs the inconvenience. The joy outweighs the exasperation. The joy outweighs the heartache.

We got to have Elsie for twelve years. Twelve years is a good amount of living for a dog, a fair amount, I suppose; but still, I wanted more.

A lot happens in a person’s life in twelve years, in the lifetime of a dog.

In the twelve years with Elsie, various members of my family experienced  a gazillion different things; things like middle school, high school, college, job losses, new jobs, selling a house, buying a house, relocation, vacations, graduations, weddings, births,  and of course, cancer and yes, deaths of loved ones.

And through it all, Elsie was there, and she was so much more than just a family pet.

Right to the end, Elsie took her duties very seriously. Goldens are like that. They have a fun-loving playful side, of course, but they never for a minute forget their primary role in life – looking after their humans. I have known, have loved and have been loved by many kinds of dogs; but there is nothing quite like the devotion of a golden.

During the last six weeks or so, I have been thinking a lot about why Elsie and all pets that come into our lives are so special and why it’s so hard to let them go.

There are many reasons of course. But perhaps primarily it’s because our pets truly enjoy our company, no matter what our mood or what is going on in our lives. Pets live in the moment. And the best moments for them seem to be the moments they get to spend with us.

No matter how deeply you are loved by the people in your life, do any of them enjoy your company all the time?

Probably not.

Pets seem to. Or at least Elsie did.

No wonder we love our pets so much. No wonder I loved Elsie so much.

One thing I have learned as a result of having pets all my life is that it’s okay to grieve for them when they die. Grieving for a pet is real grief too. And there is no shame in grieving for a much-loved pet.

In fact, it’s a beautiful thing to grieve deeply for a pet because, of course, it means the bond you shared was something special.

Elsie is gone now, but she will never be forgotten. Among other things, she was my grief companion. She was my cancer companion. She was my eye witness and secret keeper, and I loved her. I always will.

Goodbye, Elsie. You were a good girl. A very good girl indeed.

Do you have a special pet?

How many pets have you had in your life so far?

Have you ever felt ashamed for grieving deeply for a pet?

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Saying Goodbye to a Dear Old Dog #grief #petloss #pets #loss

29 thoughts to “Saying Goodbye to a Dear Old Dog”

  1. aww, what a beautiful tribute to your sweet dog. it’s true pets live in the now and they really do love and look out for us. Cherish her memory always.

  2. Oh Nancy I am so so sorry that you have had to say goodbye to your beloved Elsie. Yes indeed we grieve big time for pets. They are there without qustion and are so good at just letting us be who we are and not trying to advise us or change us. They simply love unconditionally.

    Elsie was beautiful. My daughter has 4 goldenls and I have never seen happier dogs. I also lost
    my lab Cinamon to cancer and we had to make that very heartbreaking decision to say goodbye.
    We now have a lab,Molly who always knows my cancer journey.
    Take care as you miss and grieve your sweet Elsie. I am so sorry Nancy.
    Mary Ellen

    1. Mary Ellen, Thank you for your kind words. Your daughter must really love goldens if she has four of them. I’m sorry your lab had cancer and that you had to make that heartbreaking decision too. And now you have Molly; that is wonderful. Thanks again. Your kind words are very much appreciated.

  3. Nancy what a beautiful post. I’m so sorry. Elsie could not have had a better life, she was so lucky to have a companion like you. This touches me especially hard because my two dogs are nearing the end of their lives, one more than the other, and it breaks my heart to think about what’s coming. You can’t ever know for sure but have to trust your judgment. It’s one of those events where you have to believe deeply in yourself and think about the big picture, looking at your dog and her quality of life. No matter what, it is painful and you need to grieve. Deeply. We don’t get as close to most people as we do our dogs. Dogs have qualities that humans could never live up to. And they make us more human. Be good to yourself and take your time to grieve.

    1. Alene, It is hard to make that tough decision, but you’re right, we do have to trust ourselves and look at the big picture. I agree that in some ways we get closer to our pets than we do to some people in our lives. I also agree that dogs have qualities humans could never live up to and that they do indeed make us more human. Thank you very much for your kind words. I hope you have lots of years left with your two dogs.

  4. Nancy, I am very sorry we experience this kind of pain. I wish our animals can live forever. Just the other day I was talking about what animal would be best for me to have and I thought an African grey parrot. Because they can outlive me. But then I thought, who would take care of my parrot if I go first? No one would take care of my animal better than I can, because like you, I invest everything in them. Not everyone is as dedicated and committed as we are.

    I have had my cat, Nelly, for 12 years now. I cannot picture myself without her but I am aware that day will come. I don’t think there’s a “right time” to let our pets go. We just have no choice with mortality and we cope with it the best way we can. There are no easy answers. It’s hard losing a pet.

    There are so many reasons why I’ve loved my pets so much. They have no agenda. They love us unconditionally. Their heart is pure. They depend on us so much and they never want to leave our side. They simply love us for who we are. They also forgive quickly! Not to mention, my pets have taught me so many things, especially about myself as a human being.

    Goldens are wonderful dogs. My guy had one named Molly and she was so kind and her eyes were so expressive.

    I have never felt ashamed of grieving any of my pets. I still think about my first dog, Angel, who I had when I was 9. I think of her often because she was my only friend growing up.

    Elsie was so lucky to have you. She knew how much she was loved and cared for. You gave her the kind of home and love that sadly many animals don’t get. Elsie felt loved. I hope knowing that would help you heal your heart. One day at a time.

    1. Rebecca, I love how you are so passionate and care so deeply about the pets that you have had. Nelly sounds very sweet and Angel must have been such a special dog. I’m glad you have such wonderful memories of her. I think you hit on something there, that pets have no agenda other than to love us and be our companions. That is so true. Thank you very much for your kind words and for understanding how hard it was for me to say goodbye to Elsie. It really helps.

  5. Oh, Nancy, I’m glad you had those precious six weeks after her diagnosis. It’s ironic that you would lose her to cancer, isn’t it? You know I’ve been through this myself several times, so my heart really goes out to you and your family. The love between us and our pets is so pure, so simple, and profound in that simplicity. We don’t accumulate ‘baggage,’ memories of disagreements and misunderstandings in our relationships with them. It’s just straight-up love, maybe the best there is. I’m so glad you said what you did about how worth it it is. I always feel so sad for folks who are so shattered when they lose a pet, that they vow never to get another. And yet I do understand that sort of heartache. This was a lovely, loving tribute. Thank you for sharing Elsie with us. xoxo, Kathi

    1. Kathi, It is ironic that Elsie should die from cancer. In some ways it’s fitting, too, because it’s almost like Elsie even did that for me. She was such a cancer companion that she even got cancer herself. That probably sounds weird and doesn’t even make sense. You’re so right, we don’t accumulate that baggage as far as our pets are concerned. I love that. Losing pets is hard, but it is definitely so worth it. Definitely. Thank you for understanding. I know you have lost some dear pets too. Thank you for reading and for you kind words. They mean a lot.

  6. Nancy, I’m so sorry for your loss. A neighbor, whose older dog recently died, said to me “if they were really our best friends, couldn’t they live longer?”
    My dogs sustain me, and it’s clear that so do yours.
    Elsie was a vital part of your life, and I have no doubt she was deeply, deeply loved and will be profoundly missed.

  7. Hi Nancy,

    I’m so saddened by your loss of your beautiful, wonderful Elsie. Pets really see us through the good times and the bad times. What’s amazing is the human-animal bond. Our friendship with these creatures is a blessing, and we are so fortunate to be a part of their lives. I know this sounds weird, but I love animals better than some humans. Animals love us unconditionally and don’t betray us. My cat Cosette is 16; cats tend to live longer than dogs, but I know a time will come when I will have to say goodbye. She was the thing that got me through cancer diagnosis and treatment. She has blessed my life.

    Once again, please accept my condolences.

    1. Beth, Pets are blessings indeed and yes, we are fortunate when they become part of our lives. I know how important your cats have been to you. I hope you have many more years with them. Thanks so much for caring and for your kind words.

  8. Hello Nancy,
    Oh my deepest condolences in the loss of your beloved Elsie. I am a cat person by nature..Though I did have a dog – a Cock-a-poo by the name of Brandi. A dog was really out of the question after all I had Nikki & Pierre cats at home I don’t think they would have been receptive to a dog. But there was much more to it. The dog was being given away for free and what I knew expensive to buy. I called the home yes they had her I drove like a crazy person I was expecting to find a beautiful robust little dog, instead I found a dirty flea bitten quivering smelling of oil. They kept her in the garage she wasn’t house trained. I picked her up carried her to the car and so began a beautiful love story in our home. She was about a year old terrified of her own shadow..We bathed her cleaned her up I think hat was her first bath.. A friend was a groomer she came fixed her up a little, we could see her eyes and she was really telling a story her unhappy life…. a sense of relief engulfed her. We all fell in love with her and surprisingly so did the cats The three became inseparable… They chased played slept together The years passed by, you never notice, Suddenly Brandi was 13 years old Her legs ached it was hard climbing all the stairs to bed so we carried her. She began losing weight She sept long hrs had accidents in the house she couldn’t help herself. After a Vet visit we learned Brandi was sick .. she had bladder & colon cancer.. She was in pain..We needed to decide the unthinkable. How do you put down your pet? The last day he was very weak could barely lift her head, I knew today had to be the day. I called the Vet as he was on the way I prepared my beautiful Brandi. Cleaned her up refreshed her a little so she would feel a little better, She lay there and stared at me as if she was saying “Thank You”! Being “OUR GIRL” for all these years was a true gift. When it was time for the injection, She was on my lap I was so distraught my tears were falling on her. One last breath a kiss goodbye she was forever gone but not from our hearts. It’s been a few years I still miss that little dog.. She was so full of life , remembering the three Pierre, Nikki and Brandi chasing each other up the stairs down, into the family room falling on the floor exhausted.
    Pets in my book are one of the most important assets we can add to our home. There is a bountiful of affection, they just love you..and you them.. that ache in your heart will subside Nancy but you will always love her…and she you…

    Love Alli…..XX

    1. Alli, Thank you for sharing your beautiful story about Brandi and your dear cats. I completely agree with you about pets being one of the most important assets we can add to our homes. Thank you so much for sharing and for your kind words. xx

  9. I just lost my boy, RJ–it was unexpected, and happened while I was on a trip and my daughter was taking care of him, so I didn’t even get to say goodbye. I am not sure if it has completely even sunk in yet, but I still have a big hole in my heart. However, my hardest loss is when my little Maltese, Herbie, had doggie dementia. The decision to euthanize was extremely hard, because, though old, he was physically pretty healthy. When I figured out he was sleeping on the floor facing a wall because he was standing there so long he finally fell asleep because he couldn’t figure out what to do, I knew it was time. Looking back, had I realized the terror and loneliness he must have been feeling (my mom is dealing with dementia now and I have done some research), I wish I had done it a few months sooner. But I guess we can just do the best we can with what we know at the time. I miss him still!

  10. so sad. elsie. wonderful lady. put down handsome max 4 years ago, he was mal/husky 100 pound lap dog that lived 13 years . haven’t replaced him,,,tears flowing for all lost best friends.

  11. I was so moved. As you know, I am also a Golden lover. And I too have had to endure the pain of losing one (to cancer no less). I think you summed it up beautifully when you stated, “but there is nothing quite like the devotion of a golden.”

  12. Our golden retreiver Murphy was put to sleep on october9th this year he was 12 years old he had hemangiosarcoma and lived 7 weeks after being diagnosed its a heartbreaking cancer his tomour was in his heart surgery was impossible we ate devastated love him and miss him so much

    1. Kay, I am sorry about Murphy. It’s so hard. I hope it helps just a bit knowing others understand your pain. We’re missing our sweet Sophie. Our golden retriever Elsie is still dearly missed as well.

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