Caring for the Grief Carried by Your Surviving Dogs by Carole Oser

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We have owned dogs for more than 46 years, and for 36 years we’ve had more than one at a time. Every dog owner knows the deep grief and mourning that takes place after a beloved pet passes away, a loss that often takes place when a tough decision is made for compassionate euthanasia. We now have considerably more understanding of the grief involved for the owners and the surviving dogs than we did 36 years ago when we lost our first baby. As we have evolved as dog owners, we have come to passionately believe that allowing the surviving “pack” members to be present for a dog’s passing helps them to accept the loss of their loved one. I would like to share the journey that has led us to this belief.

Thirty-six years ago when we put our first Yorkie, Mischief, to sleep, the vet whisked him away in his quilt and would not let us be present for the passing. The vet then returned his lifeless body to us. It was then that we knew we could never let another loved dog pass away alone.

We later went on to add a Yorkie, Tippy, and a Westie, Abby, to our family. We were present for Tippy’s passing, but never thought about bringing Abby along. We never anticipated the grief and mourning Abby would experience once he was gone. After his passing, she looked for Tippy everywhere, always expecting him to be in my arms. Even though she was older, she was elated when, a few months later, we brought another Yorkie, Wesley, into our home. When we knew Abby’s days were limited, Wes picked out his soul mate, Peanut. Abby welcomed Peanut into our home, and it was then that Abby let us know that it was time to let her go. Because they had each other, Wes and Peanut did not grieve in the same way Abby had, but it still had not occurred to us that bringing them to her passing might be a good idea.

Wes and Peanut grew up together and were very close. Seeing their relationship, we knew that Wes, who was exceptionally intelligent and intuitive, needed to be present when Peanut passed away. It was touching to watch him say goodbye to his beloved companion. Though Wes mourned the loss of Peanut, he knew she was gone and did not anxiously look for her.

Although Wes was 12 at this time, we knew we needed another dog. We took him to meet other puppies, but he was having none of it until he met Sasha. He looked at me as to say, “Okay, I’ll take her!” Sasha was very good for him. And eventually we got Yorkie siblings, Bosco and Brandi. Wes survived liver cancer for four years with this new pack around him. We provided him with our own form of hospice care his final months. He was both the senior statesman and the mentor.

When Wes was 16 and a half years old, we knew it was time.  We arranged for our alternative vet/acupuncturist to send our beloved Wesley over the Rainbow Bridge in her holistic clinic with his pack surrounding him. He stood tall before his pack and then crawled in a blanket on my lap. The other three dogs all came up to kiss him goodbye and surround him as he peacefully left this earth. We were able to hold him as long as we wanted with the others around. It was a beautiful way to send a remarkable dog to place where he would not suffer.

Returning home, the others were sad and subdued, but they knew he was gone. It was fascinating to watch them work out a new order of who would perform Wesley’s responsibilities. 

Now, six years later, Sasha, Bosco, and Brandi have an extremely close bond. Sasha is ten and Bosco and Brandi are both nine. Just like we have since Tippy passed, we will provide each of them with compassionate care throughout the ends of their lives. We are not looking forward to losing any of them, but we will ensure that their passings are as easy as possible and be mindful of the grief the remaining dogs will experience.  I know that, without a doubt, the others will be present. 

About the Author: Carole Oser is a doctor of physical therapy and founded Healing Tree Physical Therapy to provide a more holistic treatment option.  She and her husband, Rich, have resided with dogs for the past 46 years and have learned so much from each of them. Throughout her career, Carole has shared her experiences traveling with her dogs, the joys of having a pack, lessons learned from caring for her seniors, and information on holistic treatment for pets with her patients.  She has often been told she should write about all she has learned from her senior dogs. Carole looks forward to sharing these “stories” with the Grey Muzzle community.

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