Continuing with Life’s Processes

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

I am continuing the topic I started yesterday, describing how I have emotionally coped with the advancing progression of my dogs lives.

Denial and Grieving. The day after losing Stoni I had to leave for 3 weeks of teaching in Australia. Stoni had been sick for over a year. We all knew she was living on borrowed time, so her death was not a shock, you would have thought I would have been better prepared. I thought it was a perfect scenario for me, as I was getting on a plane, I could leave all of the memories of giving her those Sub-Q fluids, of the big adventures and come back and just start my life from that point. Not so. Once I settled down for my 26 hour journey, I started sobbing. Poor guy next to me on the plane. I thought to myself, this is not going to work, I need to be happy to be an effective seminar presenter. I got the idea to pretend Stoni was still at home with John. Remember how I said I can visualize myself anywhere?  Well, here is where this came in very handy. I got to Australia and had blocked the event, entirely from my mind. I didn’t send out the email announcing Stoni’s passing, even Greg and Laura Derrett, who are my good friends and who were staying in the same house with me in Australia,  didn’t know. I would call home and ask John how everyone was and, although he was concerned for my mental well being, he played along for me.  That period of denial helped me a lot. Part way through the month in Australia I was able to come clean. I wrote the email about losing Stoni and thought that was the end of it. It wasn’t. I got back home and all the memories were stirred up, it was as if the month away hadn’t happened. I had to start to grieve all over again once I was home with all my memories of Stoni. Unfortunately my relationship with Buzz and DeCaff really suffered during the following few months. Twister and Encore, my other two remaining dogs, were always very good with Stoni as she as grew older and weaker. Twister would clean her eyes and Encore, even though a puppy, was very respectful and often would curl up on the same bed with Stoni. Buzz and DeCaff took a far more feral approach and would growl at her if she came near them, it was as if the pack instinct to remove the weak, older dog had kicked in and they treated Stoni as if she had no right to stay. As guilty as I felt for it, I held that against those two when Stoni was gone. For the next  two months I wouldn’t train either of them. In April of that year I went to a big USDAA event in Myrtle Beach and not surprisingly my performance with those two dogs was terrible. I had to heal my relationship with my dogs. I did it by bringing them down to my work out room in the morning and just gave them treats for staying on their beds while I worked out. From there I gradually was able  to do more  with each of them and eventually we were once back to our normal training routine.

Recovery. Guilt really is a waste of emotion. I think it is normal to ignore one (or more) of your dogs when you lose another that was so special to you. It doesn’t make the other dogs any less special, just not as special at that moment in time. I think my recovery would have been faster if I had allowed myself to feel the way I did and not judge myself for it. DeCaff and Buzz forgave me, I just had a harder time forgiving myself. Forget guilt and do what you can, your dogs will appreciate any amount of time you can give them and when you are ready they will be waiting to start back to your training once again. When I lost Speki it was a sudden accident, with no time to prepare. Shelby and Stoni were there and saw Speki’s lifeless body and my outpour of emotion. Stoni had difficulty with it and for the next few weeks any time I would cry, she would run and hide. Shelby, on the other hand , was amazing. This will be hard for you to believe but any time during that period I cried, she would go over to my dog training bag and sit pretty beside the utility articles,  holding that position for an hour if it took me that long to get up of the couch. That is not a lie or even an exaggeration, she really did that. She had never done it before and never did it after those few weeks of me grieving.

Stoni, Shelby and Twister hamming it up for a Christmas card in the mid 90's.

Stoni, Shelby and Twister on a Christmas card in the mid 90's (no this was not photoshopped:)).

I know people that lose a dog and have to remove all of the pictures of that dog from their home, for at least for a year or two. For me it is opposite. I make sure I have a picture somewhere I will see  everyday. Seeing pictures of the dog never makes me sad, quiet the opposite, it always makes me smile. I think once again, you need to follow your heart and do what is right for you. When I lost Twister (less than a year ago) I was so grateful to have my puppy Feature. Feature is comedian and you can not be sad for one minute with her in your presence. I know that is a big part of the reason why I had to go all the way to England to get her. Another thing that has really helped in my recovery from the grief of losing a dog, is something that was recommended to me by Jo Sermon. She suggested I start a journal. What I did was to write only one line that would remind me of a funny story with that dog. I love to look over my journal, it really makes laugh, I mean belly laugh when the memories of those funny stories come back. Who knows, maybe one day it may turn into a book, one that has nothing to do with training, but everything to do with joy. For now it is a great reminder of what awesome dogs I have been blessed with and how they have enriched my life so very much.

Today I am grateful for Speki, Shelby, Stoni and Twister, my four, now passed, great teachers that have all left their mark not only on my abilities, but also my heart.

“I think God will have prepared everything for our perfect happiness. If it takes my dog being there in Heaven, I believe he’ll be there.”  ~Rev. Billy Graham


  1. Great post…I’m the same way, when I lose an animal I have to have photos of them around me, and anything else that’s related to them (supplies etc). I haven’t lost a dog yet, but I hope it’ll be a while before I do…


  2. I lost my first dog in June last year. He was 15 years old. My family spent a moment to say good-bye to him. I couldn’t do it. So I spent a few minutes taking pics of him instead before we took him to the Vet. One of those pics hangs on our kitchen wall so that we can see him every time we eat. 🙂

    I love the beach party photo of Stoni, Shelby and Twister! =)

  3. These two posts are such a gift. I have never had to say goodbye to a dog. Even our family pets passed away when I was away from home at Uni so I never had to deal with it directly. My first dog, Tess, will be 15 years old in a couple of weeks. Tess is also my very first agility dog and over all the years she has taught me so much. The last year has been harder for her due to a bout of vestibular disease last spring. She is now quite frail but is holding her own and still insists on going for her morning walk and still tries to bounce through the snow to chase her brother with the treasured toy. She sleeps a lot these days and avoids walking on the hardwood floors. We have floor rugs on the lino so that she can make it to the back door to go for our walk.

    I love the suggestion that we take her on ‘adventures’ – she does tend to get left behind quite a lot so this is something that we should remedy. Your posts remind me to appreciate the time that we have with her. She is a past Regional and National Agility Champion but funnily enough that is not what sticks in our minds when we think of her – I see her plodding along the path with her beloved toy in her mouth just enjoying being a dog and being with us. I just hope that she continues to wake us up early every morning (even when we don’t want to!) for a long time to come…

  4. the two posts are great. I still miss my dog alot- and it has been four months. I am glad that I am not the only one who put pictures up everywhere in my house of him. I wanted to make sure I see him everyday. I’ve taken some down now, but there is still one in every room of the house.

    I also think think that it is much more difficult when a dog is young- Sam was only five. His death was much harder than my old dog who was 15. I loved them both of course, but it is a different kind of grief.

    • I agree, when I lost Speki at 22 months, I had pictures everywhere of her. With my other ones, I made sure I had pictures to look at but not quite as obsessively. Susan

  5. Interesting timing of your blogs, I spent the weekend really cleaning up the training yard and in someways it seemed a closing of a chapter… am just an agility enthusiast but I lost my first agility partner two years ago before he was 2.5 to a rare cancer. I wrote on the wall of my training shed when he died…listing the goals we achieved and my thanks for his partnership. It struck me that I have been mourning all this time and really only just recognized it. Just as you spoke of, my relationship with my new partner has suffered some from this situation. This weekend I repainted the shed and set things anew and feel renewed myself. Thank you for sharing this synchronicity (sp?) and my heart goes out for your friend.

  6. These posts are great, and both made me cry – and think. I haven’t lost one of my dogs yet, and I hate the thought of it, and I hope I can cope with it well, come the day. The closest thing to losing one of my own was Amanda’s Sam (funny that she posted here before me!). I have a dog in the “Seniors Discount” stage, (and 2 others who are younger) most of the time she acts like 3 year old JRT, not an almost 10 year old. She still competes “part-time” in Agility, but I cherish the moments we go on car rides together and take special trips (like Timmy’s), above all else. These last two days of your blog have really helped me as far as knowing when the right time is to retire her from Agility, and I am beginning to enjoy our “one on one time” more and more. Those are the moments that stick in my mind the most, I agree with what Sue wrote above.

    thank you for sharing your experiences.

  7. I am really glad this topic is being discussed, I am on my first agility dog, and like Sue Charlton (above) I was away at University when the beloved family pet died. As hard as that was on me, the distance did insulate me somewhat I think. I have not experienced the loss of a “huge part of my everyday life, hobbies, and does everything with me dog”, and I’ll admit I am terrified of it.

    I really appreciate hearing about others experiences and coping methods, and am wondering if having another dog at the time has been helpful for others? If so, at what stage was the older dog before you acquired the second dog? Still in Susan’s “Big Adventure Phase” or already onto “Borrowed Time Phase”? I think I am the kind of person that would have to deal by removing all pictures and denying/avoiding as much as possible (that is how I have dealt with human loss) and think it would be easier to do so with another dog.

    No, I’m not going to get another dog as an “Insurance Policy” against the emotional meltdown I foresee when my numero uno leaves me behind 🙂 but I think it would be helpful for me to be able to redirect.

  8. As sad as it is, it’s so nice to read these stories of how loved these dogs were, and how much they can still offer after they’ve passed.

    Just over 2 years ago, at Christmas, I lost my 17 year old poodle. I met him when he was 12, and his owner, who had alzheimers, was no longer able to care for him. We fell in love with each other instantly. He was extremely obese and could barely walk, and I only expected him to last a few weeks. But he lost weight and took up hiking, and we shared five wonderful years.

    Just the other night I had a dream about him. A really simple one–he was just enjoying a back scratch, but I could feel his warm little body, and soft curly hair, and he was smiling and wagging that curly little tail. It was like I’d just been granted a few more minutes of his presence, and I woke up feeling blessed.

  9. love the topic. i have a ten year old that is starting to show signs of going into his senior years. he can’t go hiking with the whippets anymore. he does keep up, but then limps around pathetically for at least a day. what i have started doing with finn is taking him with me when i run errands. he loves the one on one time, even if its just riding shotgun in my van. i swear he’s smiling about having some alone time with me, and i love being alone with him as well. he’s my first agiliity dog and has been very patient with me! he’s very forgiving of my blunders, and still enjoys training and competing….but on a limited basis.when i look into those cloudy eyes, they remind me that i need to tell him every day that i love him, and that we need to spend some time together, without the other dogs around…even if its just a few minutes of tummy rubs.

  10. A friend of mine used to say about horses they hurt us only once in their lifetime… I think this is the same for our dogs.

  11. I haven’t read your blog in a few days, but am glad I did today. Two such good entries. God, its hard to lose a teammate. Like you say, such a difference than losing a pet. I lost my first SP at the age of seven as we were preparing to go to the first AKC Nationals. It was sudden and I was so unprepared for the depth of emotion I felt. It was weeks or months before I could finish a day without crying over his loss. But now, I can see his little nuances in my current competing teammate. They were only together for a few months, but shared a lot with each other. I cherish every token I kept of his and say thanks for the time I had with him. They are such integral parts of our heart when we spend such time training with them. Thanks for bringing these thoughts up Susan. Cathartic……

  12. I have one dog (my first agility partner) on borrowed time and two on retirement due to age and injury. I so appreciated your thoughtful words. It is comforting (to me at least) to have words to define my life. Borrowed time really hit the spot. In my own mind, when nature would have taken my Willy is when our borrowed time began. It is a lovely time because it is so precious. We have our Willy walks and play times and those times will always be little Oscar winner’s in my mind’s movies. Thank-you Susan for sharing some of your ‘inner light’ that I will honor. Namaste-

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