The hardest thing that any of us face in life is the death of those we love. This is all so true when the time comes to take your best friend away. For those of us who count ourselves lucky for the experience of having four-legged family members in our lives the journey we take with them always ends far too soon.
You should give thanks for every day you have the privilege of spending time with your four-legged friends for you never know when this time will be taken away from you as they move across to the Rainbow Bridge. One day their life ends and we find ourselves at such a loss you don’t know if the sadness and pain will ever cease.
Living with older dogs presents that realization every day and when you learn of the passing of a friend or family member’s precious four-legged bundle of joy you tend to take an extra glance at your own best friend hoping to deny that rueful day you know will come. When it happens it is one of the most devastating personal events of your life.
Recently, a friend lost their little four-legged girl that another friend described as “. . . being so gorgeous with her glossy red coat (I always called her ‘The Beauuuty’) . . . one of the sweetest, most loving little Tibbie girls I’ve ever known . . . I feel like we’ve lost one of our own.” The loss of these animals impacts not only your immediate family, but friends who share your lives as well.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) recognizes how sad that “. . . everyone who cares for a pet will one day face the illness, old age or passing of their beloved animal friend. It is as natural and necessary to grieve for the loss of a pet as it is for any loved one who dies. And it is important to have compassion and support in one’s time of grief.”
Says Moira Anderson Allen, M.ED., and author of Coping with Sorrow on the Loss of Your Pet, “Intense grief over the loss of a pet is normal and natural. Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s silly, crazy, or overly sentimental to grieve! During the years you spent with your pet (even if they were few), it became a significant and constant part of your life. It was a source of comfort and companionship, of unconditional love and acceptance, of fun and joy. So don’t be surprised if you feel devastated by the loss of such a relationship. People who don’t understand the pet/owner bond may not understand your pain. All that matters, however, is how you feel. Don’t let others dictate your feelings: They are valid, and may be extremely painful. But remember, you are not alone: Thousands of pet owners have gone through the same feelings.”
At one time, there was almost a stigma attached to those who grieved at the loss of a cherished four-legged friend. Now, however, the world is starting to become more enlightened (not totally enlightened as we have chronicled in this column before) to the point where grief counseling is an accepted practice following this type of loss.
An internet search revealed there is even an Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement (APLB) that “. . . is a nonprofit association of concerned volunteers who are experienced and knowledgeable in the tender subject of pet death.” In their mission statement, the APLB acknowledges that everyone is “. . . in this fragile lifeboat together. We believe that each of us must do whatever can be done to help anyone else who is in deep bereavement for a beloved pet. Caring for others is so necessary in this painful encounter — which we all must take part in during our own lifetimes. What we learn is freely offered to anyone who can benefit from it — which immeasurably enriches the giver, as well. That’s what the APLB is all about. We want to share your feelings and experiences. The added insight that only you can help us develop will assist us in serving others. Reservoirs are filled by one raindrop at a time. Come, join with us, and help make the difference.”
The help one accepts is an individual choice and you always need to be careful; especially when making decisions in a fragile state of loss. The bigger point is to know that you’re not alone in your feelings of sadness, confusion and even anger that your best friend has been taken away from you. It is a very empty feeling indeed.
While we mourn the loss of our four-legged friends, we also mourn the loss of those who dedicated their lives to helping them. Recently, the animal world has experienced two such deaths of people known by this columnist. Both Sue Farinato and Susan Hagood worked for The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) dedicating their lives to the cause of animals.
In his blog, HSUS President and CEO Wayne Pacelle talked about “. . . the remarkable gifts of human empathy and compassion.” He wrote that “. . . Sue worked to create a peaceable kingdom wherever she lived. She embodied the best principles of our movement: dedication, selflessness, and compassion, and like so many of those within the HSUS family who worked alongside her, I have had a hard time coming to terms with the fact that she’s gone. We can’t see Sue now in the bodily sense, but we all feel her spirit. And we know that there are so many little lives scurrying and flying about because of her. She left life in her wake.”
The same can be said of Susan Hagood. In an article she penned last year, Operation Box Turtle Rescue, she stated, “. . . we will continue to work with state and local authorities to implement regulations that encourage developers to design projects that minimize the destruction of natural habitat, that time clearing operations to reduce the impact on wildlife populations, encourage burrowing animals to relocate on their own, and—where possible and permitted—consider whether relocation will give those most vulnerable species, like box turtles, a second chance at a future in the wild.”
A “second chance” is what people like Susan Hagood and Sue Farinato gave to the animals they were dedicated to and passionate about protecting. They will be missed both by the people they knew and the many animals they helped through their work.
Of course, we would be naive to expect everyone to care for the animals as much as we do. There have been reports from the United Kingdom that pet scams are a new type of fraud facing the insurance industry. “Insurers believe frauds include owners getting rid of the animal – by selling it or even killing it – then claiming a payout for early death. The animal may never have existed in the first place . . . Carys Clarke, a solicitor who works as an insurance fraud investigator for law firm Berrymans Lace Mawer, said: ‘I am aware of cases were owners have maimed their animals in order to make claims on their policies.'”
Of course, in America, there’s always Sarah Palin to show her ignorance and disrespect for issues many of us see in a different way. In mentioning limits on oil-drilling in Alaska’s National Wildlife Reserve, she stated such rules are voiced “. . . by ‘people who live 4,000 miles from Alaska and will never see a caribou in their lives, much less enjoy one in their stew. They say they want to save the caribou — from me. In the war for oil in this tumultuous world, in the words of (conservative pundit) Ann Coulter, Mr. Caribou may have to take one for the team.'” Ms. Palin may take the death of wildlife lightly and make a joke out of it, but for the compassionate people who both love and respect animals this is no laughing matter. Why would anyone make a joke out of death; be it animal or human?
We shake our heads in disbelief at what some people say and do regarding animals, but for those of us who really care we sigh and reflect on the true impact those four-legged souls have had on our lives.
Remember, the loss of your four-legged friend is a significant loss of a member of your family. In some cases the loss is just sudden and you begin to question why, but in others you watch day by day as your friend fights through old age or illness with a spirit you so admire until that spirit finally gives out and your face turns to tears at the loss of your best friend. It is inevitable and happens far too often in your life, but the only saving grace is the belief many of us have that someday we’ll be reunited with those lost friends when we too cross the Rainbow Bridge.
Mr. Jake, Benji, Sparky, Miss Tory, TeaTime, Boom-Boom and I’m sure others, I’ll being seeing you again and we’ll run to greet each other across that magical bridge . . .