My dog wasn't my child, but that doesn't mean his death wasn't difficult

Apr 19, 2016 at 3:53 p.m. ET
Image: Egumeny/Getty Images

I had two young boys. A house. A husband. And most days, my geriatric miniature pinscher Taz did little more than lie in his bed. He was probably partially deaf, the vet said. I thought he was just ignoring me. And he may have cost us a nanny (though that was a blessing in disguise) because he could rarely make it outdoors to pee. And yet, when the new nanny (the one so great that she’s now our kid’s godmother, not the other one — keep up) called to say Taz wasn’t doing so well, I left work early and immediately rushed him to the vet.

I’d been through a lot with Taz over 11 years. I'd adopted him from a rescue group, and I remember preparing for the home check and interview, fluffing pillows, vacuuming and removing clutter. In hindsight, it seemed more like I was preparing for a first date than chatting about a dog that would weigh 10 pounds at his best. He already had a name when I got him, but Taz fit him perfectly. He was a whirlwind, not atypical of the breed. But at 5, he already had old man traits. He’d rather curl up in the crook of your knee to nap and couldn’t sleep until he’d burrowed himself into a pillowcase.

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He traveled more than some humans: from Florida (two apartments) to Germany (two apartments) to Oklahoma to South Carolina (one apartment, one house) to Arizona (two houses). It wasn’t all roses with Taz — he sometimes walked too loudly (bear with me; I had three jobs in college, and worked nights for a while in Arizona). In Germany, my supposedly neutered pup developed an, um, problem after spending a week at a pet hotel with an in-heat female, which required an expensive surgery and leaving him perfectly healthy, but with one sort of disturbing side effect — paraphimosis (which I won't get into, but yes, it affects the dog's penis).

I first started noticing he had problems a year or two after our move to Arizona. My brother was the first to suggest that he was sick. “You’ve had him a long time,” he said. “It might be time.”

I ignored him. Then my mom said something similar a little while later. “That last move may have been too much for him,” she said.

But I wasn’t being sentimental. Just practical. Or so I thought.

His weight dropped from a healthy 10 pounds to 7, then 6. I was at the vet every other week. Results weren’t conclusive but indicated some kind of cancer. A very expensive test could confirm it. “But what if it’s cancer?” I asked. At 16, really, there was nothing they could do.

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When I dropped him off at doggy day care for a weeklong work trip with the family, I gave them specific instructions. The vet had given him special food to bring his weight up. With his paraphimosis, he needed to be constantly lubricated to make sure everything settled back into place.

Boy with dog
Image: SheKnows

A day after we returned from the trip, I got the phone call from the nanny. Taz couldn’t walk the few steps to make it outdoors. He would walk just a few steps, she said, and fall down. When I got home, he was still wrapped in the blanket I’d picked him up in from the day care. One week had passed since his last vet visit, but he’d lost another full pound. It was time, the vet said. He couldn’t stand on his own. I held him as they pumped his veins with something that would put him to sleep, then stop his heart. I cried as it happened. And as much as I tried to stop those tears, I couldn’t. Even now, remembering it, it feels like it just happened yesterday, though it’s been two years.

Our pets — our dogs, or cats, or whatever — they can’t talk to us, but the bond is no less real than that of a family member or close friend. I mean, they are family members — they live with us, they make messes, they make us smile.

According to the Humane Society, coping with the death of a pet affects the entire family, even other pets. And as anyone who has been through it can tell you, it's devastating.

So go ahead. Grieve. Remember your pet. Hang on to those memories. Don't be ashamed to take off a day (or two) if your job allows. Taz wasn't "just a pet" — and I refuse to apologize for taking time to grieve over him. And neither should you.

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