How To Keep Your Heart Open When You Lose A Pet: Part 2

Ariel, a 2 pound fluffy white bichon frise tied in a pink bow, was my 21st birthday present from my parents. I giggled with her when she humped the stuffed pig my best friend had given me in college (who knew spayed female dogs still have such libido?)† She decided that pig was her bitch, and I begrudgingly relinquished it to her.

Ariel was there on my first day of medical school.

She was there when I got married – and then five years later, when I got divorced.

She helped me survive four years of medical school and four years of residency.

She got me through†half a dozen health problems and survived four surgeries of her own.

I cried into Arielís fur during the year I called my ďFour Funerals and a WeddingĒ year. We survived love affairs and breakups and cross-country moves in stinky yellow trucks. She expected little of me, which was good, because at that time of my life, I had little to give.

Ariel pawed at my belly and growled when my baby moved, but when she met my newborn, she curled up right next to her and let herself be used as a pillow.

Then all hell broke loose.

It was January 2006, and I was in the midst of my Perfect Storm. I had just given birth to my daughter via C-section, while my radiation-bald father was dying of a brain tumor. Ariel was acting needy with the baby around, and all I wanted to do when I left the hospital was go home to a peaceful place to bond with my newborn daughter and snuggle with Ariel.

But I spent every day of my brief four-week postpartum leave at the chaotic rented beach house where my father got hooked up with Hospice so he could die with an ocean view.

Ariel Was Not Happy.

My father and Ariel had always been close. Because he was disabled with multiple sclerosis, he spent more time sitting on cushy chairs and less time flitting about like I did. So Dad was always a soft place to land with a welcoming lap for Ariel. But once Dad got sick, Ariel got restless.† Itís like she could tell Dad was sick.

Ariel was 16 years old but seemingly in excellent health when Dad was dying. Then all of the sudden, Ariel got sick and quickly decompensated. She spent all day and all night crying. The vet dosed her up with Xanax and pain medication, but nothing helped. He doubled, then tripled the dose. Ariel couldnít see straight but she still kept crying.

I Couldnít Deal

While I was trying to nurse my screaming newborn, while wiping away my own grief-stricken tears, Ariel sat next to me, crying and wailing.

A few days later, my brother, who came out to California to be with me and my father for Dadís last few weeks, wound up in the ICU in full blown liver failure as a rare side effect of the antibiotic Zithromax.

I was losing my mind.

I finally handed Ariel over to my husband Matt and asked him to take Ariel to the vet to make her stop crying.† He called me from the vetís office. The news wasnít good. They wanted to put Ariel to sleep. I wept uncontrollably.

Matt asked me if I wanted him to come home and pick me up so I could be with Ariel while she died.† As I held my newborn, sitting next to my dying father while going back and forth with the ICU doctors who were caring for my very sick brother, I shook my head. I just couldnít face another trauma.

Matt told me afterwards that he held Ariel in his arms while the vet injected the potassium chloride that finally stopped her crying. The image my imagination cooked up about how that scene went down is burned in my memory, even though I didnít watch it. Matt says heís still scarred.

I never got to say goodbye.

Then, a week after I lost Ariel, I lost my father. The next couple of weeks were a flurry of funerals and breast pumps and 72 hour call shifts intermingled with sleepless nights at home.

It wasnít until months later that I noticed a little cedar box engraved with Arielís name, containing the ashes of her cremated body. I couldnít look at them, much less deal with them. I was completely numb.

The Healing

Now, more than six years later, I just came across the little cedar box, and like it was yesterday, I remember Ariel humping the pig and then whimpering beside me as I nursed the newborn who is now skiing on a Lake Tahoe ski slope. Only now that I have mostly healed from the loss of my father, the recovery of my brotherís liver failure, and the other traumas of my Perfect Storm, have I begun to allow myself to lean into the grief of losing my beloved pup.

But itís time. Time to say goodbye. Time to bury her properly. Time to honor the cherished place she holds in my heart even still.

EPILOGUE: I wrote this post two weeks before my beloved 8 year old dog Grendel, who had been Arielís buddy, unexpectedly passed away.† I must have somehow known that it was time to deal with this, because all the unhealed parts of me that never dealt with Arielís death surfaced when, on Fatherís Day, when I was thinking of how I lost my father six years ago,†Grendel went into respiratory distress and died at the vet hospital.

We wound up burying Arielís ashes with Grendelís still body, along with 13 tennis balls and Grendelís stuffed teddy bear. As I write, I can look out my window into the backyard, knowing they are there. As much as my heart hurts, I am filled with gratitude for the unconditional love, the purity of heart, the joyous memories, and the many years of love these dogs gave me.

What about you? Have you lost a pet? Tell us your storiesÖ

Healing my heart,


Lissa Rankin, MD: Creator of the health and wellness communities† and†, author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof You Can Heal Yourself (Hay House, 2013),†TEDx speaker, and Health Care Evolutionary.†Join her newsletter list for free guidance on healing yourself, and check her out on†Twitter and†Facebook.



LMj Sunshine
James Merit5 years ago

Thank you.

LMj Sunshine
James Merit5 years ago

Thank you.

James Campbell
James Campbell5 years ago

A beautifully written piece - and an inspiration for some very touching posts - thank you.
I grew up in the Scottish Highlands and many wild and domestic creatures accompanied me along the path from childhood to to maturity.

Our little tabby girl “Dunkley” whom we rescued from the native bush of New Zealand, lived with us over there for four years. We then brought her to the UK where she lived for another eight years. When she died, I felt as if someone had cut away part of me. I still ache with loss when I recall how precious, loving and funny she was, but I never regret for one moment having her in my life. We waited years to adopt again, partly due to pressures of work, but mostly because we were wary of the pain that would one day come our way. Eventually we gave in and adopted “Boodle” another rescue tabby. She is seven years old and talks all the time, including holding telephone conversations. Each precious day spent with this wee soul is a delight. Some people fail to understand the bond that can exist between a human and another species and criticise with the usual, patronising comment “people are more important”. They cannot conceive that one can love both. I work with children and many of them suffer from a terminal illness. Although I am their doctor, not their parent, something in me is lost when each little life ends. Love, loss and grief is universal and even pain is a gift, since it emphasises just how powerful love is.

Giana Peranio-paz
Giana P5 years ago

You really have been through a lot. I had to put my 19 year old cat, Aviva, who was 19 and was suffering from a tumer under her tongue, she couldn't eat enough or groom herself and I had no choice. The vet came to our house to give her the lethal injection but she didn't want to die and she ran all over the house. My husband had to catch her. The injection didn't work too well and it took much to long. I couldn't handle it any more. My husband sent me to work and he buried her in the mountains with a plaque and a poem. Very unusual for a guy. He has visited her grave several times. I have never been there. But she is with me always and every time I think of her or look at her photo I want to cry although over a year has passed. I feel very guilty. I think the guilt is the hardest to get rid of. Being the angel of death and deciding when she should die. I have a new cat now, and she is a comfort, but I will never forget my best friend Aviva and how sweet and loving and beautiful she was.

Lean Towards Y.
Past Member 5 years ago

You've been through so much.

I had to put down my first dog this year. I've never had to put an animal down before and I left it far too long because I selfishly just couldn't end his life. I miss him and always will. I was fortunate to have already taken a new rescue dog nearly two years before our old dog was too sick to cope any longer. It's still hard to look back and remember but I don't think I would ever allow another one of my pets to suffer through illnesses for so long. I just thank God I could hold his paw as he slipped away. When he breathed his last breath I felt he was saying thank you for ending his pain.

Lynn D.
Lynn D5 years ago

My last dog was 18 when she passed away in my arms....they become better then family members, I still miss her, remember her and am thankful for all she heped me through and for all the happy memories I have of her!

Rachel R.
Rachel R5 years ago

I didn't want to watch my pet rabbit be put to sleep. The hardest thing was turning up to have it done (she had a tumour and was in pain) and the vet asking me if I was sure! I had had all those thoughts, I had said goodbye I was ready to let her go, made the appointment and then he asks if I'm sure! Yes, and it was still the right thing to do. We buried her in my parents garden, and I like to know she is there. We were together 8 years, which is a long time for rabbits. Sometimes I still miss her.

Dianne D.
Dianne D5 years ago

The hardest thing I've had to do is to euthanize a pet and I'd just as soon not be there when it's done, but it is my duty to be with them when they are scared, and to thank them for all they gave me. My sister was going through something similar to the lady in this story and had her dog euthanized without being by his side, and 12 years later, is still regretting that decision. How can you leave a devoted friend to die scared with strangers? I can't even though it's the hardest most heart wretching thing I have ever done. I've been through this a few times and have found an emergency vet to euthanize my pets who do it with dignity and care and even though they charge more, it's worth every dime to me. My cremated pets urns sit on the entertainment center with my TV. That way they remain part of the family. I wouldn't dishonor them by putting them in a closet.

Darla G.
Darla G5 years ago

I know everyone deals with trauma in different ways and I wasn’t in your shoes but I know without a shadow of a doubt that I would NEVER have sent my husband to put my heart dog to sleep.

I currently have a 15 y/o Yellow Lab who is the love of my life and it pains me to no end to know that he won’t be with me too much longer. I debated whether or not to go to California in August for fear of something happening to Buddy while I’m gone for a week. My vet thinks that Buddy has at least another year, based on when she saw him a month or so ago, and I hope and pray she is right. Buddy will be staying at home with my husband when I’m gone so his routine won’t be disturbed too much during my absence.

My 9 y/o Yellow Lab will be undergoing an ultrasound in the coming weeks to see if she has cancer. My father has Alzheimer’s and is in a facility and my mother isn’t accepting the new responsibilities that have fallen on her because of it. My husband is disabled and on oxygen 24/7 for emphysema so I do know a little about the crap that life throws at us.

Laureen Godin
Laurie Godin5 years ago

I lost my pug buddy last September to cancer, I cannot believe that it will be almost a year! The grieving process was worse than losing a human being. It sounds weird, but I had such a difficult time with the loss of Caesar. I miss his snuffles and his pug heart. I have 2 dogs and 2 horses, and I just cannot imagine what it will be like losing them. However, you must not let the pain deter you from sharing your life with our animal friends.