So the next day, I wrote him a thank you note and dropped it off. Then I wrote thank you notes to her veterinary teams for giving us so much extra time together.
I also wanted to give back.
Peach was a pampered pooch with an extensive wardrobe: winter coats, knit sweaters, rain jackets and even party dresses. I washed them and dropped off a bag of clothes for her veterinary team ― knowing some of them have little dogs ― and asked them to donate the rest.
One of my best friends works at an animal shelter, so I loaded her up with leftover medications, beds, blankets, leashes, bowls, harnesses, treats, food and toys. I made a donation in memory of Peach to the rescue organization that saved her, and walked on Team Peach Pals in a charity fundraiser for homeless pets.
Even though there are so many pets in shelters waiting for forever homes, I didn’t know if I’d ever be ready to adopt another one. So it felt comforting to think of Peach helping other strays.
A few days after Peach died, I posted about her life and death on social media, and concluded with, “This is the first dog I’ve ever lost, so I’d welcome any coping tips in the comments below. Please give your pets an extra snuggle in honor of Peach tonight. Snuggle photos also welcome in the comments below.”
I’ll never forget the compassionate response. So many people could relate to the pain of losing a pet. The prevailing wisdom was to feel free to cry, allow myself time to grieve, and that ultimately, nothing would help but the passage of time. Then gifts started arriving, like wildflower seeds to plant in Peach’s memory, donations made in her name to nonprofits, and a “Rainbow Bridge”
When grieving a pet, you’re not alone.
One of the best decisions I made was to attend online pet loss support groups offered by the veterinary network, Lap of Love, which offered free sessions (which happen every day) as well as a 6-week pet loss “journey” course for good measure.
The counselor offered concrete tips for my situation. For instance, putting a poster near my desk where Peach’s favorite bed used to be helped blunt the pain I’d felt whenever I glanced over and found the spot empty.
I’d found it challenging to focus on work, so she suggested I jot down anything “activating” about Peach ― say, an insensitive email ― and promise myself to deal with the emotions after I was done working.
She also had me write a letter to Peach to tell her what I would have done differently if I’d known it was her last week. I certainly wouldn’t have been dancing in a kidney costume at a charity fun run the morning of what turned out to be her last day, but there was a lot I’d do again: snuggles on the couch, rides in her stroller, sneaking her bits of apple or blueberries while I made breakfast each morning.
In “When Your Pet Dies: A Guide to Mourning, Remembering, and Healing,” Alan Wolfelt, PhD, writes that “openness to accepting the joys of a new animal relationship will be affected by how intentionally you mourned the death of your special pet. I always encourage people to mourn well so they can go on to live and love well again.”
After six months of mourning intentionally, Bryan and I attended a shelter fundraiser with adoptable dogs ― and came home with a tiny black dog with a patch of white on his chest.
Tux makes us laugh every day with his antics, from the way he sticks out the tip of his tongue (I’ve learned that’s called a “blep”) to his habit of grabbing a toy and running in circles when he’s excited. He cuddles up to Rio, who seems invigorated having a canine sidekick again, and like Peach, Tux loves a good nap in a lap.
Of course, no dog could ever replace Peach. We shared a special relationship, just as Rio and I share a unique relationship.
I’m grateful, though, that adopting another dog has replaced sadness with joy ― that I’m able to live and love well again. As a friend remarked recently, “I’ll bet Peach would approve.”