“Had I been irresponsible for extolling the joy of pets when their loss is so devastating?”

When my husband, Bryan, and I adopted our first dog over 13 years ago, it changed my life. I was in my 30s and felt like I’d been let in on a wonderful secret: Dogs are amazing.

Rio, a Labrador retriever mix, showed such a zest for life ― whether bounding up a hiking trail or wagging happily whenever we encountered other people or pets ― that it was impossible not to have my mood elevated just being with him.

I was so taken by him that I narrowed my focus as a journalist to pets, covering everything from dog-friendly travel and inspiring working dogs, to training tips and veterinary care. I wanted to learn as much as possible about this incredible species and share it with the world.

When Rio was 7, we adopted a second dog, Peach, a 9-pound poodle mix rescued as a stray. She had a cancerous tumor the size of a fist on her chest, matted hair, numerous teeth that needed to be removed, and a heart murmur. Her life expectancy was just between 2 1/2 and 16 months, and she needed a loving home to live out the rest of her short life.

But Peach proved plucky. Instead of acting sick, she delighted in long walks, pretending to eat my shoelaces whenever I’d lace up my hiking boots, and snuggling into a lap whenever possible. Her ears flopped back and looked like wings when she’d gaze up at us, wagging her tail, asking to be held.

Our little girl beat the odds and lived for another 5 1/2 years. Bryan and I had almost fooled ourselves into thinking she’d live forever. But earlier this year, she stopped eating. We rushed her to the emergency room, but her body was shutting down. The doctor called the next morning to say she’d stopped breathing.

It hit me hard. I’d lost my first dog and had no idea how to survive the undertow of grief. Had I been irresponsible for extolling the joy of pets when their loss is so devastating?

As a pet journalist, I knew there must be resources and support available. So I threw myself into investigating ways to navigate the death of a beloved dog. Here are a few things I discovered that helped.

I tried to embrace gratitude. Years ago, I had interviewed a veterinarian who told me he wished more people would say, “Thank you,” when they say goodbye to a pet. Most people say, “Sorry.” So as we said our goodbyes, I thanked Peach for the cute way she’d get the zoomies after a bath, for the joy she’d brought to our lives, for making everyone she met fall in love with her.

I noticed how trim her nails were and told her how much Terren, her groomer, would miss her ― and felt a wave of gratitude for the care he’d given her over the years.


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