Explore the journey of coping with pet loss, finding solace in a new furry friend, and the challenges of integrating a traumatized rescue dog into a grieving household. Join the author in rediscovering joy, creating new memories, and offering tips for others going through a similar experience.
Last year at this time, I had no dog in my home for the first time in forty years. Coupled with the fact that Lucie (my 14-year-old Bichon) was not sick but just disappeared, the grief was crippling. Lucie had been my emotional support dog through my own cancer treatments, she beat a life threatening illness at seven years old, and we were an incredible therapy dog team for twelve years.
When Covid hit, I started taking Lucie with me everywhere. So, her being gone was like losing my right arm, as well as my heart. A large part of my identity was founded in being a pet therapy team; we visited hospitals, libraries, and locked behavioral health hospitals together. As someone said to me a few weeks ago, if there ever was a dog born to be a therapy dog, it was her (This woman hesitated before bringing Lucie up, because she wasn’t sure how I would react.). Lucie was never afraid, loved everyone, and was always there to offer love without judgement. Lucie would lean over on people and give them a “hug;” thus, she was known as the “hugging dog.”
However, Lucie wasn’t always confident. When I first got her and her sister Gracie, Lucie was frightened of people, timid and hard to train. She seemed to not be intelligent and looked to her sister to lead in everything. When I was choosing who would be the best choice to be a therapy dog, everyone told me to pick Gracie. What I realized, however, is that Lucie needed to have a purpose. Lucie simply needed the job more.
I am bringing up how Lucie was when I first got her as having been an abused rescue because I now have a new rescue dog, one that has also been badly abused. Her name is Deedee, and she doesn’t trust anyone. Whatever happened to her before she came to me, brought her to believe that humans weren’t trustworthy. She is intelligent, but she is incredibly wary. It was a month and a half before she would look me in the face. I have never seen her tail wag or felt her lean into an embrace like she was enjoying it. She steels herself against any embrace but tolerates them. My hopes that she would be a therapy dog are not coming to fruition this year, and maybe never. But I am still not giving up on her realizing that if or when she can be a therapy dog, sharing love with people will have made the work to get there worth it. That is why I must remind myself how far Lucie came in her life, and how much she managed to overcome.
I am missing Lucie this year as much as I did last year, though the uncontrollable crying jags are gone. It is impossible to not notice that Deedee is quite different from Lucie. I miss the calm quiet knowing I had with Lucie, the fact that we could read each other’s thoughts. I must learn to accept the fact (and embrace) that I am creating new memories with Deedee, and that she is not going to be the same as Lucie and that this is okay, in fact, more than okay. The reason I adopted them both is the same though- they needed me, and I needed to be needed by a dog.
At the store, I saw the elf costume that Lucie wore during the Holidays. She was so happy to be at the expos running down the aisles being the representative for Christmas. (I have Deedee dressed up as a Christmas tree, but she isn’t embracing it all. It is obvious that wearing clothes wasn’t part of her old life.) I am reminded of last year at this time, when I had to leave the grocery store, I was crying so hard that I would never need to buy Lucie rotisserie chicken again (meanwhile, Deedee won’t eat rotisserie chicken, she doesn’t like it).
Thate traditions and habits I had with Lucie aren’t going to be traditions that Deedee and I have. She is her own dog and comes with a significant amount of trauma, so she doesn’t trust easily. I’m not going to be able to make Dee the dog that Lucie was (nor should I expect this), but hopefully I can help her grow to her full potential and we can create new memories unique to us.
That is the thing about our pets, and it is one of the reasons we love them so much. They can’t act in a certain way just so we will like them. They are honest about who they are, and they can’t lie or pretend to be something or someone they aren’t. Their experiences make them who they are (as do our own), and in time, my experiences with Deedee will bond us uniquely together, the way I will always be uniquely bonded to Lucie. The trauma that Deedee experienced before will fade away, bathed in the light of our love together. It is a process, one that isn’t always comfortable. In the long run, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love Deedee for who she is. I’ll always miss Lucie, but it is now time for me to help Deedee heal, and in doing so, heal my own heart from the loss of Lucie.
We may find many triggers during the holidays, like pet hair in with the Christmas ornaments. But let moments of fondness also slip in, like I feel when I think of Lucie in her elf costume. That girl really enjoyed a good party.
We grieve as much as we love, and you have shared many moments of happiness over a lifetime with a pet. Make room for the smiles too. Remember all the lessons you have learned about forgiveness, gratitude, and unconditional love from your dog. Be grateful for the time you had with your pet. But make room in your heart for the one still by your side. You both need this.
Ann Hoff is a well-known Animal Communicator, Intuitive Medium, and a regular contributor to our FB Group “I Am not Crazy Because I Talk to Animals” and leads a monthly Zoom call with members wishing to chat with a pet, or simply ask Ann a question. This month's content addresses the earthly lessons we learn through loss.
PetPerennials.com offers a range of cards and remembrances that you can send to someone you know dealing with loss this holiday season. If you can, call or write and spend a moment talking to the person about their loss. It will matter far more than you realize.