We recently launched Tributes, an online section dedicated to stories about our beloved dogs past. I’m glad we’ve set aside a space for celebrating our best friends and commiserating over their loss because I believe it’s another rich facet of our lives with dogs.
A few years ago, I worked on a proposal for a book about pet loss. Nothing came of it, in part, because publishers felt it was a downer. But I thought differently. Talking to a variety of people about their dog’s illnesses and deaths, and the grief that follows, gave me a special appreciation for this relationship. I discovered that a dog’s death allows us to be independent and hands-on in a way we can’t be with human beings. When the people we love die, a tsunami of regulations, infrastructure and commerce comes between us and them. Not so with our dogs.
We brush out their fur, wrap them in blankets and bury them in holes we dig ourselves. We freeze them until the kids come home, so everyone is home for a burial. When they are in severe pain, we release them through euthanasia. Sometimes we cremate our dogs; sometimes we preserve them through taxidermy. We spin their fur into wool or keep a small bundle as a keepsake. We make video slideshows, host memorials at dog parks, make contributions to shelters and animal welfare organizations in their name. The quirky and deep relationships we have with dogs find some of their most epic expressions in this endgame.
And because dogs’ life spans are usually a fraction of our own, we are often called upon to take these steps—making choices that touch on the raw edge of our own mortality—over and over again. We enter into these relationships with an awareness of this responsibility, and it seems to me, this honor. It’s not like having a child, when we can tell ourselves we’ll outlive our son or daughter. And it’s not like falling in love, when we tell ourselves it might never end.
In the same way our dogs persuade us to walk into a cold, foggy night, when we’d rather stay warm by a fire, they pull us into the big mystery.
I hope you’ll visit our Tributes page and contribute your own story either as a comment or a memorial of your own. To include a photo with your tribute, send story and image to firstname.lastname@example.org.