Monday night our beloved pet passed away. Shelby was a magnificent dog. A Rhodesian Ridgeback from a champion line – she was strong like a horse and, perhaps, the most beautiful animal I have ever seen. I would always say that Shelby was the perfect dog. Yes, she looked perfect, people would stop on the street and gawk as she prowled by (I say prowled because she would stride along much like the lions her breed were known for hunting in Africa) but she was so much more than just really beautiful. She was strong, fierce, loyal, protective, kind, gentle (well as much as she could be) and all she ever wanted in life was to be loved and be close to us. She was the kind of dog that you had to earn her respect and trust – she wasn’t interested in loud showy people – she would observe quietly and decide if you were worthy and when she would come and put her enormous head in your lap in acceptance and for some cuddles, it felt like you had won something truly special. Her passing was not expected, yes she was just a month shy of 12 but she still looked magnificent, strong and regal. She would still bulldoze past you to get to where she wanted to be, but within days she got weaker, lost her appetite and before we could fix what we had discovered was wrong her light went out… This past January my first pet passed away – our darling Chihuahua, Gucci, so having this loss just 10 months later feels soul destroying.
Our pets are so special. They take over a part of your heart you may not have even known existed before they enter it… They are our fur babies – and I think people who don’t have pets have a hard time understanding what it’s like to go through a loss of a beloved pet. They can’t speak, they can’t tell us what’s wrong, they often suffer in silence and we, as their humans, are their only advocate. They love us unconditionally and more intensely than I believe one human could love another human. Its an unwavering love, a boundless love and when you are with your fur baby you understand that you are the center of their universe and it is our job to protect them.. We are so blessed to have them in our lives and experience that joy but I am reminded now that every day with them is exactly that, a blessing… Our life expectancy is far longer that theirs and so the hard part of having fur babies is that we will outlive them and so here I am and my pet has passed away.
When my husband and I got married I had one dog, Gucci (the sassy chihuahua) and he had two Rhodesian Ridgebacks (Shelby and Chili) – they were all the same age and we were one interesting looking brood. We were living in London and Gucci was working on her English accent while Shelby and Chili ruled Kensington Gardens. Almost 5 years ago we moved to LA and found a home with an enormous garden and in their senior years they have enjoyed ransacking the fruit trees, chasing squirrels and sunbathing. But they were becoming older. It was hard to see because they all looked so good for their age (save for Chili’s white muzzle which I attributed to the fact that she was a rescue and had a few months of stress before joining our family and leaving an former struggle behind). Our dogs are our family and when Max was born 3 dogs who do not particularly care for children cared for him. They were pleasantly surprisingly gentle with him and nurturing, protective and patient. They understood he was also one of us. But as time ticked on we lost Gucci and now our beautiful Shleby girl has passed away too. She had chest X-rays last week which would reveal a massive tumor on her lungs and we went into savior mode making appt with oncologists and surgeons to do whatever was necessary to prolong her life while still making sure not to compromise her quality of life. Perhaps she had been suffering more than we knew because Monday night she took one last breath and went to go join Gucci in heaven.
So now what? Our pet has passed away and we cannot get her back. We have our darling Chili, who is certainly feeling the pain as much as we are. We must all grieve. We must focus on what we have, trust that our beautiful dogs have found each other in heaven and are sharing a salted pigs ear together while watching over us… But it doesn’t bring them back… So, I will share with you what I shared with you 10 months ago when our Gucci passed… A question I hear a lot for people that children when a pet has passed away. How to explain it to them without scaring them but also while introducing the concept of mortality. Our Max is a little over 2 now and he was there when we were trying to revive Shelby, he doesn’t understand what happened but I have still been trying to explain it. This advice I received a couple of years ago was the best I have ever heard for explaining a pet’s passing to kids and how to grieve in front of, and with them:
1) When your pet passes, have an open conversation with your child. It will probably be the first time your little one ever becomes aware of the concept of death.
2) After your pet has passed away use definitive language. This means, don’t use words like: “Shelby has gone away” “Shelby is in a better place” or “Shelby is no longer with us.” This is too vague and could insinuate that she might come back… Or that when you say you’re going away (lets say a business trip or what not) there could be the confusion that you might not come back.. Using words like “Shelby died and we loved her very much and miss her” are fine, if you want to say “Shleby went to heaven and she is with the angels” and then explain what heaven is and that’s where people go when they die (if that is what you believe) then that is fine too. The key is to make sure to use finite language to avoid any misinterpretation..
3) Its okay to cry in front of your little one. Expressing emotion and sadness is good and therapeutic. Its show your children that its okay to mourn and be sad. But, also explain to your little one why you are crying, “mommy is crying because she misses Shelby and is sad. Being sad is okay and crying is okay because its how we deal with losing someone we love.” This is important because it tells your little one that expressing emotion and handling grief is not something to bottle up or hide.
4) Do not let your little one see you break down completely. Believe me, in the last few days my husband and I have been in and out of hysterics – its important to remove yourself from your child if this is coming on. While it is okay for them to see you shed a tear, they don’t need to see you melt down. As much as your heart is breaking over your loss – a break down could scare a child and make them feel very uneasy and scared. If you feel like you can’t control the emotion, go to the bathroom or into another room until you can pull yourself together.
I will be honest. I am broken right now. I wish I cold stop my hands from shaking, my heart from racing and my legs from wanting to give out from under me. A friend of mine sent me this link about losing a pet that’s basically explained by a 6 year old. To sum it up a family has to put their beloved family pet down and they decide it would be okay for their 6 year old to be with them when they did it. Once the dog passed they were talking about how unfair it is that animals live such short lives and the little boys says that he knows why. He says that we as humans are put on the earth to learn how to love and be kind and good and that dogs already know all of those things so they don’t need to stay as long… Profound, true, beautiful and somewhat comforting.
We have loved our darling Shelby beyond words – we have loved her from the depths of our beings and we would have done anything for her and I believe that we gave her the greatest life. She was my husband’s constant companion – truly the definition of man’s best friend. It is going to take awhile before we can breathe again. I am going to take a few days off from the blog to grieve and focus on my family but will be back because distraction is truly the best medicine. We will focus on what we do have, a beautiful, healthy boy and an older, but still very healthy, gorgeous pup. We will put one foot in front of the other while still acknowledging every day the enormous impact our darling Shelby has had on our lives. She has made our universe better simply by being our dog. She will NEVER be forgotten, we will never not feel this loss but we are forever grateful to have had the opportunity to be her parents. We are the lucky ones for having known her, snuggled with her and to have been loved by her – so we shouldn’t cry for ourselves. We have been blessed. But now we have to learn to live without her… Thank you to our beloved Shelby and Gucci for teaching us what love is, for teaching us how to be parents and for giving us so much joy. We will miss you forever. I wanted to share some pictures of our beloved little girl (she may have been a hundred pounds but she’ll always be our little lady). Thank you for letting me share…