In a perfect world, dogs would never get hurt or sick and would live exactly the same amount of time as we do. And eventually we’d slip away together in unison, just like “The Notebook” except with more dog hair. No veterinary cancer centers, no 28 ingested squeakies, no broken bones–and no broken hearts. Just ice cream cones and nuggets and smiley car rides and couch cuddles forever.
But here in the pooper scooper that is life, it’s not that way.
The world is an unfair place, and dog bestfriendship has moments that propel us into a seemingly unending emotional wasteland. It is truly excruciating to see your number one experiencing an emergency or illness. We’ve been there (and we’ll be there again and again because we just can’t seem to learn our lessons about falling in love with these guys. Man, are they cute).
Ever the innovators, our pups are constantly exploring new ways to cause us ongoing rumination concerning their wellbeing. (It’s like they don’t understand mortality or something). Take a few from the Sidewalk Dog Community:
This loser (I say with all the love in the world) ran away from the dog sitter’s house the night before my wedding. He had never shown any indication of being a flight risk. We spent 4 hours in the dark and rain searching for him in Coon Rapids and found him looking in the windows of a brewery. We almost cancelled the wedding and we were going to make all of our guests form a search party before we found him.
I had my windows all the way down in my car during rush hour with my dog in the back seat. I always did this and we never had a problem. Going maybe 15 mph, I look back and my dog jumped out of the back seat and into the next lane of traffic. She was bumped by another car who thankfully stopped. I finally caught her, put her in the car, and went straight to the pet hospital. She miraculously only had road rash, but I felt and still feel awful. We now have a special harness and seat belt for all car rides.
Yup, I’ve got guilt. My pup is currently wearing the cone of shame while a wound in the top of her paw heals and the wound was my fault. 😢 She always helps “pre-rinse” the dishes as I load the dishwasher. This time, as I put a very sharp paring knife in the top rack, it slipped and as it slow motion fell to the floor, it caught her in the paw. 😞
My dog, who hasn’t been much of a chewer since he was a tiny pup, went on a bender last Thanksgiving, destroying a duvet cover, clothing (he ate a whole bra and a pair of leggings), and his own blanket. Then he proceeds to be total monster at daycare and nearly got himself banned (after 9 years of being a sweet boy). I find out a couple months later that he had sheared a tooth to the pulp; the vet said it was likely incredibly painful at the time, and it had probably happened sometime in the previous few months. 😣 $1K later, he’s missing a few teeth, but is back to being a sweet little moo. Meanwhile, I’m still wracked with guilt for being furious at him for his terrible behavior and for missing something that caused him so much pain. 🤦♀️
My yellow lab once ate a 2lb bag of red licorice and then puked up pink all over my carpet. My daughter was the first home, so I told her to put her in the kennel until I could get home. She was pink now–not yellow. My neighbors thought it was hilarious. Me, not so much.
In addition to the myriad of potential injuries are a host of debilitating illnesses no one should ever have to deal with (rude). Navigating the various hardships that come with this love stuff ain’t easy, but if you’re going through heck with your dog right now, here are a few things that can make it the slightest bit more tolerable.
Your dog knows she is adored endlessly. Depending on the circumstances of what she’s going through, you might feel responsible or at fault. Dog parent guilt is a real thing. But accidents happen, and dogs get sick sometimes. We’ll be the first to admit it: it’s garbage.
“Injuries and illnesses happen to every dog, and it’s important to remember how much better both of your lives are because you found each other,” said Jon Davis, Empawthy Project founder. “These situations do not change the amazing benefits from the love between you two.”
You have shown over the course of these years with your dog that you’re capable of a depth of love that was previously inconceivable. You are doing the best you can. You take such good care of your buddy. Maybe you even saved her life. Extend yourself the love you would extend to anyone else experiencing these difficulties. Forgive yourself.
It’s normal to feel totally isolated in the midst of handling your pal’s accident or illness, but you don’t have to take this on alone. “When a medical issue or any issue arises, you immediately feel like you are on an island,” relates Sarah Lauch, founder of Live Like Roo, an incredible org that exists to support pets (and the people who love them) when they’re faced with a cancer diagnosis. “It is so important to let people know that they are not alone.”
Don’t hesitate to reach out to loved ones. Tough times mean all paws on deck. “Rely on your friends and family. They are there to lift you up,” said Sarah. Your dog is family, and what you’re going through is really, really hard. You are not a burden. And people love to rally behind a dog, so it’s not just people supporting you–it’s people supporting *both* of you.
You’re also not alone if you are losing sleep, experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression, struggling with emotional eating, having difficulty nourishing yourself, or feeling like you can’t manage your daily tasks. Talk to your mental health provider if you are having a hard time. There are therapists who specialize in pet illness and loss, and a lot of therapy practices will even let you bring your dog. (Ask your therapist! I like to bring a PB Kong or Lickimat so mine isn’t bored.) “To be honest, I just started with a therapist,” added Sarah. “It is nerve-racking as hell to sign up and take that first step for help, but I am hopeful.”
If you feel like you don’t have any friends who’d understand, start volunteering at your local rescue (it’s full of dog people), look for support groups in your area (yep, these exist), and join our Facebook groups in Chicago, Minneapolis, Seattle, or Denver (we’ll be your friends).
Take Things One Day at a Time
Whether you’re dealing with an injury that your pup will bounce back from or an illness that’s not so forgiving, one thing’s for sure: it all really sucks. But it can suck a little less (or maybe it sucks the same amount but you can find a way to cry in your car only, like, three times a day instead of 12). Be gentle with yourself when you worry–it is really scary, and you love your dog so, so much. A love like yours is really something special.
But give yourself some breaks. Step away from Dr. Google’s veterinary clinic once in a while and just sit outside together. It’s normal to worry that you don’t have the strength or tools to deal with the coming feelings or decisions; going through those things will give you the strength and tools (life is an abyss, what can I say).
If you are in a situation where you may eventually find yourself having to make *the* decision, Sarah has a final bit of advice: “The question I get asked the most is ‘how did you know when it was time?’ You just know. The animal will tell you. Listen to your vet though, too. But honestly, listen to your heart.”
Find Pockets of Joy
Our dogs fill our days with purpose. They help us access places in ourselves we thought were long gone and feel stuff we never thought we’d feel again. They get diarrhea all over the rug. They’re one of the best parts about being alive.
You’ve always done whatever you could to take good care of your pup. That’s never gonna change. Fur now, roll the window down. Watch the ducks. Get the double cheeseburger.
It’s only hard for *you* to see your dog go through an injury or an illness. He doesn’t think that way. He only thinks, “man, this walk is incredible. This has gotta be as good as it gets.” Because The Beautiful Now is the only setting they have. They teach us how to do joy, and the best way to thank them is to do joy with them.
So if today he wants to get a belly rub on the porch, give it to him.
Now, that’s heaven.
(Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash)
What tips do you have for navigating tough times with your pup? Give us a bork in the comments (and share if you know someone who needs this).
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A wonderful book I read was “The Last Walk” which helped me during my precious Springer’s last months.