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7 Seconds and She was Gone--Secret Burden, Incredible Grief


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We lost our Little Bear on Monday. She was a dear little girl, only 10 years old and she came down with an illness we were never able to definitively identify after two vets and many visits. Repeated blood tests were normal. X-rays revealed nothing. The best they could tell us was "cognitive canine disorder" similar to Alzheimers in adults. She didn't appear to be in any pain, but this once joy-filled little dog that was so full of love and zest for life no longer wagged her tail at all, or enjoyed anything she used to...she just slept and ate. It broke our hearts to see her like this. She had the heart of a puppy and had always met us with wiggles and wags--like she hadn't seen us in a week, even when we'd only been gone five minutes. She often laid next to us, but was like a little toddler...never wanting to be held, always wanting to play. For the last couple of months she barely lifted her head when we came home. She slept on our chests for hours at a time, snuggling under our chin and pressing her check to our lips for kisses. 

Our son suffers from a medical condition and she has been the light in his life through the years of struggles he's faced. He was devastated watching her decline and we took her to multiple vets looking for an answer. She started to become confused, staring at the carpet and walls, seemed to forget how to drink so we mixed water in with food we cooked and prepared at home. The last vet we took her to said she could live for a long time like this and he was sorry he couldn't do anything more. He was grateful she was eating and said that was the main concern. He said this was the new normal for her and we would never have the dog back that we once had. It was hard to hear that but it helped us move forward and let go of pouring hundreds and hundreds of dollars we didn't have into tests that didn't reveal anything. He gave us medicine to try for the cognitive disorder but we didn't see a difference, she was still on it when we lost her.

It was hard to think of her living like this for years, but we also couldn't bear to put her to sleep since she didn't appear to be in pain. I did research on canine cognitive disorder and read one source that said dogs with CCD lived longer than dogs without it, one possible reason being that they visited the vet more often. We missed our joy-filled Little Bear but we realized this was going to be our new normal and we were going to love her just as much and make her as comfortable as possible.

We had deaths in our extended family over the past two years that were untimely and devastating, and in the wake of those deaths, we accepted an invite to go on vacation with our extended family. For months we planned a once in a lifetime vacation. It gave those grieving something to focus on and look forward to. In the meantime, Little Bear started showing symptoms, and was diagnosed with CCD. We hated the thought of leaving her to go on vacation. She had always come with us but it would be impossible for her to make this trip. Since she wasn't in pain we thought she would be okay if we left her in the care of a trusted family member who lives a few hours away and who is nurturing and loving. We pictured them snuggled for hours together. She had always loved going to their home since she was a puppy and knew them by name. We knew this was the best place she could be while we were gone. 

We were gone two weeks. We missed her everyday and couldn't wait to get home to pick her up. Our son said over and over again how much he couldn't wait to see her. We felt the same way. There were several sick people that we were exposed to on our way home from vacation and our son and I picked something up...by the evening of our return, we were both sick. I didn't want to expose the couple who watched Little Bear to whatever we had, so my husband made the trip to pick her up alone. That night, I Face-timed him and saw Little Bear sleeping on his chest.  I couldn't wait to hold her again and tell her how much I love her. But that night, the unthinkable happened.

The couple had been letting Little Bear out on their fenced in and gated deck to go to the bathroom. They felt it was less confusing for her than going in the grass and said they just rinsed the deck off after she went to the bathroom. So that night, my husband let her out on the deck. The deck wraps around two sides of their house. There are several bird feeders on the deck and in the past, we've seen raccoons at the feeders at night. There haven't been raccoons there in a couple of years, but my husband didn't know this. As our Little Bear paced for a place to go to the bathroom on the deck, my husband decided to make sure there weren't any raccoons lurking around the corner of the deck that might surprise her. He walked around the side of the deck to make sure the feeder was clear and it was. When he turned back around, Little Bear was gone. He said he couldn't have looked away for more than 7 seconds. It was raining hard. He quickly looked around the deck and she was no where to be found. He thought she may have walked through the slats of the deck so he jumped the gate and ran to the area below the deck. They have a walkout basement and it would've been a 10 foot fall for her. He looked all around and couldn't find her. He yelled for help and the couple watching her brought flashlights and called the sheriff. Within 1-2 minutes of her disappearing, three people with flashlights were looking for her. Under bushes, through the lawn, behind flowerpots and under cars. They live in a rural area with woods and ravine. The sheriff and my husband searched the hill and ravine. The drove the neighborhood and searched the properties of the surrounding homes. Neighbors joined the search. It was pitch dark and after two hours of looking in the rain, they called off the search. My husband and a couple people looked again in the morning. They never found her.

My husband called me with the news the morning after she disappeared. When I assured him it wasn't his fault, he broke down crying like I've only heard him cry once before in over two decades of marriage. I could imagine the panic he had gone through and my heart broke for him. I felt in my heart she had died and that there was nothing more he could do to find her. There are numerous coyotes in the area and owls. I felt in the seven seconds my husband was checking for raccoons, an animal took her. I couldn't imagine her pushing through slats on the fence and falling over the side and no one finding her. They were searching with flashlights within a couple minutes, the only delay being that my husband started looking even before that, without a flashlight, while he called for help. Little Bear had been so weak and tired. When she came up against an obstacle, whether furniture or a wall, she would stop and stare at it, or turn around and start pacing. But now I can't stop thinking. What if she pushed through the slats and fell off the deck? I know they looked for hours and hours for her. Surely they would've found her? But maybe they missed a spot I would've found her in. I can't imagine what happened to her. I can't sleep at night thinking of where she might be or how she died. She was such a loving dog. The most loving dog I have ever known. She deserved so much better than this. I feel like I failed her.

When we left her to go on vacation we knew she had CCD, but we thought she would live for years. While we were gone, the couple watching her said she declined even further but they didn't want us to know because we were out of the country and couldn't have gotten back any sooner. They said she seemed to lose her hearing completely and her eyesight was worse. She bumped into things. Would run into their legs and act like she was caught and couldn't get out. She paced constantly and only laid down when she was exhausted--but never let them hold her. The snuggling I had imagined never happened with them. How it breaks my heart to think of her anxious heart. Was she wondering where we went? My husband cried and told me he didn't want to tell me but when he got to the couple's house, Little Bear didn't know who he was. She didn't want him to hold her. I told him I saw her laying on his chest when we Face-timed but he said that was the only time she let him hold her. I keep thinking, what if I hadn't gotten sick and I'd gone with my husband to pick her up? Enough of the events of that night would've changed and she wouldn't have disappeared. Maybe I would've let her out in the grass. Or let her out earlier and an animal wouldn't have gotten her. Or I could've held her and told her l loved her and then when she went out that night she wouldn't have run away. She would've felt warm and safe. Was she afraid when she tried to get off the deck? Was she looking for us? Looking for cover from something that scared her? Looking for the car so she could go home? Was she just disoriented and she walked through the slats? Did she push her way through? But if she pushed her way through, the drop was ten feet. Wouldn't they have found her? Then it had to be an animal. An owl? A coyote? I don't know what happened to her! Seven seconds and she vanished. What if I had gone down to look for her the next day? Maybe if she had fallen off the deck I could've found her. But hours upon hours had been spent looking for her and I believed she was gone. Now I lay awake at night and am tormented during the day thinking what if...what if she is still out there? What if I could have found her but instead she died in the rain? Afraid and alone. If you think I could've done more, please don't tell me. I can't bear it.

I didn't tell our kids or anyone else what really happened. Everyone knows how sick she was with CCD. We are telling people she died overnight before my husband could bring her home.  No one has questioned that she died overnight or how she died. She was a shell of her former self. We can never tell our kids what really happened. Because of our son's medical condition, the stress of hearing the devastating news of how she disappeared could actually affect his health and we don't want to take the risk.  He would wonder, as we do, is she still out there suffering in the woods? Did an animal take her and she died that way? No matter how we look at it, she died a terrible death or is dying one now. She was a tiny thing...less than ten pounds. I can't imagine she is still alive. And yet I wonder. And my heart breaks for her. I just can't stand the thought of her being out there. The couple that watched her thinks we are terrible for not telling our kids and have told us that repeatedly. They feel we are putting them in a position of lying. We tell them we just aren't sharing all the facts. We believe she has died. What good will come from sharing about her disappearing? We are tormented as adults. What would knowing the circumstances do to our kids except torment them as well? Risk our son's health? Our daughter has cried until her eyes are practically swollen shut. Right now they believe she is gone, died from causes they haven't even asked about because they saw her decline. In their minds they know why she died without us saying a word. A dog friend is buried on the couple's property. They think she is buried next to him and that is the one fact we made up. But she is probably on the property somewhere. She will never come home and that breaks all of our hearts. We had to provide an explanation for that and the kids never questioned it...only cried that they wished she would've died at home so should could be buried here. 

It is a burden not to be able to share my torment with anyone. It's why I'm writing this. The couple that watched her and my husband are the only ones that know the anguish of how she was lost. The couple makes me feel bad every time I've talked to them because they keep telling me I'm lying and they feel it's the wrong thing not to tell the kids she vanished and we don't know where she is exactly or how she died, or even if she is really dead. I can't imagine she isn't. There are only a handful of neighbors spread out over acres and acres of woods. And my husband's heart is broken enough without me telling him how upset I am not knowing where she is. He always took such good care of her. Stood outside with her every time she went to the bathroom in our yard, and we live in a suburban area. He was always afraid a coyote or hawk might get her. He spent seven seconds checking for raccoons so they didn't harm her, he turned around, and she was gone. My poor husband. He is devastated. I can't tell friends because I'm too afraid someone will slip up and say something. I am going to take the circumstances of her death to my grave. Except here. I'm thankful that here I can share what happened with strangers...strangers who are somehow more than that because they know the grief of losing a pet they love. 

Our children are out of the home at the moment and it's the first time I've been able to really break down and cry about the terrible way she left us. I've read about dogs going off to die. Maybe she did that. But if she did, I believe it was because she was afraid and confused, not to spare our feelings. I just can't believe she is gone. And I can't believe she left this way. We owed her more than this. I wish I could go back and give her a comfortable transition...put her to sleep in my arms. Warm and safe in her own home. I looked into that option so I would be prepared if the time ever came. Prepared to have someone come to our house, versus taking her to the vet to be put to sleep. I wanted her to feel as loved and safe as possible if and when the time came. I thought she would live for years. Content. Not happy--as much as we wanted that for her. Not in pain. But content eating and sleeping and being loved by her family for several more years. I thought confusion is no reason to put her to sleep. The vets never even suggested it. They were happy she was eating. They said CCD is fairly common and we just needed to know that she won't be the same as she was before. But I think it may have been something else. Something they missed. How else could she have declined so rapidly? We will never know but I wish with all my heart that we could go back in time and spare her this terrible ending to her precious life. I just hope and pray she is already free from the confines of her body. That she went as quickly and as painlessly as possible. That somehow she was at peace when she passed. And I'm crying again because I know our sweet little bear didn't go peacefully in the rain on the dark night she vanished. Dear God, please help me bear this pain. Please, I pray, may our Little Bear be with you now. I am thankful for the gift that she was in our lives. I'm thankful to anyone who made it to the end of this post with compassion in their hearts for the pain we are in. If no one did, it still helped my heart to write it. May all who are grieving be blessed with peace. And if you are reading this, may you remember the blessing of the time you were able to share with those you love. 

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I am so sorry about all you have gone through with your little bear.  This is a nightmare no one should suffer.  The worst part is the not knowing exactly what happened...

My cat disappeared three years ago and I think a cougar got her (from the forest where we live) but the unanswered questions can drive you nuts.  I had to come to the same conclusion as you, that it was over, that she is free from pain, and we'll meet again in the next life.

I hope the thought of it being somewhat like this, brings you comfort:


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My heart hurts for you as I read your tragic story, and I am so sorry this happened to you and your family. As I’ve written elsewhere (Pet Loss: When A Pet Goes Missing) I’ve been through this myself, and I know from experience that this can be even worse than a death, since you have no idea what really happened to Little Bear. The feelings associated with this sort of loss are the same as if you were certain of her death, including sorrow, longing, denial, anger and guilt. And as you so vividly describe, your grief is complicated by all the horrid images you conjure up in your mind as you imagine the traumatic circumstances of her death ~ which constantly interrupts or delays the process and makes it far more difficult to resolve. It is like harboring a wound that cannot heal.

Since you know that your dog was already severely handicapped with CCD and therefore vulnerable to attack, and you know that she was lost in an area with predators that could have taken her ~ and since you’ve conducted an extensive search to no avail ~  it seems unlikely that her body will ever be found. The only avenue left for you to pursue, if you are interested, may be to engage the services of an animal communicator. (See Maylissa’s discussion of this in another thread, here. You’ll find listings of those who specialize in this field on my Animal Communicators page.) 

Apart from the challenges of coming to terms with your own grief at this tragic loss, you’re also faced with the burden of keeping all of this a secret. While I completely understand your need to protect your children from the painful details (so many of which are just unknown and therefore left to the imagination) ~ I question the wisdom of perpetuating a lie with your children. The risk you take is that sooner or later the truth may come out, especially since your friends do know what happened and are not supportive of your keeping this secret, so you are not really in control of this information. If your children ever do find out that you’ve lied to them about this, they will wonder why you were not totally honest with them, and they may begin to wonder what else you may have lied to them about. As painful as it may be for you to be open about all of this, you are paying a heavy price to be suffering in silence, and you are preventing your children from learning some valuable lessons about life and loss. (I am reminded of an article I read this week, The Myth of Protecting People from Suffering.) See also Pet Loss: Breaking The Sad News

This is totally your decision, and you know your kids better than I do (including their ages, level of maturity, etc.) ~ but I encourage you to find a way to explain ~ in as loving and as gentle a way as possible ~ that you need to tell them what really happened the night that Little Bear disappeared. You don’t need to go into detail about all the horrible things that you imagine MIGHT have happened. Just stick to the facts: that your husband took his eyes off her for a few seconds, that she disappeared from the deck, that he and your friends launched an extensive search and made every effort to find her, but were not successful. Then explain how you are feeling now ~ which gives your kids permission to feel their feelings too. You can share your sorrow at never knowing exactly what happened to Little Bear, without imposing the details of your worst fears and imaginings onto your children. Encourage them to talk with you about all of this, and to share with you their thoughts about what might have happened to Little Bear. That way, you’re all in a better position to reassure and comfort one another than you are by hearing only your own thoughts and continuing to suffer in silence. 

I think the best way to take care of your children’s grief at the loss of Little Bear is to take care of your own grief first ~ and if you find that you are unable to do this by yourself, I hope you will consider a session or two with a qualified grief counselor ~ preferably one who understands the human-animal bond and specializes in traumatic loss.

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Jilly, the way you lost your Little Bear is indeed tragic and hugely agonizing, just as everyone has said, and I too am so very sorry for your whole family, and for Little Bear. I have imagined many times over (because I have an overly-active imagination) how losing a precious furry family member in these kinds of horrible ways, and not having the most-needed answers, would be so incredibly shattering, and would keep that wound open even wider than usual, as Marty already suggested. 

Marty took the words right out of my mouth, so to speak, but much more eloquently than I could have put it. Not to make you feel worse, but after all my own hardships and in my later years now, I do believe that old truism - "honesty is the best policy" -  is a wise one for many sound reasons, some of which Marty already gently outlined. And really, I want the best for ALL of you.

I will share that in reading your story I couldn't help but remember my own neighbour's story of one of their cats who was let out at night, then went missing and whose body or collar were never found (coyotes were suspected), and her thoughts and feelings around that loss. In similar fashion, she had decided not to tell their grandson the truth because he loved that particular cat dearly and was also a very "sensitive" boy, so she thought any probable 'realities' would be too traumatic for him to handle. I can't recall now exactly what lie she used, but just remember it was rather vague and general in nature. But I couldn't help thinking that in the long run this wasn't going to be healthy for him, nor for their relationship, in that it wouldn't allow them to have meaningful and deeper conversations about their shared grief over this cat, nor even of life's larger lessons when he was older. I went away even sadder about the whole situation than only about this poor cat's likely end.

Then in a much later conversation, she kept repeating to me that even these many months afterwards he was still exhibiting anxiety and grief, always wondering aloud why his cat was gone and hadn't returned, how guilty she was still feeling for having lied about it and for having to repeat the lie when his pining continued. She had become quite worried about his reaction by then. It had struck me that he felt he couldn't trust life itself, due to several details left in limbo within the story he'd been given. I always wondered then, especially since he was a sensitive kid, if he had actually initially picked up on the fact that something didn't ring true (children often are quite perceptive that way), and that if he had, was he actually subconsciously suffering additional grief from a loss of trust in his grandmother, and hence compounding his grief over the loss of this cat?

This probably isn't what you want to hear, but I know from painful experience that trust and honesty are some basic foundations of healthy relationships, and you can't truly have one without the other. I can never forget how my own family's lies and secrets caused me immense damage (never disclosed but discovered by me, here and there), and how that family dynamic set me up in unhealthy ways. Such choices always find ways to ripple outwards. 

Personally, I wouldn't want to see the loving relationship you can build with your children weakened by cracks in either of these foundational building blocks. The "known facts" that Marty mentioned still support both honesty and trust, and can open the door to tactfully and age-appropriately sharing in your collective grief to bring you all closer together, rather than creating a rift. And although your son has a medical condition you're concerned about negatively affecting, you may or may not be aware that it is now known that whatever feelings and thoughts reside within family members at any given time are energetically affecting everyone concerned, regardless of whether you're trying to hide them or not. So if you feel badly about lying, that too will get passed along in one way or another. Even uncomplicated grief had enough negative effects as it is. Therefore, I would kindly encourage you to drop that additional burden, for everyone's sake.  

As to your concerns over why your Little Bear suddenly became so cognitively impaired, I wonder if she had somewhat recently been vaccinated prior to? I only mention it because it reminds me of a neurological case one of our homeopathic vets dealt with, where a recent vaccination turned out to be the cause of sudden and pretty severe cognitive abnormality in a dog. Since I don't know many details of your girl's history, you might look up something like "symptoms of vaccinosis or over-vaccination in dogs" to see if that might possibly lend you any helpful information. Many regular vets (and pet parents) are still not well-versed in this, or are reluctant to look at it, and many adverse vaccine affects are still going unreported. This article might shed some light:




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16 hours ago, Maylissa said:

"honesty is the best policy"

It's true.  While it may make it uncomfortable for you, it's how our kids learn to deal with things in life.  Not trying to sound preachy, I know this has been an incredibly hard thing to deal with and with no notice to get to figure out how it's the best way, we're apt to make mistakes.  You won't find any judgment here, just people who care and want to help.  You've been given some good advice to think about.

Memorializing a pet is also a good way to help deal with the missing them.  I have bought memorial stones for my pets, even Miss Mocha whom I didn't have a body to bury.  She is no less forgotten than those who are buried on my property and this was her home...just letting her know she was of utmost value to me and I care about her.  https://www.personalcreations.com/product/pawprints-in-heaven-memorial-marker-30192930?q=30192930&start=&spell=&srchSuggestion=y&trackingpgroup=pid

Many here have thought of creative ways of memorializing their pets.

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On 6/20/2019 at 7:03 AM, Jilly said:

What if I could have found her but instead she died in the rain? Afraid and alone. If you think I could've done more, please don't tell me. I can't bear it.

I know this feeling...it's probably us our own voice saying that...

Me too I wish I could make that seemingly easy decision when I reacted to a proposition for taking my cat for a walk.

I'm still sometimes thinking what if I went to look for him just more times.

I couldn't. I was regaining my strength  after goving birth. But I had others looking for him in the second month.

We may not ever have answers...

We can only remember how deeply we love our pets.

The only reason why you're feeling this tormented.

Sending compassionate thoughts.



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