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Different kind of guilt


Witmer

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I put my beautiful boy DRAKE down on Friday, June 24, 2022.  He was 11 years old.  I was living in Jerusalem when Drake followed my boss at the time home.  This was early November 2010.  My boss called me and introduced us.  He told me I should give him a bath, and I chased him around til I got him and *tried* to give him a bath.  I remember looking up and seeing my boss come down with a bag of food, a leash, and a collar (from his older, larger dog that he sized down).  He said, "why don't you take him home for a few days and see how you feel."  I kind of didn't want to because I had another dog I had to put down in 2008, and it all happened so suddenly and I didn't feel like I got over it.  (That story resolves itself in an interesting way but that's not what this post is about.)  Then I told my friend about it, and he insisted we take him to a vet to find out if he was chipped.  He wasn't.  I guesstimated that Drake was probably 12 weeks old at the time, and decided "July 31, 2010" was his birthday.  It wasn't clear what kind of dog he was, we thought maybe some lab-GSD mix.  My boss thought he wouldn't get larger than 50lbs.  He peaked at 95 lbs and before he died he was 87 lbs.

We left Jerusalem in 2011 and I brought him to California.  My family lives there and I was only home a month before taking off for Afghanistan.  I had to convince my parents to keep him while I was gone!!!  

And Drake was way more difficult to train than my former dog Lady.  I even accidentally called him Lady sometimes.  It took months before he stopped pee'ing in the house, chewed everything, and was just WILD.  When he got to California, he was always jumping on the bed or the couch, and he was digging holes in the backyard so large it could literally fit an adult person.  My dad was so angry!!  He told me I had to get him in shape before I left.  And in that month I did.  Several months after this, and since that time, my dad always told me what a good dog he was, always guarding, always protective.  He could be left alone for hours and wouldn't mess anything up.  His job was simple:  protect.  But he did have one thing about him that my parents seemed to overlook -- he always snuck into the dining room to steal the food on the table!! And he did it for years!  Why didn't my parents ever learn?  It turned into the house comedy.  Fish, meat, cake, muffins.  Didn't matter.  If it was left on top of the table, he ate it.  He always laid down by my mom, because she was the one who liked to sneak him meat.  

Every time I came home from my overseas assignments I made time for Drake.  He had a nice backyard at my parents' house, where he loved barking and chasing cats and gophers (I'll never forget when he caught a gopher and had it in its mouth -- the legs were still moving -- OMG that was horrible.)  But he always loved walking outside.  Whenever I came home, the first thing he'd do would be to run down the steps, waiting for me to take him on a walk outside.  The other outside.  And we had some good walks and explorations.

Fast forward to 2019.  I finally was moving to a place I could take Drake.  India!  I got there and he arrived a few weeks later.  Our next adventure began.  He was 9 yrs old at that time, and he was a different dog.  And older dog.  I was scared he might not make it.  He had to fly cargo, California to Germany to India.  Two days!  It was very expensive but I did it to bring my boy back to me.  

India was tough.  It was hot, it was not friendly for dogs, and very little green space for him to do his business.  But he adpated so well.  It was me who didn't adapt.  I didn't pick up on how he had aged, and I had expectations of our relationship and our routines.  It could often get so hot, and I wanted to make sure he did his business so I wouldn't have to take him out in the heat of the day.  When he didn't, I misplaced my frustration and got annoyed with him when it was the environment and conditions of this country and angered me.  Some of the people in the neighborhood were also mean and unkind, especially with dogs.  I always cleaned up after my dog and yet they still yelled at me -- despite all the feces of strays everywhere, dead cats and rats on the street.  

Drake had a lot of skin infections while we were there.  At one point he got a bath 2-3/x week with his medicated shampoo, and special ointments.  I was able to keep it under control, but it did take some work.  He also ended up with three kinds of tick fever -- at the same time!! I had three different vets I'd take him to, each served a specific purpose, and I was always very active and engaged in improving his health or recovering from some illness.  I also confirmed he had arthritis, dysplasia, spondylosis... and so his mobility was deteriorating.  We stopped using stairs but otherwise maintained moderate activity.  I was fortunate enough to have a high-end pet store very close to my building and another higher-end kennel I could take him to when I was gone.  When the pandemic shut everything down, I was so happy to just be around him.  I preferred no one and nothing else.

Two years later in 2021 we left India for good and came back to the states.  He had to leave one month before me because of a stupid CDC ban that went into effect and made it difficult for any American citizen returning abroad with a pet.  He was 11 now.  He traveled out of India in the middle of summer, in July, in the belly of two cargo planes -- India to Doha, Qatar and then the states.  I thought he wouldn't make it.  But he did.  And then he had to kennel for a month before I could officially depart.  My mom said he would always wait for me.  And he did.

We came back and resumed our lives.  I again didn't realize this Drake was a different Drake.  An older Drake who continued aging and I didn't seem to notice.  He picked up more pain and I didn't realize it until looking back on it now.  The times I should have realized he was in pain, I was instead annoyed with him, because he wouldn't poop when he usually did.  And he would want to walk further along, and when he had trouble heading back, I didn't realize there might have been something wrong.  He was just slower.  And sometimes I was rushing back because I had to get back to some demanding work and its emails.  I should have just taken the time I needed.  I started giving him CBD to help him with his sleep, he was waking up in the middle of the night panting.  I didn't realize it was because he was in distress or pain.

In December 2021, I took him to the vet and she recommended that maybe I take Drake to the cardiologist.  After a month-long wait we saw a cardiologist an hour away and she confirmed he had serious congestive heart failure -- a severe arrythmia and heart murmur.  She said I should be concerned about the arrythmia and do my best to manage it.  He was prone to "sudden cardiac death."  "What did that mean?"  "He can drop dead at any time."

Drake was on many different meds from that point, and we were adjusting new meds, dosage, etc.  In February 2022, he had a vestibular episode -- vertigo for dogs.  I was so scared, we went to the emergency room at 10p and didn't leave til 3a.  During that time however I didn't think I'd bring him back.  The vet asked if I wanted to leave him there for monitoring, I told her I wanted him back with me so he could feel comfortable and familiar.  He recovered within a week when I knew that some dogs often took longer (months) to recover.  I was lucky -- in the words of Drake's vet in India:  "Drake is a hearty/hardy dog."  And it was true.  We had several monitor checks, which required us to travel out an hour to the cardiologist for 24 hour monitors.  I don't have a car so every time we went to the vet I rented a car for us.  

In May things started to get worse.  Not with his heart condition (we finally stabilized it) -- but with his legs.  Vets often spoke with the "muscle wasting" in his legs.  He sometimes struggled peeing and getting into position for his poops.  After his vestibular episode I bought a special "Help Em Up" harness where I could hold him up by the hand at his rump to keep him stable.  He got used to this, even though I could tell it was annoying to him that I needed to be so close when he took care of his business.  Before the harness, he had fallen on his poop twice.  I had to pretend it wasn't a big deal otherwise he'd know I was scared/anxious about it.  Keep moving along til we got home and I could clean him up.  Though it never got progressively worse, I did notice a few times he'd leave tiny balls of poop on my floor.  I knew things weren't going well.

I made an appointment with Lap of Love a month out.  I started changing dates or cancelling.   I waited til I saw our vet to find out if I was making the right decision.  In the meantime he started gabapentin to manage his pain.  On top of his CBD.  I had to go through a brief adjustment period with his gabapentin working to adjust his dosage.  It was so scary because too much gaba can leave them wobbly.  He was already wobbly.  

Our vet said i was making the right decision -- she also said "it wouldn't be wrong if you could it earlier."  I waited for his appointment two weeks later.  I know I made the right decision to put him down before his physical condition and mobility got worse.  During the last few weeks, he couldn't get up on his own.  I had to hold him up so he could get on his feet -- his hind right paw was becoming lame, folding on itself and when he stepped out on it and didn't realize his paw wasn't out he'd trip and fall.  It became hard emotionally and physically to pick up a 90lb dog after it fell on the sidewalk.

Those weeks before his appointment, I apologize'd to Drake for the times I wasn't patient with him, the times he annoyed and frustrated me and I didn't realize there was something wrong.  I feel so bad about that.  It was me who overcomplicated our relationship.  When those moments happened, I had to leave him and walk away to deal with my emotions.  Whenever I returned, he was right there waiting, tail wagging waiting to resume things.  Drake didn't process those moments the same way I did, but I owed it to him to let him know how much I love him. 

I remember all these good times, but I remember the times I wasn't my best with him the most.

I hope he knows I did everything I could for him, and that I did the best I could with what I had -- emotionally, physically, financially, etc...

Does anyone else feel this way or had to process their grief and loss of their dog with similar emotions?

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1 hour ago, Witmer said:

Does anyone else feel this way or had to process their grief and loss of their dog with similar emotions?

In all the years I've worked with bereaved animal lovers, I've yet to meet a single person who doesn't share the emotions you describe. I'd venture to say that the sort of guilt you're feeling is a universal response. We pet parents hold ourselves to impossibly high standards in caring for our beloved companions, believing that, if only we'd done this or that, all would be well. And as you say, instead of remembering all the good times, right now you're focusing on all those times you weren't at your best with Drake.

One reason we love our dogs so much is that they live in the moment, accepting us as we are, never holding grudges, overlooking our shortcomings and showering us with unconditional love. They do not pass judgment on our human frailties, and they don't hesitate to forgive us for whatever we've done or failed to do in our efforts to take good care of them. Dogs are far more advanced in that regard than we humans could ever hope to be. 

I invite you to read the following, which I hope will help you to better understand what you may be feeling and why: Guilt in The Wake of The Euthanasia Decision.  (Note the additional readings listed at the base.)

See also Loss and The Burden of Guilt   ❤️

 

 

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9 hours ago, MartyT said:

In all the years I've worked with bereaved animal lovers, I've yet to meet a single person who doesn't share the emotions you describe. I'd venture to say that the sort of guilt you're feeling is a universal response. We pet parents hold ourselves to impossibly high standards in caring for our beloved companions, believing that, if only we'd done this or that, all would be well. And as you say, instead of remembering all the good times, right now you're focusing on all those times you weren't at your best with Drake.

One reason we love our dogs so much is that they live in the moment, accepting us as we are, never holding grudges, overlooking our shortcomings and showering us with unconditional love. They do not pass judgment on our human frailties, and they don't hesitate to forgive us for whatever we've done or failed to do in our efforts to take good care of them. Dogs are far more advanced in that regard than we humans could ever hope to be. 

This is a very comforting message.  Thank you for replying and thank you for sharing the links to resources.  I really appreciate it.

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Witmer, I can so relate to your story, my Arlie was the love of my life after my husband died, 17 years ago.  I got Arlie in Feb 2009 and he died Aug. 2019, 11 1/2, I'd gotten him just before his first bdy.  He didn't appear to have ever been in a house or car, no "manners" at all!  He chewed up everything in the house, even the opening to his doghouse and my outside window frame!  It took a year of working with him, but he became the best dog I ever had, so smart, goofy, fun, considerate!  He had the best communication skills of any dog I've ever met!  A highly evolved tonal language and we understood each other.  When I broke my right elbow (they don't cast them so they're left unprotected, willy/nilly in a sling) I walked him and he never pulled...all 140 lbs of him!  (Unlike my 20 lb. Kodie who pulls harder than any dog I've ever had!)  

Your feelings are so much like my own...I love/d this dog more than life itself and would have done anything for him, but I couldn't stop his death (cancer).

Our stories are here:

Sending you thoughts for comfort and peace, I am so sorry for your loss....

 

 

 

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Witmer, you gave your dog a wonderful life it seems and gave him everything he needed at the end. 

I also am dealing with a different kind of guilt. Many feel guilty about putting their dogs down.  I am the opposite.  Our Zoee was ready to go the morning of the 27th of June, after a great weekend with family. Our vet could not take her until 2 pm(they do surgeries mon am). We loved on her all morning but she passed on her own at home at noon. We were so stressed and overcome with grief knowing it was her last day, it did not occur to us to take her to the emergency er to have her put down. I feel like a let her down those  ast few hours. She was quiet and calm. I just hope she was not in too much pain. 

So, see we all are grieving/guilty for how things play out. We have to focus on the love we gave our pets. 

 

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@ZoeesmomI am so sorry for your loss.  I've learned in my journey through grief to be kind, patient, understanding of myself...tell yourself what you would tell a good friend.

We all go through the what-ifs in early grief, as a way of trying to find some different possible outcome than the one that happened because this one is too hard for us to absorb, but there is only one reality and that's the one that happened, it takes much time to process it.  I lost my husband 17 years ago, suddenly, unexpectedly, way too young, and I went through all the what-ifs too, and also with my animals that have passed.  Death is very hard for us to process, it's traumatic to our brains.

Comfort for Grieving Animal Lovers
A Dangerous Villain: Guilt
http://www.pet-loss.net/guilt.shtml
http://www.griefhealing.com/article-loss-and-the-burden-of-guilt.htm
https://www.griefhealingblog.com/2019/08/pet-loss-when-guilt-overshadows-grief.html
https://www.griefhealingblog.com/2017/07/pet-loss-when-guilt-goes-unresolved.html

I hope this short video brings you some comfort and peace.

 

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