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Missing Ginger


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This is my first post to this forum although I've been reading the other members posts for several weeks now. I've seen in the other posts the pouring out of grief that the writers have shared and the subsequent concerned responses that members have written. I'm hoping that you might be able to help me get through this difficult time also.

Ten weeks ago (May 17th) my wife and I had to put our 13 year old cocker spaniel to sleep when she lost her fight with cancer. She had been diagnosed with liver/pancreatic cancer four weeks earlier after a sudden weight loss. The diagnosis was a surprise to us and it caught me totally off guard. Before bringing her to the vet where the diagnosis was made I knew that something serious was wrong. I knew that, at her age, she wasn't going to be with us forever but I just wasn't ready to let her go yet.

Ginger was born August 11th, 1993, just 2 days before our 5th wedding aniversary. At the time we had just bought our first home and had been going through infertility treatments for a couple years. We were both very frustrated with everything and we just wanted to be parents so we started looking for a puppy (Or furbaby as some of you call them. I hadn't heard that term before but it is very applicable!). We got a call from my mother who said that she had found a litter of cocker spaniel puppies in my hometown so we went there for the weekend to check them out. Needless to say, when we got there we were instantly in love with all of them but one in particular had picked us for her parents. This buff-colored ball of fur became our Ginger.

Ginger was instantly our focus in life and she helped take away some of the unpleasant thoughts about our trying to start a family. She was such a joy to be around. She was constantly bringing her toy hamburger up to us like she wanted us to have it and then, at the last second, she would run away with it and turn around to look at us with a big smile on her face. We also taught her to pick out her numerous toys by name. We would line up her hamburger, ball, bone etc. and tell her to get one of them by name and she would, more times than not, pick out the correct item and bring it to us.

A year and a half after we got Ginger my wife and I welcomed our son, Zach, into the world. We were worried about how Ginger would act when he arrived since she had been our focus for so long but, when he got home, I honestly thought that she thought that he was her pup. She would lay down beside him on the floor, she would look into his crib and cradle if he was crying to see what was wrong and, when he started eating solid foods, she was right there by the high-chair to pick up any scraps that he threw her.

Over the years we welcomed two more children, Whitney in 1998 and Cody in 2005. Whitney was placed in intensive care for 10 days when she was born and Ginger new that we were concerned. She was always there for us when we needed a wet kiss to cheer us up. When Cody appeared I could almost sense her saying "Not another one!" when we brought him home. She walked up to him and smelled his blanket, looked at us and then walked away. As it turned out this was probably for the best. Cody was later diagnosed as having several allergies, one of which was to dogs. We had to limit his contact with her as much as possible or else he would break out all over his body.

Ginger was, for a cocker, a very healthy dog. I have heard over time that cockers can have numerous maladies (ear infections, cataracts, diabetes, etc.) but Ginger only had a few ear infections when she was younger until I found out how to prevent them. Her eyesight was as good as ever right up to the end. She had suffered from hearing loss over the last couple years so we communicated with her using hand signals to go outside or to bed or whatever. Her sense of smell never faultered. She could smell JIF peanut butter from a mile away and she would be under your plate before you even got the peanut butter on the toast in the morning just to make sure that nothing got dropped on the floor.

I mentioned something dropping on the floor just now. With my son, Cody, just starting solid foods in the last year here, I cannot believe how much Ginger actually ate off the floor from Cody dropping his food from his plate. When Ginger was alive we rarely found any food on the floor when Cody was done eating. After she died we were left to pick up an enormous amount of crumbs that she had been taking care of for us. I still can't figure out how she kept her girlish figure over the years.

I, especially, have been having a hard time coping with Ginger's passing. My kids were upset, of course, but they have other things that take up their time. My wife was busy trying to get ready to graduate from the seminary with her masters degree. I, on the other hand, did the same thing that I had been doing for years. Go to work and come home. With my kids being young and my wife getting up early to go to graduate school, everyone went to bed early except Ginger and myself. We stayed up later and watched TV or worked on the computer. Whatever I did she was right at my feet or laying on the couch beside me

After she was diagnosed with cancer the time we did spend together was even more precious. I would often just sit next to her and talk to her abouth how I was feeling about her and how much I loved her. My biggest fear was that I wouldn't do enough to help her with her cancer. My career is in a health profession so I did know something about cancer and it's treatment(s). We talked to a different vet that specialized in small animals after her diagnosis. He did a laproscopy to determine the extent of the cancer (it had affected her liver, pancreas and gall bladder) and told us that putting her through chemotherapy would kill her just as fast as not treating her. This, ironically, was what I didn't want to hear but what I needed to hear just the same. I needed to know that not putting her through chemo was not going to make any difference in her outcome. It sounds strange but I think it actually helped me accept her fate. My biggest concern after that was just to make her comfortable and enjoy every minute possible with her.

I mentioned earlier that I would talk to her frequently. When I talked to her I would always tell her that she just needed to let me know when she was ready to go so that I could help her through it. I did this every night when I put her to bed.

The day before Ginger passed away the whole family did something that we all love to do: We went for a nice walk through our neighborhood. Cody loves going for walks in his stroller and Ginger had always loved to go for walks. All you had to do was dangle her leash in front of her and she would go bananas! She would be jumping all over you and running back and forth between you and the door until you finally left. Then she would be leading the entire pack down the road sniffing and snorting (because she would almost be choking herself) the whole time the walk lasted. That night was no exception.

When we got home the kids and my wife pretty much went straight to bed. Ginger and I stayed up a little while and then she went to bed also. I was just turning the lights out at about 10:30 when I heard her breathing very rapidly in her bed. When I turned on the light I saw her looking up at me with her brown eyes and I knew the time had come. She didn't appear to be in pain but I could tell that she didn't feal good. Her respirations were deep and rapid and her ears and gums were very pale. All signs of shock caused by loss of blood. I knew this was very likely caused by her bleeding internally from a vein that had ruptured in her liver or spleen. I called the vet hospital emergency room in a nearby town and was told that they could give her some blood to try and help her but that the prognosis was not very good.

I gave her a prescription pain medication that the small animal vet had given us 4 weeks earlier to try and help her stay comfortable and then brought her bed out into the living room. I then woke up my two older children and told them that I wanted them to say goodbye to Ginger because she was very sick and I wasn't sure if she was going to make it through the night. They got out of bed and came up and kissed her good bye and we just sat there for a long time talking about her life and how we needed to remember all the good times we had together. I also reminded them that Ginger loved us all very much and that she thought that the 3 kids were her puppies. I should have invested in some Kleenex stock because we went through many boxes that night.

After some time my wife and I put the kids to bed (it was a school night) and we stayed up later and talked about everything that was going on. I told her that I wasn't sure if Ginger was going to make it throught the night or not. I had counted her respirations at over 60 while I was watching her which wasn't good. I also told her that I had to stay by Ginger because I had promised Ginger that I would not leave her side throughout this time in her life.

Amazingly, she did make it through the night. Her rapid breathing did not slow through the night and I don't think she slept at all. I do remember her getting up twice to reposition herself to get more comfortable and to drink some water that I offered to her. At about 6am the kids started waking up to get ready for school. Normally, shortly after the kids got up, Ginger would get up and want to go outside. I didn't think this was possible since she had had such a bad night but she got up, very slowly, on her own and walked to the front door just like normal. She went out and down the steps and did her duties like normal and then she just stood there with her ears blowing in the wind like she loved them to do. (She would always face into the wind to smell anything new and to let her ears blow and flap in the wind like little wings. Sometimes it almost looked like she was flying.)

After a while I walked out to see if she needed help getting back up the steps. She looked up at me, looked back into the wind, took a deep breath and started walking back to the front door all on her own. After she got back inside she just stood by the front door and the stairs going up to our second floor. I looked at her and couldn't understand what she wanted so I walked toward her and she started climbing up the stairs to our bedroom. Her normal routine was to go up and see if I was awake yet. (If I was awake she would come into the bathroom as I got ready for work. If I wasn't awake she would lay outside our bedroom door and watch the front yard until I woke up.)

As I was following her up the stairs the tears were just pouring out of my eyes. I knew that she was talking to me. She was telling me that we had to go on with our lives. That things had to continue even if she wasn't there. I continued to follow her up the stairs and into the bathroom where she layed down on a towel by the shower and waited for me. I started getting ready for work by shaving and I found out that it is extremely hard to shave when you're crying. I showered, got dressed and looked at Ginger and told her that I was ready to go downstairs at which time she got up, left the bathroom and headed down the stairs and back to her bed again.

By now it was time for the older kids to go to school. They said their goodbyes again. I had told them when they woke up that my wife and I would be bringing Ginger to the vet to have her put sleep and that she wouldn't be here when they came home from school. They gave her a hug and a kiss and left for school. That left me, my wife and Cody at home with Ginger. I called the vet clinic in town and asked if we could bring Ginger in as soon as possible. They said that they could have everything ready in 30 minutes so my wife called Cody's daycare provider to ask if we could bring him in early so that we could take Ginger to the clinic.

When we got to the clinic they gave us a few minutes so that we could say goodbye to her. We did this with tears streaming down our faces. Ginger was to tired to hold her head up so I held her head in my hands while I talked to her. After a few minutes we decided that we were done and I left the room to tell them that we were ready. When I came back Ginger was standing up on the examination table looking out the door that I had left the room from with my wife standing next to her. My wife said that Ginger had stood up the minute that I had left the room.

I could sense her anxiety and I walked over to her and gently brushed her hair and helped her lay down again. I felt that she thought that I had left her which is the one thing that I told her I would not do. In a few minutes the vet came in with an assistant to give her the medication. The vet had a difficult time giving the injection because her blood pressure was so low. He gave half of the injection before the vein burst and bu the time they had gotten the other vein sight ready she had already gone to sleep.

I held her head in my hands for many minutes after that last injection. I desperately didn't want to forget the softness of her ears or the scent of her fur. Doing so, I thought, would desecrate her memory. I'm still having trouble with this now.

I'm sorry this is so long. I have felt for many weeks that I just needed to get this off my chest and today I just deceide that I had to do it. I had seen an ad in our local paper for some cocker spaniel pups that were for sale earlier today so I called the phone number listed tonight. I spoke to the owner of the pups and told her that I might be calling her later this week to set up a time to see them. After I hung up I started having second thoughts. I don't know if I'm ready to get another pup yet. I sometimes feel that getting a new puppy would almost make it feel like I was replacing Ginger even though she is absolutely irreplacable in my heart. That is what hurts the most.

I would appreciate any words of wisdom that any of you might have. Thank you for your time and thoughts.

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My dear Jay,

Since you’ve asked for some input about getting a new puppy, I want to address the last part of your post in particular, but first I need for you to know how much your story touches my soul and tugs at my heart. I am so moved by the devotion you felt for your precious cocker spaniel Ginger in the last days and hours of her life, and all I can think is how blessed this darling little dog was to have been a member of your family. How blessed your wife and children are, too, to have a husband and father who models so beautifully what it means to love and lose a cherished companion animal, to be with her when she dies, and to mourn for her in her absence.

You say you’re having second thoughts about getting a new puppy, and I’d like to help you sort through what you may be thinking. First, there are very good reasons why you may be reluctant to go out and obtain another puppy right away. For one thing, you know that if you allow yourself to love another dog, you certainly don’t want to have to go through all this pain again at some future point when that dog dies, too. I can tell you that the one sure way to avoid repeating the pain you're feeling now is to decide never to love like that again. Yet we all know (intellectually at least) that whenever we take a companion animal into our lives, sooner or later we are going to lose that animal, simply because the life span of a dog is so much shorter than our own. We like to delude ourselves into believing that our animals will be with us forever, but deep down we know that cannot happen. When we are confronted with the death of our cherished animals, this reality is very hard for us to accept. Far better that we acknowledge that harsh reality when we opt to bring an animal into our lives in the first place. Grief is the price we pay for loving our animals so much. You cannot grieve deeply unless you’ve loved just as deeply.

What also often stands in the way of our loving another pet is our sense of loyalty to the one who just died. We confuse loving another animal with "replacing" the one we've lost. It feels like an act of disloyalty, a violation of Ginger’s memory, an intrusion. Of course there is no other pup or dog who will ever “replace” your beloved Ginger, because, as you say, she is absolutely irreplaceable. Please don’t look at “replacement” of Ginger as your objective here. You are experiencing what many dog lovers feel as you come to terms with the loss of Ginger’s physical presence in your home. Clearly she wiggled her way into every aspect of your daily life, and as a result, right now you’re constantly bumping into reminders of her absence. It is only human to be longing for something, anything, to fill that huge, Ginger-sized space in your heart and in your life. There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to bring another dog, even another cocker spaniel, into your home, and there is no right or wrong time to do so. After all, we human beings have an infinite capacity to love, and most animal lovers have a heart that’s big enough to accommodate any number of additional companion animals. Just make certain that, before you bring another puppy into your household, you’ve considered certain things.

For starters, grief takes an enormous amount of energy, and you (and / or your wife) may not have a lot of emotional energy left over right now to place onto another puppy. If that is the case, getting a new puppy right now wouldn’t be fair to either of you (or to your children), and it certainly wouldn’t be fair to the new puppy. As I’m sure you’ve noticed by now, grief brings with it a whole mish-mash of conflicting and confusing feelings, including lots of negative emotions and sometimes unreasonable expectations of others. Whether it’s by posting here, or by talking with your wife or a trusted other, make sure you’ve both found a way to process your grief at losing Ginger, and you’ve given your kids an opportunity to express their feelings, too, so you’ll all have room in your hearts to welcome another puppy. And even if you feel ready to do so, it’s important that all the other members of your family feel ready, too, to love this new little fur person for him- or herself, and not as a replacement for Ginger. Grief is different for everyone, and not all members of a family process their grief the same way or within the same time frame. (See, for example, my article, Understanding Different Grieving Patterns in Your Family. See also How Long Should You Wait to Replace a Pet Who Has Died? and the other articles listed on the Children and Pet Loss page of my Grief Healing Web site.)

As I write in my booklet,

In the normal course of grief, the time will come when the child is ready to reinvest feelings of attachment in another pet. It is a mistake, however, for parents to rush to replace the pet who was lost. Both parents and children need time to finish with this pet, and then only with the understanding that there is no way to replace a loved one. Getting a new pet before the grieving process is completed (and before a child wants or feels a need to give love to another pet) suggests that the lost pet was insignificant and disposable, diminishes the importance of the new pet, and deprives the family of the opportunity to find meaning in the whole event.

[source: Children and Pet Loss: A Guide for Helping, © 1996 by Marty Tousley, p. 14]

I hope this information helps, Jay, and please know that we’re all thinking of you and your family at this sad and difficult time.

Wishing you peace and healing,

Marty T

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Hi Jay,

I am so sorry to hear about your loss. I know how painful it is, as I am still experiencing the grief of losing my Pino. I lost my Pino (German Shepard/Sheltie mix) on 4/29/07 and it has been one of the most difficult things in my life. I still cry everyday and I find it difficult to cope with day to day activities. My Pino was almost 13 years old and seemed in good health except for some arthritis, but like your Ginger, he was diagnosed with cancer - an aggressive type of cancer of the heart that spread quickly. If you have been reading the postings, you probably read that I opted for the chemo hoping to prolong his life, but it was such a mistake because it caused him so much agony in the last month and a half of his life and I regret it so much. I ended up taking him back to the horrible clinic that he hated so much to be put to sleep because he got to a point where he couldn't even get up anymore - he was weak and fragile - I wanted him to go peacefully at home - but it was agonizing to see him limp, with his gums so pale and with his breathing so shallow and rapid. My fear was that he would suffocate to death because the cancer had spread to his lungs. So I took him in - and I have regrets about that too - but I've realized that whatever I would have done, I probably would have had regrets, nonetheless. I miss my Pino terribly and I always will. No other dog will ever be able to replace him, as I don't think any other dog will replace your Ginger. I tell you that because I have two other dogs. Daisy was there when my Pino passed. She had been there for almost three years. Teddy - we almost ran over about a month and 1/2 ago and we took him in and although we contemplated taking him to a shelter, my husband decided that we should keep him. I guess he figured it would help me to stop crying over Pino's absence. But it hasn't made me stop crying nor has it stopped my longing to have him and hold him. Pino will always be my special baby. Like you, I had no children when I got him - I still don't, but my husband and I saw him as our first "son." A new puppy needs a lot of attention and if you're emotionally drained right now, it may not be the right time. I've found that I get a little annoyed with Teddy's request for attention (and he's not a puppy; he's 1-2 yrs old according to the vet). I think I get annoyed mainly because I just need time to be alone in my grief and both Daisy and Teddy follow me like bodyguards. Of course, Pino did so too, but it did not really bother me at the time. I guess the point that I'm trying to make, and excuse me for rambling, is that I knew I wasn't ready to have another dog - we took Teddy in because we found him on the streets and although I don't and would never reject any animal's affection, I find that emotionally, I haven't been able to connect to him - and I know it has to do with my grieving over Pino. I won't give Teddy away at ths point because he is happy to have a home and, Daisy, my other dog also seems happy to have a companion. I just hope that with time I learn to love him and can give him genuine affection. I often feel guilty that as an animal lover, I have not been able to develop an emotional bond to him. But he's a sweet dog and eventually, I'm sure he'll win my heart. I know it's not him - it's me - I need time. We all need time to grieve. It's going to take a long time for me to accept the fact that Pino is never coming back. Jay, you may also need time to grieve for Ginger or you may be ready for another puppy. I think you will know it in your heart when you are ready. Whatever you decision is, you will never replace your Ginger. Each furbaby's love is so special and unique that it is irreplaceable. Again, I am so sorry for the loss of your Ginger. Diana

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Hi Jay, I'm sorry for your loss of your beloved Ginger. She sounded like she was an amazing dog. When we had to put our Einstein (he was only 4 1/2) to sleep because of a blood disorder, I was devastated. Einstein was an Australian Shepherd; he was big and beautiful! Without taking time to think about getting a new puppy or even really spending time to mourn Einstein, we went back to the breeder where we bought him and ended up taking home a 7 week old puppy! This was only 1 week after we put Einstein to sleep! Charlie is Einsteins cousin. They share the same grandfather. I didn't care that it was only 1 week later...I just wanted something, anything, alive from Einsteins family to come home with me. Fortunately, my husband was in agreement. He had just moved his office into our home and had time to properly train this new puppy. Charlie is now 7 years old and he is the love of our lives. In the beginning, I couldn't believe that we made such a hasty decision, but in the long run, it was a good one for us.

We just kind of jumped in without thinking. Luckily it worked for us. I do think that Charlie helped me with the void that I felt from losing Einstein. Einstein was too young to have to have been put to sleep, but he ended up quite ill for about 2 months before we had to make the decision to put him down. Maybe that's why we brought Charlie home right away...because Einstein was so young to have left us so soon.

You have to do what is right for you and your family. But sometimes the right opportunity presents itself even if you're not sure what to do. If it was me, I would go look at the puppies. A new puppy is always bound to put a smile on your face...even if it's just to go there and look at them.

I wish you and your family well on this journey. It's a tough one. Ginger was lucky to have you in her life!!!

Take care...Lori

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