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Lost My Baby


hsebes

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One week ago, Tuesday, Oct. 14th, I lost my dear Baxter (a beautiful 5 year-old Red Merle Australian Cattle Dog, Beagle Mix) to a speeding hit-and-run driver. I have 3 other dogs and they, as did Baxter, always spend most of their time indoors, but roam in and out through a dog door. On this day, our housekeeper was cleaning, so I had to keep them in the backyard for a few hours. Baxter got out of the backyard by knocking through a broken fence post. I realized that he had gotten out about 5 minutes too late...as I jumped into my car to drive through the neighborhood to search for him, my neighbor (whose dog survived a hit-and-run driver 2 or 3 weeks before) came to tell me that a dog had been hit and was lying in the road. I'll never forget how he looked as I picked him up from the road - though he had no remarkable wounds - his stillness and the realization that he wasn't breathing struck me hard.

I've adopted all of my dogs from rescues and Baxter was my first - he'd been with me for 4 years...I brought him home 6 months before I met my wonderful husband. We can't have children of our own...so we consider all our dogs as our children. But, Baxter and I had a very special bond..we took special care of each other...he slept above my head in bed everynight and would paw at my chest to wake me in the morning. I miss him so much...he meant everything to me...and I never had imagined I would lose him so suddenly...or that he would die in such a manner. There is an ache in my heart and my stomach...and an empty, lonely feeling in our home. And I wonder what the other dogs - Sadie, Kelsey and Winston - know, think and feel...Sadie & Baxter were very close buddies. And, I pray that Baxter didn't feel any pain.

Things seem so unreal right now - I so wish he would come running around the corner or that I would wake up and it wouldn't be true. I hurt and I feel guilty...if I had checked on him earlier he might not have gotten out of the yard and he'd still be here. Everyone says not to blame myself, but I was his caretaker and ultimately responsible for making sure this didn't happen. He is my little boy and I'm so sad. I also get so angry when I think about the driver - that he was speeding, didn't try to stop (there are no skid marks on the road from braking), and didn't stop afterward.

They just called from the vet as I was writing the last sentence to let me know I could come and pick-up his remains. I miss my baby so much.

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I am very sorry to hear about your loss. I know how the emptiness feels as I had to put my "child" to sleep 2 weeks ago. Even though he is physically gone, I still sense his presence around me from time to time. And even though your baby is physically gone, I am sure he is still with you. Your other babies will feel a sense of loss as well and you may notice them wanting more attention than usual. I'm no expert by any means, just drawing on my own experiences of late.

Betty-Lou

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Hello Hesebes, I'm really sorry for your loss of Baxter. That's exactly how our animals feel to us like children. When I lost my dog in 2002, it was the saddest day of my life. All the feelings that you describe are the same feelings I went through. Thank goodness the pain subsides, and with the help and support of family or friends, it can really make a big difference. I lit a candle when my dog died. I will light a candle for Baxter, you made a difference in Baxter's life you rescued him, that's one of the ways that I dealt with the loss of my dog, that I had rescued her. I had to keep on reminding myself that I had made a difference in her life. I really believe that Baxter didn't feel any pain.

Shevonne

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I join our other visitors in sharing your sorrow at the tragic death of your beloved Baxter – from the beautiful picture you’ve posted, we all can see what a fine fellow he must have been, and we can only imagine how devastated you must feel.

When death comes suddenly and unexpectedly like this, it can be especially hard to bear – and when you lose a dog you’ve rescued, it can hit you even harder because of the special bond that develops between the two of you. When you rescue animals from a shelter, you see yourself as a rescuer and a protector -- yet you were unable to protect Baxter from this accidental tragedy. Discovering that he escaped from your yard through a broken fence, finding his body in the road after the accident, and knowing whoever hit him didn’t even bother to stop – all of this compounds your grief and can leave you feeling very guilty and very angry.

Know that guilt and anger are two of the most common reactions in grief. You say that "if I had checked on him earlier he might not have gotten out of the yard and he'd still be here." At a time like this it's important to remember that you did not intentionally set out to bring any harm to your beloved dog. The fact is that, like all the rest of us, you are human, terrible accidents do happen, and there isn't any way you could have foreseen what was going to happen to Baxter on that particular day.

The anger you feel at the driver who didn’t stop is understandable. You may also feel some anger at your husband or at yourself for not having fixed that broken fence post. Anger is a powerful emotion that can be frightening, but feeling angry doesn't necessarily imply that you'll lose control or take your anger out unfairly on others. But before you can get through it, let go of the intense emotions attached to it and move on, your anger must be admitted, felt and expressed, if only to yourself. Keep in mind that feelings are neither right or wrong, good or bad. They just are. What really matters is what you do with what you're feeling. When you simply acknowledge feelings of anger to yourself or to a trusted other without actually doing anything about them, no harm is done, to you or to anyone else. On the other hand, if you suppress it and hold on to it, eventually you may explode, turn it inward and get depressed, or aim it at innocent others. You can find healthy ways to discharge the energy of your anger through physical exercise, writing and talking.

Feelings aren't always rational or accurate, either. Feeling guilty about the circumstances surrounding Baxter’s death doesn't mean that you are, in fact, an uncaring, irresponsible pet owner. One of the most wonderful things about our animal companions (unlike humans!) is that they love us unconditionally, they are forgiving of all our human faults, and they never, ever hold a grudge against us. If anyone knew how much he was loved throughout his four years with you and your husband, surely it was your precious Baxter.

In the end, there is nothing I can say to erase the load of guilt that you are carrying around with you. The only one who can forgive you is yourself, my friend. In situations such as this, it is only human nature to feel guilt for what you may have done or failed to do. If after examining all the facts you and your husband decide that you should have done things differently in this case, then the only thing you can do at this point is to learn from your mistake and promise yourselves that if you are ever presented with the exact same set of circumstances again, you will do things differently next time – inspecting your fence regularly and keeping it in good repair, for example.

A sudden, unexpected death like this can teach some valuable lessons about how fragile and temporary life is, and that if we have something to say to someone we had better say it now, because we may never get the chance again to say it. Can you let this be one of Baxter’s legacies to you -- one of the precious life lessons you can take from this tragic loss? Are there any other lessons here that you may need to learn? Take some time to think about all of this. It is one of the most important tasks in mourning: to find meaning in this loss.

In any event, there is nothing you can do now to go back and change what has already been done. Instead, to cope with the guilt you’re feeling, you might try to find some way to communicate with Baxter’s spirit and ask for his forgiveness. That may be by meditating, by writing him a letter and saying whatever you need to say to him, by finding a quiet place and lighting a candle and speaking to him in your mind -- whatever way you choose is up to you.

Sometimes sharing our story enables us to unburden ourselves and to obtain the absolution we may need from others, and posting in this Pet Loss Forum gives you the opportunity to do just that. None of us is perfect; we are all human, we've all made mistakes and we've all done things about which we feel guilty. You need to find some way to forgive yourself, to apologize and make amends to the one you believe you’ve harmed, to learn from your mistake and to move on. That's how you will heal from this loss. It’s also very healing to explore with your husband all the ways you can memorialize Baxter (have a memorial service, plant a tree, write a poem or an essay about your dog, put an album or scrapbook together, make a marker for his grave, etc.)

Finally, you say you wonder what your other three dogs know, think and feel about all this. Common sense tells us that, just as we form attachments to our companion animals, they form attachments to each other as well. You say that Sadie and Baxter were very close buddies, which tells me they were probably inseparable -- sleeping together, playing together and following one another around most of the day. When death separated them, it's understandable that the animal left behind can become distressed. Although there are no scientific research reports in the literature about this, I can assure you that I've read, heard about and experienced myself many examples of animals reacting strongly to the death of their companions (human and animal) with symptoms of separation anxiety.

It's also possible that one or more of your remaining dogs are sensing the distress of other humans in the household and are reacting to any changes in routine that accompanied this loss. When you think about it, how animals behave (with anxiety, restlessness, depression, crying and searching) is very similar to how we humans behave when we're grieving. Here are some suggestions that might help you to help Sadie and your remaining dogs, if these behaviors are evident:

- Keep their daily routine as unchanged as you can, so it remains as predictable, familiar and consistent as possible.

- Provide comfort by leaving the radio or television on when leaving the house.

- Stick to their normal feeding routine. Even though you may be tempted to offer special treats at such a sad time, you don't want to reward their refusal to eat regular meals.

- If Sadie seems to want it, give her extra attention, petting and affection, but try to do so when she is behaving in desirable ways (with toys, games and exercise). Again, you don't want to reinforce negative behavior, and you don't want to force yourself upon her. (Some animals who've always been friendly may behave in a hostile or aggressive way — another symptom of grief.)

- It may help to let her see and smell Baxter's "things" (toys, food dish, collar or bedding, etc.). Some people recommend actually sitting down and "explaining" to the surviving animals what happened to their companion. Your dogs won't understand every word, but your gentle touch and the soothing tone of your voice will provide some comfort.

I hope this information helps, my friend. Please know we are thinking of you and sharing in your sorrow.

Wishing you peace and healing,

Marty T

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