The Final Act of Love – Saying Goodbye to a Pet

I wrote this blog while I was readying myself for the loss of Sir Rodders, the handsome ambassador who inspired this page. We were overtaken by the aggressive nature of his cancer and had to spend our time preparing ourselves to give him a gentle and kind passing.

Now is the time to publish this article. We are coming up to the holidays. While it is a time of celebration for so many, it is also a time for reflection and remembering those who have passed. For anyone who has known the love of a pet, you will understand that this loss is as profound and important as any other.

So, while I warn you to have a hankie or two to hand, I also hope that you will find comfort in this post, written with so much love, whether you are remembering a human or animal who has changed your life for the better, but who is no longer with you.

I have had the good fortune to have my heart and life filled with love from many dogs. Sir Rodders is the last in a line of many dignified, beautiful, intelligent, silly, mischievous, and complicated dogs that have shared my life. I know he will be leaving us soon. He has cancer.

We have no idea how much time we have left with him. His life is now the life that so many people and their pets live when the ugly spectre of terminal cancer turns up on their doorstep. On the days we are not ferrying him to the veterinary hospital for some kind of test or treatment, we are trying to make the most of the time we still have. He is much luckier than a person, though. He has no idea what is going on. For now, aside from the tough recovery from serious surgeries, slowly chipping away at his body in an effort to push back the warlike occupation of tumours, he has been pain-free.

Sir Rodders, or Rodney, as we call him at home, is a Mexican dog living in Mexico. It is October, and we are approaching the annual tradition where those who have passed are remembered by those who remain. It is a tradition that the world has learned about through the exquisitely touching Pixar film Coco. It seems serendipitous now that I had a tattoo made of the dog, Dante, from this film, created by a Mexican tattoo artist just a few years ago.

Dante, in the film, is a spirit guide, helping those from the world of the living travel to the world of the dead, known as the Underworld in the mythology of the indigenous people of Mexico. Dogs have a significant meaning in their belief system and are often represented by the Xoloitzcuintli, a hairless Mexican dog breed said to have descended from ancient times.

Aside from their unusual, hairless bodies, Xolos are known for their genetically imperfect teeth. They are often seen with their tongues hanging out of the side of their mouths, somewhat comically. This was one of Dante’s most endearing features. It is now one of Rodney’s due to the surgery he underwent to remove a tumour from his lower jaw. He has turned into my tattoo. It feels as awkward as it does comforting.

My tattoo also features a pawprint for the fourteen dogs I have loved and lost over the years. It reminds me daily to think of them to keep their memories alive. Because that is all that is left aside from some photos and ashes.

Those memories are so special to me, particularly because I am not a person of faith or even a spiritual person. Like most other people, I have had to find a way to process the death of those I love in a way that brings me peace and helps me recover from the sadness and grief that come with every loss.

Our dogs, my dogs, the dogs I have had the privilege to care for and be responsible for, have all taught me how to love more and harder. Each of them has taught me loyalty, forgiveness, patience, pride, ego, tenderness, humanity, compassion, pain, peace, stillness, quietude, love, and loss.

So many lessons and so much growth. I owe them no less than to honour the gifts that they so generously shared and to appreciate that once I have learned each lesson, they are ready to leave, making room for the next lesson, in the form of a dog, to wiggle, sniff, slobber, and nibble their way back into my broken heart. Every scar on my heart has made me a stronger and better person.

In some ways, I am writing this to prepare myself for the inevitable. The days that will come when I wake up and look at Rodney and ask myself if this is the day that I need to let him go. The days when I need to remind myself that it is always better to let him go too early than too late. The days when I must be firm in my resolution not to allow him to suffer a single day just because I cannot bear the heartbreak. The day when I will hold him, trying to stifle my tears, caressing him as his wonderful veterinarian helps him to make a painless exit. The moment when I hear his last heartbeat.

I am not just writing this for myself, though. I am writing it for all of the readers, who are probably sobbing as I am by now. All loving dog owners will go through this at one time, and we need to cry. We need to share, and we should. I am not alone, and neither are you. Bereavement for the loss of a pet is very real, and a plethora of research shows how potent and life-changing it can be.

We all experience it in different ways. We may imagine seeing our pets in their usual places in the home or expecting them to appear when we arrive home, only to be reminded, like a punch in the gut, that they are not there. We might continue to talk to them or leave their beds, bowls, and toys around the house because parting with those things seems so final. Some of us will have memorials or funerals for our dogs. Some of us will quickly fill our time with a new pet to take our minds off our grief and keep us present.

There is no guidebook, and there are no rules, nor should there be. This year, like last, we will be participating in the local tradition and building an altar with photos of the pets we have loved and lost, some of their favourite things, candles, and flowers, and we will talk about them. In this way, we are keeping their memories and the gifts they gave us alive in our hearts.

We hope that Sir Rodders will not be one of the photos on the altar this year. Still, if he is, he will be remembered as one of the best boys who ever lived. Just in case, we took him to the cemetery for a final photo shoot. He always loved being in front of a camera. We had our friend, a professional groomer, paint him as an alebrije, just like Dante.

We could take comfort in knowing that we would do the kindest and most difficult thing a good dog owner can ever do for their dog. We promised him he would not suffer. We cried. A lot.

…It turned out that he did join the photos on the altar this year. We invited his friends to say goodbye and to feed him tacos. It was beautiful and there was something about the collective sense of grief for this incredibly charismatic dog that gave us strength. The community that Rodney created for us was one of his greatest gifts.

Now his ashes sit on a cupboard where we pass him every day. I had such a hard time dealing with his loss. It truly hit me hard. Harder than many of my previous dogs. I broke into his urn and took some of his ashes with me to Mexico City. I needed to return part of him to where he once roamed the streets. It helped. So did the tequila and the warm embrace of a dear friend.

I was not alone in all of this. My partner was the person who drove Rodney to every appointment, knowing that each one was bringing us closer to saying goodbye, but feeling unable to say anything that would compound my own grief. It is funny how we sometimes separate into our own worlds to cope during times of despair. We did that until the day we said goodbye.

Then, together we drove Rodney to the veterinary surgery for one final time. Every single veterinarian and technician gathered to send our boy on his voyage. They gave him treats, hugged him, kissed him, and cried with us.

It was probably a mistake, but I played ‘Remember Me’ from Coco as we laid down with him on the floor, where he had so many fun times during physiotherapy. It was one of his favourite places. It was peaceful. He was ready. I don’t think we were, but we had no choice.

Goodbye, sweet boy.

If you have made it this far, I hope you feel our love and compassion for every loss you may be feeling at this time. Our hearts are with you, and we are here for you if you ever need to reach out for any reason. Rodney taught us that we all have the capacity for more love in our hearts if we only choose to open them.

One comment

  1. Beautifully written Colette. 💔. Straight from your wonderful dog Mom heart. I’m so sorry I never got to meet this handsome, goofy love bug; but I actually feel like I have. They always live on in our hearts. ♥️


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