On Thanksgiving night in 2007 I shared a bite of pumpkin pie and whipped cream with my Brittany Spaniel, Speckles. Shortly after, he went into respiratory distress, and I was rushing him to an emergency veterinary clinic 40 miles away.
I knew that he had a paralyzed larynx and partially collapsed lungs. I knew that respiratory distress would be a sign that he would be facing death. It all happened too soon after diagnosis.
That night in the emergency clinic, I kissed his cheek, my tears wetting his fur while he was under sedation. As he was euthanized, I told him that I loved him and would see him again some day. That night I left without him, driving home alone.
The next day I faced cleaning my car of his vomit and fur. I cried hopelessly at these remnants of 12 years of companionship. He was not just a dog. He was my boy, my joy — an inspiration.
Anyone who suffers the loss of a loved pet knows the pain that follows. You slowly heal and remember the good times. You also might have pet memorials. I have Speckles’ ashes on a bookshelf in my living room, along with a photo of him and a clay mold of his paw. I also wrote and published a book of stories about our relationship over the years.
The reality is, I still cry at times over missing him — tears ignited by the oddest situations. The No. 1 trigger is seeing another Brittany. I always drop to my knees when I meet one, showering them with hugs and kisses.
For two or three years I couldn’t walk through a dog toy aisle in a store without crying. Speckles had two wicker baskets full of stuffed toys, which I donated to a local animal shelter after his passing.
A surprise trigger came the spring after Speckles died. I was raking leaves out of ornamental grasses in my backyard when I spied a tuft of his soft orange fur. I held it between my fingers and cried. Many times I had combed his long ear hair and feathery thighs. I’d let the fur blow in the wind for birds to use as nesting material. This particular tuft had lingered, and when I picked it up, I felt Speckles all over again.
A friend recently posted on Facebook how she opened a box of items belonging to her dog who had passed. The scent of her dog emanated from a collar and made her cry.
My mom found a small amount of her cat Spike’s orange fur after he died of cancer. She sandwiched it in a frame with one of his pictures, and that picture sits on her sewing table, where she can “talk” to him often. She also refuses to remove an old shoebox from the headboard of her bed, which Spike used to sleep on during the night.
My cat, Desdemona, loved little felt mice, retrieving them after I threw them, carrying them through the house in her mouth while talking to them and batting them about on the kitchen floor. After she died, I placed her ashes on my bookshelf with her three little mice. I could not part with the mice, just as I could rarely separate her from them.
Speckles loved a large stuffed moose from the time I brought him home at three months of age until his death. I still have that moose, 18 years after he entered my life. The toy is missing its bottom lip, antlers, tail, ears, and an eye, and it has been mended countless times. But I cannot throw it away. Speckles slept with that moose and it has brought comfort to my current dog, Trucker, and my cat, Jack, who loved Speckles like a brother. The moose rests in a wicker basket with Trucker’s toys.
I believe that these triggers, though they spark pain and peace, are our pets’ angelic ways of letting us know they are okay and waiting to see us again. They are calling cards to say, “I love you.”
Do you keep toys or favorite items of pets who have passed? Tell us your stories in the comments.
Read more about the bond between humans and dogs on Dogster:
About Tracy Ahrens: A modern-day Tasha Tudor with a pen as an eleventh phalanx, Tracy is a magnet for small children and creatures, along with strange mishaps and writing errors in need of correcting. Her mind is akin to a 24-hour bustling liquor store and prone to late-night inspiration. She’s most happy planting or pruning something, drinking tea, throwing a tomahawk, drawing or napping. Her obsessive compulsions include planting a peck on each of her pets’ heads before leaving home and brushing/flossing her teeth before bed. Add her book, Raising My Furry Children, to your collection.