On March 28, 2019, I had to say goodbye to my best friend, a German Shorthair Pointer mix named Riggins. He had been my emotional rock for so long. How was I going to survive the pain of losing him without him there to help me?
It had become clear in the last 6 months of Riggins’ life that he was slowing down. I made changes to our surroundings to accommodate his declining mobility. I covered our apartment in those interlocking mats you often see in children’s play rooms. When his hind legs were too arthritic to grip those, I swapped them out for yoga mats.
His place in the car was moved from being buckled into the back seat, to just being in the back seat, to the way back. About three months ago, Riggins decided a car trip was a great time to poop. I invested in washable dog diapers. When those were annoying, I swapped them out for the disposable kind. I ended a 13-year habit of closing the toilet lid so Riggins wouldn’t drink out of it and instead let him as the height seemed to give him easier access.
I took a number of “when do I know it’s time to put my dog to sleep” quizzes. I’m sure they are helpful to some but they just confused me and made me angry, an emotion I would feel a lot in the coming weeks. Riggins was still happily eating, he would still get excited and summon up the energy to play, and he could still get up on his own and walk around — although slowly. He passed the tests. According to them, it wasn’t time yet. I didn’t think the quizzes put enough weight on the pain he was in.
I upped his pain pills. He seemed better but it was just a façade. The poor guy was just drugged enough to make it look like he was ok. After a few sleepless nights I called a company that does in-home euthanasia and made an appointment.
My normal coping mechanism is to block out what is bad and I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to remember everything I could about Riggins last few days with me. I spent as much time as I possible with Riggins, laying next to his bed, giving him treats and getting angrier.
There are a number of stages for grieving the loss of a pet. How many depends on who you talk to but they tend to include denial, shock, anger, guilt, depression and acceptance. I’ve spent most of my time in anger. I surprised myself at how deep and dark my anger was. I was angry that Riggins wasn’t feeling well, I was angry that I would have to live without him and I was furious at the world for not hurting like I was. I had to try very hard to keep my anger from making me mean. I didn’t always succeed.
Riggins has always been sensitive to my feelings and I had spent the past few weeks doing my best to be stoic around him. His last day was different, he stopped having to be strong for me and I for him. It was a relief for both of us.
The in-home euthanasia vet was amazing. I highly suggest looking into one near you if their services are required. She was soothing and patient even when Riggins barked and jumped, a small senior jump, at her when she dared to step into our apartment. I didn’t watch her and my father carry his body out. I closed my eyes and put my hands to my ears. I had heard her warn my father that he might be “floppy” and I knew I didn’t want to hear any more.
I was cold for two days. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get my hands warm. I assume I was experiencing some sort of shock. Even before his death I was having chest pains. My heart was breaking. Did you know that? Did you know that when you have a broken heart your chest truly hurts?
There is such a thing as pet loss counselors and veterinary services that focus on end of life pet care. I didn’t realize that I could get help during Riggins’ last few months. Perhaps if I had I wouldn’t be so angry.
Perhaps Riggins wouldn’t have had to be so strong for me if I had been finding help elsewhere. If you find yourself where I was, talk to your vet or ask your local humane society. Either one should be able to direct you to people whose job it is to help.
Riggins was a very special soul and I’m happy I got to be with him for as long as I did. He will always be my sweet baby boy.
Thumbnail: Photography courtesy Wendy Newell.
Wendy Newell is a former VP of Sales turned dog sitter, which keeps her busy being a dog chauffeur, picking up poop and sacrificing her bed. Wendy and her dog, Riggins, take their always-changing pack of pups on adventures throughout the Los Angeles area. Learn more about them on Facebook @The Active Pack and on Instagram @wnewell.