My house was a mess. I started vacuuming and within five minutes was crying uncontrollably. I stopped and laid down until my ears filled up with tears. I had done everything to ensure that my best friend Rascal passed gently and peacefully, and he had.
I couldn’t bring myself to clean my house because it felt wrong. I didn’t want to remove his hair from the floor or the couch, getting rid of his smell. I would be erasing Rascal from my life, and I couldn’t bear the thought. Heck, I didn’t even want to clean up his poop in the yard.
Losing Rascal was inevitable, and spending 14 wonderful years with him, through hard and joyous times, had left me unprepared for the void he left behind. I looked for him, and he wasn’t there. My best friend was gone.
His last days
Rascal’s last year had been a slow one. He still wanted to participate in all that we did — he just did it with much less gusto. He had eager eyes, a big heart, yet slower and more deliberate steps. We even named a hiking trail after him: The Rascal Stroll. His last hike was three days before he died. I knew it would be his last, and watched as he delighted in each and every sniff.
The next day, Rascal let me know he was ready to go. I was prepared with medication to keep him comfy, the vet was on call, my clients were on notice if I needed to cancel, and our home was rearranged for his comfort and safety. I had picked out a place to bury him.
Rascal was very tired and unable to get up without help, so I assisted him to a favorite spot on the porch. I laid by his side to watch for any signs of discomfort and to love on him. The bed was big enough for his pals to join if they chose, and they did.
I had been giving Rascal doggie cannabis cookies and capsules for the last year. I had western pain meds, as well, if they were needed. On that last morning, he ate a whole cannabis cookie and two capsules. It was the perfect cocktail to keep him calm and comfortable as he passed. I held him close and said my goodbyes. Tears are rolling down my cheeks as I write this. It is never easy to do, yet it is such an honor to be with our beloveds when they move through into death, held in our arms surrounded by nothing but LOVE.
The place I had chosen to rest his body is on a small farm where he had loved to roam and roll in the grass. We created a beautiful spot with stones, flowers, water (his favorite), his stuffed bunny of 14 years, a tennis ball, and a bone. Rascal had lived a simple, joyous, and intense life. He came to me emotionally damaged as a 10-month-old, but became the most confident dog and teacher I’ve ever known. We called him The King, and his grave was fit for exactly that.
The importance of ritual
Creating ritual for my pets is one of the best ways I know to help me with the grieving process. On Rascal’s last day, I asked what he wanted and listened carefully. What came to me was to teach people not to fear death, but to be prepared and to use ritual to help with the healing process. Creating ritual for my dying pets has always been a very private affair, and this request meant I would need to take pictures and share them publicly. I felt that doing so would take me away from the moment, have me not being present with Rascal. This felt wrong to me, and I resisted at first.
But then I remembered who Rascal was, and that was a teacher. He schooled every puppy I had in training, was my rock in very dark times, and taught me that a damaged dog can recover through dignity and boundless love, the kind that pierces through anything. I knew what needed to be done, that these words and pictures would be Rascal’s last gift.
When I bathed Rascal in water and rose petals while talking to him, tears meshing with the bathwater, blessing his big heart and soul, the grieving process began. Animals have their own way of grieving just like we do, and it’s always very telling to witness their journey. One of my dogs watched from a distance, and the other was right there smelling Rascal, lying with him, watching every move I made. One thing I have learned is that there is no certain way to grieve and no time limit on it. It’s its own process for every being, and we can only love and support that process the best we can.
To you, Rascally boy
Thank you for all of the love you shared with every living being who knew you. I’m grateful to have shared your life and to feel your grace as I move through mine so delicately these days. You’ll always hold a big piece of my heart.
About the author: Jill Breitner is a professional dog trainer and dog body language expert, loving and living her life with family, friends and her beloved four-leggeds. She is the author of Dog Decoder, a smartphone app about dog body language. Join Jill on her Dog Decoder Facebook page.