Losing Dogs is Different Than Losing Cats

I have had my share of grief over the past few years. The loss of two jobs. The loss of my workplace status. The illness and recovery of a beloved pet. The loss of an 18 year old cat. And today, the loss of the pet who previously recovered.

Our pet, Sammy, who has been in declining health over the past year, passed away today. But he didn’t really pass away, exactly. I was at work on a Monday when my son’s school’s number popped up on my phone. It was the nurse calling to tell me that my son was not feeling well. She said that he had a tummy ache and a low-grade fever. She said that she had asked him whether he would rather stay at school or go home. He chose to go home. I hung up the phone and tried to call my husband (who might be closer than I), but he didn’t answer. I checked the bus schedule and went out in a few minutes to catch the bus to my car.

Traffic was light, and when I arrived at the school to check out my son, the lady in the office said, “He never complains.”

The ride home was filled with small talk about how he felt, whether he had felt ill, and what we would do for the rest of the day. My nine said that he just wanted to stay on the couch with his iPad, and I thought that was okay. He was okay, afterall, with none of the virus that was going around.

After we arrived home and were settled in, I looked out the window onto the back deck. You see, our dog Sammy has been in poor health over the past few months. He has had arthritis, or a bad back, or bad hips – one of those things that dogs cannot tell you about, but only show symptoms of. Over the past couple of years, he has spent at least three weeks at the vet’s office, recovering from ear infections, or an inner ear disorder that is common in older dogs.

In 2012, Sammy began vomiting every meal he ate. We were convinced that it was because he ate a mesh bag full of fish food at the lake; he gobbled it up before we could get to him. Since he was 12 years old at the time, and so very weak from weight loss, we labored over the decision to have the vet perform surgery, but we decided to let him go ahead. Dogs of his age did not generally fare well under anesthesia, but our only other choice was to let him starve to death. Our vet and friend removed a large tumor from his stomach and duodenum, and he recovered in due time.

I am confident that in the year preceding his cancer surgery, we were giving him cortisone shots because his back legs were getting weak. I looked back to pictures I took of him after his surgery, and he was not as thin as he was today. The day we picked him up from the vet during his recuperation from surgery, he was shockingly thin. But today as he left for his last car ride, he was even more so.

As I arrived home today and found him incapacitated on our porch, I thought at first that it was just like any other day. He was hurting, and needed his pain medication. However, as I saw him struggle to lift his head, and then rest his head on the water bowl that I had just placed in front of him, I knew that today was to be the day. Althought we expected it, it came suddenly. He was up and around just last night.

My husband and I deal with these things differently. While he has been avoiding spending time with Sammy for the past six months or so, I have been throwing myself into the extra upkeep and nursing. I bought the 400 different kinds of canned dogfood, opening a new can each night hoping that this would be the one that he likes. He did like some, but only for a day or so.

As I said, it was expected, but sudden.

After an afternoon and evening of crying, it dawned on me, that the death of a dog is very different than the death of a cat. Two years ago, our favorite cat, Gino, at 18 years, succombed to kidney disease. He was the best cat ever in the history of cats, in spite of the fact that he stole cooked food off of the counter, or insisted on being under the covers for approximately 7 minutes while I was trying to go to sleep. In, rest, out.

Why is the dog death different from the cat? The cat was my companion. He was always by my side. Wanting a bite of this or wanting to be on my knee pillow. But the dog was the real beggar. He was not okay with simply being IN the house – he followed us around to no end. “Sammy, go lay on your blanket.” He would do that for a minute, until I left the room. He was right behind me. In the bedroom, in the kitchen, wherever. He was going to be there with us, even if it meant a scolding.

But more than that, he was my security blanket when I was outside at night, or when my husband was out of town. I knew he would always protect me. I love my cats, but in a life-or-death situation, I’m pretty sure they’d be hovered under the bed.

Yes. Sammy was a security blanket for this house. I knew that if he barked (because he wasn’t supposed to be barking, and he knew that) that there was something out there. It may have just been a deer or a possum, but it was more than just a noise.

I washed shit off the deck for the last time after my husband and I loaded up Sammy in his crate and he drove him to his fate. He always loved the sound of the crate, though, and I’m sure he thought he was just going to the lake. That’s what I told him, anyway, when we were waiting for his ride to come. I wasn’t sure he would make it to his last ride, but he held on.

There is a void in our hearts tonight. We feel less safe. We feel incomplete.

Sammy was the last surviving pet that we adopted before our son was born.Today, we woefully close another chapter in our lives.