One unexpected facet of grief that I didn’t know that I would experience was how our pets must’ve felt after my husband’s sudden death.
I am sure many might say that pets aren’t something one should be worrying about in grief, but I disagree. I know our dogs knew that something terrible had happened.
A few days after Bret’s death, I found myself frustrated with being tasked with 100% care of our dogs – or his dog, rather.
Bret had always had an affinity for big dogs. On the other hand, I am a small dog kind of girl.
Back in 2013, we welcomed a teeny-tiny blue chihuahua boy that we named Chip into our family. Even then I wasn’t sure I could take care of another being, as we were taking care of Bret’s grandmother who required quite a bit of day-to-day help. Add that to homeschooling our six-year-old daughter, and I felt pretty maxed out on what I could give.
He assured me that he would do most of the puppy-rearing but the very next day, he went on a 10-hour day trip, leaving me behind with a yapping new little dog.
I grabbed up the little dude and swaddled him tightly like a baby and took him back to bed with me. From that day forward, he was my boy. Yes, we still cuddle to this day.
In 2016, Bret decided that it was his turn to get a pet and he set his sights on some Cane Corso puppies a few hours south of us.
Now, for those who aren’t familiar with Cane Corsos, they are big dogs. They are also known as Italian Mastiffs, or “Blue Mastiffs.” Since we already had a “Blue Chihuahua“, he was sold. The fact that it also had the name “Mastiff” in it, made him doubly sold.
Bret once had another big dog that was part Old English Mastiff, and he had absolutely adored that dog.
Old English Mastiffs are REALLY big dogs but once they get older, they are pretty calm. Bret had assumed that a Cane Corso would be equally calm, and well, he couldn’t have been more wrong.
Our “little” girl has had more energy in her six years than I ever dreamed possible, and Bret hasn’t been around to see it.
We lived in the Eugene, OR area at the time, and it happens to rain a lot over there.
Our small home did not have any sort of mud room, so we had to manually wipe the dog’s paws whenever they came in from the soggy yard.
For a chihuahua, this is not a difficult task. (Except that he has a ton of attitude and likes to act like he’s really put out when you do something like this.)
But for big ol’ Pearl, it is no small feat – pun absolutely intended.
In my early grief, keeping up with the giant, muddy paws of a high-energy dog was proving to be too much to take.
Bret had promised that he was going to work with her, socialize her, turn her into an absolute obedience machine, but we hadn’t even had her a year and a half when he chose to end his life.
He had worked with her some at first, but the diligent training efforts began to fade away.
Pearl was sweet and happy but needed a lot of interaction and exercise, which she was not getting there toward the end.
I began to consider rehoming her with our kind neighbors who love dogs. The sweet wife had once trained dogs in the military. If I was going to give Pearl to a new family, they were about as perfect as they could be.
One day, as I sat there wondering what I ought to do, Pearl came over to me and had the saddest look on her face. It was as if she was letting me know that she was aware that things were different now, and her Master was not ever coming back.
I just couldn’t do it.
She had lost her “dad” and now “mom” was sad and frustrated all the time.
I decided that I didn’t want her to experience any more loss.
Maybe it was a selfish decision, but at that moment she became MY dog.
It wasn’t long before I decided to move back to the dry side of Oregon, so the muddy paw thing became less of an issue. I also have a laundry room where the dogs can go while they wait for their paws to dry during our wet season.
I have watched Pearl grow bigger and bigger, and I’ve nurtured her through some issues she has experienced. (Sometimes big dogs have more health issues than smaller-sized dogs.)
I get sad again though when I reflect on the fact that our pets had to deal with his death, too.
I find myself wondering what the grief of an animal is like.
Then it hits really hard when I think about the fact that I almost adopted her out! She has boundless energy and is a bit wiley, but she has brought so much joy to our world.
She and her much smaller counterpart, Chip, are always together. She thinks of herself as small like him, and he thinks of himself as large, like her. She will even drink out of his little bowl, and he prefers her big one.
I am thankful for them, every day of my life.
It will hit me sometimes though, at the fact that he didn’t just leave the people in his life, he left our dog kids too.
Sometimes the littlest things can create a small grief wave, and that thought has been a consistent one.
I am so glad that I chose to keep them together.
I know that pets are not for everyone, but mine have really helped our household through some awful times. I am glad that I’ve been able to help them as well.