Dear Virginia: On Losing a Pet, Grieving and Healing
When a beloved pet dies, a little part of your heart leaves with her. And as she explains to her new arrival, Rachel Leavy has much more love to give… but will always treasure her Maria.
Sometimes all it takes is pulling a pea coat from the back of the closet that I haven’t worn in a year. Sometimes it’s an odd memory like the time she decided to bury all of my shoes in the bed that sets me over. I’m sorry that sometimes I pull you out of your dog crate when you’re sound asleep to hold you while I cry. You may think that I’m in control, I feed you, take you on walks and provide you with the things you need to remain happy. But the truth is that without you, I would be completely lost.
I’m sorry if I get frustrated with you and you don’t understand why. You have enormous shoes to fill my friend – and I’m sorry if I make comparisons because it’s not fair to you. Before you, there was another dog, her name was Maria. I used to refer to Maria as my ‘Souldog’ because we were inseparable and had the same bitchy personality. It was just me and her, and she even got to come to work with me every day. You’ve been able to do that a little bit, come to class and on dog walks – I can’t wait to for you to come every day too! I never felt like Maria’s owner, mother or master, she was my best friend and companion – and yes, although there’s structure now, we will grow into that relationship too.
Maria came to me at seven months old, and she was a handful (much like you are). But we practiced our training every single day and eventually she became my demo dog and partner in crime. I used to get frustrated with her at first too – we’re only human, you’ll have to forgive us. Maria was there for me through all my ups and downs in life – business problems, moving from apartment to apartment, boy troubles – all of it. She even bit someone once because she thought they were going to harm me. Maria was my best friend and protector.
One day, Maria began acting strange. It was barely noticeable at first, and I just thought she was losing her puppy energy – she was almost six after all. But when she stopped wanting to hop into the car, I realized there was something wrong. I took her to the vet and they thought it could be anything from a slipped disk to cancer.
After trying multiple treatments with no luck, we opted to do an MRI. Her health was declining; she began to lose the ability to feel in her hind end. But it was a rare side effect of one of the medicines we had been trying, so I was hoping the feeling would return. I kept hoping for some sign that she would recover, but unfortunately it was cancer.
I will never forget the moment the vet called to tell me the news. I was sitting at home waiting nervously, when finally, the doctor called. I was hoping they would be calling to tell me about her slipped disk and how she needed surgery to fix it. I wouldn’t have minded a surgery if she would have had a full recovery. But no – it was a tumor growing out of her spine and there was nothing that could be done.
The best I could do was to keep her medicated and comfortable until it was time. I rearranged the house to make it easiest for her and took off work indefinitely. I know as a puppy that sounds really boring – but I wouldn’t have traded those last few weeks for the world. Maria had lost all function in her back end, but she was on enough medication that she wasn’t in pain and still seemed happy. We lounged around on my mattress – I put it on the floor because she wasn’t able to walk without me supporting her back end with a sling. When she was up for it, I would bring her out on the porch to sun herself and take her for walks in a little red wagon we got especially for her. She got to the first snow of the year. Remember your first snow? You love the snow; she did too.
One day Maria stopped eating and I knew that was the day. See, because she was dying, I was giving her the best of the best food. She got to eat as much cheese as she wanted and I cooked her fresh meat every meal. When she stopped wanting cheese I knew it was time. I called our closest friends and they came and said teary goodbyes. Although I could tell she was in pain, she but on a brave, happy face while she was getting petted. Then we were off to the vet for her last ride.
My dearest Virginia – know that no matter how hard it gets, I will be there to care for you. I was there with Maria until her last breath, and I will do the same for you. I hope and pray that I don’t have to worry about that for fifteen years, but just know, no matter how awful or unexpected it is, you won’t have to worry about going through it alone.
Right before Maria began acting funny, she had her 5th adoptaversary. We celebrated by having Maria Day. We went to the beach where she got to swim. We went hiking, we ate cheese and we even made her a hat with pictures of her and her best dog friend Loki. I know Loki hasn’t warmed up to you yet, but he lost his best friend too. I promise that you’ll be friends soon enough. I took Maria to her (and my) favorite pub that night. The one she knew – and you will too – by name. I will cherish that day with her as one of my favorites.
Us humans need to be more like you, little pup. We need to cherish the individual moments and dwell less on the big picture. Yes, it’s soul-crushing to me that I lost my best friend. But I have five years of amazing memories with her. And now I’m getting to know you and I’ve fallen completely in love with you. I am blessed to watch you learn the world, and develop into a dog. When I saw you for the first time at the tree farm, I fell in love with you. That’s how Maria came to me too, so I trust my instincts. I love everything about your innocent puppy self – especially the look of be wonderment you have when learning the world. I just ask that you stay patient with me for now, I am after all, only human.
Love you forever,
Rachel Leavy lives in Rochester, New York with her dog, Virginia Woof. She’s loved animals all her life, and has owned her own dog training and walking company for five years. When she’s not playing with puppies, she can usually be found writing short stories, riding horses or out at a play.