By, Katy Cable-TWR
A 4 minute Read
This is by far the saddest and most difficult blog I've written as it deals with the hardest thing about being a pet-owner: Saying goodbye! August 16th will mark the 6 year anniversary since we sent our darling Pug Raisin to run free at Rainbow Bridge. This has also been a particularly difficult year as I’ve lost several dogs that weren’t mine, but I couldn’t have loved them any more if they were. Working in pet rescue has taught me a lot about managing grief. I hope these tips can help you get through a heartbreaking time.
THE END IS NEAR
It was early August, two years ago when I took my 13 year-old Pug to the Vet. He was yelping and shaking his head in a strange way and I assumed he must be suffering from yet another ear infection. If only that were the case. Instead of confirming my suspicion, my long-time, trusted Vet took a look in Raisin's ears and found no sign of infection. She thoroughly examined my sweet little guy and found nothing. I then showed her video clips on my cellphone of his yelping and head twitching. She suspected a tumor and said with Raisin's age and medical history, doing MRI's and costly exploratory procedures would be inhumane. She then handed me the dreaded brochure which read, "When It's Time To Say Goodbye" containing home euthanasia information.
I broke down hysterically crying, as did the entire staff. As I was stumbling out the door, the Vet handed me a strong course of antibiotics and suggested giving them a try. At this point I had nothing to lose and no other options. I stuffed one in a pill pocket and fed it to Raisin on the spot. By the time we arrived home, he was bouncing around eating and acting like his old self. His symptoms had disappeared. My prayers had been answered. I quickly called Vet with the terrific news: Raisin was back!
For the past year I had watched Raisin's health swiftly decline. Degenerative hemivertebrae issues which are common in Pugs, had taken their toll on Raisin and he had completely lost use of his hind legs. The chronic ear infections had damaged his hearing. His dry-eye had left him nearly blind. He suffered skin allergies, and had only a few teeth left in his mouth. Yet, even in his poor physical condition he was not in pain and happy as could be melted on a lap like butter. After all, Pugs were bred simply for the purpose of sitting on the laps of royalty.
We got Raisin wheels (which he never really enjoyed) and since he never did charge down the beach like I had hoped, I opted for using a Radio Flyer wagon or stroller for outings. I upped his daily dosage of Rimady and he had done fine. As tiring as his care was, as long as he was happy, comfortable and enjoying life, I was glad to do whatever my little fur-baby needed. Each day as I carried Raisin up and down the steps and helped him walk, at least one onlooker would chime in, "Why don't you put that old dog to sleep!" They just didn't understand.
However, I was in a personal panic over how Raisin was going to survive when we made the upcoming trip across the country to take our daughter off to college. Raisin was too old and immobile to join us, yet leaving him with his rescue family in a strange environment, without the family he loved and relied on, would probably cause him more fear and stress than he could tolerate. Horrible thoughts went through my mind about our daughter never seeing her dog again. Or worse yet, getting the call he had slipped away while we were gone without having a chance to say goodbye or be with him in his final days. It would've haunted me forever to think Raisin had felt abandoned by his family in his last days. I prayed for solutions.
HIS DAYS WERE NUMBERED
As draining and difficult as it is to care for an aging pet, I treasured every waking minute with Raisin. I wheeled him down to the bay in his wagon for short dips in the cool sea water. I paraded him in his doggie stroller down the neighborhood to visit all his friends. I fed him his favorite treats and gave him lots of warm baths, gentle massages and cuddles. I carried him in a baby sling and took him everywhere I went, knowing my days with him were numbered.
Just as I had feared, Raisin's remission was short lived. A week later he was up all night trembling in pain and shaking his head. He didn't relieve himself in the morning and had no interest in food. His eyes looked tired and I knew he was done fighting. I gathered the family around and we made the heartbreaking decision to make the dreaded call.
HOME PET EUTHANASIA
The first few times I dialed, I had to hang-up because I was sobbing too hard to speak. Thankfully Dr. Annie Forslund at Southern California Pet Euthanasia, picked up the phone. She knew exactly how to handle a distraught pet mom and put me at ease. As luck would have it she was free that afternoon and, not wanting to prolong Raisin's pain, I made arrangements for her to come out as quickly as possible.
The delightful Dr. Forslund arrived in her polo shirt with an embroidered logo of a dog with wings. She was beautiful, kind, gentle and angelic. I introduced her to my husband Rick and daughter Karley, who was stroking Raisin on her lap. I told her about all the work Raisin had done as an award-winning therapy dog, then showed her the book Karley wrote when she was just 12 years old, "Raisin, -A Doggie's Tale" which received nationwide attention. She could see how special he was and also recognized how much pain Raisin was in.
Dr. Forslund explained that she would start by inserting an IV catheter. Once Raisin was calm and we had said our goodbyes, she would come back in and do the procedure which would take less than a minute. She let us know she would wait in the next room until we alerted her we were ready. At that point I made a half-serious comment, "What if I'm never ready?" She politely replied, "Then I will ask you if you would prefer me to come back another time!" I so appreciated her compassion.
Raisin was so lethargic and out of it, Dr. Forslund had no problem inserting the catheter. We then moved out to Raisin's favorite spot on the couch and with the PGA golf showing on TV, we each stroked Raisin and told him how much we loved him. We were all sobbing uncontrollably telling him how much we were going to miss him. I then called Dr. Forslund back in and while Raisin was dozing comfortably on my lap, and we continued to pet him, she covered his legs with a towel so we wouldn't have to witness the procedure, and told us if we were ready she would start administering the lethal injection.
Watching my little Raisin take his last breath and slip away to Rainbow Bridge was gut-wrenching. When Raisin had gone, Dr Forslund excused herself in order to give us some time alone. On our cue she returned and covered Raisin's lifeless body in a pretty blanket and I carried him out to her car. Living at the crowded beach, the last thing I needed was a child running up wanting to pet a now lifeless Raisin. Fortunately I made it to Dr. Forslund's van without incident. I placed Raisin in a beautifully decorated doggie basket she had waiting in the back. She hugged me goodbye and offered her deepest condolences. Before she left with Raisin, she informed me his ashes and paw print would be delivered in two weeks.
BUTTERFLIES ARE FREE
For the next few days I laid in bed sobbing continuously, wanting desperately to be put-to-sleep myself. My daughter was leaving for college, and now my sweet Raisin had left me for the Bridge. I didn't want to live for those first few days. Thankfully, I had to go out and run some last-minute errands with Karley before she left and getting out of the house was just what we needed.
When we were returning home that afternoon, we noticed an enormous yellow Monarch butterfly following our car. At first we thought it must be a toy or decoration since it was bigger than any butterfly we'd ever seen. It literally followed us the entire ride home and then was a constant visitor in our front yard. I told Karley it must be Raisin's spirit telling us he's free. When Rick returned home from work that night I pointed out the huge butterfly and he commented, "I noticed that exact butterfly following you the other day when you were carrying Raisin's body out to Annie's van. I didn't think anything of it at the time except what a huge butterfly it was."
As painful as this experience was, I could clearly see the gift I had received. I was so grateful we all had the chance to say goodbye and to grieve Raisin. We were able to be with him right up to his last breath and he left this earth, not on a cold table in the Vet's office, or a boarding facility but in his home surrounded by his entire loving family. We got to be there for him when he needed it the most. Not everyone is as fortunate.
DON’T WAIT…KNOW YOUR OPTIONS EARLY
One of the hardest things about being a pet-owner is saying goodbye. Many people don't know the option of home euthanasia is available and even more people struggle with how to read signs of pain and distress in their animals. Wherever you live, and regardless of your pet's age and health condition, I urge you to educate yourself on how pets express pain and also get some tentative plans made for when that dreaded time comes. Don't wait until you are under the extreme stress of a situation to seek out your options.
Talk to your vet, and/or pet parent friends BEFORE you need it. Raisin shuddered with fear every time he entered the Vet's office so I made my wishes known from the get-go. I was not going to put Raisin through arduous medical procedures and expensive tests only to prolong his life a few months. I would keep him comfortable until he was no longer expressing the will to live. If possible, when the time came, I wanted a Raisin to leave us in the privacy and comfort of his home. I'm so very thankful it worked out as beautifully as it did.
WILL MY HEARTBREAK EVER SUBSIDE?
That being said, I still experienced extreme sadness, grief and depression that was beyond my wildest dreams. I knew the end was near and it still flattened me like a Mack truck. Know that it takes time to heal. You will stop crying eventually. You will feel better.
WAYS TO HONOR YOUR PET AND MANAGE GRIEF:
1. Be gentle with yourself. Take the time you need to grieve. Don’t move the dog bed, or all their favorite toys just yet, if that brings you comfort.
2. Try and get out and do things each day. It may be temping to isolate and spend days in bed crying but seeing friends and doing things will help you feel better.
3. Plant something in your pet’s honor. Or make a small garden.
4. Get a tattoo of your dog.
5. Buy a nice piece of jewelry and have your pet’s name engraved. I bought a Pug charm that holds some of Raisin's ashes. I wear it next to my heart.
6. Check Shutterfly and put a my favorite photo of your pet on a coffee mug, blanket, pillow or other keepsake. I made a coffee mug with Raisin’s picture and I take him with me wherever I go.
4. Frame favorite photos.
5. Light a memorial candle. I received a beautiful Memorial candle from Pet House Candles which I burn on the anniversary of Raisin’s passing and his birthday.
6. Attend a pet loss grief/bereavement support group.
7. Although it took a few months before I could even look at Raisin's book, having his legacy in print, with funds supporting child literacy and pug rescue has helped so much. Raisin lives on forever in his book: Raisin, -A Doggie’s Tale...
🐾The number one best thing I did to heal was adopt Olive. I know some people need time (For months my husband refused to get another dog) but for me having another Pug (who's completely different right down to the color and gender) that I can love makes everything much, much better! No dog can ever replace another and Lord knows there is NOTHING I wouldn’t do to bring back Raisin happy and healthy. Since that's not an option, I will love and help other dogs in need. For me the best anti-depressant available is a dog!
AND JUST WHEN YOU THINK YOU’RE OVER IT…
You may be surprised that even after all that, I still find myself breaking into tears over social media posts alerting me of pets I love that have gone to Rainbow Bridge. Sad songs on the radio or seeing a pug that reminds me of Raisin can also open the flood gates, even years later. So I UGLY cry, wipe my raccoon eyes and thank God I was blessed to have such a wonderful dog for 13 years.
On every anniversary of Raisin's passing, I get an email from Dr. Forslund to "light a candle in Raisin's honor" on their memorial site, which I do. In honor of Raisin’s birthday, I spread his ashes at all his favorite haunts and planted a Birch tree in our front yard. The tree has grown so much and seems to constantly attract huge Monarch butterflies.🌈
For more information, please visit:
Home Pet Euthanasia of Southern California
to order a copy of Raisin's book click here:
🐾Katy Cable is a former actress appearing in “Back To The Future” and starring in the TV series: “Safe At Home” & “ Fired Up!” In addition to her dog health & lifestyle blog/vlog: The Weekly Runt, (https://www.weeklyrunt.com/) she’s a contributing writer to numerous publications including Thrive Global, & The Huffington Post. Cable lives at the beach with her husband, Rick and her rescue Pug, Olive.🐾