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a story of pet loss

Pet loss is painful and I just learned what that feels like. Our wonderful Maxi passed away on April 3, 2017, from a cancer tumor in his heart. It was the most hurtful feeling I have ever felt. He was 13 years old when he passed away and he came into my life when he was only 2 months old.

I‘ve never had a dog before, and somehow I had a deep urge to get one, to keep me company. I remember that’s all I could think of day and night. I wanted a buddy, someone to keep me company, and someone to be there for me. Little did I know, he was an angel sent to me to accompany in what we’re going to be the most difficult days of my life as well as the happiest.

pet lossMaxi, had a unique personality, anyone who met him fell in love with him. If you ask anyone who knew him, he just had a personality like no other. As he grew older he wasn’t a fan of kids (he bit a few of them as a way to welcome them to his pack) but the neighborhood kids absolutely loved him anyways.

They would come home from school, and they would fight among each other on who was going to be the lucky one to give Maxi his so awaited treat – His “premio” . Every day, he would bark at them all excited to see who would be the lucky one. The chosen kid would ask Maxi “do you want a premio” and maxi would answer yes, by leading them all the way to the kitchen, right to the cabinet by the window where I would store his premios. The kids would get so excited, as he would often make tricks to earn his reward. The kids would say  “sit” “give me paw” “other paw” and then hand him the premio. It was a happy moment in the house for all of us.

Life is a cycle and everything must run its course

Unfortunately, as he was getting older, I knew our time together was coming to an end. After all, Google says that Boston Terriers life expectancy is between 10-13 years. Maxi had just turned 13 in November so I knew we were pushing it… He was partially blind; his knees were not as good as when he was young. I would have to pick him up every time we would come downstairs, or carry him as he needed to get in and out of the car.

I noticed that he was getting fatigued with each walk. He stopped being so active and preferred to stay relaxed in his bed. My mother – who is a nurse. Mentioned to me that Maxi seemed very fatigued. I shrugged it off and told her “of course he is fatigued, he is old!” I didn’t think much of it.

Days passed, and his fatigue kept getting worse and worse, so when March turned around and it was time to get his rabies shot, I took him to the vet and mentioned his fatigue. That was the beginning of the end …

The vet did some tests and shared with me that she believed the dog had an arrhythmia. A discrepancy in the dog’s heartbeat. She said, that was the cause for the fatigue, but that it meant there was an underlying cause behind it that we needed to find out and take care of with a cardiologist.

pet loss story cancer

She referred to me to a pet cardiologist. I didn’t even know such thing existed. The costs to just get his diagnosis was high (at this moment, I wished I had kept his dog insurance!).

I hesitated to take him there, I didn’t want to hear the truth.

But, I put my fears aside and I searched vets from all over the state of Florida and decided on a recommended one by a friend down by the Florida Keys. They could squeeze me in between appointments on Tuesday, so that meant I would have to wait. It was an hour away but it was worth the drive.

Can you ever be prepared to say goodbye?

While I waited for the appointment I remember crying during the day, at night, while speaking to friends, to family, in the shower, in the car, while being alone. I knew the end was near but emotionally I was not ready. I was not ready to let him go. He was my security blanket for 13 years. He was with me through college and college love, through living on my own, getting a divorce, finding my first real job, and finding my soul-mate, then getting married again and building a family with my step-son. Maxi was there for everything, and I couldn’t believe how I would go on without him.

But I couldn’t be selfish, I knew if he had something wrong, and he was in pain, that I needed to do something about it, I needed to be there for him and do the best for him regardless of how much I wanted him forever.

The visit with the cardio vet went well. I mean; I walked in there with the expectation that the vet was going to tell me I had to put him to sleep. I walked out with him not saying that. It was a win!

The vet did deliver some bad news but he seemed positive and confident. He said Maxi had a cancer tumor in the heart and there was nothing we could do. I mean we could operate, but he was very high risk, he was so old he probably wouldn’t make it through the surgery. All we could do was to give him medicine to help with the fatigue caused by his pulmonary hypertension which was caused by cancer. Give him a better quality of life until the end.

There was no need to put him to sleep now. All we could do was wait for cancer to take over. At that point, Maxi would faint and he would not feel a thing. I felt good that he was not in pain and that he would not feel pain when the time would come to go. I also felt good that I didn’t have to make the decision to put him to sleep.

Get informed and get prepared

 

I read online, I research his type of cancer, his side effects, as well as the medicine the vet, prescribed him –viagra was one of them – we did have a few laughs about that one! The internet and all my researched suggested that if the treatment would work successfully for a week, then Maxi could have at least 6-8 months more of life, if he didn’t last the week of treatment, then prepare to say goodbye. Every little bit counted, so I was hoping it would work.

Day one, he did ok. His breathing calmed down.

Day two, I would wonder, am I going to find him alive… thank god! He was…

I was scared to wake up each day, I kept waking up through the night to check his breathing. He seemed ok. I would wake up saying to him every day  “thank you Maxi for giving me one more day”

Once the weekend arrived, his breathing was very fast and shallow. His breathing kept worsening.  Again, my mother said, “Ale, there is something wrong with Maxi. He is using his abdomen muscles to breath and when that happens to humans it’s because there is something  really wrong.”

That Sunday, Maxi and I didn’t sleep, he could not get comfortable, he couldn’t lay down, he was tired. I could feel it. He was exhausted from breathing like that and there was nothing I could do. I had given him his medication and his next dosage was 5 hours away. I cried with him, I called the 24/7 emergency vet line, but nothing helped. morning came and things were not better. I left a message with the vet so he could review the medicine dosage and maybe increase it.  I stayed with Maxi while I waited for the callback.

The end was here

While we waited for the vet to call, Maxi passed away in my arms. And it was the most painful feeling I have ever felt. I have never lost anyone, I don’t remember very well when my grandparents passed away when I was little, so this, this loss, someone close to me, my soul-dog was leaving me right in front of my eyes. I wanted to stop time. I wanted time to go back. He kept gasping for air, and it was so painful to see, there was nothing I could do. I felt helpless.

All I wanted was one more day with him. But I knew I didn’t want him to suffer, I knew his time was up and that God had called him back to him. I had to let him go.

I never knew it would feel this way

I always pictured that when his death would happen, I would be able to calmly talk to him, tell him how much I loved him and recall a few good memories we had together. Remember when you chew my black high heels when I go my first job? Or when you decided to shred the contents of the garbage can all over the hall? How about how much you loved ducks and the thrill you got by chasing them. But in reality, it didn’t happen like that.

All I could say (actually scream) was his name. Maxi, Maxi, Maxi. I’m sure he was saying “Ale, seriously? I know what my name is!” but that’s all that I could do… lay with him and scream his name. Then, I remember thinking that I should tell him I loved him so I did. And I told him while caressing him that it was ok to go. That I would be ok. I didn’t believe it, but I I needed him to believe it so he could go in peace.

At that moment, I noticed he took his last breath. I put my hand in his heart and I felt his last two heart beats, then it went silent. The cancer tumor had ruptured in his heart. Blood came out of his nose and I knew he was gone. forever. my friend. no longer physically with me. He would become a memory. He would be with me but only in my heart.

I couldn’t move. I didn’t want to leave him. I couldn’t believe he was gone.

My friend came over, covered him with a blanket that I had made when learning how to knit. He was a special dog, he deserved my special blanket.

pet loss story

My mother came. My husband came, he left work as soon as I called him when I noticed Maxi was dying. He carried Maxi to his car and off we went to the humane society to leave him there. It felt like a dream. A bad dream.

There is always a road to healing

I would always tell my husband and step son to prepare themselves when Maxi would pass away because I would be under the bed covers for days and I would not be coming out. To feed themselves and figure dinner and breakfast out because I would be completely depressed and devastated and probably in hiding.

To my surprise, I am stronger than that. I didn’t have time to do that, neither did I want to. Instead, I noticed myself out and about, sad but I was able to function in society doing what I needed to do throughout the day.

I needed to materialize his loss. We didn’t ask for the cremated ashes, I couldn’t dare to have that. It would be too hard. Too sad. Too painful. Instead, I decided to heal and to cope the best way I could; I made art.

The painting says “When I needed a hand I found your paw”

Maxi was a light in my life and I miss him every day. I see him in dreams and miss him.  Every time I see his photos and art paintings I did I miss him.

Pet loss comes with a few teachings, and I want to share those with you.

What I learned from my pet loss

1. Live every day to the fullest

Maxi didn’t have any plans for the next day, or next week, or a few hours from now. He lived in the NOW.

I want premio now.

I want to go outside now.

I am happy now.

So when he died, he didn’t lose a few plans he had planned for, he had none. He lived his life to the fullest and he enjoyed every moment as it was. A gift. I want to live like him. I try to.

2. Life is the total of a lot of little things

Looking back at moments of things that I miss of Maxi, the smallest details in life is what comes to mind. There are no milestones, there are memories of small moments in life. The mundane things, like how he used to sleep on top of the couch by the window. How he would sense it was almost time for me to come home from work and stare out the window to wait for me. His snores! How my mother in law thought our roommate was still home at 11 am when the one snoring was actually Maxi.

Our lives are the same. life is a collection of a lot of little moments. There are so many small, happy moments on a day-to-day basis in our own lives that we need to slow down and take note and enjoy them, we must savor those and enjoy every chance we get.

Life is the combination of a lot of little moments Click To Tweet

3. Document life

The first thing that I wanted to do when Maxi passed away was to look at every picture I had of him. I shared pictures with my family, my friends, I rejoiced in looking at them. I re-live those moments. People would send me photos they had of him, and I cherish those immensely. I also found a few videos. When he shredded the new bag of toilet paper rolls all over my room. When he chased the ducks around the lake.

– I wished I had more videos.

Take photos, take videos. Even if you think now what’s the point, or you don’t look that good, or who cares… do it! These go straight to the heart. They capture a small moment in life but when you look back you will be transported back to that very moment. And believe me, when the time comes, you are going to wish you can go back and see those moments again.

4. Be grateful 

We constantly look at what we don’t have, what we are missing, what could be better. We never stop and think what it is and the good that’s around.

I am grateful Maxi had a wonderful healthy life all the way until the end (minus the last two weeks) but he had a great life. I am grateful he found me and he kept me company when I needed it the most. I am grateful to have the opportunity to know what the love of a dog means. Some people will never get that.

I am grateful that Maxi brought joy to so many other people in my life. That they had their own relationship with him and he nourished their souls as well. Be grateful for what you have. Take notice and acknowledge it.

Be grateful for what you have. Take notice and acknowledge it. Click To Tweet

5. Reality sometimes is hard to see

I shrug off a lot of warning signs. Not that I think it could have made a difference in the outcome, but I wished I had noticed or acted upon the early signs with Maxi.

Don’t be afraid of doctors and what they have to say. I was scared to take maxi to the cardiologist, I didn’t want to hear bad news. I thought if I could ignore it I could pretend nothing was wrong. I had so many questions, but I was paralyzed with fear. I mentioned this to others, and they pushed me to take Maxi to the cardiologist vet, to find out the answers I was seeking and to find ways to help him. I need to be strong for him. Fear needed to be pushed out of the way.

He had been strong for me so many times, now it was my time to do the same for him.

I couldn’t let him down. I needed to feel I was doing everything in my power to help him. All the way until the end. no regrets.

So I tell you, don’t avoid reality. Sometimes we hear things we don’t want to hear. We rather ignore them and pretend things are ok when they are not. Take life by the horns, you are stronger that you think you are. You can handle everything that life throws at you. You can do it.

6. Everyone deals with loss differently

Since I had never felt loss before, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know how I was supposed to act. How does someone mourn a pet? I purchased a book on Amazon.com to help me walk through my feelings and how to do this. the cover said there were even tips on how to morn.

What I learned, is that everyone is different. Your heart will tell you what it needs.

healing pet loss through artMy heart told me to do art, to use his image and make beautiful paintings. So, I did. I felt silly. what was I to do with that much art about him? Where would I put all those paintings afterward? But I did it anyway, I did it for the process… and I hung it up on a wall – the kids call it “the wall of fame” and they too added their own art drawings. We were all processing our loss in our own way.

The top blue painting says:

When tomorrow starts without me don’t think we are far apart.

For every time you think of me, I’m right here inside your heart.  

I also created a jewelry pet loss bracelet that I wear every day. I take Maxi’s memory with me every day. I needed to materialize his loss, I needed to hold something that represented him. It says “if love would have saved you, you would’ve lived forever”

When sadness comes from a loss, is ok to process it your own way.

Process your loss your own way. Just make sure is healthy. avoid drinking and smoking and all that stuff… so art was my outlet, find yours. I couldn’t hold him anymore, so I did what I needed for me and there is nothing wrong or crazy about that.

When sadness comes from a loss, is ok to process it your own way. Click To Tweet

7. Fear is powerful but you can win it

I am scared to feel this feeling of sadness again. Lola my other dog, got a scratch on her head and was bleeding. I completely panicked and even checked if she was breathing. Don’t die on me Lola I said. I realized I am scared of loss. I am still processing Maxi’s loss.

I loved dogs before Maxi died, I could adopt every dog in the world if I could. Now, I am scared to open my heart again. I’m scared to bring another dog into the house. I told my husband, you are lucky we have Lola because otherwise, we would become a no-dog household. I don’t think my heart can take this feeling ever again.

But I know better, I know this is temporary fear. I know I will get more dogs eventually. But I also know, I need time to let my heart heal and eventually, joy will come again.

Recognize when you feel fear, but do not entertain it. Do not let it overpower you. Acknowledge what you are feeling and push it to the side. Fear does not get to stay. Fear does not belong in your life and fear will not run your life. When you notice, your life is being ruled by fear you need to step up and take over your own life.

If you are going through pet loss

You are grieving and sad, I send you a hug. I never knew what pain was until I felt this loss so I understand where you are.

I’m here to tell you that it will get better. Each day you will miss your pet. Each day you will start to find joy as well.

I am here to tell you that you are allowed to cry, to scream, to ask why. Lossing a pet is no different than losing a friend or a family member. Do not dimish your pain, let it out, feel it, as a piece of your heart is gone.

Lossing a pet is no different than losing a friend or a family member. Do not dimish your pain, let it out, feel it, as a piece of your heart is gone.

Nourish your soul your own way. You know what you need. Just sit, and listen. Your heart will tell you. This is a process and for some, it takes longer than others. The sad feeling will not last forever and soon when you think of your dog, you will no longer feel sad. The feeling will be replaced with a sense of love, of happiness, and with the joy, he brought to you. You will feel very lucky you were chosen to have him in your life.

I am still through my healing process, after all its only been a few weeks. but it’s ok. I know it will get better. I know healing will come with time.