A pet owner’s most dreadful day

Zoe Love

Zoe gave us unconditional love, even on her last day.

Despite good times with friends and family this holiday season, there was an undercurrent of sadness and anxiety when we thought about our dog, Zoe.

We knew a pet owner’s most dreadful day was approaching.

We postponed the inevitable doing things we said we’d never do, e.g. putting her in diapers and pretending it was a normal stage of canine aging, making excuses when the diaper failed, and saying things weren’t that bad.

We wanted to push through the holidays. It is inconvenient to grieve during Christmas week, and we have control over when to end a pet’s life.

It is that very control that makes it so rough. You ask yourself repeatedly, “Is it really time yet?”

So what if she awoke several times in the night clicking her toenails on the hardwood floors, walking around confused, coughing, having accidents requiring a trip outside and a diaper change? So what if she stumbled and fell occasionally because of the weakness in her back legs? So what if she was anxious when we were out of her sight, crying at the door when we returned home?

Anyone looking in on our lives would say the time was overdue.

Even we couldn’t deny it, when we came home from church the Sunday before Christmas, to a particularly horrific scene.

We cried and held her, and said that quality of life for all of us was suffering. At 13 years old with spinal stenosis, shrunken muscles, incontinence and a bit of senility, we knew the time was right to let her go.

Zoe entered our lives in 2003 when she was 4 months old. We had just packed our son off to college, and the nest was empty except for a cranky eight-year-old mutt.

Deion was old for his age, suffering from arthritis, obesity and loneliness. We thought we got the new dog for us, but it turned out when Deion caught a whiff of puppy breath, he was rejuvenated.

It was not love at first sight. He tore through our invisible fence embracing an electric shock in his effort to rip her head off. It literally scared the crap out of our sweet, gentle Zoe, and even though she was bigger than he was, she didn’t fight back.

Despite this rough beginning, Deion fell in love over the course of the first week, and Zoe became his inspiration to energize, lose weight, and live nine more years.

Zoe and Deion in snow 2

Zoe getting Deion back in shape

I cried for three days when I read Marley and Me, so you can only imagine how many tears I have shed since Zoe’s death.

For the first time in 20 years we are dog-less. I never imagined how quiet and empty a house would feel in that state.

Now when I smell a foul odor, notice someone slurping water, or hear a bored sigh during conversation, I have to look at myself instead of blaming the dog.

And the nose prints on the window are mine, looking for her tracks in the snow and imagining her younger, playful self leaping with joy.

Zoe footprints 2

I wish I could let her back in.

I don’t know where dogs go when they die, but through his tears Patrick read this comforting prayer, while we held her in our arms at the moment of her death:

“Heavenly Father, Creator of all things, thank you for having entrusted us with a loyal pet. Thank you for letting Zoe teach us unselfish love. Thank you for the memories that we can recall to brighten our days for the rest of our lives. Finally in gratitude, we return Zoe to you. Amen.”

♥ Zoe – August 2002 – 12/28/15 ♥

How have you coped with the loss of a beloved pet? How do you preserve the memories?


Molly Stevens

About Molly Stevens

Molly Stevens arrived late to the writing desk but is forever grateful her second act took this direction instead of adult tricycle racing or hoarding cats. She was raised on a potato farm in northern Maine, where she wore a snowsuit over both her Halloween costume and her Easter dress.