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Saying Goodbye to a Good Dog

This article was written by Pet Community Center Board of Directors member and Marketing Committee Volunteer, Maryglenn Warnock. You can learn more about the author at the end of the post.

PC: Mandy Whitley Photography

In my work as a pet bereavement counselor, I’ve worked with hundreds of people—often meeting them on their worst days. I’ve talked through anguish, guilt, sadness, worry, relief, trauma, fear, joy, gratitude, good times, bad times, loss of identity, sorrow, and all of the many faces of grief.

Time and again, I found myself saying, “I’ve been there. I get it.” And it’s true: when I lost my beloved Old English Sheepdog, Garcia, in June 2011, I fell apart. I was devastated.

But recently, I gained a whole new appreciation for grief. My husband Tim and I lost Major, our Old English Sheepdog, on December 10, 2023.

Major was 12 ½. Just as my friends assured me, he let me know when it was time for him to pass. With the help of my wonderful friend, Dr. Arielle Walton—one of the kindest, most compassionate human beings I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing—Major made a peaceful transition to the other side on our living room floor.  Dr. Arielle had brought a special goodbye chocolate cupcake for him, and he left this world with cupcake crumbs in his whiskers. I held him when he took his last breath.

PC: Mandy Whitley Photography

And my husband and I were left to grieve Major’s absence.

I won’t lie: it’s been awful. I miss him so much I can hardly stand it. I miss our routines. I miss feeling his soft fur. I miss his big brown eyes and his long eyelashes. I miss coming home and finding him waiting for me. I miss feeding him, walking him, talking to him, and just having him near.

But through it all, I’ve been reminded of a few things—things I hope will make me a more compassionate and understanding pet bereavement counselor.  Namely:

  1. Grief is messy. I’ve had to cancel plans, put my phone on “do not disturb” and spend plenty of time alone as I’ve worked through the intense feelings—sorrow, guilt, sadness, longing, worry, fear—that sprang to the surface following Major’s passing.  I’ve done plenty of ugly crying, sobbing, weeping, and wailing. And it’s all okay.

  2. Grief has a timeline of its own. I’ve had days when I feel okay: days when I feel like I can barely function. Seeing little signs that Major is still around can comfort me, but those little signs can also dissolve me into tears. I’m certain it will be like this for a while. And that’s okay: grieving a good dog is a process.

  3. Support is crucial. Following the loss of Major, our home was filled with flowers, cards, gifts, and remembrances. I don’t have words to tell how much each and every one of those meant to me, or how lucky I am to have surrounded myself with people who “get it.” Feeling loved and understood means the world to me—and it helps so very much. I know I’m not alone, and I know I have a compassionate, wonderful, and oh-so-empathetic group of friends. I treasure them. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge all of the wonderful people who let me visit with their dogs following our loss. Pat, Anthony, Sheldon, Cami, Doug, Erin, Emily, Suzan, Lucia: thank you. I love you all.

  4. Moving the reminders hurts….but it helps. How I struggled with this when we lost Garcia. Our home could have easily become a shrine to his memory. The house was filled with Garcia’s food bowls, pictures, dog beds (eleven of them), food, medicine, treats, toys, portraits—all of the conspicuous reminders of Garcia, and that he was no longer with us. My husband’s instinct was to remove the reminders, and while I initially resisted, my husband was right. We removed Garcia’s things, donated what could be useful to a rescue, and put the photos away—temporarily. Turns out this was absolutely the right thing to do. Conspicuous reminders of the absence only serve to remind us of our grief, and if we’re not careful, those reminders can keep us mired in our sadness. I was away for a few days following Major’s passing and my husband carefully and thoughtfully boxed up the donations, put the pictures away, and removed the things that would remind us of the loss of Major. That has been so incredibly helpful. With Garcia, I worried that putting those things away was dishonoring his memory, but what it really did was give us a chance to work through the grief at our own pace. That’s crucial.

  5. The only way through grief is just that: through it. For months after we lost Garcia, I resisted the urge to grieve. I lied to myself about how sad I was. I tried to distract myself and put a brave face on it when I was absolutely falling apart. I tried to ignore it. Not so with Major. I am terribly sad. I’m heartbroken. I miss him. I feel lost. I want him back with me. Not to put too fine a point on it, but losing a good pet is the worst. I’ve learned to give myself ten minutes (or sometimes longer) every morning when I am doing nothing but feeling—sometimes journaling, sometimes listening to music, sometimes just crying my eyes out—but feeling. And that makes a huge difference. That is what working through grief is all about: not hiding from it, not denying it, not pretending it's not there, but acknowledging it, giving in to it, letting it wash over you, and knowing that it won’t last forever. It won’t last forever.

May our beautiful Major—Majordomo Billy Bojangles Warnock—run free over the Rainbow Bridge. I miss him more than words can tell.

PC: Mandy Whitley Photography

About the Author: Maryglenn Warnock

(Photo Credit: Lacey Maloch, Strays to Baes)

Maryglenn Warnock is the founder of Paws to Remember and is a certified pet bereavement counselor. She is also a pet funeral officiant/pet chaplain who is ordained through the Universalist church.

A lifelong animal advocate, Maryglenn serves on Pet Community Center's Board of Directors and volunteers for their Marketing Committee. Additionally, she has served on the executive board of the Nashville Humane Association and volunteered in animal rescue for 20 years. Maryglenn graduated from Vanderbilt University with a BA in English.

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