Continuing with Life’s Processes

I am continuing the topic I started yesterday, describing how I have emotionally coped with the advancing progression of my dog’s lives.

Denial and Grieving. The day after losing Stoni I had to leave for 3 weeks of teaching in Australia. Stoni had been sick for over a year. We all knew she was living on borrowed time, so her death was not a shock, you would have thought I would have been better prepared. I thought it was a perfect scenario for me, as I was getting on a plane, I could leave all of the memories of giving her those Sub-Q fluids, of the big adventures and come back and just start my life from that point. Not so.

Once I settled down for my 26-hour journey, I started sobbing. Poor guy next to me on the plane. I thought to myself, this is not going to work, I need to be happy to be an effective seminar presenter. I got the idea to pretend Stoni was still at home with John. Remember how I said I can visualize myself anywhere?  Well, here is where this came in very handy. I got to Australia and had blocked the event, entirely from my mind. I didn’t send out the email announcing Stoni’s passing, even Greg and Laura Derrett, who are my good friends and who were staying in the same house with me in Australia,  didn’t know. I would call home and ask John how everyone was and, although he was concerned for my mental well being, he played along for me.  That period of denial helped me a lot. Partway through the month in Australia, I was able to come clean. I wrote the email about losing Stoni and thought that was the end of it. It wasn’t.

I got back home and all the memories were stirred up, it was as if the month away hadn’t happened. I had to start to grieve all over again once I was home with all my memories of Stoni.Unfortunately, my relationship with Buzz and DeCaff really suffered during the following few months. Twister and Encore, my other two remaining dogs, were always very good with Stoni as she as grew older and weaker. Twister would clean her eyes and Encore, even though a puppy, was very respectful and often would curl up on the same bed with Stoni. Buzz and DeCaff took a far more feral approach and would growl at her if she came near them, it was as if the pack instinct to remove the weak, older dog had kicked in and they treated Stoni as if she had no right to stay. As guilty as I felt for it, I held that against those two when Stoni was gone. For the next two months, I wouldn’t train either of them. In April of that year I went to a big USDAA event in Myrtle Beach and not surprisingly my performance with those two dogs was terrible. I had to heal my relationship with my dogs. I did it by bringing them down to my work out room in the morning and just gave them treats for staying on their beds while I worked out. From there I gradually was able to do more with each of them and eventually we were once back to our normal training routine.

Recovery. Guilt really is a waste of emotion. I think it is normal to ignore one (or more) of your dogs when you lose another that was so special to you. It doesn’t make the other dogs any less special, just not as special at that moment in time. I think my recovery would have been faster if I had allowed myself to feel the way I did and not judge myself for it. DeCaff and Buzz forgave me, I just had a harder time forgiving myself. Forget guilt and do what you can, your dogs will appreciate any amount of time you can give them and when you are ready they will be waiting to start back to your training once again. When I lost Speki it was a sudden accident, with no time to prepare. Shelby and Stoni were there and saw Speki’s lifeless body and my outpour of emotion. Stoni had difficulty with it and for the next few weeks anytime I would cry, she would run and hide. Shelby, on the other hand, was amazing. This will be hard for you to believe but anytime during that period I cried, she would go over to my dog training bag and sit pretty beside the utility articles,  holding that position for an hour if it took me that long to get up of the couch. That is not a lie or even an exaggeration, she really did that. She had never done it before and never did it after those few weeks of me grieving.

Stoni, Shelby and Twister hamming it up for a Christmas card in the mid 90's.

Stoni, Shelby and Twister on a Christmas card in the mid 90’s (no this was not photoshopped:)).

I know people that lose a dog and have to remove all of the pictures of that dog from their home, for at least for a year or two. For me it is opposite. I make sure I have a picture somewhere I will see every day. Seeing pictures of the dog never makes me sad, quite the opposite, it always makes me smile. I think once again, you need to follow your heart and do what is right for you. When I lost Twister (less than a year ago) I was so grateful to have my puppy Feature. Feature is a comedian and you cannot be sad for one minute with her in your presence. I know that is a big part of the reason why I had to go all the way to England to get her.

Another thing that has really helped in my recovery from the grief of losing a dog, is something that was recommended to me by Jo Sermon. She suggested I start a journal. What I did was to write only one line that would remind me of a funny story with that dog. I love to look at my journal, it really makes laugh, I mean belly laugh when the memories of those funny stories come back. Who knows, maybe one day it may turn into a book, one that has nothing to do with training, but everything to do with joy. For now, it is a great reminder of what awesome dogs I have been blessed with and how they have enriched my life so very much.

Today I am grateful for Speki, Shelby, Stoni and Twister, my four, now passed, great teachers that have all left their mark not only on my abilities but also my heart.

“I think God will have prepared everything for our perfect happiness. If it takes my dog being there in Heaven, I believe he’ll be there.”  ~Rev. Billy Graham

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