When I see the Sunday New York Times wrapped in that blue plastic delivery bag, I tear up. I used to save those bags for dog waste. While I did have a multi-month supply of premium-priced, “earth-friendly”, lavender-scented ones, these recycled bags worked too. Now, they are just a sad reminder of a loss.
A few months ago, two weeks after his 19th birthday, we had to put down our dog Hubie. The rational me knew that this senior Havanese’s days were numbered. He had already well exceeded his breed’s average life expectancy — 15 years — but, at last check with the National Havanese Society of America, I learned there was at least one 20-year-old potential record-holder alive. So, you never know.
I did recognize that the day would come in the not-too-distant future. Hubie had already lost all his teeth at middle age, his hearing was fading, and his vision impaired. His joints made him stumble a little when waking from sleep. In the previous months, whether confused by senior moments or spurred by bodily needs, he would stand by the patio sliding doors wanting to go out with irksome frequency. But despite his age, he would still sometimes be mistaken for a puppy by people who just saw an adorable little dog with his tongue hanging out of one side of his mouth (since he had no teeth to hold it in.) And other dog owners would marvel at his longevity.
But, one weekend, after a series of distressing howling episodes and a vet diagnosis, we made the painful decision that it was time. Holding dear his warm body for the last time, I felt a profound sense of loss. Hubie was family. He slept between my husband and me every night. We alternatively benefitted from, or were peeved by, his soft small body “velcroed” to one of us while he snored in deep slumber.
When we returned from the vet, I gathered up his belongings. His blanket, food, and water bowls, his shearling winter coat, and favorite ratty squeaky toy, every heartbreaking reminder of his absence, was collected into two oversized shopping bags and placed out of sight in a storage closet.
A week after our loss, a previously planned trip to attend a wedding in Italy seemed like a fortuitous distraction. However, dogs were everywhere. On the streets, in restaurants, and even lazing by the pool on a hotel chaise with his devoted owner, each time brought a lump to my throat. When we came home, the house was quiet. No pet-sitter, no Hubie, no exuberant greeting. I looked at the empty couch and went to the closet to smell his blanket.
For a while, when I passed the Village Green where I walked him every morning, I would try to avoid the dog people who knew Hubie; I was a little embarrassed by the depth of my grief. But I found that when I could share how I was feeling, there were others who truly understood this pain.
A special book, “The Book of Pet Love and Loss: Words of Comfort and Wisdom from Remarkable People”, by Sara Bader, has just been released. It is filled with quotes from writers, leaders, and notable people about the pain of losing a pet and overcoming the grief. Sigmund Freud described this connection as “affection without ambivalence.” And one of my favorite authors, Ann Patchett, wrote, “The death of a dog hit me harder than the death of many people I have known.”
Then, one day, I went into that storage closet. I put aside Hubie’s faux-Burberry plaid collar and name tag, the only one he had his entire life, along with his heather gray tiny “Property of the Knicks” T-shirt, which, we put on him for game days, and donated the rest of his belongings to a local pet rescue. I did not stop to look at adoptable pets. During the final goodbye, I wept in my husband’s arms and said, “I never want to go through this again.”
With another set of travel plans coming up, a friend pointed out that our new-found freedom and worry-free time away is a tiny silver lining. I try to appreciate that thought. And I’m waiting for the day when seeing that blue newspaper bag will simply make me think fondly of the companion that I loved and miss.