Authors: Barbara Abercrombie
Copyright Â© 2011 by Barbara Abercrombie
Copyright notices and permissions acknowledgments for the contributors' essays are on pages 211â12.
All rights reserved. This book may not be reproduced in whole or in part, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means â electronic, mechanical, or other â without written permission from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review.
Text design by Tona Pearce Myers
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available.
First printing, April 2011
Printed in Canada on 100% postconsumer-waste recycled paper
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Arthritic and weak, my old dog Hattie
stumbles behind me over the snow.
When I stop, she stops, tipped to one side
like a folding table with one of the legs
not snapped in place. Head bowed, one ear
turned down to the earth as if she
could hear it turning, she is losing the trail
at the end of her fourteenth year.
Now she must follow. Once she could catch
a season running and shake it by the neck
till the leaves fell off, but now they get away,
flashing their tails as they bound off
over the hill. Maybe she doesn't see them
out of those clouded, wet brown eyes,
maybe she no longer cares. I thought
for a while last summer that I might die
before my dogs, but it seems I was wrong.
She wobbles a little way ahead of me now,
barking her sharp small bark,
then stops and trembles, excited, on point
at the spot that leads out of the world.
'm a family veterinarian: a general practitioner for dogs and cats. (And occasionally rabbits, guinea pigs, mice, rats, lizards, turtles, snakes, and birds.) I vaccinate and deworm puppies and kittens, then spay or neuter them before they reach maturity. I open cats' abscesses and close lacerations on dogs who lose a conflict with another animal (or a window). For complicated geriatric conditions such as cancer, cataracts, or cardiac failure, I refer my patients and their humans to veterinary specialists in oncology, ophthalmology, and cardiology. And when my patients have reached the end of their journey and need help to ease their suffering, I put them to sleep.
Watching animals die is by far the worst part about being a veterinarian. Even under the best circumstances lies the knowledge that a wonderful creature's life is ending, and that a good person is suffering an unspeakable loss and entering a world of pain.
I offer Kleenex, a cup of water, a touch on the arm, a kind word. None of it ever seems adequate. I retreat to the back room while the clients suffer in private.
I mail sympathy cards, sometimes send flowers or make a donation in the deceased pet's name. I occasionally offer referrals to grief counselors. For those who lose a pet to circumstances other than death, such as theft or divorce or behavior issues, there is also little or no consolation.
In twenty years of being a veterinarian, I've lost tens of thousands of patients. I've lost patients who became friends, friends who became patients, and I've lost my own beloved pets. This whole time I've been searching for a book such as this one for my own consolation and to share with my clients.
Pet loss is such a difficult and painful topic to think about, let alone discuss. There is still a stigma attached to grieving over an animal. Yet so many clients tell me how they cried harder over the loss of their dogs or cats than they did over the loss of their parents or spouses. Those who grieve for animals often encounter avoidance. Avoidance adds pain. Acknowledgment of their loss is what they need.
In this book, writers acknowledge their own losses. They write about wonder dogs, fractious cats, retired horses, and affectionate pigs. These writers find meaning in the chaos of losing a beloved animal friend. I hope that, like me, you find comfort in this loving and unsentimental homage to the animals in our lives.
he idea for this book came when my twenty-six-year-old horse, Robin, had to be put down because of acute laminitis. I adored this horse. He was a sorrel fox trotter with a white teardrop on his forehead and
branded on his flank â a souvenir from working as a trail horse for the U.S. Forest Service. My husband bought him at auction for five hundred dollars, and he came to live out his retirement at our place in Montana. I knew nothing about horses, and frankly I was past the age when anyone sane takes up horseback riding for the first time, but I fell in love with Robin. He was so patient, so forgiving, that he made me feel like his own personal horse whisperer.