Saying Goodbye to Your Best Friend

  • Copy by: Megan Pacella

Confession. My dog died, and I am actually mourning harder and longer than I ever have for any loss before Sorry, great-grandma. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.

If you’re a pet owner, you’ll understand what I’m going through. Gibson wasn’t just a dog. I mean, yes, he was a beautiful golden retriever. But he wasn’t just any dog—he was intuitive, playful, and kind. He knew how to comfort the hurting. After a friend separated from his wife, Gibson laid next to him on our living room floor, licking his beard and covering his arm with a warm paw.

Most importantly, Gibson was my dog. Even though we met when he was already 7 (which is like 50 in people years), he allowed me to become his adopted “mom”. I was in New York on a three-month sublease, trying to run away from my life and an ex-boyfriend in Nashville. Gibson’s owner Daniel, was billing 55 hours a week at a law firm, a job that required 12-hour days and plenty of weekend hours. As for Gibson, he was hanging out alone in a 400-square-foot apartment for 15 hours at a time. He needed a dog walker. And the three of us found the perfect relationship.

Every day after work, we walked for miles—through Central Park, downtown to Union Square, and even across the bridge to Brooklyn. We spent hours exploring, pausing for wine, checking out new streets, and then stopping for more wiene. You get the drift.

He was the smartest dog I had ever met. I know that your dog is the smartest dog you’ve ever met, too. But, seriously. On the nightly walk back to Daniel’s apartment, he would stop precisely at the corner of 78th and 1st, and demand his leash. He held it proudly in his mouth and ran ahead of me to the apartment steps—his rare moments of autonomy in a city that wasn’t built for 90-pound golden retrievers.

After a while, Gibson started to show early signs of arthritis, and the 5th floor walk-up where Daniel lived just wasn’t suitable for an old dog anymore. So in 2010, Daniel packed up all of his belongings, and drove Gibson back down to Tennessee to live on a farm. Away from the city, they found a new lease on life, and Gibson and I formed new routine. This time it involved a backyard wedding for me and Daniel, and all three of us living in the same space. We forged new paths through Nashville, stopping for coffee and cupcakes and runs through Bicentennial Park. For the next several months, Gibson spent countless sunny days rolling in the grass and hiking rocky trails. Most nights he dozed on the floor in between the two people he loved most.

We knew that the life expectancy of a purebred golden is only 12 years. But we never thought that would apply to Gibson. This was a dog who survived the streets of New York, epilepsy, spleen cancer, Daniel’s divorce from his first wife, countless moves, a few tornados, and eating 32 ounces of fair-trade, rainforest-certified chocolate (whoops). On his 12th birthday, he was still playing hard, biting our forearms and growling ferociously. But then, out of nowhere, everything changed.

Like lots of purebred dogs, Gibson suffered from epilepsy. For years, we had been able to manage it with medications, but suddenly they stopped working. A few times a week we would wake up to the sound of him convulsing violently, foaming at the mouth, and losing control of his bladder. Then, he started to have trouble standing, too.

We set up a new routine. I started waking up earlier than usual so I could lift him up and assist him on his morning walk to the backyard. He would go to the bathroom and then collapse in exhaustion. I sat on the ground scratching his chest until he was ready to get up again—sometimes in the rain with an umbrella, other times in 5-degree temperatures. This was our hardest routine yet. I carried him and babied him, and stroked his head when he looked at me with sad eyes. Our vet warned us that the end was near. Friends came by with beer and wine, and spent hours lying on the floor with him. My mom gently reminded me that eventually we would have to give up the fight.

I had been prepared and more than willing to lose sleep and money caring for this special dog. But I wasn’t prepared to be the one who made the call to let him go. In his last days, he could not walk or stand, so Daniel lifted his furry, limp body several times a day and carried him outside. He held Gibson up while he went to the bathroom, and then carried him back inside. We both cried through every single bathroom break. After a few weeks of this, we decided that it was time. And so one afternoon in our living room, with Gibson’s head in my lap and Daniel lying on the floor next to him, all three of us let go. Gibson didn’t lift his head or even acknowledge the vet when she arrived to administer the shot. He just slipped softly into his next adventure.

You can’t understand the aftermath of losing a pet unless you’ve gone there yourself. There’s no easy way to cope with the emptiness of your living room, a cold dog bed, and lonely walks through your neighborhood. You share 10 to 15 years with a silent partner who never leaves your side and witnesses all of the changes. Break-ups, new relationships, bad fights, job losses, new homes, new friends, celebrations, mourning, marriage, pregnancy, new hairstyles, those same 5 pounds you keep gaining and losing. They stay by your side (sometimes in your bed, if you’re that kind of animal lover) through everything, and then one day, without a word, they are gone. And nothing can ever be the same.

That’s not to say that things can’t be good again. About a month after losing Gibson, Daniel and I adopted a new puppy from a shelter (part golden retriever, of course). Our new pup is great, but we haven’t quite created the bond and unique communication system that Gibson and I had.

And will we ever get over the loss of our Gibson? Absolutely not. But one of the best things you can do for yourself after any big loss is know when to start over again.

Have you ever said goodbye to a longtime pet? How did you cope with the loss?   

image via

  • chelsy

    Megan, I am so sorry for your loss. Pets are truly family members. I know this first hand. I grew up with labrador retrievers and one in particular, my black lab Jake and I grew up together. My dad got him a month before I was born from my uncles dog’s litter of puppies. He passed when we were 13 years old and it was the most pain I have ever felt. However, two years ago I actually experienced my first in the room while putting my lab annabelle down. We rescued her two years before from a puppy mill where she was being bred to have babies. We shortly learned that she too had epilepsy and the seizures were so violent. Then, the vet eventually found something blocking her kidney and I couldn’t watch her suffer anymore. It was the hardest thing I have ever had to experience in my life. The only thing that made me feel better was knowing that I had gave her the best few last years of her life. After her death, my dad, who had come with me that morning to put her down, and myself both took a sick day from work, cried uncontrollably, watched movies, and ate omelets and hashbrowns from our favorite breakfast place. Ice cream also helps numb the pain. A couple of months after I was searching the pet ads and came across Coupe, an english lab similar looking to annabelle. He is 3 now and he is his own personality. From time to time I see a bit of bella’s spirit in him and I cry a little but I know she is in doggie heaven and loving it.

  • Leonie

    This is so sad!! I couldn’t stop all my tears.. We have a 11 month Goldie and I already lost a dog with epilepsy as I was 18. Few months after my mother died of ALS. I can feel your pain so bad.. I hug you from the other side of the world, Germany!!

  • Bec

    My beautiful golden passed away in March, 3 days before his 13 th birthday …nothing makes it better but time, as time goes on, the pain becomes more bearable. Two months after his passing I started pet sitting/boarding dogs in my home. I still get the company of dogs but without the commitment of a new pup of my own. ….until I’m ready for my next furbaby.

  • Lyn

    OMG you have just described my life with my beautiful Maltese Chloe who l had raised from 8 weeks old, l also had to put her to sleep 3 years ago at the age of 18 (yes 18) they think she may have had a brain tumer as she started to have seizures for the last 2 weeks but she was well up to then except for the blindness and arthritis, l mourn her every day l say good morning to her from my kitchen window each morning as she is buried under our beautiful gum tree, she was my best friend oops after my husband, she knew when l was sad or happy and she listened to all my problems and didn’t judge me. She loved to sit on my lap or lay beside me on my chair or just be near me sitting a few feet away from wherever l was, if she fell asleep and woke and l was missing she would run through the house to find me. Yes they are a great loss you never get over l still don’t have another dog l will but not just yet it’s still to soon…….

  • allison

    this article was written just for us…every detail is so similar (except for living in nyc and then a farm in Tennessee 🙂 ) one day all of our lives changed and we held on for a week and then made the decision that it was time…or actually he told us it was time and just like Gibson he was so ready to slip into his next adventure. we adopted another dog exactly a month later and although I was against it, duke helped us heal enough to go on. they are very similar yet very different but I think its chance’s way of letting us know hes still with us. a month ago we lost our cat to a freak accident which has been much harder to deal with but time continues whether you like it or not and its never easy. thank you for writing what we all feel.

  • Kellie

    This hit hard for me today… Almost a year ago I lost my little Sven, the most beautiful and loving orange cat, who I rescued in Sweden. I lived in Sweden for one year alone– away from my family, friends, and boyfriend who were still here in the US– and from the moment I held him in my arms, he was my little boy. He loved being held like a baby and cuddled all day. When I was sad he would come and pile up right on my neck and nuzzle my face until I stopped crying. When I was away he was at the windows looking for me (and spying on the neighbors). Everyone who met him loved him– even my dad who hates cats.

    When I moved back home to the US, he naturally came with me. He was my little boy and I knew he would be fine as long as we were together. I’ll never forget the night we spent together in the airport waiting for our early morning flight there because the hotels nearby did not take cats. Or our layover in Iceland when I went to see him in the holding area because I knew he was likely scared and hungry. He was so happy when we got back to the USA and I got him out of his carrier at the airport and snuggles him. When my boyfriend who is now my husband picked us up, he was so excited to see his ‘daddy!’

    About a year after coming to the USA, I we were in a house and I was working on my thesis paper in our dining room with him at my feet. He was snuggling my feet as usual while I worked in my paper, but I thought something was different. Something didn’t seem right. He wasn’t as playful and I didn’t hear him purring. An hour later, we went into the living room to sit down where we always sat for supper and there he was, on our chair. He threw up almost as soon as we walked in. And I got a sick feeling in my stomach that something wasn’t right. We didn’t take him in though because he did that every once in awhile when he ate too quickly. But I was worried. I knew from his eyes that something wasn’t right. It was Thursday, we had work the next morning. So I tried to sleep. I couldn’t. He always slept by me, but that night he didn’t want to stay in bed. I went to lay on the floor with him. He looked miserable. And his tongue was out a little bit like he was panting (he panted when he was hot sometimes). So I snuggled him there on the bathroom floor until about 5 am when I noticed his labored breathing. I woke up my husband and we frantically tried to figure out where the nearest veterinary emergency room was.

    By the time we got there the vet said it was too late. He would need to be put to sleep. So I tried to say goodbye but I was in too much shock. I wanted to lay and snuggle with him more, but the vet came in and before I realized it, he was gone.

    My husband and I were both crying harder than ever before. This was our little Sven, our baby. I’ve met a lot of cats in my life, but Sven was different. He was more like a puppy. He would even wait for a treat until I said OK and he sat when I said “sit.”

    I cried for four solid days after he died. I tried to go to work a few days later and cried in front of my students . Luckily the administrators in my school were understanding and let me go home. The problem is, I still cry about once a week. Sometimes more. Some weeks are better than others, but I still miss him every day. No matter what I do to try to get over his loss nothing will work because it won’t bring him back. Even my dad, the “cat hater,” wept when he heard the news.

    We found out from the emergency room get that little Sven had a heart condition common for his breed. The worst part is none of the eight vets he had seen since I adopted him noticed it. And when his time came, there were no signs or symptoms to warn me until the night before. I am still dumbfounded, shocked, and devistated over this.

    A few weeks after his death we adopted another sweet kitty, but as sweet as she is, there’ll never be another Sven.

    I’m a little hesitant to share this because I think the only other person in the world who knows how I feel is my husband… And he doesn’t even fully understand the depth of the loss that I feel on a daily basis. My only consolation is that I got to have over two years with that little guy and he rescued me more than I did him. He changed my life in so many good ways and I’m just thankful to God that I got to be his mom for that short timeframe.

  • Kaitlyn

    I literally had the same reaction! Read this at work and started tearing up, had to run to the bathroom to stop! These stories get me every time but of course I can’t stop myself from reading them. My dog is almost 2 years old and he is anything but “just a pet”…he is our best friend, someone we leave parties early to go home and see (no joke). He fills our day with love and I can’t imagine life without him. I felt the same way when we had to put our family dog down, it is the most horrible feeling…we just have to remember what good lives we give them and that they know they were loved. Sending you good thoughts, Megan!

  • Cindy trevino

    Oh my goodness I’m crying too, as I sat here and read this I sat with my chihuahua Lily and thought of how horrible it would be without my baby girl ughhhh! 🙁 I remembered my dog licorice who was also part retriever very smart she was indeed I tough her many tricks even to go up and down the slide my heart goes out to all of you who have lost a best friend .I’m glad I have Lily in my life

  • Зоя Ишкова

    I hust wanna hug you. I know your pain and guilt… sorry for mistakes, I’m not english-speaker and It’s the first time I write something this. I just want you to know that in cold Russia some girl is crying now for all of the beautiful creatures that leave us lonely.