Healing Pet Grief

I wrote the following memorial to my dog after he died in 2004. Although I tried, words can’t express what he meant to me and our family. I used to call him my “canine co-parent.” When you read his story, you’ll understand why …

Kiva, our beloved German Shepherd, died last week. It was time because he was in so much pain and our family could finally survive without him. Fifteen years ago my husband died, leaving me with a three-year-old son and three-week-old baby girls. In a way, my son Josh lost his mom too because I was so overwhelmed with grief and the work of taking care of newborn twins.

Throughout his preschool years, Josh was angry, sad and had a hard time making friends. I was falling apart trying to meet everybody’s needs. Then, one sunny day in June, we adopted an eight-week-old puppy named Kiva. With his huge ears and constant joy, he saved our lives. Sadness, fear, and anger turned into laughter and silliness. I’ll never forget the hours that Josh and Kiva would spend in the backyard, side by side, surrounded by a flying cloud of dirt, digging a hole to China. At almost 100 pounds, Kiva became Josh’s best friend and our protector. He was the “other male” in the family.

I used to get so worried because Josh would say, “When Kiva dies, I’m going to die.” I tried to talk with him about the inevitability of Kiva’s death, but losing his best friend was an unbearable thought for most of his growing up years. I used to tell people, Kiva’s assignment was to stay alive until Josh graduated from high school. And then once Josh graduated from high school, I wanted Kiva to wait until he graduated from college. But Kiva, at 14, couldn’t go on.

Two weeks ago, he died in our living room, on his favorite blanket, surrounded by his family. The vet who had taken care of Kiva his whole life and knew our family story came to our house to give him the injection that would end his suffering. Waiting for the vet to arrive was one of the hardest things any of us have ever experienced. We kept repeating the words of our vet: “It’s not something you can think about. It’s your only choice.” Kiva couldn’t get up from his blanket. His legs wouldn’t hold him anymore and X-rays showed his spine had fused together.

Josh is 19 now and 6’3″. He has plenty of friends, a girlfriend, and a job. I never would have imagined it, but Josh ended up comforting me! Thank you Kiva for your loyalty, love and protection all these years. You taught Josh that it was okay to love again after the loss of his father. You helped me raise my family. I’ll be forever grateful for your sweet presence in our lives.

Healing Pet Grief
Mimi Handlin, MSW - Pet Grief Counseling Seattle

As a long time social worker, certified pet loss counselor with the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement, and one who has experienced many losses of both people and animals, I would love to help. Please contact me for more information.


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