Our home is sadly quiet these days. I never realized how many everyday life sounds a dog contributes to a home. The paw patter. Gulps from the water dish. Heavy sighs. Barking at doorbells. The thump of a happy tail on the floor.
It has taken me several weeks to write about my Buck's passing. Saying goodbye to a beloved pet is the most difficult, but inevitable, rite of passage a pet owner endures.
It's true. You do know when that time comes. On July 10, we said goodbye to Buck, our beloved 13½-year-old yellow Labrador-chow mix.
Although Buck was a tough guy who embraced life, despite myriad painful orthopedic and anxiety issues, we knew what he was trying to tell us when his sleeping time increased dramatically, and his precious face began to look tired and worn. Buck left us peacefully, in my arms, while riding shotgun in his golf cart after a long cruise around the neighborhood - his favorite pastime. Our amazing veterinarian, Jim Lutz, came to our home to make the goodbye easier on Buck and on us.
In the hours, days and weeks that followed, the thing that helps us heal the most is not trying to put him out of our minds, rather finding ways to keep his memory alive.
I've spoken to others who've recently lost a pet and we generally agree that there are two essential parts of the grieving process. First, sharing your experience and feelings with others who can lend a sympathetic ear is a healthy way to acknowledge and express your loss. Second, preparing a memorial, privately or publicly, is a step toward healing.
Interestingly, everyone interviewed for this column, including my husband, Paul, and I have found simple ways to help us remember our pets every day.
Beth Rawlins of Clearwater has a daily reminder of Rover, her 13-year-old beagle who passed last November.
"One day, the kids and I were baking and had the red food coloring out. My daughter Mia dipped her finger in the dye and gave Rover a dot in the middle of his forehead that looked just like a Hindu bindi.
"For the next week, as the dye faded, he see-sawed between looking ever so wise and utterly ridiculous. I put a photo of him as the wallpaper on my computer and it remains there to this day. I say 'hello' in the morning and again when I turn it off at night. Nothing morbid or lingering, just a quick acknowledgement of how much he still means to me."
Miss Bandit had a short career as a racing greyhound. When she couldn't triumph at the track, Greyhound Rescue and Adoption of Tampa Bay, found her a winning home with WTVT news anchor and animal welfare advocate Cynthia Smoot and her husband, Bill.
Knowing Miss Bandit was getting older, Smoot had a portrait on canvas created earlier this year. Just a few months later, a serious health condition meant they had to let her go. She was 131/2.
"Timing couldn't have been more perfect," she said. "The portrait hangs in our foyer and is like a living memorial. We see her every day - last thing before we leave, and first thing when we come home."
Miss Bandit also loved periodic car rides to Manatee County, where Smoot would travel to ride her horse. Although Bandit was afraid of the horse and the cats at the barn, she loved to run free on the property. Smoot had Bandit cremated and will lay her to rest near the lake on the property. A spot right next to Miss Bandit will be saved for Smoot's horse, now 27 years old.
Larry and Patricia Schmaltz of Temple Terrace have daily reminders of Smokey.
"We put Smokey's portrait, paw print, ashes, and a statue of her on our fireplace mantle in our master bedroom," Larry said. "That way we can see her every time we come into or leave the room."
They also have digital photo frames at work, which include pictures of their pet.
So far, the most therapeutic healing for me has been the photo and music montage we put together to share with friends and family. (You can see it on my blog at www.fetchingcommunications.com/blog/. Scroll down to the July 14 entry).
Buck was adopted from the SPCA Tampa Bay in January 1997, so the most logical memorial was to make a donation to the SPCA in his name. Soon a lovely red brick will join many others paving a pathway to the barnyard at the shelter. (Buck loved to chase our donkeys.)
Paul and I have also unintentionally choreographed a "memorial routine," so to speak. Every morning, we light a candle next to Buck's photo in the living room. Every night before we go to bed, we turn on a ceramic Labrador nightlight in the hallway - the one we used to leave on for Buck at night because he couldn't see so well.
And, on Fridays after work, we take a ride in Buck's golf cart, the one we bought him two years ago. It was, by far, his favorite thing to do. (Until July 10th I'd never ridden in it without him.)
There are a few things I'm not yet ready to do. For now, Buck's toys remain in a basket on the mantle in the living room and his car-ride towel and spillproof water dish remain in the back of my SUV.
Although Paul and I know we'll never be able to replace Buck, we do know that we are dog people, and we will share our home with another dog (or two) in the future. As soon as I'm feeling stronger, I look forward to making trips to the SPCA to find another dog like Buck. None will be as wonderful as Buck, but I'm sure we'll find one who's pretty doggone close.
Write to pet-lifestyle expert Kristen Levine at Fetching Communications, P.O. Box 222, Tarpon Springs FL 34688; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
MOURNING YOUR PET?
There are a wide variety of resources to help you deal with the loss of an animal friend.
The Hillsborough Animal Health Foundation offers individual counseling by phone and group sessions; call (813) 221-4804 or visit www.hahf.org. The Pinellas Animal Foundation also offers free pet bereavement counseling in middle and North Pinellas County locations once per month; call (727) 347-PETS or visit www.pinellasanimalfoundation.org.
Contact a local animal shelter about volunteer opportunities. It can be helpful to fill the time you used to spend with your pet by volunteering to help homeless animals. In Hillsborough County, contact the Humane Society of Tampa Bay at (813) 876-7138 or www.humanesocietytampa.org; in Pinellas, contact the Humane Society of Pinellas County at (727) 797-7722 or www.humanesocietyofpinellas.org, or the SPCA of Pinellas, (727) 586-3591 or www.SPCAofPinellas.org. In Pasco County, contact the West Pasco SPCA at (727) 849-1048 or www.spcasuncoast.org/.