I lost Archer in August. Even though I have two other dogs I love dearly, Archer was the light of my life. As the youngest, he was the energy, the noise, and the joy for all of us. I never expected to lose him first, but I did, and it was sudden, scary, and traumatic. The weeks after his passing were the worst. First, I felt angry. I blamed myself. I blamed the vets who couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Then I felt extremely sad. It was like I had a hole in the pit of my stomach all day. After that came embarrassment as I struggled to explain to co-workers and friends why I took an unplanned week of “vacation” and why I was so down after having a week off. I felt like they couldn’t understand how the death of one little dog could affect me so deeply, for so long. Even I didn’t understand it. Would my colleagues think less of me and see my grief as a weakness? As the weeks passed, I became an accomplished actor as I went out with friends for drinks, participated in work meetings with a smile, and continued my normal activities even though Archer was never far from my thoughts. Even today I still replay the loss over and over again in my mind. I wonder if I did everything I could.
Before Archer passed, I was scheduled to visit an amazing animal shelter with family friends who were visiting from out of town. The visit was scheduled for the day after Archer died. The shelter is fantastic, but on that day it was the last place I felt like visiting. But I went. As volunteers walked us around and introduced me to wonderful animals needing a home, I couldn’t even consider taking in another dog. There was no way I could replace Archer. I felt like I would be betraying him by bringing home a new dog so soon and letting it sleep in his bed or play with his toys. Plus, a new dog wouldn’t lie on the bathmat waiting for me to get out of the shower, or bark at me to spray him with the hose when I was watering the garden, or sit on the back of the couch while I run on the treadmill like Archer loved to do. I left the shelter without a dog because I felt sick at the very notion of getting another pet. At that moment I thought to myself, “I’m never getting another dog.” That evening, while scrolling though old emails, I came across this message from a friend who had lost his beloved pet months earlier:
“…A neighbor met Sophie for the first time and said something very callous, whether intentionally or not, that I had trouble absorbing: ‘You seem to have gotten over Honey pretty quickly.’ It hit me like a freight train. That couldn’t be further from the truth. No, I don’t speak of Honey and there’s a reason for that. I can’t. It’s the most painful thing I ever went through, and at 47, with my share of ups and downs, that says a lot. I’ve come to accept that I simply am not, and will not be, getting over the loss anytime soon—if ever. I feel very betrayed, angry, and sad. I still have trouble seeing pictures of her. Anyone who knew her understands. She was 24/7 happiness. I did not get Sophie to ‘replace’ her, and that was certainly not an easy move. That took all the strength I could muster. Anyone who loses a companion animal feels that particular pain and never wants to go through it again, and vows to never get another just to avoid even feeling that pain again. I went through that in the first few months, but also realized my own selfish need to avoid pain should not override the need of another being searching for a home, plain and simple. I had the home, I had the space, and I also knew my other dog Bob needed a friend. There’s no explanation beyond that. We continue because we have to, but let’s face it, we continue with less power in our movements and less strength in our steps. But we do continue. I learned to love Sophie as a new chapter in my life, not as a replacement for a chapter in which the pages were ripped out. I’m resolved to the fact that on my own deathbed someday I won’t be thinking about success, fortune, failure, triumphs, regrets, or any of that, I will be thinking about Honey and how proud and lucky I was to have had her along with my others, past, present, and future. She will never be forgotten. I don’t talk about her simply because I can’t, but no one should misinterpret that as I’m ‘over her’ or have ‘moved on.’ I can only wish that I was that strong.”
Wow! That was exactly what I needed to hear. I realized that of course I am going to get another dog. But I don’t have to do it on anyone else’s schedule. I will get another dog when it feels right, because my other dogs want and need that companionship, and ALL of those beautiful animals in the shelters deserve loving homes. But I still felt so guilty. It’s like I was afraid to replace my memories of Archer with those from a new dog.
I told a friend that I was working on this article, and she shared her perspective:
“I remember when I lost my beagle and adopted Bosco two weeks later that everyone was stunned—and before it happened I would have never thought that I’d be ready to love another dog so fast. But the thing for me was that I had this horribly dogless house, and love to give, and out there was someone who needed me. The big thing for me was accepting that Bosco is not Elmo, and that his view of the world is very different than Elmo’s was and that I shouldn’t ask him to be anything other than who he is.”
She is right. No dog can ever replace Archer, but there are wonderful dogs and cats in shelters everywhere, and they all have unique personalities and the simple desire to be loved and cared for. Archer was an amazing soul and he will never be forgotten, so I don’t need to feel silly about mourning him. And when I’m ready, I will go to the shelter to find another pet because there is an animal out there that needs me, and I have love to give. And he or she will get to play with Archer’s toys and sleep in his bed, and hopefully they will feel the love and compassion that Archer felt and that they deserve. A new dog may not give good hugs like Archer did, but it will have its own special quirks and traits, and we will make new memories together, while the memory of Archer will always stay with me.
By Charlene Sloan (with special thanks to David and Cheri)