By Wendy Rice, Psy.D. Licensed Psychologist
Have you heard of the “Rainbow Bridge?” It is the place that our beloved pets supposedly go after they die.
Three weeks ago, on a Friday night in the park across from the vet’s office, was my Lily’s turn. It was a chilly evening but Lily was all snuggled in my arms wearing her cozy fleece-lined plaid jacket and was surrounded by loved ones. We drank a toast to Lily and wished her endless romps in green fields with an unlimited supply of toilet paper rolls, tissue boxes and popcorn to eat.
She was almost 14 years old. Her little body and mind had been though a lot in her older age and she was suffering. As I was writing this I typed out and then deleted the list of her medical conditions and it shocked me to think that she hung in there for as long as she did! I’ve opted not to share the details as that is not the point of this email. Instead, I wanted to celebrate her life and share some thoughts with you about the joys and sorrows of living with pets – when they feel more like family than pets.
Our fur-buddies can effortlessly turn our worst days around, so how do you deal with the loss of a pet? Rice Therapy Group can help you find comfort you need.
Life with Lily
I waited my whole life for a dog. I was a cat, horse and dog-loving girl growing up in the suburbs with divorced parents. I had a cats while still living in New York in graduate school and actually got my first horse before it was feasible for me to have a dog – believe it or not! But in the summer of 2001, while working at a summer camp in Pennsylvania, I adopted Lily from an older couple who had just gotten her from a breeder but found that they could not keep her. She looked like a stuffed animal (remember “Gotta Get a Gund”?) and was irresistibly cute. I actually wanted a boxer but came back to camp that night with the cutest little buff-colored fluff-ball.
From that point on, we were “a girl and her dog”. Lily “worked” with me at all of my jobs including Lake Bryn Mawr Camp, America’s Camp, J.W. Mitchell High School, Trinity Elementary School, and in my private practice. At Mitchell High School she even had her own ID. She travelled to Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, and once even to Colorado to escape an impending hurricane. She was a champion airplane flyer; she would happily jump in her Sherpa travel bag and hunker down under the seat in front of me.
And of course, she was there when I was riding. Lily often went to the barn to keep me company while I rode horses early morning, afternoon or evenings. She spent much more time off of her leash than on it and would always show back up after exploring or hunting around for fun doggie mischief!
She travelled to horse shows all around Florida and stayed in more hotels than I can even remember. At horse shows, she would hang out by my horse’s stall until I returned from riding and survived all kinds of weather! In Ocala, I used to put her in the front basket of my bicycle and ride around with her like Toto from the Wizard of Oz. Not a bad life for a little dog.
So, suffice it to say that life without Miss Lily – who was affectionately called “Schmoopie” by those who knew her best – is very odd for me. She was my side-kick and almost always at the office. Her absence is felt by all of us at Rice Psychology and I know she is missed by many of our patients and their families as well. Her snoring during sessions always garnered a chuckle as it was unbelievable that such a big noise could emanate from such an adorable little being!
The Loss of a Furry Friend
It’s a funny thing, old age. I knew Lily was ill and for the past few years I was never sure how long she would be with me. In a way, I have been preparing myself for her death for a few years.
This loss brings up memories of my father who died when I was 17 years old after a 6 month battle with lung cancer. I lived through his illness and witnessed his decline and suffering first hand. When he died, I was, of course, terribly sad, but I also felt relieved that he was finally free from his suffering. It was kind of the same way with Lily in that I didn’t want her to suffer or experience too much discomfort.
But the absolute hardest part for me with Lily, and I think for most pet parents, was knowing when the time was right to end her suffering. I have always heard that I would know when her time had come. But in Lily’s case I wasn’t quite sure.
I read every blog and article I could find to tell me how I would know. I went through checklists and had soul searching dialogues with myself, with Lily, my vet and other experienced animal people. The main problem was that she was a trooper and would not always let me know how she was feeling. But I knew that even on her best days, she felt confused, lost her balance, and was bothered by her chronic ear problems and the big tumor that had grown in her mouth.
Suffice it to say that I did know one morning; I woke up to find blood in her bed. Her tumor continued to bleed for the next 24+ hours and she quickly began going downhill. She was on her umpteenth round of antibiotics and the secondary effects of the tumor were in full bloom. I was pretty sure this was the time.
My vet was kind enough to conduct an exam in the parking lot so I didn’t have to bring Lily inside the clinic as she really didn’t like it there anymore. With the input from all three vets from Keene Veterinary, I decided that it was time. It was, according to the vets, quite miraculous that she made it for as long as she did with her encyclopedia of health issues. So, we made a date to meet in the park the following Friday evening at 5pm to watch the sun set on Lily’s wonderful life.
I share this with you today as a tribute to my baby but also to hopefully provide some comfort to those of you who have or will go through something similar with your fur-babies.
You are not alone and there is most certainly no “right” decision in terms of when the time is right.
I was very tempted to keep Lily alive longer but that seemed to be much more for me than for her. I am glad that I didn’t wait until her pain was acute and she was in the throes of an emergency. I feel very fortunate that my vet was willing to do this for me in a serene place where Lily was most comfortable, surrounded by loved ones and could drift off in peace.
I wasn’t sure how I would be doing after losing her but I am glad to say that while I still get pretty choked up and I miss her every day, I am at peace with my decision and know that my little Schmoopie has crossed the proverbial rainbow bridge. I feel eternally grateful for the almost 14 years that we spent together and I will always love her.
The Rainbow Bridge Story
Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.
When an animal who has been especially close to someone dies, that pet goes to the Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food and water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.
Animals who were ill and old are restored to health and vigor; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them from days and times gone by.
The animals are happy and content, except for one thing: they miss someone very special to them; the person they left behind.
All of the animals run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent; his eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to break away from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.
You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. Happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.
Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together…