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When Your Dog Dies

Jennifer Huget with her dog Ripley. (David Roberts for The Washington Post)

Okay, I know I'm not the Washington Post's resident expert on the death of beloved dogs.

But having had one poor Jack Russell Terrier puppy die after he was hit by a car 20 years ago, and having raised his sister (also a Jack) until she finally died on my bed two years ago, half blind at age 18, I know as well as anyone the sad ache of losing a beloved canine companion.

I'm thinking about how we cope with our dogs' (and other pets') deaths today because I read that the world's oldest dog, a wire-haired dachsund named Chanel, just died on Long Island in New York, at age 21. I never met this particular pooch, but just looking at the photo of her, relaxing on a dog-print pillow in her keep-warm sweater and socks, makes me want to cry.

I felt the same way in July when Gidget, the Taco Bell dog, died at age 15. And my heart ached when I read about this 16-year-old dog's death in Richmond last week.

There's nothing much new to say about our relationship with dogs. We all know that their companionship helps keep us healthy and engaged in life. Taking care of them gives us an extra sense of purpose. And losing them, whether they're puppies like my Chance or old geezers like my Ripley (pictured here in 2001), hurts like no other kind of hurt.

The Humane Society of the United States offers these tips for coping with the loss of your pet. And here are some thoughts from the American Veterinary Medical Association.

If anyone feels like talking about the pets they've lost, I'm happy to listen. I've got plenty of Kleenex.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  September 2, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
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Chanel was NOT the world's oldest dog.

On May 22, 2009 TV station 10-KLFY in New Iberia, Louisiana, reported that a "terier mix" named Max, owned by Janelle Derouen of New Iberia, was laying claim to the Guinness Book of World Records title of "Oldest Dog in the World." The report said:

"Max is a terrier mix who's been part of Janelle Derouen's family just a few weeks after his birth on August 9th, 1983. That makes Max almost 26 years old.

"Janelle says Max is in remarkably good shape. He suffers from cataracts, so he wears doggie goggles when he's out in the sun, and a touch of arthritis has slowed him down, but not by much.

"When Janelle spotted our story on the current record holder, Chanel, she knew she had to let the world know about her incredible canine. We'll keep you posted on Max's quest for the title of world's oldest dog, but in the meantime, Max isn't letting his sudden celebrity go to his head."

You can see a video of Max and his owner at

Posted by: eshackle | September 2, 2009 8:57 AM | Report abuse

We had dogs when I was growing up back in the Stone Age. Mostly mongrels that we got for free when somebody's dog had a litter. I never knew people paid for animals until I moved away from home! Most recently I was the owner, or rather 'staff' of two cats. (Dogs have owners, cats have staff.) One lived to be 15, the other lived to be 16. Each developed health problems late in life. One had stomach ulcers, inoperable and meds didn't work so I had her put to sleep. The other had diabetes. Had to get insulin each morning, special diet (expensive) I could only get at the vet's office. If I had to go away I had to arrange for a pet sitter to come give him insulin each morning. He was finally put to sleep at age 16. Heartbreaking, but now the house is free of the smelly litter box, cat food dishes on the floor, cat hair, and no more vet visits. It's really a liberated feeling.

Posted by: Baltimore11 | September 2, 2009 10:17 AM | Report abuse

The night my beloved doxie was hit by a neighbors car (in my sight) ranks as the worst night of my life to this day. Not my first pet, I only made it through my grief by making a book with the stories and photos of my pal, and the compassion, kind words and grace of friends and family. Finally I healed enough to adopt a pair of dogs--now the light of my life in a different way. All to say that there's no good way to prepare for the loss of a pet, and all the reasons in the world to respect our own, and other pet owners' grief when the dreaded day arrives!

Posted by: bartokmd | September 2, 2009 10:20 AM | Report abuse

Several years ago, when we had to say farewell to our aging cats, our veterinarian did something very special -- she made a donation to a "companion animal fund" in our community. We thought it was a very nice gesture and a wonderful way to memorialize the human-animal relationship. Since then, when we hear of close friends losing their pets, we make a contribution to a worthy animal rescue fund on their behalf.

Posted by: whynotme | September 2, 2009 10:31 AM | Report abuse

About 20 years ago the Post Magazine section had a touching piece on a family that took in a golden retriever seeing-eye-dog-in-training for about a year, and, of course, they loved him, particularly the kids. They were heartbroken when he had to leave for serious training. Then, after he was retired from working several years later, they were offered to take the dog back, and they did. Any idea on how I could find that article? Would it be on anywhere? I have done various searches and haven't found it. Maybe it is too old to be found. Any help would be appreciated.

Posted by: chevychase10 | September 2, 2009 10:51 AM | Report abuse

UPENN has done a great job with the information on pets and bereavement on this page:

I would recommend this as a resource for dealing with the loss of a pet.

Posted by: annasdayz | September 2, 2009 11:00 AM | Report abuse

Thanks, everyone, for sharing your stories and comments this morning!

chevychase10, I did a quick search through the archives and didn't find a story that sounded like the one you describe, but I'll keep trying. Does anybody else remember this story well enough to help us pin it down? Thanks!

Posted by: Jennifer LaRue Huget | September 2, 2009 11:11 AM | Report abuse

Two years ago my next-door neighbor cut the throat of a stray cat I had been feeding and threw the poor guy into my back yard; I heard the screams coming from his basement at 4 am. One week later he injected something into my own cat and I found his lifeless body, drained of blood, abdomen swollen, about 6 inches from where the the first cat had lain. The police, mayor, & city council members, whom I know, didn't respond to either murder; I live in a Maryland suburb. I'm a retired man and cried for weeks & had to wear dark glasses when I went into public. I still fear for my own life although less so than at that time. The killer recently threatened to kill a kitten kids across the street had found. This creep's a drug dealer and probably an illegal alien. My former (excellent) boss, also a Latino, advised me not to talk with the murderer or his wife & kids and I haven't since the killings.

Posted by: beoods | September 2, 2009 11:23 AM | Report abuse

Chevy Chase and Jennifer: I belong to the Lions Club and our program for Leader Dogs for the Blind allows people to adopt dogs that don't make the final cut to be a Leader Dog. These dogs are perfectly good dogs, have been vaccinated, neutered, but just won't make a good leader dog. They might chase squirrels, for instance. Go to the Leader Dogs for the Blind website to see their training programs and how to adopt a 'career changed' dog.

Mr. Beoods: Did you report these murders to the ASPCA or local animal shelter? Somebody should have responded.

Posted by: Baltimore11 | September 2, 2009 11:52 AM | Report abuse


If you talk to a long-timer in the magazine section, I think they would remember the article, and I would think that they should have an archive of all of their issues. It might even have been the cover story. The article was incredibly heartwarming.

Thanks for any efforts to find it.

Posted by: chevychase10 | September 2, 2009 12:40 PM | Report abuse

I had a bad year in 2006. I lost 3 pets---a previously-abused dog who I'd spent the price of a used car trying to save; an old cat I'd had since her kittenhood and who'd been with me almost since mine; and a rescued cat I'd had only weeks and who I would later come to believe was a victim of the Chinese melamine-in-pet-food scandal. It took me months to get over the combined shock of these three deaths.

As bad as that was, though, the worst is yet to come. My surviving dog is 4 now and is the best dog I've ever had. Her "new" friend is the same age, which seemed like a good idea at the time but which in retrospect seems like a bad decision. I know that I shouldn't think this, but the thought of possibly losing these two close together scares the bejesus out of me. To put it mildly... you get *awfully* used to having them around.

Posted by: praxis22 | September 2, 2009 12:55 PM | Report abuse

I distinctly remember the article about the retired working dog and how excited the family was to have him back, even though he no longer recalled them.

Wonderful story.

Posted by: anhamilton | September 2, 2009 1:19 PM | Report abuse

I had to put my sweet beagle down on Monday and my heart is broken...

We who choose to surround ourselves with lives even more temporary than our own, living within a fragile circle, easily and often breached.
Yet, unable to accept its awful gaps, we still would live no other way.
We cherish memory as the only certain immortality, never fully understanding the necessary plan”

Yesterday, after a long and dignified life, my sweet little beagle Beatrice went over the rainbow bridge to heaven.

To know Beatrice was to love her. She truly was every creatures friend. She carried herself with such charm and grace and still managed to devour just about anything that was put in front of her or anything she could get at if the fridge or pantry was left open!

She was a world traveler by age 5 and a reckless explorer anytime the front door was left open.
She had many animal friends as well as human friends.
her fur and ears were as soft as silk. he endearing little snorts of happiness always brought a smile to anyones face.

Up until about 2 months ago, she enoyed her happy little strolls around the neighborhood. Bouncing and smiling with every step, her little tail straight up in the air wagging with pure joy.
Even her companion Simba sensed her slowing down and never left her side in the last month. He truly became her protector, keeping watch over her day and night. I caught him "spooning" her a few nites ago as they slept on the doggie bed together.

I am grateful I had her as long I did. I am grateful her family was there with her when she peacefully slipped away. She watched my babies grow up and will leave me with fond and hysterical memories. She never brought me one moment of sadness or disapointment and greeted me every day like I was a movie star coming thru the door at nite. Especially nites when she was all I came home too.

Her loss is oppressive. The house already feels so empty. I would give anything to hear the click-click-click of her little nails walking across the floor.

I love you sweet little Beatrice, I will never forget you. You lived a beautiful and amazing life and touched everyone you met along the way. The world truly is a happier place because of you.

Princess Beatrice Bing "Bea"
July 27th 1994 - August 31 2009
what a truly beautiful, full and happy life you lived

Posted by: aduray | September 2, 2009 2:05 PM | Report abuse

Four years ago, we adopted a senior dog from the shelter. They estimated she was 10-12 years old. She had obviously lived a hard life (she even had buckshot in her), and once her stray time was up, she would have been put down immediately, but we felt an immediate connection to her. We adopted her knowing that she probably wouldn't be with us long, but we felt that if we could make her last years happy, it would be worth it. What we didn't realize at the time was how much having her would mean to us. And yes, she came with the typical problems of old age (arthritis, cataracts, etc), but despite that, we had three great years together. When we had to put her to sleep last July, we grieved as much as if we'd had her for her entire life--maybe we even grieved a little more, because we'd missed out on the first decade or so of her life. Losing a pet is hard no matter how long they've been in your life, and adopting an older dog means from the start that you'll have even less time with them. But she brought immense joy to our lives, and adopting her was one of the best things we ever did.

Posted by: dk92 | September 2, 2009 2:23 PM | Report abuse


The article I believe you are looking for is called, "It's a Guide Dog's Life" (Washington Post, Sunday, January 13, 1991, Author: Martha Sherrill).

Opening paragraph: "The doggy smell comes and goes. She's old. Her skin's old. She takes Vitamin E, Vitamin C and phenylbutasone now. Her brown eyes aren't clouded, exactly, just weary. The ears that once heard sounds miles away are now a little crunchy on the flopped edges, as if they are slowly crumbling off. Her fur is coming off too, thinning out in places, especially on her muzzle where she rubbed it against the cage at the Guide Dog Foundation. She was there for a couple of weeks after leaving Queens, after leaving her blind master of 10 years, before coming back to the people who knew her as a puppy

Heta has retired."

I suggest you contact your local public library with this information. I'm sure someone there can help you acquire a copy quite easily.

BTW, I'm a librarian. Don't forget us when you're looking for hard-to-find information.

Posted by: leonardma | September 2, 2009 2:29 PM | Report abuse


Thanks very much for your effort, but I got ahold of the article you referred to and that is not the article I was thinking of. My article was more about the family that had the dog for its first year. As suggested by anhamilton, above, it also talked about how dogs have a limited active memory of their owners/masters. As I recall, when returned to the family, the dog was healthier than Heta in the article you referred to. But, again, thank you.

Posted by: chevychase10 | September 2, 2009 3:30 PM | Report abuse


The article I referenced includes every element you have identified:

- It was about 20 years ago (1991).
- It was in the Post's magazine (p. 17).
- It details the love the family developed for the dog during her year with them and the sadness they felt when she went to the training center.
- It expresses the family's desire to take the dog back when she could no longer serve as an assistance animal.
- And it mentions the limited memory dogs hold: "It's not a question of whether Heta remembers us. Dogs, they say, can only remember somebody for six weeks. So, she's still in the process of forgetting Ken."

So, except for your memory of the dog being healthier than Heta, this article seems to fit the bill. In fact, I see no other in the WaPo that comes even close. Any chance other details are inaccurate -- not a golden retriever, perhaps? or maybe from a different publication?

Posted by: leonardma | September 2, 2009 3:59 PM | Report abuse


On closer reading I believe you are right. This is the article I remembered.

Thanks so much.

Posted by: chevychase10 | September 2, 2009 4:11 PM | Report abuse

Pound dogs make the greatest pets. After 13 years my little boy just laid down on the floor of the living room and said goodbye. I walked that guy every night for his entire life and he was always ready to go. Didn't matter if i was sick or he was sick, we went. Weather didn't bother him, so it didn't bother me. What a pal. Good night POLO.

Posted by: DIMMY | September 2, 2009 4:27 PM | Report abuse

My dog Stella was with me for 17 years. I grew up with her. I remember playing in the yard with her, moving with her, everything. She was always there is I needed someone to just lay with me or just be there. She slept next to me and I can honestly say that I had more pictures of Stella than I did of my family and friends when I went away to college...and still do. She took road trips with my mom up to Rhode Island to visit me when I missed her and she loved it when I fed table scraps. Stella died in May. She was diagnosed with nasal tumors 2 years ago, the vet told us that she had months but I wasn't having any of it. I took care of her; gave her medication in the morning and night. Came home in the middle of the day to check up on her. Made sure she was always comfortable and got her exercise. Anytime she seemed to be in pain or whatever, I took her to the vet to make sure she was okay. When she died I was heart broken. It happened so fast. One minute she was fine then next she was seizing. We rushed her to the vet and they told us that it was "time". I freaked out and was overwhelmed with grief. I couldn't go home after we put her down. I went out but everytime I saw a dog I would break down again. I couldn't go in my room because her bed was still there and she wasn't. I still have a heard time walking into the house and her not being there to greet me. I miss giving her hugs and petting her. They kept telling me that she had a full life and was ready to go. While I said I understood I still don't. I don't think I ever will. She was fine and then not. She was my best friend and she will always be greatly missed.

Posted by: latte33 | September 2, 2009 8:42 PM | Report abuse

I had to have my 19 1/2 year old cat put to sleep last due to serious medical problems that she was no longer responding to treatment for. I had had her since she was a kitten, and though I have had other beloved cats in my life, she was truly my kitty soulmate. I miss her so much.

I coped by adopting two homeless cats from a cat rescue group in honor of her memory. They are both dear, affectionate, cats and good company, but I just feel that I'll never have the kind of relationship with any other cat again that I had with my cat who died.

Posted by: solsticebelle | September 2, 2009 9:50 PM | Report abuse

What is wrong with me that I was mad,
That Morning Joe tearfully laughed at something sad.

I know many could never understand a families friend’s demise,
Yet to all who know their love it is a time for uncontrollable cries.

Good times, bad times you have a loyal caring friend,
At least not all found merriment at ones valiant end.

I know not this family friend, or the lonely they left behind,
Some unknowers are able to find humor in all that they find.

When known family friends passed we all shed our tears,
I can remember them all throughout the many years.

And these memories bring back great laughter and joy,
Their comfort, the antics, they played with that toy.

We’ve spent great sums of money safeguarding them without regret,
For we know we shall miss them after that heartbreaking trip to the vet.

They would have forgiven you and be your best friend,
So please never laugh when their life come to their end.

Use your powerful, all reaching airways to help mankind’,
And me and my best friends will forget those acts unkind.

For they make me human and whole,
We love each others good hearted soul.
So I’ll sign off now, I’ve had my say,
Remember this and please have a blessed day.

Posted by: SonnyRice | September 2, 2009 10:00 PM | Report abuse

I just lost my best friend. Unlike humans, he never judged, was incredibly hapy to see me and provided me with a sense of comfort that no human ever could.

He was a 16 year old maltese, and quite possibly the cutest thing I will ever lay eyes on. Maybe I'm one of those weird dog owners, borderline creepy, that treats animals with the same resect I would give a human. I don't care, he deserved my respect when others failed me. He was my everything. It was a hard role to fill, I was 30, a professional, living at home, no kids, no significant other with the will to be someone great. I couldn't do it without Stu and since his son & daughter were at home to I would never seperate him from his family. So I stayed. I could never imagine being without him, living without him. He never let me down.

His last years were tough; blind, deaf, it was incredibly hard to watch him use his head to find direction. He also suffered from seperation anxiety, only for me. The guilt I felt leaving him to go to work, shop, socialize was awful but I may have had a little seperation anxiety too...I could not WAIT to see him at any given point, any given day. He had trained his human companion well :)

I knew he was old, and I knew he was suffering. Sometimes I felt beyond selfish for keeping him around but as long as he was excited to see me, ate & drank I was okay with him sticking around.

On the night of September 1st he showed signs of what I thought was kennel cough. Since it was late at night I decided to stick it out until morning. It was an awful night, his cough turned into a constant weezing and he couldn't sleep. That morning when I took him to the vet my doctor told me he was experiencing congestive heart failure. Basically he was drowning. My vet knows me well, when he was sick before I would tell whomever I made the appointment with that I WILL NOT put my dog to sleep and to note that when I saw the doctor. There was NO WAY they would EVER convince me to do that to my baby, Stu. She told me that morning that she could try to relieve his pain but there were know promises. I guess the trigger for me was right now Stu feels like he's drowning.

I looked at my mom, and then at the vet. Through my tears I tried to word...I've kept him around for my benifit for too long...he need not suffer anymore. WOW...something I NEVER thought would EVER come out of my mouth. I was done being selfish.

HE died in my arms that morning. Nothings right, I will never get over losing the best thing that ever happened to me. I miss him like crazy and it took me til now to realize how much of my life I devoted to being his wheelchair and his eyes and his ears. It's so hard right sooooo hard :(

I hope I made the right decision.

Posted by: marisasuhy | September 3, 2009 11:05 PM | Report abuse

I am trying not to cry as I write this. I lost my love dog - Buddy - about one month ago. I had to put him to sleep because he was no longer eating and had no quality of life. He was 16 years old and a border collie mix.

I miss him all the time but I do try and think about all the good times and we had plenty. Loyal, faithful, kind and fair Buddy was always up for whatever I wanted to do and whenever.

I'm not yet ready for another dog but I'm sure I will adopt in the future. Buddy was from a humane shelter.

Peace be with you.

Posted by: pkm123 | September 4, 2009 11:50 AM | Report abuse

For all who have lost their loved one...

Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.

When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, 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, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.

All the animals who had been 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 in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.

They all 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 run 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. The 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....

Posted by: aduray | September 4, 2009 12:22 PM | Report abuse


I am very sorry for your loss. My girlfriend shared your story with me. Your story was exactly what happened to her. She said "Even though I didn’t write (marisasuhy) story, this is exactly what happened to Dijon. My heart is broken. Why?????

Both of you are in my prayers.

Posted by: mastukes | September 8, 2009 4:37 PM | Report abuse

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