I Was A Dog Mom First:: Grieving the Loss of a Beloved Companion

My husband and I are both “dog people” and grew up with pups, so it was no surprise when we felt the desire to adopt a fur baby of our own shortly after we got married. We were connected to the Miniature Schnauzer Rescue of Houston via my in-laws, and I began checking the website daily to find the newest member of our family. When Sammy appeared on the site at the end of October with his “glamour shots,” I knew he had to be mine! He had gorgeous silky white fur and an adorably puffy beard. His head was cocked at an angle in one photo, seemingly asking whether or not I was ready to play with him! 

white schnauzer in grassSam was being fostered by a family in southwest Houston, so we arranged to meet them in the parking lot of a local PetSmart to check him out. My first impression? Sammy was LOUD! His foster mom told me that he might not be great around kids since he was always barking nonstop at her children. My husband and I didn’t have children of our own at the time, but we hoped to one day… hearing this was definitely a red flag. We drove away from the parking lot unsure if Sammy was the one. In fact, we had pretty much decided not to adopt him. But my mother-in-law saw something special in him that night, and encouraged us to say yes. We decided to take a chance… and my sweet in-laws gifted Sam to us as an early Christmas present.

Fast forward almost a decade later, and Sammy is very much a beloved member of our family. Our family has grown since then with the addition of our {human} children, but Sam proved his old foster mom wrong and became the best “fur brother” his little sisters could ask for. Shortly before turning 11, Sam suddenly became very ill. We were at the dog park running around together on a Saturday, and then on Wednesday, he was having emergency abdominal surgery. After enduring a gut-wrenching week waiting for test results, my first baby was diagnosed with canine gastrointestinal lymphoma. Prognosis:: not great. His doctors were able to get clean margins when they removed his cancerous mass, but we elected to start chemotherapy three weeks post-op to give our pup the best possible shot at survival.

We broke the devastating news to our children gently one evening at the dinner table. Our oldest daughter, age 6, began crying immediately. She had already endured the loss of one pet before {Rex the guppy} and understood that death means you will not be able to see, touch, or talk to your loved one again. We cried alongside her and tried our best to answer her questions between the tears streaming down our own faces. We encouraged her to start making a bucket list of things that we could do with Sammy while he was undergoing treatment {this was a great idea given to us by a couple of friends} to help us make more memories with our pup. Our daughter brightened at the idea of having something tangible to do, and rushed off to her work table to get started.

For the following seven weeks, we took our baby boy to chemo every Thursday and nursed him tenderly as he battled constant nausea and appetite loss. His fluffy white fur stopped growing as quickly and we started finding little snowdrifts of white fuzz in all corners of the house. Mealtime became a cacophony of cajoling voices clamoring to get our pup to eat. But Sam’s appetite continued to wane. His oncologist suggested doing a recheck ultrasound to see if his disease was progressing. I remember sitting in the exam room, absolutely terrified as I waited for the vet to return with the results. “We found a mass in his spleen that wasn’t there three months ago… We’re so sorry…” I sobbed on the vet’s shoulder.

Sam was diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma, another type of malignant cancer. After several protracted conversations with his wonderful care team, we decided to discontinue chemotherapy and set off to finish up our bucket list. We grilled prime sirloin for our sweet boy, hit the beach, posed for professional photos, and preserved Sam’s paw print in ink and quick-drying plaster. We held him, cried over him, and sang to him. The children danced around him and filled his ears with the sound of their laughter and their mournful tears. We were able to have 10 perfect Christmases with our Sam, and for that, we are so, so thankful. When you share your life with a dog, it truly leaves an imprint on your heart. The years we spent with Sammy were full of love and joy, and we know that the crippling grief we are experiencing now is because the love we had together was SO big. Sam, we miss you so much and always will. Love you forever, sweet boy. I was your mom first.

Resources for Grieving Pet Loss:

  1. When A Pet Dies by Fred Rogers
  2. The Invisible Leash:  An Invisible String Story About the Loss of a Pet (The Invisible String) by Patrice Karst
  3. The Goodbye Book by Todd Parr
  4. The Berenstain Bears Lose a Friend by Stan & Jan Berenstain with Mike Berenstain
  5. I’ll Always Love You by Hans Wilhelm (please note:: this book may be triggering for some)
  6. Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant (please note:: this book contains themes about heaven)
  7. The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst
  8. When You Love A Dog by M H Clark
  9. The Rainbow Bridge: A Visit to Pet Paradise by Adrian Raeside
  10. Pet Paw Print Ornament Keepsake
  11. Pet Paw Print No Touch Ink Kit 
  12. Custom Paw Print Stamp
  13. Photography by Sharon Nicole Photography

Sammy was adopted in 2012 from the Miniature Schnauzer Rescue of Houston (MSRH). This nonprofit organization is run entirely by volunteers that work tirelessly to help abandoned, homeless, or surrendered schnauzers. Want to help? Consider making a donation or connecting your Kroger Plus/Randalls Remarkable card to MSRH; every penny you contribute goes toward helping a pup in need.

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