So earlier today I received a note from a reader, requesting I explain the pain of losing our dog Norma earlier this year.
Here you go …
I am a charmed person.
My parents are both alive and healthy.
My older brother is alive and healthy.
My wife and my kids are healthy.
All of my grandparents lived well into their 80s.
Again, I am a charmed person.
Because of that charmed existence, however, I think I was unprepared for the death of Norma, our 12-year-old cockapoo who died earlier this year of cancer.
Now, to be honest, I used to be one of those people who sorta scoffed at pet loss. As a boy we only had guinea pigs—nice animals, but not exactly the most cuddly or embraceable. So when I’d see someone torn up by the death of a dog or cat, I never fully got it. “Seriously?” I’d think. “It’s just a pet.”
Norma was my first dog—and I friggin’ loved her. I loved her sighs, her likes (plopping down on a blanket, strawberries, carrots) and her dislikes (other dogs). The daughter and I decided early on that Norma was an arch-conservative pro-life zealot, and we assigned her membership in the Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney Fan Clubs. Which was fun.
Norma was always by my side. And, as a work-from-home writer, that mattered. I’d be sitting here at my laptop, turn, and there’d be ol’ Norma, resting on the bed, head down, eyes closed. She dug a good belly rub, a good paw rub. She was companionship. Kinship. Company for a long walk on a sunny California day.
This past summer, we came home one day and Norma was acting peculiar. Limping. Hiding under furniture. I called a friend who walks dogs, and she said maybe she’s just off. But … it didn’t feel right. I took her to the vet, and they did some tests, and we were told Norma’s body was filled with cancer. I was actually driving with my daughter Casey when the news was delivered, and I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. It wasn’t merely the hardest cry in front of one of my children—it was probably the hardest cry of my life.
Later that day, my wife visited Norma for a final time (I stayed with the kids). She FaceTimed me from the vet, put Norma on. She was no longer herself—expressionless, peppiless. Nothing there.
Minutes later, she was put to sleep.
How did it feel? Like someone carved up my insides. Like someone punched me in the stomach 100 times. I felt as if I had somehow let Norma down. I felt as if I was losing a child. She was there all the time … and now, poof. Gone. Forever. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. I know millions of people lose millions of pets every year, but I couldn’t imagine anyone else feeling as I felt.
But then (and I hope this doesn’t sound callous) the days passed and the hurt faded. We started making small jokes about Norma being in dog heaven or dog hell. Norma sniffing another dead dog’s ass. Again, maybe it sounds cruel. But it was a process.
I spoke at length with a good friend, Bev Oden, who told me—from experience—”The joy of having a pet outweighs the pain of losing a pet.” I’ve thought about that. And thought about that. And thought about that.
A few weeks ago, we got a new dog. Her name is Poppy.
She’s not Norma. She’s young and peppy and likes to gnaw on fists. She’s a better eater and a worse listener.
Initially, I felt a tad traitorous. Norma’s dead, and we’ve replaced her. But, with time, that guilt walked off.
It’s like Bev said—the joy of having a pet outweighs the pain of losing a pet.
Norma will always be my first love.
But Poppy has brought back the bliss.