"Dogs' lives are too short... Their only fault, really."
January 7, 2013 9:24 AM   Subscribe

I love my dog. Every once in a while, I feel utterly heartbroken that I will most likely outlive him. While it doesn't happen often and it's not overwhelming, and I realize that it is perfectly natural to be sad about something like that, can you give me advice about how to turn these thoughts into something positive?

Here are some helpful details about him:
  • I adopted him last spring at the age of one. He is my first dog.
  • He is in great shape but as a pit bull mutt, it's unlikely that he will live much past the age of ten.
  • He is the best dog in the my world and – when he is not napping with his head in someone's lap – he is just so glad and excited to simply be a dog. Everyone who gets to spend time with him adores him.
  • His life is overall terrific, and his presence brings an extra fantastic dimension to my own life. I don't obsess over his well-being as much as I did when I first got him, but he probably is the single greatest source of joy in my life after my family (which I am of course grateful for but to be candid, tand to take for granted on a day-to-day basis).
...and about me:
  • I am a 28-year-old married woman, not depressed or otherwise unhappy, although occasionally I do get randomly melancholy about living so far away from most of my family and anxious about their declining health.
  • I don't particularly like dogs, just mine.
  • I am not an affectionate person and there are very, very few people I want to spend time with or like as much as this dog.
  • I will most likely be a lifelong dog owner although it's difficult to imagine that I could genuinely adore another dog this much or find one who is just so damn perfect, flaws and all.
  • I don't believe in souls or afterlife, and I'm mostly concerned about how I will handle it when he dies, and sometimes how those who may depend on me in the future – children that I don't even have yet, for god's sake! – might suffer due to that. That seems unnecessary.
Metafilter tends to be really good at this sort of thing... There is no reason for me to be grieving over something that, with a bit of luck, won't happen for a long time. I feel that it's irrational to get this upset about his eventual death when he's snoring right next to me. What can I replace these – certainly not dark or grim or angry but rather wistful – thoughts with?
posted by halogen to Pets & Animals (41 answers total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I realize that this is sort of morbid, but my first thought was this: unless you plan some elaborate murder/suicide in which you kill your dog and then yourself, the only alternative to you outliving your dog is your dog outliving you. That means that your dog, who I'm sure loves you deeply but doesn't have your emotional capacity to understand the nature of death, would be left alone without you. He would never be able to understand that he hasn't been abandoned, and he wouldn't be able to control where he ends up next or who he ends up with. By outliving him, you're protecting him from that. And doing everything you can to ensure that, all his life, he's cared for and loved in the way that you love him is such an important thing you can do for him. It will be hard for you, of course, but you're taking on that pain so that he doesn't have to.

But yes, you are making yourself unnecessarily unhappy. Is that something you do often, marring your happy present with worries about a possible unhappy future? If that's a pattern for you that you want to change, there are cognitive strategies that can help you do that. If it's not a pattern, however, and it's really just centered on the dog, I'd recommend reminding yourself whenever these thoughts come up that you can't control the future of your life with your dog, but you can enjoy the present by living in it as fully as possible right now with him.
posted by decathecting at 9:31 AM on January 7, 2013 [21 favorites]

For me, it is a matter of accepting one's own mortality. And the late 20's is a very common time for this especially coupled with the looming death of family members. So to turn that around I remember how fortunate I am to live in a prosperous, peaceful time and location that allows me enjoy life and bring happiness and contentment to others (including my dogs) and make the most of it for this too shall pass (as will we all). BTW this is something religion actually does pretty well-coming to term with mortality, and making being insignificant significant.
posted by bartonlong at 9:32 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: He's a real looker I must say!

Yup, I too get melancholy about my cats. In fact for years I didn't have pets because I know I'd grow too attached to them and be crushed when they died.

We recently lost my sisters's chow-mix, and interestingly enough, while we were all sad, we know that Audrey had live an excellent life, gave all of us smiles and love and that we gave as good as we got.

One thing that Sissy did was get New-Dog, Mischa, a couple of years before Audrey died. While it was sad after Sissy got back from the vet, New-Dog was more than happy to fill the gap in love and pets and snuggles. Also, the routine didn't change. There were still walks, and feeding and muddy paws to wipe. So no, "empty-house" feel.

Start casting about for your New-Dog. Go to "Bark in the Park" or other dog activities. See how your pumpkin enjoys the company of other dogs. If he seems up to it, consider a second dog.

We all will miss our pets when they die. That's just the way it is. But we can give them awesome lives when they're with us and love and remember them when they go.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:34 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I put this in a big list of things I can't possibly have any control over. I have somehow wired my brain to not worry about such things. My mantra goes:

"It is what it is".

Good luck. Enjoy your pup.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:34 AM on January 7, 2013

Best answer: My little dog passed away this summer and I was heartbroken. I cried so hard that I think I broke something. But a friend sent me this:

Every time I lose a dog, he takes piece of my heart. Every new dog gifts me with a piece of his. Someday, my heart will be total dog and maybe then I will be just as generous, loving and forgiving.

And it made me feel so much better. I had thought I couldn't possibly go through that again, but those words reminded me that I have so much to learn. I waited a while, and then I brought home Annie, a stray, over Christmas. It's different, of course, with her, but in a good way. Having a dog reminds me to be a kinder person.
posted by mochapickle at 9:35 AM on January 7, 2013 [143 favorites]

I love animals and have lost pets (one to cancer at ten years old, one to another illness at only four months ohmygoshthatwasbrutal).

What helps me is to think of the fact that sick and old pets don't sit and reminisce about their lives, don't feel like they need to live to see kids get married, don't remember puppy kindergarten, etc. They live in the moment, so we should make their moments as happy as we possibly can. So many animals live in pain and suffering, and to offer an animal a happy, comfortable life of snuggles and toys and care is a wonderful thing in this world.
posted by sweetkid at 9:36 AM on January 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

I've learned to redirect those thoughts into thinking about how to give a pet the best life possible.
posted by alphanerd at 9:37 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long.

Your dog will presumably pack a lot of living into his ten years. Unlike a human he has a quick maturation, no awkward middle school days for him and no extended adolescence. 2 or 3 years in and he's as adult as he's getting. Presumably he won't waste decades on a job he hates or worry about his retirement. The cost of that life is a shorter lifespan.
posted by 2bucksplus at 9:37 AM on January 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Previously, almost exactly.

Here's my answer, paraphrased: it makes me sadder to think of dying before my dog and leaving her alone, so mourning her is something that I'm willing to do for her. Or as I said then:
I'm willing to live their respective lives -- their entire lives -- with them, and try to make them as happy as I can for as long as I can. After she's gone, I'm willing to bear the burden of being sad so that she doesn't have to. And life goes on and soon all I'll be able to remember are the happy times. I don't know that a dog is capable of getting over something like that, so I'm glad that it happens this way.
posted by supercres at 9:38 AM on January 7, 2013 [10 favorites]

It's just a matter of time; as you get older and more experienced with other losses, it won't seem as big an issue. For example, say you, oh, lose your father young to cancer, your boyfriend too young to drugs, and maybe a beloved grandparent or two to old age, you'll find that those things give you the strength/nerves of steel to deal with other deaths.
posted by Melismata at 9:38 AM on January 7, 2013

I get like this too! I think when you are too happy with someone/some creature, you need these melancholic moments to remind yourself of how good they are. Like an internal reset button.

When I get this thought re: dogs I try to turn it into quality time with whichever of my two dogs I am feeling this towards, or both of them. We go for a hike or to the dogpark, or pack into the car and go to Tim Hortons and the dogs get a Timbit (not good for lifespan, but they love it), etc. Kills the melancholy by packing more memories into their short lives. But what I am most worried about is regrets re: not spending enough time with the dogs, or being angry - so this conquers that for me. For being worried about being too upset when the dog goes - I know a lot of people who, when their dog got ancient, got a new wonderful dog and let the old dog "teach" the new one to avoid this possible psychotic break due to doglessness.
posted by Acer_saccharum at 9:40 AM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Also, that was less than two years ago, but in that time, I feel like I've gotten more okay with dog mortality. My parents' Brittany, who will be 15 in May, was my "growing up" dog. I don't see her very often, but she never fails to make me smile, deafness, stubbornness, and all. It's hard for me to remember a time without her; sometimes I can't believe that she's been around so long, so looking back on it, I can't help but think about what a long, full life she's had. I'm sure I'll still cry like a baby when she does go, but I feel like I can envision the other side a little better.

So what I'm saying is: I would be surprised if it doesn't get easier to cope with this as time goes on.
posted by supercres at 9:50 AM on January 7, 2013

Best answer: As my therapist says, "There's no need to grieve beforehand." This applies to family members, friends, pets, jobs, fun parties, etc. (I do the same, if you can't tell).

And as a very wise woman once said, "The quality of your life is directly related to what you focus on."

Simply be in the moment enjoying your (adorable! thx for the pix) dog and don't worry about the unknown future...death is what makes life interesting, because we know that there will be an end. So live every moment!
posted by Pocahontas at 9:53 AM on January 7, 2013 [7 favorites]

Best answer: A couple of years ago I lost my cats unexpectedly within a year of each other. They were the first pets that were mine (as opposed to my parents') and I thought they were my feline soul mates, that no other cats could possibly be as good and I would never love other animals like that for the rest of my life.

Nevertheless, I adopted two kittens, because I am the kind of person who needs cats around, and I have been shocked to find that I'm at least as obsessive over and in love with these as with the first two. It's been a wonderful experience, really, to find that I have the capacity to love these guys as much as my first cats, and I find comfort in knowing that when I lose my current little angels, I can adopt new ones and I will love them just as much as well. I also like the idea that I have the opportunity to rescue lots of cats in my lifetime, to provide a good home for them and love them more than is reasonable for all of their years.
posted by something something at 9:54 AM on January 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

The type of thoughts you are having are called intrusive thoughts--thinking about things that are pretty horrible when the chance of them happening right now/soon/near future are remote. It's an OCD trait.

If and when the time comes yes, you will be sad, very sad/depressed for days. The thoughts of getting another dog may or may not happen for a long time. Your dog wants and needs your attention in the present. I lost my dog as a young adult and my husband's cat as an adult about 3 years ago. It was hard, odd not to have them around but it does get better. Same thing with humans dying. It just takes time and memories/photographs help. So does talking with a professional, friend, or even chat board about it. There is nothing wrong with mourning. There is something wrong when you can't cope with daily activities beyond a normal time frame (say a month). And by daily I mean getting out of bed, eating, drinking, taking care of your children.

Dogs and pets are wonderful, unconditional loving companions. Your feelings are normal because nothing can replace that love. But life does go on and so must you. Cry your tears when the time comes and talk about it with caring others. It helps.
posted by stormpooper at 9:59 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Dogs are awesome. When you get sad thinking about your dog dying before you, just remind yourself that from the day you adopted him until the second he leaves this world, he gets to be loved. How cool is that? And then when you're smiling over how awesome your dog's life is, sneak him a piece of chicken or a french fry because WHO'S A GOOD BOY? IS IT YOU? And take photos of how he sleeps with one leg up in the air, or the face he makes right before he sneezes.
posted by specialagentwebb at 10:10 AM on January 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: You will handle it. It's as simple as that. If you are lucky you will be with your dog when it passes, and you will get to hold it in your loving arms and you will say goodbye. You will cry, you will grieve and you will be go on.

I hate to pull out the whole you will understand when you are older card, but we are lucky enough to live in a society where so many people don't have to experience the death of a loved one of any species until they are older. You wonder before hand how you can survive it, and then it happens and you loose a loved pet, or a father or in my case both in the same year and you survive it. You get through it, you grieve, things suck more than they thought and then one day they don't suck as much and you learn just how freaking strong you are and what your heart can survive. The human spirit/psyche is an amazing thing. Learning that pretty much everything ends and learning to not be afraid of grieving for things that are lost is a hard, but important lesson to learn.

To paraphrase a line from the show Six Feet Under, a sentence which completely changed the way I looked at death. "We die to make life important." The best way to prepare for letting go when the time comes is to make sure you appreciate and enjoy every second you can with your dog for the time you have with it and to love them enough to be with them to the end. Everytime you feel a sadness at the eventual loss of your dog, go out and do something the 2 of you love doing together, go for a walk or play a game with him or just hug on the couch. Make the now important, not something that hasn't happened yet.
posted by wwax at 10:11 AM on January 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The dog I had growing up was the most perfect dog for a young tomboy to have. She walked me to school, she waited for me to get out of school, and then walked me home. Her love and tolerance for my silly childhood ways was neverending. We would run rabbits together, ride horses, and just sit in the grass because it was too hot to do anything else.

Right as I started to hit my teenage years, I realized that Bonnie would not last for ever. But sadly, before I could start to really grasp the concept, she was hit by a car.

I swore then that there would never, ever be another dog like Bonnie. And there hasn't.

But there has been a cat that was the perfect cat when I needed him to be, and the cat that followed him is probably the most affectionate and adorable cat in existence.

And my husband's dog, while not one I chose for myself, she has turned out to be the best dog I could ever want in my 30s. She's playful and makes me run outside, but she's also content to lay about on the couch and be loved.

Love the dog you have right now, and when the thought of losing him pops up, deal with it the way you deal with those other thoughts of loss. Hug him all the more tightly and enjoy the time.
posted by teleri025 at 10:21 AM on January 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I used to use this quotation for grieving clients at the emergency veterinary hospital I worked at. I like the way it emphasizes the way that our pets experiences of the world are totally separate from and different from our own, and we anthropomorphize them at our own risk. Part of that risk is the way we think of death and loss, and I think it is sometimes good to think about that perspective.
The animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth.

Henry Beston, The Outermost House
posted by Rock Steady at 10:22 AM on January 7, 2013 [10 favorites]

I just adopted a senior dog over the summer. I'm hoping he'll make it a few more good years, but I know that he's already slowing down. I'm comforted by the fact that his life almost certainly sucked before I found him, and now he is living out the rest of his doggie life in sweet comfort.

Having an older dog, I think about his eventual death pretty often.

Your dog is young. Enjoy it's puppy-hood, middle age, and slide into being an old fart.

Animals don't feel angst about death. They know when it's time to go.

All dogs go to heaven.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 10:22 AM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

This is really the lesson/secret of life in handbook form here. Enjoy every moment of every day that you can, and share many of those moments with the ones you love. Because when you look back one day you want to say to yourself, "Damn that dog had a awesome life" instead of "damn, I wish I could have spent more time with him...."

But there's an underlying impetus to that statement: don't put all of your time and attention to your pet...try as much as you can spend time with your family and others you love as well. it's worth every dollar spent in travel and ever ounce of sweat in effort.
posted by samsara at 10:28 AM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

My dog died a couple years ago, at about age 10. My family has a new dog now, who we adore just as much even though (maybe because) he is very, very different in personality from the old dog. When this happens, you'll be okay. And if it makes you feel any better, your dog isn't stressing about this day-to-day. Awareness of your own mortality is a human thing.
posted by vogon_poet at 10:31 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

A little humor and sadness at the same time from The Oatmeal about having a dog might help.

I think about this sometimes with my cat - he's the most perfect, amazing cat ever! But I felt this way about my cat growing up, too (and he's been gone about 12 years).

Try to not dwell on the coming sadness. I agree with others above who said that it's definitely better that you will outlive him than the opposite! Be grateful for every day you get to spend with your amazing pet.
posted by getawaysticks at 10:54 AM on January 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

If you're like me, being prepared helps. I'm still recommending Good Old Dog as a great guide to providing for senior dog needs.
posted by zamboni at 10:56 AM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: First, plenty of large dogs now live significantly past the age of ten. That doesn't mean yours will, but it does mean he might.

Second, damn your dog is lucky! I work in an animal shelter. I probably don't need to tell you that well-loved pit mutts, while some of the awesomest dogs ever, are rare in comparison to the ones who never find loving homes. His life with you is a blessing, full stop, however long it lasts. When you have to let him go (waaaay in the future, by the way, really!), you will bless another dog, and that will be the best thing ever, for you and for him. He will not be the same and he may not be AS awesome. But he'll still be awesome.

Third, you are going to grieve. I don't know how much or how long, because it depends on the circumstances. You may grieve differently for a young dog hit by a car than for an old dog who's had a long, full life and whose quality of life has deteriorated from sickness. The first tore me apart, while I could better accept the second. Try to accept that you will grieve, that it will suck, and that you will move through it, however long it takes.

Fourth, you are being most un-dog-like in these thoughts. Dogs bring us such joy because they are so compassionate with us and they live in the moment. Do you think your dog wants you worrying about his death? No way! He wants you to go outside and play ball with him. Would you want him worrying about your death? No way! You want him to run around and play ball. This mutual wishing-of-happiness-and-no-worry is one of the Great Lessons of Dogginess.

I'm so happy for you and your gorgeous pup. Enjoy him now and grieve him later.
posted by walla at 11:01 AM on January 7, 2013 [9 favorites]

Best answer: regarding the finding it difficult to imagine you would ever love another dog like this one, here is my previous answer on the topic.

I have heard that you show your dog how much you love them after they pass away by rescuing another dog.
posted by inertia at 11:10 AM on January 7, 2013 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Maybe it helps to know that dogs don't think of the future at all. For your dog, there is only the present moment - he doesn't worry about death. He just rolls with it. In his world there is no wistful reflection on the brevity of life - there is just stuff happening. Stuff happens, and then other stuff happens, and then sometimes nothing happens, and then more stuff happens, and then food happens and then some other stuff happens and then nothing happens and then stuff happens and then....

Dogs are sort of Zen experts that way. Stuff just happens, and it's either good or bad, or sometimes nothing happens and if they're comfortable and warm then nothing happening for a little while is okay, and then something else happens and then it stops happening and it just is what it is. Thinking ahead to reflect on other stuff just isn't something they do.

Maybe instead of trying to figure out how to think about it, watch how your dog thinks about it - and you'll soon realize he doesn't think about it, because he's in the present moment. And your dog may end up teaching you a little about how to think about it - or, not think about it - yourself.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:21 AM on January 7, 2013 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Every time I have a thought like you're describing, I make an extra special effort to spend more time with my dog. I buy her a new treat or toy, take her for a longer walk, etc. I try to create a new memory to help balance out the inevitable hysterics I'll be having when she dies.

Another thing that helps me is the thought that I'm incredibly lucky to have been given the chance to spend as much time with her as I have been. It's ALL a bonus. Every single second of it.
posted by Solomon at 11:32 AM on January 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I get like this about my cat. It helps me to think that, although his life will be much shorter than mine, he gets to spend all of it sheltered, well-fed, and with humans he loves. On top of that, by keeping him healthy, I am in fact making his life longer. So yes, I will grieve when the time comes, but I will have given him my best.

As for never finding another dog like yours: you won't. But, if in twenty years you decide to adopt again, you will find dogs who are wonderful in completely different ways. My cat is totally different from the cats I had growing up, who in turn were completely different from each other. But they are/were all The Best Cat in their own ways.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:32 AM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh, hi me. I feel this way all the time about my darling Casey.

It's particularly challenging for me since I think of myself as Buddhist; not so much as an identity or an organized thing that I belong to, but in that I think the concepts of suffering coming from attachments as being very accurate and something worth trying to control.

It's pretty well on-point when it comes to these feelings we have about being separated from our dogs. There's nothing we can do about the inevitable; we live longer than dogs. Unless we suffer an untimely death we'll have to face life without them. All of which you know and have said above.

So I do the things the Buddhist practice says to do. I focus on the now; I use it as a reminder to appreciate and love him at every opportunity. Instead of dwelling on that phantom future pain I redirect my thoughts to the right one: the sense of fun and companionship I feel with him now. This false mourning is a result of my attachment to the joy I feel in the present. But I need not mourn it - I just need to appreciate it in the now.

And if any of that was easy there wouldn't be thousands of years of practice and bazillions of words written about the practice. But I take comfort in the fact that it's not a new problem and others have helped provide guidance about how to deal.

tl;dr - when you feel that way, reach over and scratch him behind the ears and think about how awesome things are RIGHT NOW.
posted by phearlez at 11:40 AM on January 7, 2013

Best answer: What a sweet dog! People have said so many wise things already.

For me, when my favorite dog was getting older, she led the way. "We can learn a lot from dogs; they have no self-pity," the vet told me when she was old and blind and losing her balance all the time. She was still happy and curious and living in the moment; she always seemed to be accepting that this was another stage of her life. I felt like I owed it to her to be at least as strong as she was. Not that I don't miss her every day.
posted by BibiRose at 12:49 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I would suggest that right now your bosom buddy doggie is in heaven right there with you. So quit raining on his parade. Approach this dilemma as a Stoic would. There is nothing you can do about your canine friends passing but he will be sensitive to your mood and it will affect his. Don't be so selfish and I hope the both of you enjoy this gift for as long as you can!!
posted by sgobbare at 12:50 PM on January 7, 2013

Best answer: You have great pictures of a beautiful dog!

I have a personality like yours, I think. I love very few things or people, but those things or people I love fiercely, with great loyalty.

And I too have had thoughts about current pets - "there will never be another like this one."

Then I went through an incredibly tough year in 2011, much tragedy and pain, that included losing my 18-year-old cat as well as the first dog I ever had. She was an ancient stray we found on the street, and we'd only had her for four months when she was killed by another dog in day care.

And somehow, though some kind of grace, instead of hardening my heart, that year tore it wide open and made room for more love. I now have three dogs, all rescues, and love and laugh with them every day. They're all different, and all beautiful, and I try to stay in the moment with them rather than worry what will come.
posted by Squeak Attack at 12:57 PM on January 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I feel like this ted talk somehow applies.

I try the following things when I get trapped in sad thoughts about losing a loved one:

- Think of all the ways I love them. Love HARDER.
- Remind myself that I don't want to miss any of the time I have with them by contemplating the loss of them...be in the moment and soak it all up.
- Remind myself that my loved one would be sad to know I'm sad - pets included.

Ultimately every day is a crap shoot. Don't miss the good stuff by getting lost in the things you can't control.
posted by amycup at 2:13 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Halogen, I can relate to your feeling. I've had them myself. Here's a thought that has kept me thinking: yes, the loss of a pet can be painful but if you're thinking about it now when the pup is 1 year old, then perhaps it's something more than just your pet dying that's concerning you.

You said that you can get melancholy about your family and about their declining health. I think the loss you're feeling now is more than just about your dog. It's a larger issue of loss. I know this feeling well. I would concentrate on the larger issue and it may help you both with your pet and with your family.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 3:21 PM on January 7, 2013

Best answer: I have two dogs, Judah and Titan. They were both rescues, and though they look like brothers they are actually about three years apart. When I get sad thinking about how they will both probably die well before I do, I remind myself to actively endeavor to do the best I can for both of them every day. Their days are fewer than mine, and as such they are much more precious.

I also remind myself that they have no idea that death is unavoidable. They will eat and chew and poop and nap and cuddle and bark and run and wrestle away their days in a happy, chaotic mess right up until the day they cease to be. For that I am both extremely grateful and tremendously jealous.

You will grieve when he dies, sure. What might make that easier is knowing that while he was here you made his life as good as it could have been, and that he enjoyed your company as much as you did his. Really, the best thing you can do for your dog is to let him know you love him as often as you possibly can, as it is really the only thing he truly cares about anyway.
posted by Pecinpah at 3:39 PM on January 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

I've seen this story several places on the web. I don't know if it's true or not. Well, of course it's true, but I don't know if it really happened:

Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten-year-old wolfhound named Belker. The dog's owners, Ron, his wife, Lisa, and their little boy, Shane, were all very attached to Belker, and they were hoping for a miracle.

I examined Belker and found that he was dying of cancer. I told the family we couldn't do anything for Belker, and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for their dog in their home. As we made arrangements, Ron and Lisa told me they thought it would be good for their six-year-old Shane to observe the procedure, they felt as though Shane might learn something from the experience.

The next day, I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker's family surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on. Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away.

The little boy seemed to accept Belker's transition without any dificulty or confusion. We sat together for a while after Belker's death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives.

Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up. "I know why."

Startled, we all turned to him. What came out his mouth next stunned me. I'd never heard a more comforting explanation. He said, "People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life -- like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?"

The six-year-old continued, "Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don't have to stay as long."

posted by QuakerMel at 5:50 PM on January 7, 2013 [5 favorites]

There is a fantastic episode of This American Life about the mortality of pets called "In Dog We Trust", particularly the act called The Youth In Asia. It's funny and poignant, and I refer to it often when I find myself thinking about how I will outlive my animals.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 6:25 AM on January 8, 2013

Oh, I understand this.

I began worrying over the loss of my cat, Matthew, when he was just a couple years old. Looking back, it's funny to realize that we hadn't even begun to get close at that point, compared to how close we would be over the course of his life.

I began mourning him when he turned 10. Granted, I am prone towards depression. I went through a couple months of the sporadic anguish you talk about, and then I finally decided that all I could do was decide to love the hell out of him, every day that I got to spend with him. So I did. And when the worry creeped in again, I just reminded myself -- all I can do is love him so well that, when he's gone, I can comfort myself with the knowledge that he knew he was adored, beloved, worshipped.

We got 18 and a half years together. Approximately 6700 days. And though I still miss him terribly (there's something in my eye . . .), I know I loved him well. And more than that, I am grateful that I was loved so fiercely, every day. I look back and feel *lucky*.
posted by MeiraV at 6:42 AM on January 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

I saw this article and thought you might appreciate the link:

posted by Boogiechild at 8:42 PM on January 8, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks everyone, I tried to mark as best answers the ones that most directly addressed the question about replacing my sad thoughts with something positive, but I thought about and appreciated every comment.
posted by halogen at 11:27 PM on January 10, 2013

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