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Saying farewell: you are not alone

Tubs, a uniquely large 9-year-old purebred American Pit Bull Terrier, was strong and athletic with an intensely muscular build. This is why it was so odd when his guardian, Guinnevere Shuster, noticed he was dragging his hind legs over the curb while on a walk one day.

“This is a dog that would play fetch all day if he could,” explained Guinn. “He was very enthusiastic about training, searching for scents, doing anything active. So for him to suddenly not be able to lift up his hind legs was alarming. I took him to the emergency vet right away.”

During that visit, Tubs was diagnosed with Immune-Mediated Hemolytic Anemia, a disease in which the body attacks and destroys its own red blood cells. He spent four nights at the emergency vet clinic and received several blood transfusions, but unfortunately, he didn’t respond well to the treatment. When it was apparent Tubs wasn’t going to make it, Guinn picked him up and took him home so they could spend their last days together cuddling in the comfort of one another’s arms.

He died three days later.

For Guinn, the sudden loss was not only devastating but also a complete shock. Her best friend of seven years was here just one week ago, seemingly in perfect health, and suddenly he was gone. How was this possible? And how was she supposed to go on without him?

These are the questions all pet guardians will eventually face. Since our pets are more than just our companions, they are a part of our family, too, the loss can be profoundly unsettling and overwhelming. In honor of National Pet Memorial Day, which falls on September 12 this year, we wanted to bring up this difficult topic to share ways to help you cope better with the loss of your beloved pet and ideas on how to keep their memory alive. 

“Our pets are there for us when other humans may not be,” says Robert Neimeyer, the author of several books on grief and director of the Portland Institute for Loss and Transition. “Pets provide what psychologists call a ‘secure base’ for us where we can feel unconditionally loved and trusted. We often have the sense that they understand our emotions intuitively in ways that others do not cognitively.” And he says one of the great ironies of pet loss is that we’re grieving the absence of the very companion who could have made such a significant loss more bearable.

“For me, it was important to reach out and respond to friends and family for support and not isolate myself,” shared Guinn. “By talking about him and the situation, I could better process what had happened. It’s been a year now since his passing, and it’s getting easier to talk about, but of course, I miss him every day.”

Guinn, a professional photographer and the Humane Society of Utah’s Marketing and Communications Director, keeps Tub’s memory alive by updating his Instagram page regularly. There, she shares photos and stories of their favorite adventures. “Tubs was very outgoing and bubbly; he liked to greet people of all ages. He didn’t know any strangers. And he loved getting his picture taken, which was perfect for me and my profession. He would always pose for me!”

Guinn’s favorite memory of Tubs is now hanging on her office wall. “He had bonded with a puppy I was fostering that needed to be bottle-fed. The puppy adored Tubs so much and would watch him pose for pictures, and then she’d pose in the same way. I have a photo of the two of them posing together on my wall now.”

These are a few of the ways Guinn grieves and honors Tubs’ memory. Some pet parents may choose to plant a memorial tree, shrub or flower, or create a stone with a paw print in their garden. Others may get a tattoo of their pet, write a poem or create a photo album. No matter how you cope, know you are not alone in wanting to honor your pet’s legacy and the time you shared. And remember, our best friends – both past and present – will always live on in our hearts.

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