It’s been 4 months since that warm evening of July 14th when I carried Maverick, my Heart Dog, outside in my arms, laid him down under a giant old tree, and said goodbye. Since that fateful night, I think of those final few moments every time I go outside with Marti and walk by the tree. To everyone else it's just a 'tree'; to me, it's both a sanctuary and place of sadness that brings a flood of memories.
The sad memories are starting to fade but it hasn’t been an easy few months without him, to say the least. I can say that with time comes acceptance and peace. I have come to realize that experiencing grief first-hand makes your heart break but it also allows it to grow when you truly realize the gift you had of experiencing “true love”. It also extends an added layer of understanding and empathy for others who have dealt with the same loss because now “I get it”. I feel those of us who have lost our Heart Dog are part of a special pack and we share a bond that can only be truly understood once you’ve been through it too.
What has also been on my mind lately is wondering how the loss impacts our surviving furry loves. How do they feel about losing their fur friend? Do they experience it the same way we do?
Recently, I have chatted with a few friends about this and have heard stories from other Heart Dog owners (i.e. various Facebook groups, other social media posts) and everyone’s experience with their surviving dog(s) (and/or other pets) truly seems unique.
However, I do notice two distinct trends. On the one hand are dogs who experience grief in a very obvious way. Once their fur friend has passed, they may be found looking frantically for them, whimpering, and generally acting depressed and not at all like themselves. This type of grief is very overt and can add to the stress experienced by the owner trying to now manage both their surviving dog’s pain, as well as their own.
On the other end of the spectrum, are dogs that do not appear affected by the loss. This has certainly been the case for Marti. I had mentioned in my blog post Heart Dog Bonds that Marti has not seemed affected by Maverick’s absence. They have always been aloof with each other yet admittedly, I can’t deny I was secretly hoping for some type of outward sign his absence was noticed by more than just me. It would have reassured me that they were buddies all these years (a prime reason I got Marti was to offer Maverick company) and not simply a tolerance of each other. It would also be comforting to know I could be there for her, just like she has been for me.
It took a while but I got this sign about a week ago. I came across my old Blackberry and was looking through it when I found several videos of Maverick & Marti playing chase (the one activity they did that genuinely seemed to show they shared a connection). As I was watching them, feeling choked up but also relishing in the sound of Maverick’s clear “Chase me!” bark, Marti immediately perked up and started looking around.
She recognized Maverick’s bark and was looking for him. I watched her for a few moments and she started to look confused so I turned the volume off to avoid causing her any distress. I was glad for the reassurance this offered but it also brought on a new surge of sadness for not only the longing I felt for him, but the realization Marti did as well, in her own indifferent way.
An example from my friend tells a very opposite story. When her mom’s surviving dog saw a picture of her recently passed fur friend, she got very worked up and was clearly upset, forcing my friend’s mom to put the picture out of view from longing canine eyes. She did not expect her pup to have recognition from a merely a picture. This really goes to show that we are definitely not the only ones affected by the loss.
It seems clear that the bond certain dogs share is much stronger than others, and for no particular rhyme or reason. Just like our bonds with people and our fur babies differ. So perhaps the term ‘Heart Dog’ describes not only the bond we share with our canine soulmate but the bond they share with their BFF too.
Have you ever really thought about what makes your Heart Dog, your Heart Dog? Why them and not another? It’s so hard to say really and there are no scientific studies I’m aware of that has looked at this. I think with Maverick, he was my very first dog and I got him soon after I was done school and living in the ‘real world’. He offered much welcomed company and companionship. But it’s more than that. With Maverick, his personality is so opposite of mine (as the saying goes “opposites attract!”). He was so outgoing and social and was never afraid to be himself. In comparison, Marti is essentially the canine version of me..lol. She is naturally quiet and shy, and a homebody. Let’s just say, we definitely get each other (and I wouldn't have her be any other way). However, it was Maverick’s extroverted nature that really captured my heart and in turn, helped me become more social and confident being myself around new people.
For instance, while Marti will rarely jump up on my lap (even with coaxing and then if I do get her up, she is soon looking to get back down), Maverick would jump through a fire hoop, without hesitation (let alone an invitation!) to cuddle on my lap. And not just mine...anyone’s. I will never forget the time he leaped from the back seat of my little Honda Civic into the lap of my sister-in-law, totally out of the blue. We had just pulled into a mall parking lot and were about to get out of the car. Apparently, someone didn’t want to be left alone...lol.
Regardless, we love all our dogs and they love us back just as they love each other. Sometimes, certain bonds just stand out more than others making the sting of heartbreak that much harder. But as they say “Life goes on” so we need to keep our chins up and focus on the great memories and awesome things in front of us each day. And while we may question what is best to help our surviving pup(s) from missing their friend (just like we wonder how we will get through it), we can do no wrong by continuing to offer them unconditional love and TLC, and be there for them however they need, just as they are for us.
How did your surviving canine (or other pet) deal with the loss of your Heart Dog?
How can this blog help you?
This website and blog originated from the experience of learning to let go of my beloved Heart Dog, Maverick. By sharing my story and offering the opportunity for you to share yours, I hope we can all truly celebrate their lives. pay tribute, and heal from the loss of our one true canine companion. I hope this website will also raise awareness of the meaning of a Heart Dog because it is a concept that is not largely understood.