Last week, on my birthday, I shared my unexpected decision to hold off on getting a new puppy. I thought I was ready but realized I wasn’t. Ever since, I’ve had whimsical thoughts of those endearing fluffy sheltie puppies but my thoughts always turn back to one particular sheltie – Maverick.
Overall, grief has been an unexpected roller coaster. Some days are not so bad, other days it hits me like a freight train. Sometimes it’s just moments brought on from seeing his picture or noticing the quiet void of him not being around. Grief truly can be gut wrenching and soul shifting.
As I was cleaning out my fridge the other day, I realized it’s time to make a confession. You’ll understand the refrigerator connection in just a moment.
The day Maverick’s home based euthanasia was performed, I contemplated cloning him. Seriously.
I honestly don’t even recall how the idea got planted in my mind. All I recall is being unable to picture my life without him. Yet the irony was that he was suffering so much that all I wanted to do was put an end to his distress, knowing full well what this meant. I actually had to move his euthanasia up a day because I knew going on even one more day would only be for my benefit, not his. Unfortunately, having him rest in my lap while petting him on his final day, was not in the cards for us. By the last few days, he could hardly walk and would squeal in protest when held. Maybe had I been able to accept letting him go sooner, a final lap day could have been the case, but admittedly denial over losing my first dog, my Heart Dog, led to actions and decisions that in retrospect were futile.
This is how the cloning conundrum began. During his final afternoon, I couldn’t hold him, I couldn’t take him somewhere he loved for final moments of togetherness. There really wasn’t much I could do – he was either zonked out on pain meds or up and pacing frantically as I or a trusted friend followed him to make sure he didn’t hurt himself. Instead of directing my grief towards acceptance, I began to conjure up a way to one day have him with me again in a literal way – by cloning him.
Once the idea sparked in my head it grew like a wild fire. I starting looking up places that “clone dogs”. One thing led to another, and I found a company that claims with certain DNA samples, they could clone Maverick. For the price tag of tens of thousands of dollars. In fact, with the proper DNA samples and sizeable bank account, it can be done right now and I found documented cases online where this has already been done. For those without the current financial ability, DNA samples can be collected and stored in a cryogenic lab in hopes that one day it will be more affordable.
In my grief-stricken, heart-broken state of mind, this idea sounded like the next best thing to a genie in a bottle offering to snap his fingers and cure Maverick’s brain tumor and let him live forever.
The problem, however, was how little time we had left. Collecting the samples was no simple task. This led to multiple phone calls to my family vet asking a million questions about the procedure to collect the samples along with calls to the cryogenic lab asking about shipping procedures. All this happened while Maverick was sleeping and we were waiting for the vet to come for his euthanasia procedure.
I learned soon enough that collecting the full spectrum of DNA samples is not exactly a “painless” procedure. To collect a tissue sample requires essentially what was explained to me as taking a hole-puncher to the skin. Um yeah, no. The idea was immediately off the table. I would not cause my Heart Dog any more pain or discomfort for a far-fetched impulsive idea.
However, I also learned that a simple blood and hair sample alone could one day be enough to complete the cloning procedure once technology has caught up. In my mind, that seemed reasonable so long as the blood sample could be taken and not cause Maverick any discomfort.
If you are not familiar with the euthanasia procedure, it’s a two-step process. The vet first gives an injection that essentially puts them into a super relaxed state of sleep (I understand it to be similar to what the dentist gives you if they are pulling a tooth out and you float off into la-la land) and the second step is the injection that stops the heart. After the first step, I asked the vet to take a blood sample.
Looking back, it felt awkward and callous to be taking his blood, during his final moment of life. But it was my flicker of hope that “maybe” I could have him with me again that propelled the decision forward and prevented me from saying “stop!” Would I do it again? No, I wouldn’t. My only hope is that Maverick really didn’t notice and if he did have any sense of what was going on, that he would forgive my vain attempt. Similar to my new puppy delusion, there is no way to replace your Heart Dog. That is why they are your Heart Dog.
To loop this back to my refrigerator revelation, I had to store Maverick’s blood sample in a cold place while contemplating if I would ship it to the cryogenic storage unit. I came to my senses not long after and decided against sending it, but I am yet to dispose of the blood samples. They are still sitting in a cup in the back of my fridge. It must sound nuts that I can’t let them go but I think it’s because I first need to share my confession and give myself a bit more time to accept he is gone and there is nothing that can ever change that.
I’ve always heard that grief affects everyone in different ways and now I truly understand what that means. No matter how someone responds to the loss of their Heart Dog – whether it be with a crazy cloning idea like I had or other behavior that is out of character – let them be. Offer support and empathy and let them draw their own conclusions over what is the best course of action. I’m lucky that my friends and loved ones were supportive of my canine cloning idea because if they hadn’t been, then no doubt, I would have felt even worse. At the time, the cloning idea helped me distract my grief so it served a purpose although I wish I had the fortitude to spend Maverick’s last hours simply sitting beside him as he slept soaking in everything about him.
This all being said, I pose no judgement on the families that have decided canine cloning is the right decision for them. I am just thankful I was able to come to the right conclusion, for me.
Have you ever considered canine cloning or would you? Or did you cope with your grief in a way that was unusual and perhaps not understood by others?
Pebbles is a spunky Pomeranian Shitzu mix owned and loved by Amy Jevtic of Beamsville, Ontario. Pebbles sadly passed away this past summer - she will be forever loved and missed by all those she knew. Although I never met her, I had the pleasure of hearing her trademark bark & growl whenever I went to Amy's for aesthetic services. Thank you Amy for sharing your Heart Dog Tribute and helping reassure all Heart Dog moms/dads out there that they are not alone when dealing with the grief of their canine soulmate.
Almost 12 years ago I fell in love with my Pebbles. I was so excited when I brought her home only weighing 1.5 lbs. She was full of love and energy! The first year was training year, but as time went on she settled in to my routine. Eventually I started to work from home which was great for Pebbles. It was so nice to be home with her! She loved it too! She was my sidekick, my best friend really, and she never left my side through tough times I went through personally. She knew when I went through my separation from my first marriage. She literally kissed my tears away. I noticed she really knew when her mommy was sad. She helped me get through a very difficult time in my life and I will always be grateful for that! Over the years our bond just grew and grew.
This past March she was diagnosed with Cushing's Disease. I was devastated! I chose to medicate her and she needed constant blood work, but the vet bill wasn't an issue. I only wanted her to be as healthy as she could be considering she was over 11 years old. But as time went on she wasn't getting better, her breathing was getting worse. She was having breathing fits every day. I knew she was not herself as her health problems were taking over. It was unbearable to see her struggle to breath on a daily basis. I knew deep down there was another underlying issue. My vet said she may be full of cancer. He offered to dig deeper to find out what else is going on with her but whatever he found, chances are he wouldn't be able to treat her.
So I made the decision to say goodbye. I just couldn't put her through anymore suffering. With her breathing problems, I couldn't walk her and it was so bad she couldn't even go outside to pee as the heat affected her so badly. I felt it wasn't fair to her, since she loved to go outside. Friends told me I did a selfless act but my goodness it was the toughest decision of my life. Having to say goodbye to my best friend was devastating. Many thoughts of guilt were all I thought of in the beginning. How could I have done what I did?! Was it the right time? Maybe I should of waited!? I cried for weeks. I missed her so very much. We had our daily routine together; I was lost without her and struggled to know how I was going to go on without her.
I must say my husband, family and friends were all so understanding. They just let me cry and gave comfort to me. Not long after she was gone, Jodi told me about what a Heart Dog is. When she was telling me about it all I could do was think Pebbles was definitely my Heart Dog! It really has brought comfort knowing I'm not the only one who has suffered such a loss. I will say time does heal the heart, as it has only been 11 weeks since I said goodbye and each day gets a little bit easier. Yet not a day goes by where I don't think of her. I did make a special spot on my dresser for Pebbles ashes, my Heart Dog. Each morning I visit my special spot for her. I tell her how much I love and miss her so. I allow myself to grieve and cry when I needed to. So to all the Heart Dog moms and dads, please know you're not the only one missing your fur baby! And it's ok to grieve in which ever way you need!
Whenever I went away and would come home, she was just so happy to see me!! Jumping and barking for hugs and kisses!
She had three special dog friends that were my moms. Mocha and her had a very special bond. Pebbles would do whatever Mocha did! Also, she loved Tassie and Dolly. Mocha and Tassie are in heaven as well.
Pebbles always let herself known when a client came to the house - she would bark then growl at the same time...lol!
Do you share a special bond with your Heart Dog that you would like to share? If so, please complete our Tribute Template and be featured on Heart Dog Tribute!
The question on my mind today is how long before I am ready to get a new dog?
By no means do I think Maverick will ever or can ever be replaced. At the same time, now that he has passed, the void is so profound, part of me feels like I will do anything to cure it. Even though I have read you can experience two or more Heart Dog's in your lifetime, I find it hard to imagine having as strong a connection with another dog as I did with Maverick. So, this lends to the question - will getting another dog actually help the healing process or simply remind me that he’s gone?
During Maverick’s last day, I was so distraught, I even seriously considered retaining samples of his DNA in hopes of cloning him one day (apparently this really is possible and has been done with animals before!). I have since decided against this for several reasons that I will share in a future blog post.
Besides no longer having Maverick or going forward cloning him, I am used to having two dogs. For the first two years of Maverick’s life, it was just the two of us until the itch to “double the love” kicked in and Marti joined the family (she is a sheltie from the same breeder as Maverick). What followed was 11 years having two shelties at my side. So now, two dogs are my normal. They keep each other company when I go to work and offer each other companionship even when I am around but preoccupied with work. For Marti, being the only sheltie on the block is a brand new experience.
As I contemplated all this, I reveled at the thought of my next sheltie coming from Maverick's lineage. It would not be him, but a part of him. Plus, Maverick’s spunky personality was so unique, I figured it’s my best option to ever find another sheltie like him.
For my next step, I contacted Maverick’s breeder. She is no longer breeding shelties but did pass along the name of another breeder who has the dogs which remain of Maverick’s line. Knowing this was my best bet for finding a family connection to Maverick, I called them up and learned that puppies from Maverick’s second niece (the granddaughter of Maverick’s mom) are on the way!
The breeder told me that all the shelties from this lineage have an outgoing and quirky personality. This was music to my ears! I will never expect my next sheltie to be just like Maverick but to have some familiar characteristics, I suspect will feel like going home after a long vacation away.
Ironically, puppies from Maverick’s family will be ready come the beginning of October…just in time for my birthday! Is it a sign? I actually have never had a small puppy before. Both Maverick & Marti were being grown out for show so they were each around the 5-months old when I first brought them home. To have an 8-week old puppy will be a brand new experience I am excited to take on.
The breeder promised to contact me once the puppies were ready for a visit and I am so excited to meet them. I think by doing so, I will get a true sense if I am ready or not for another sheltie family member at this time. The bottom line is that when you are ready for your next dog is different for everyone. I have heard some people get their next dog the same day of their passing while others are never ready for another dog, especially if it was their Heart Dog. There is no right or wrong time and hopefully you will know if and when that time is for you.
How long before you were ready for another dog after your Heart Dog passed away? Please share your insights and experience about this very personal choice.
When your heart dog is sick - very sick - what do you do?
My Heart Dog, Maverick, has been in remission from lymphoma for 10 months now (yay!). I have been anticipating his lymphoma returning but instead, what started as a random and benign health issue (i.e. occasional nose bleeds) turned into something far more serious than even his lymphoma. An insidious tumor was likely growing in his nasal cavity and has begun to infiltrate his brain causing a wide host of neurological symptoms. The bottom line? One-month prognosis. Three months with treatment. So, one-to-three months after thirteen years of having him in my life was, of course, not enough time. I'm sure you can imagine my reaction.
The weeks leading up to his diagnosis have felt like being caught in rapid water without a lifejacket, anticipating, but not wanting to believe, the inevitable. Maverick's symptoms have been progressively getting worse but the realization that the worst case scenario really has arrived hit me like a punch to the gut. My dog, my furry love, was not going to be with me forever. Now don't get me wrong, it has occurred to me that "forever" does not exist between man and our best friends; it just never neared actualization until now (his lymphoma went into immediate remission so as difficult as the shock of the news was, the grief was only temporary). Life has been stressful enough the past year and my dogs have been my rocks. My pillars of comfort amongst a sea of uncertainty, unease, and change. The anticipatory grief that one of my only constants in life would not be with me much longer, truly felt like my heart was being pulled from my chest and stomped on.
So, the difficult decision arose when I had to decide whether or not to confirm Maverick’s brain tumor with a CT scan. This probable diagnosis came from the wonderful team at the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) in Guelph, Ontario (based on an oncology and neuro consult and bloodwork). I was told the only way to confirm their suspicions and officially rule out other possible causes was with a CT scan. Regardless, the prognosis, they informed me, was not good. The cost for the CT scan was $1200 – not cheap. On one hand, I considered this an investment for my peace of mind. Here was my beautiful, happy, energetic Heart Dog, still full of life and fully in remission from lymphoma, so how could it be that he suddenly has a tumor that is aggressively attacking his brain and causing monumental havoc on his entire body? It just wasn’t right!
On the other hand, would the results alter the outcome? No, because I already, with great difficulty, decided it would not be in Maverick’s best interest to treat. If he could be offered another 8-10 months of quality life, that would be another story. But three months composed of multiple radiation treatments along with terrible side effects such as blindness and losing the fur on his face and head, was not a quality life. Plus, treatment was another few thousand. Now, I don't believe anyone has a right to tell you whether or not such a cost is the right choice for them. Everyone is in a different financial place and it's a personal decision regarding how much you are comfortable to spend on veterinary treatment. But personally, given the amount already spent on the cost of Maverick's chemo treatments and being in a financially insecure stage of life, it was not a fiscally responsible decision.
I debated back and forth about whether or not to do the CT scan. Logic and my heart strings sure did a good job battling it out in my head. Besides the financial considerations, the answer came down to the question "What is best for Maverick"? Does going under anesthesia, which poses risks of its own, for answers to questions the veterinary team was already pretty confident about, help his quality of life? Or just mine? That answer was clear.
So the decision was made. No CT. But no CT = uncertainty, the unknown, and the unexpected to perhaps continue. More so, the unsettling feeling that I will never truly know what is wrong with Maverick. Regardless, I had to move forward in the hopes of having as much quality time with him as possible before having to say goodbye.
Have you ever experienced making a difficult decision regarding tests or treatments for your Heart Dog? If so, please feel free to share and comment below.
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.