Grieving My Best Friend: Mourning the Loss of Our DogPublished September 6, 2011
Victoria Schade / Do Not Reproduce
I lost my best friend the day before yesterday: my sweet, special Sumner. Pet loss is something other pet owners can relate to, but it is never easy to face.
He came to us at a year old, beautiful but already damaged. That critical first year spent deprived of stimulation and socialization left an imprint on him that took years to fade. His reactivity tried my patience as a dog mom, and my skills as a dog trainer. I considered him my “project”; a real-time live-in example of what counter conditioning and systematic desensitization could do for a reactive dog.
His progress ended any debate about science-based training. It worked.
Sumner went from banshee-like barking at passing dogs, to furtive glances and finally, to acceptance. When I opened Life on the Leash, I never imagined that Sumner could be a shop dog given his history. I tempted fate (and lawsuits) by keeping him behind the counter with me at first, then slowly allowing him to meet and greet appropriate dogs. (I still remember the first one; a silly little Boston named Cage.) Sum did so well that he eventually became a free-range shop dog, eager to show off his skills with activity toys to our customers and accept gentle pats. I kept the store’s front door wide open, never worrying for a moment that he would run out. I knew that he would never leave me.
He was a gorgeous supermodel of a dog. Traffic stopping, really. His regal carriage attracted attention when we walked. My Texas-born neighbor called him a “high steppa,” a moniker we kept in his nickname repertoire, accent and all, along with The Prince, Sum-Sum, Boy-Boy and Lips.
Sumner looked like the perfect example of a boxer, but his temperament was far from typical. He was mellow, even as a young dog. Sure, he enjoyed a good romp, but he wasn’t as madly play driven as our Boston, Zeke. In fact, he didn’t ask for much exercise at all. He was always ready to play/walk/hike when we were, but he was just as content to chill out. I fear he ruined me for any future boxers.
His longevity made him different from other boxers too. He wore his 12 years gracefully; his gray beard and slightly stiff gait were the only giveaways of his age.
I didn’t talk about the cancer because that made it real. Perhaps it would be like all of his other illnesses and injuries. We’d shrug our shoulders years from now, marveling at how resilient he was.
“Remember when Sumner had to wear a contact lens? Remember when Sumner had a fluid-drain in his back?” And we’d add, “Remember when Sumner had cancer?”
We didn’t have much choice other than this type of magical thinking. When your vet offers “pray for a miracle” as a treatment option, you know the loss of your pet is in sight.
It came suddenly on the Sunday night before Labor Day. A good boy until the very end, Sumner left us on a day when both my husband and I were home and could devote our time to grieving him. He looked peaceful and handsome at the very end … it was clear that his departure wasn’t traumatic for him. He was ready. I held his paw and hugged his still warm body until my husband told me it was time to go.
It was almost impossible to leave my perfect, beautiful, wonderful boy behind. The tears haven’t stopped.
I miss him, I miss him, I miss him. But you know what helps a little? You understand.
Thank you for missing him with me.
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