They’re more than just pets; more often than not, they’re members of your family who’ve stuck by you through thick and thin. But, like any living thing, they will eventually pass.
The death of a pet to which we have become emotionally bonded can be a traumatic loss.
Such was the case when my brother-in-law Dean had to put down Harley, his constant companion and dog of nearly eight years of age, recently due to terminal health issues.
Harley was an English bulldog, but he was one of us. He was a family member. He was among the neatest of dogs with the most distinct of personalities.
For us humans, pets such as Harley come with some very powerful mental and physical health benefits. Studies show dogs in particular can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, ease loneliness, encourage exercise and playfulness, and even improve a person’s cardiovascular health. It is said caring for a dog can help children grow up more secure and active or provide valuable companionship for older adults. Perhaps more importantly, a dog can add genuine joy and unconditional love to your life.
Harley gave us all of those.
And, he is already being missed! My brother-in-law is grieving, as are me and my family. Our thoughts though are with Dean.
Experts say all of us go through the various stages of grief (denial, anger, guilt, depression, acceptance) in different ways. Some people may choose to grieve alone or reach out to family and friends while others opt for memorializing their pets in certain fashions.
There are lessons to be learned from the death of Harley.
The loss of a pet should never be taken lightly and it is not something most people get over quickly or easily – although some may think there is a social stigma not to grieve for our pets as we do for humans. The fact is that the bond that is formed between people and their pets is in many cases even stronger than some of the bonds between people, especially when there may not be many others around on a day to day basis.
My brother-in-law lived with Harley on a private lake in eastern Nebraska. It’s a paradise for outdoor living with large yards abutting geothermal lakes that are surrounded by paved recreational trails.
I think you might remember Harley, too. He was featured in a prior blog post of mine a couple of years ago. Harley truly loved being in and around lake water. In fact, to this day, I can picture him getting in and out of the water alongside me while I fished. I called him “the lake dog.”
Harley was active and loved being outside. Here’s a photo of him in the western part of Nebraska.
Harley was kindhearted and affectionate toward all people. We believe he was a Husker fan.
Harley thoroughly enjoyed his walks and sports balls. Ah yes, the sports balls. Whether on a walk or in a home, if there was a football, soccer ball, volleyball, basketball or some other type of ball nearby, you can bet Harley had it! He would run to it, maul it, chew on it until it popped, play with it a bit more, and then he would be done with it. This was something to see, really!
I must say that memories are one of the best legacies following the death of a pet. Harley entertained, amazed, comforted and loved. Those memories bring laughter, smiles and can never be taken away..
Rest in Peace, my four-legged friend, until we meet again. Save me and my family a fishing spot beside you!