Losing a pet…or a lost pet?
The difference is profound.
As awful as it is to have to euthanize a beloved friend, there is comfort in knowing you freed her from suffering. But there’s another way to lose a pet that I think is even worse, and because July is National Lost Pet Prevention Month, I want to talk about this important topic, no matter how terrifying it is.
Sweet Jessica Rabbit Stern opened a whole new world for me. I never knew I could love a rabbit so much until she came into our lives. She began as a foster, but last September, when Howard and I realized how much she was part of our lives and how deeply bonded she and Cocomelon were, we made her an official member of the Stern family.
Above left, Jessica Rabbit and Cocomelon were the sweetest of friends.
At right is Howard’s beautiful watercolor of Jessica.
Then suddenly, on July 1, we had to rush her to the emergency vet where we learned she had an underlying health issue. She didn’t suffer. And it was quick. But she is gone forever, and we are beyond devastated. I know Jessica felt love from every direction and I am so grateful for that. In fact, if love alone could have saved her, she would have lived forever. It broke our hearts to say goodbye, but even though we grieve every day, we know what happened to her, and being by her side when it happened was a sad blessing.
Then there’s the other kind of pet loss, which sends shivers down my spine just thinking about it.
Although it’s impossible to quote a definite number, it’s estimated that as many as 10 million pets go missing every year in this country. And the worst day of the year is July 4. It’s easy to see why. Just think of all the booming fireworks, the flashes, the whistling, the tons of distractions, people going in and out of doors, carrying trays of food, and maybe drinking too much. It’s a recipe for disaster. And long after the booming and whistling have stopped, the aftereffects for millions of people will last a long, heartbreaking time, and normal will never be the same.
We’ve all seen the posters…Please help us find our beloved lost cat/dog!…with the photos that tear at your heartstrings. And it can happen to even the most responsible people. Just a split second of distraction, the tiniest mistake, and everything changes.
Thanks to microchips and social media, many families are reunited with their lost pets. And you’ve no doubt read accounts of pets finding their way home even after many years. But microchips and Facebook are no guarantee, and despite all the posters, media posts, doorbell ringing, scent dragging, and everything else you can think of, many people never know what happened to their lost pet. And the guilt, blaming, and worry are terrible.
There’s a term for this open-ended grief: Experts call it “ambiguous grief,” and of course, it would be the same for a lost or missing person. Where is she? Does he blame me and wonder why I don’t help him? Did someone take her in? Is he safe? Cold? Wet? Hungry? Scared? Hurt? Did she die alone?
Without a chance to say goodbye, the anger and emotional pain are immense, and the rollercoaster of hope/despair/hope/despair is stressful and exhausting, making closure feel impossible.
But as with any form of grief, time; support from friends, family, and professionals; plus, learning to make peace with life’s ambiguities can help bring about healing.
It will also be a comfort to remember that you did everything you could to prevent this from happening in the first place. My colleagues at North Shore Animal League America have put together useful tip sheets on lost pet prevention and related summertime topics:
My clever partners at NSALA have also come up with a new summer holiday that’s taken off in recent years, with “birthday pawties” and special adoption events all over the country. It’s called “DOGust 1st” and is defined as the Universal Birthday for Shelter Dogs. Naturally, it’s celebrated on the first day of August and promises that all dogs, even those without a known birth date, have a day of their own to celebrate!
So in honor of “DOGust 1st,” here are three adult dogs now waiting at Animal League America to celebrate their forever future birthdays in loving new homes. Maybe yours?
In my May blog post, I told you about meeting a wonderful 9-year-old puppy mill survivor named Kody (ID: PM7008). Sad to say, he is still waiting for his forever family. And it just breaks my heart. This is what my partners at NSALA, who know him best, have to say about this very good boy: “Kody is a sweet senior who came to us from a commercial breeding facility. After spending his life in a cage, without the slightest nurturing touch, Kody was unsure what to expect when he arrived. But slowly this handsome boy is showing us just how wonderful he is. He is gentle and trusting, although he still takes his time around new people. He loves to play in the dog park with his favorite humans, and his fetch-playing skills are unsurpassed! Kody is looking to be the only pet of an experienced adopter who can give him the time he needs to feel safe and loved. That love will be returned unconditionally.” View Kody’s profile page to learn more and watch a video of him in action.
I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting these next two adults, but my partners tell me they are wonderful. Here’s some of what they say about these good dogs. Please visit their profile pages to learn how you can meet them.
What an elegant lady Cinnamon (ID: LA3258) is! She’s been at the shelter for about five months and the staff just loves her. An older puppy, this beautiful Pittie mix has plenty of energy and loves to run and play in our dog park. The ideal home for Cinnamon would be as an only pet in an active household, with older children who can keep up with her. Cinnamon would also benefit from an experienced adopter who would be able to continue her training as she grows into the best dog ever! Check out Cinnamon’s video on her profile page.
Gosh, I cannot believe that adorable Curly (ID: T105722) has been overlooked for more than a year! Just look at him! The staff tells me that this handsome Hound mix is ready to join a pack of his own. He loves spending time in our dog park exploring every smell. Curly also loves a good ear scratch from time to time. His perfect family setting would be one with older children and possibly a canine sibling to show him the ropes in his new home. Learn more about Curly on his profile page.
And last but certainly not least, there’s the newest addition to the Stern family, Miss Petunia Ann Stern. If you follow me on IG, you know her story: how she spent her first six months with us living first in her little kitty tent and then high up in her kitty tree—coming out at night to eat and use her box and accepting pets as we walked by. An abandoned housecat who’d lived on the streets for years, she came to us injured and so depressed she hid her face for weeks. I promised her all the time in the world and gave her love on her terms. And in December, she came down from her tree, quite plump, but as I always say, ready to give life another chance.
So, on July 8, we made her an official member of the Stern family. We have a sort of rule: If you’re here a year or longer, you become a Stern.
But something about that smug smile on her face says she may have bamboozled me all along, playing hard to get for all those months just so she could be my lap cat!
I love you, Miss P!