Grisha Stewart

Where Do Our Dogs Go? Reflections on Peanut’s Life and Loss

grisha-peanut
13.5 years is a lot of shared life experience. He still makes me smile.

For the last several years, I have been pre-grieving Peanut's death. I have been afraid I would completely fall apart and lose my will to live.

Luckily for me, his death was not complicated by other emotions. We supported each other throughout his life and he was right there in my lap when he chose to go.

It turns out that his death was not as terrible as I thought it would be.  I thought I would want to jump off a bridge when he died. I literally had my family on suicide watch.

But now that it's finally happened, I've noticed that it's different; the worry for him and for myself is gone, leaving me with a chance to savor his life, a huge appreciation for the time we had together, and gratitude for the support of my friends and family.

Sadness is much easier to handle than worry, especially when you don't fight the pain, but just let it happen. This post isn't about telling you how to grieve, but just sharing how I am grieving, to share this possibility that we don't have to be crushed by loss to honor those who have passed. There are no 'shoulds' here.

Dog Dalmatian running outdoors in beautiful green against the blue sky with clouds and a rainbow
Dogs run free at the rainbow bridge.

Many people talk about the rainbow bridge as the place where are dogs are waiting for us when we die.

It's human to have a deep need to know where are loved ones are now, and what they are doing. Having spent years caring for him, needing to know where he is at all times is a hard habit to let go. It's our job to keep track of them.

With Peanut's passing, I have found some solace in thinking of him running around happy with Spoon, who passed away last year, and Pirate, who passed away this month. But I need to process Peanut's life and death in a way that fits in with my own worldview. It turns out that what I came up with isn't inconsistent with the rainbow bridge, either, so hopefully it works for you.

This 'song of life' analogy has has helped me come to better terms with Peanut's death. It's loosely based on the Buddhist concept of clinging, as attachment as the root of suffering: "Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional." If you have lost a dog (or cat or other family member) I hope that this post helps you find a way to savor the experience of loss, to appreciate this time instead of suffering through it.

(And maybe this is already something already woven into some religion or philosophy. I don't want to waste this important time researching whether this analogy is new. I just know it didn't occur to me before and I want to share it because it helped me.)

If you've ever laid down tracks for a song or a video this will make sense. If not, I hope it still works for you, but feel free to comment with your own version, like maybe weaving together a tapestry or something else.

life-as-movie
I'm visualizing it like this video editor, except a LOT more clips (one for each living being) and more overlapping.

I'm thinking of the sum of all life as a jazz song or a movie, where each individual being is like one track laid down for a recording (like a guitar riff or a little movie clip). The length of those clips is the amount of time they are present here for the rest of us to see. Feel free to through your own worldview whether some higher power is creating the song or it's just what happens when so much life comes together.

Trees have very long lifespans, so they'd have very long tracks. Humans have shorter tracks and dogs and other small animals even shorter. When they happen to be in the same space and time we 'know' each other but we are all still part of this same multi-dimensional song, starting from the beginning of life and ending when it is all over, if ever.

Grisha Stewart using her BAT leash Skills with Peanut
Every day with Peanut was a gift.

If I zoom in on my own track and see things just from my own perspective, it feels like a sudden shift, a catastrophe to lose him. If I zoom out to see the whole song, I see the beauty that we shared and how that fits in with everything else. I see how he was fading toward his end. All solos start and stop. If they went on forever they wouldn't be appreciated in the same way.

So Peanut may or may not make another appearance in the song of life. Maybe there is reincarnation, or heaven, or his energy and matter have just been converted into other form.

To me that doesn't matter so much as concentrating on what I do know. We had a fantastic time together, where our harmony added to the song of life. That will never go away. His existence has influenced the whole direction of my life and work. He was a frequency changer, a catalyst to shift my perception of the world.

His life happened exactly as it happened. At this point, the song has moved on and I have come to terms with the idea that he would no longer fit into it. So rather than clinging to him and wishing he were here now, I celebrate the fact that he *was* here. It feels oddly right that he is no longer here, which isn't to say that I would have wanted it that way, not at all. But I'm at peace with his death.

peanut-at-property-246x300
Peanut spent a lot of time running free in nature.

That doesn't mean I don't cry or that I just move on with life like he was never here. I have cleared my schedule to savor my sorrow and grieve for the loss of his physical presence in my life. I couldn't keep food down the day that he passed away. I have a knot in my chest sometimes. I cry when I feel like it and I enjoy every moment of this sad time while it's happening because that is the way that he is here now, through that experience of transition away from a physical Peanut. [If you have another experience, that's totally fine. We all grieve differently. I just want to share how I feel since it was unexpected to me.]

I feel intense joy and satisfaction when I look at the quality of our time together. I made mistakes with him, but I did my best to fix them, to strengthen our relationship and improve his quality of life whenever I could. From his influence on me and many others, Peanut is still part of the song as a whole, but his own track is over; from my own perspective in time, his tangible presence is gone. But his 'solo' is still impacting the song as it moves forward: there are so many ripples from his existence, like how I perceive my world, how I may now be better at honoring my own emotions, how I think of death, how I read dogs, how I love, how other dogs now have better lives because of him, and so much more.

In the end, I don't need to scream at the universe, "WHY?!" Instead, I whisper, "thank you."

"Love Never Goes" Lyrics (Peanut YouTube version)

I am bound to you
You’re in my heart to stay
One look at you and I knew
I’d love you every single day

---

We’re on solid ground
You’re in my heart to stay
Even when I'm not around
I love you every single day

---

* Love doesn’t leave
* (It) Doesn’t run out
* Love never goes away

* Love doesn’t need
* No fence around (it)
* Love never goes away

---

You’ve got other loves
They’re in your heart to stay
I don’t have to be above
Just love me every single day

---

Hope you know by now
You’re in my heart to stay
Even when I have to go
I’ll love you every single day

---

* Love doesn’t leave
* (It) Doesn’t run out
* Love never goes away

* Love doesn’t need
* No fence around (it)
* Love never goes away

* Love doesn’t leave
* (It) Doesn’t run out
* Love never goes away


Here are some things that I did that helped with my grief process and/or made grieving less complicated:

  • Quality time - As he aged, I arranged my schedule to spend less time traveling and be home more with him. I arranged for quality time alone or with Bean when possible, although I also maintained my own life and non-dog hobbies. For many devoted dog lovers, their life is all about dogs. If you have more than one dog, that could be fine, but if your dog passes away and you have no other dog, then you may find you have no sense of self and don't know what to do with your time. So let yourself have a life. You deserve it.
  • Filming - videos of us loving on each other and of him just walking through the forest give me the most solace. It gives me a way to reconnect as needed.
  • Empowerment - choices I made for him were always in his best interest, within the constraints of life among humans. So things like positive reinforcement, long leashes and harnesses, carpets on the floor, training for him to actively cooperate in blood draws and vet procedures, predictability, ability to control his own proximity and interaction with stressors, and only adding in pain or discomfort when it was medically necessary.
  • Being his advocate and fighting to be present at the vet whenever I knew me being there would help him. That helped prevent regrets. Many veterinarians insist on restraining your dog themselves or won't allow you to be in the room for IV fluids, but may agree if you sign a waiver or have muzzle trained your dog with positive reinforcement (even if they have no history of biting, muzzling means there's no possibility of the vet getting sued so they will allow it).
  • We kept his body at home for two days before cremation, like a wake. That gave all of us (including Bean and Dharma) time to really process that he was gone. I was able to go to his body and say goodbye many times. We curled him up into a dog bed (head tilted up to avoid leakage) before driving him home, so that he was in a good position when rigor mortis set in. It was relatively cool on our sun porch so we kept him there. If it's warmer where you are, get dry ice to put into the bed, under and around your dog (or cat or whatever). We had a hard time finding dry ice though. My friend in California had her dog's body for 5 days before cremation, so it's not just possible in Alaska.
  • Hearing other people's memories of him and going through videos, photos, etc. really helped. Specific memories of Peanut in real life or in videos help more than general statements like "I'm sorry for your loss" or "Dog's lives are too short," so I asked for people to share memories when I announced his passing. Every comment helped me, but it was so helpful when they did share a memory. If many people don't know your dog, make and share a short video of your dog's life so that people can share what they see in that. The process of making the video was also helpful to me, as well as rewatching it many times.
  • Stopping the clock. This is what I'm doing right now. I have lost a family member and need this time to sit with the grief. I don't need to go to work right now. I allow myself to have whatever emotions that come through, and I don't berate myself for having strong feelings or try to push them away. I don't force anything, neither trying to be sad nor trying to be happy.If I want to go on a hike or work or whatever, that's my choice, but I have paused as many time commitments as I can right now. Question anything that involves the word 'should' - that's usually a sign that it's not helpful for you in your grief, but rather just something that is motivated by avoidance of punishment.If you work for yourself, take the time off. Put on an autoresponder. If you work for someone else, use your sick leave or vacation time, and if that doesn't exist, see about a leave of absence.
  • More tips in my main grief article.

Here's my announcement of Peanut's passing on Facebook:

18 thoughts on “Where Do Our Dogs Go? Reflections on Peanut’s Life and Loss”

  1. Thank you for this wonderful blog… I really needed something like it since I had to out my dog down last Thursday.. she was a rescue dog named Sharka who was 8..I got her off kijiji in 2012 with staph infection…it took 6 month to heal her..Lady Wednesday I discovered through ultrasound she had kidney cancer and I had to let her go…Peanut was extremely lucky to have a loving master such as you and I know that although I was the third home for Sharka she brought me great love and was the most grateful dog I have ever met….

  2. I wrote below about my Sara. It has now been 5 months and I still miss her so much. I do have another dog who loved Sara. I have also adopted a 6 yr old, but I just wish Sara were here to share in this love with us.
    She was the love of my life. I want to believe I will see her again one day.
    This is what keeps me going.

  3. I love this, thank you. Grieve but appreciate the time you’ve had, I’ve lost two of my dogs of 12/13 years in three months, it’s difficult but something you have to take on. Unfortunately they didn’t just pass away and I had to make the decision in both cases which is very hard. I still have one boy and he seems ok but I will I’ll give him extra attention and work through my grief day by day

  4. I am longing for the day that I make peace with my dog’s death. He passed two months ago and I am still in a place of deep grief. The mornings are the most difficult – waking up over and again to the thought I will never get to see or hold him again. That our shared life is over – it tears me up inside. Maybe it’s because it’s only been 8 weeks. We had 13.5 years together as well, that’s a lot of re-adjusting to make up for. But I admire your outlook- how i wish to get to that place of acceptance. Maybe because it was my first dog I raised as an adult and my first to put to sleep. Or maybe because he declined so quickly- never giving me a chance to plan or prepare his end of days as I had imagined it could be. Maybe I didn’t take enough videos or pictures of the both of us together (tons of just him). I suspect his connection to my mother who died when he was just a puppy – how he helped me through my life without her- compounds and complicates the grief. Either way- I know the pain and sadness is here to stay for a while. And like you, i allow it in. But unlike you, I have yet to find the silver lining.

  5. Thank you for this. Cleo passed yesterday and I’m finding it hard to cope, it all happened so suddenly. I watched your video of Peanut, read your blog’s and the song is stuck in my head. Providing comfort. She of course is happy and carefree in whatever peaceful plane she is in, nothing did mess with her in this life.
    I’m the one who feels completely numb and put off sorts. You’ve been a blessing. I am raw and heartbroken.

  6. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, feelings and reflections on grief and life with Peanut. Your words brought tears as I felt your loss and love. Last year we lost our 14 year old dog and 6 months later I lost my horse of 28 years. I can so identify with what you have said, my life stood still after their deaths but I hold onto the wonderful memories of how they shaped my life. We now have a new dog, a rescue, that brought me to your site and training methods as he is more challenging than any dog I have ever had. There are trainers and others who encouraged me to use harsher methods to train him but I have refused. In my search for a better way, I found your website. What you and Peanut created together is helping me make a better life for our new dog. He is reactive, sensitive, fierce and afraid but we love him and I am working hard to make life good for him. You mentioned that you “made mistakes” with Peanut but worked to make it right. I so appreciate you saying this as I feel I have failed our dog in so many ways but I keep trying to get better and help him. Please know that your work with Peanut and Bean is helping us and I have hope for our boy because of you. Peanut lives on each day in the lives of dogs like mine. Thank you.

  7. My little girl is gone 15 days now and yes the pain is worse. She was 12 and 3/4 and she had ever changing and progressing medical problems for well over 4 years. I always advocated for her at the vet – insisting to be present during procedures. Telling the vet it was easier for her and for me. There were things that I couldn’t help hold her for and I accepted that. But most of the time I could. The last vet visit was in a strange city because we had to travel (I was in crisis and terrorized for 5 weeks and had to leave my home) and days after our arrival she became very sick -this was her second appointment and was intended just to keep her comfortable until she passed (I knew this was it) but the vet said it could get very bad for her so it was then that I decided it would be best to help her leave with dignity and end her suffering.

    They took her to put the line in for injections and to do her paw print. I didn’t insist on staying with her. I don’t know why. I guess I thought she would be back out in a few minutes and I would be able to be with her until the dr was ready to perform his job. She wasn’t out and I waited and waited and paced and waited. Why oh why was I so compliant this time and never before? Lack of sleep – 5 prior weeks of trauma – 4 days on the road. Exhaustion, fog, disbelief of what was happening in and to our lives. Finally after what seemed like forever they brought her out (they had screwed up with the rooms) – we were supposed to be in the “comfort room” – but weren’t. How I wish I had that last hour with her and not us apart in the mechanics of the vet practice…by the time they brought her out I could see how the stress of being sick and being taken away from me had progressed her decline. So not only can I not live in my home anymore but I’ve lost the only one I ever truly, deeply, absolutely loved with all my heart and soul. I want to get to the place of acceptance, this is so painful, devastating, confusing, traumatic. Nothing really matters anymore. Nothing. I need a dog to give my love to again, but I will have to wait so I can process this. I’ve wanted a new life for a long time but I didn’t think it would come at such cost of loosing everything, my home and my love.

  8. My baby just knew me so well. Don’t think I will never have a dog like her and I am so totally heartbroken at losing her.

  9. your first sentence sounded like something that came out of my mouth. It’s been 3 weeks since I had to say goodbye and euthanize my pet soul mate. It has gotten worse…the pain I mean. Like you said, I have been pre-grieving his death since he was 13 and diagnosed with liver cancer. He passed when his kidney’s shut down due to age. he was a 30lbs, 16 year old cockapoo. It hurts everyday like a knife.

  10. I’m 11 days in…., my “Peanut” was named Jackson. He was 15 and 1/2 and was sadly getting old and was sick, the decision while a bit unexpected ‘so soon’ was hard, so very hard. I thought I had planned and prepared, but I was not at all. So I am searching in my grief. I’m not exactly sure what I’m searching for, but some how I’ve came across your – Where do our dogs go. I can not even tell you how comforting to read your words were, how perfectly you have explained this, how differently I was thinking, but how exactly this is how it should be, I now feel I can move on in a better way. Yes, there will be more tears, but as you have shown me, they are from him, and that’s okay.. and gosh yes, I am fiercely proud of our tight relationship we had. He and I were so, so lucky…I am glad you had that same relationship with your Peanut, because I know it and it was great. Thank you for helping me. Let our memories lighten grief. May Peanut and Jackson be a track that’s played over and over in our hearts..

  11. Beautiful, Grisha,
    You put my feelings into exactly the right words.
    I have loved my Sara above all other beings for over 14 years. I do not want to say her passing was easier for me than other dogs I had but truly because of the bond we shared there was a true understanding between us as to what was happening and how this sharing of her death is what we all should be so lucky to have. I believe we are both at peace knowing we fulfilled our devotion.

  12. Thank you for your beautiful words. I had to make the choice yesterday to end my beautiful 10 year old Yorkie, Sandi’s suffering. She was diagnosed 3 years ago in March with Canine Lymphoma Sarcoma and was only given 3 months at best but being the tough little girl she was, our mutual love (and a little help from Prednisone and chicken) allowed us to have 3 happy and healthy bonus years together!!! The kidney failure came on so fast, one minute herself, the next so sick!! Even though the loss is almost unbearable, In my heart I know we will be together one day!!!! She was my Baby Girl and I miss her so very much!!!!

  13. Thank you Grisha. Now I have words for the way memories make me feel about my dogs whose songs still reverberate in my heart.

  14. Grisha…
    It seems to me Pinda has taught you to connect well to your inner self…I think that is something to be extremely grateful for, as I can see you are. My animal friends are as helpful to me as any fine guru….as long as I ‘listen’ (which sometimes is a problem in this fast, mad world 🙂 )
    Thanks for putting your thoughts into words……it”s inspiring to me.
    All the best,
    Minke (the dutchie that named peanut, “pinda” 😉

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