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Ways to Cope When a Beloved Pet Dies

Rosie the Chihuahua provided unconditional love for 20 years

By Judy Pansullo

Rosie the Chihuahua provided unconditional love for 20 years

Editor’s Note: This is a reader-submitted essay.
I said goodbye to my beloved 20-year-old Chihuahua yesterday.

She knew everything about me and, despite that, remained my loyal companion all these years. She put up with my crazy lifestyle, my mood swings and my bad hair days.

I adopted Rosie the year following my mother’s death, so I guess she took over from her in the “unconditional love” department.

I was volunteering for an animal rescue organization when Rosie was brought in. She nipped a few people who tried picking her up. Although I had no desire to adopt a dog — I already had two rescue cats — there was something special about her.

(MORE: The 10 Best Pet Companions to Have at Your Side)

I decided to sit in front of her cage with the door open and talk quietly to her, never making a move toward her. Within a few days, she let me pick her up and take her outside and even snuggled under my chin. It was then I knew that this stubborn little six-pound dog had chosen me, and so our life together began.

At that time, I was producing documentaries and concerts for CPTV, the Connecticut PBS station. I spent many long, creative, but stressful hours in the edit suite meeting deadlines. Rosie became a regular there on the weekends and loved sitting in the editor’s lap as she cut and mixed my shows. Rosie’s presence inspired us to take a break every once in a while — she was quite the little stress-buster.

She traveled with me across the United States, strapped into her own car seat as we made our way cross-country. Her seat was high up, so she was eye-to-eye with people in cars going by. I loved the expressions on their faces as they realized they were looking into the big brown eyes of a Chihuahua while we cruised along Route 66. They laughed and waved.  Isn’t it amazing how dogs connect us to people who might otherwise not notice us?

(MORE: The 5 Lessons Learned From Animals, and They're Not What You Expect)

Rosie was a healthy little dog up until the last year of her life, losing her hearing first and then her eyesight. Her back legs gave out to arthritis, and she began to stumble and bump into furniture. I knew I had to do this last loving thing for her because she was not going to be the one to give up. Her job was to take care of me and she was still waiting at the door for me to come home — up to her very last day.


On days when I was tired or fed up with the world and didn’t feel like getting up, Rosie still had to go outside for a walk, gently forcing me to face reality. Thank you, Rosie, for getting me out of bed every day and for teaching me that life goes on, whether we want it to or not. Above all, thank you for being my constant companion for the past 20 years. Your love and loyalty are forever tucked away in my heart.

(MORE: 6 Wise and Funny Lessons on Aging — From Animals)

Here are my tips for how to cope with losing a faithful companion:

1. Get Help to Make the Hardest Decision
When you’re faced with putting your pet to rest, consult your veterinarian. Ask about the medical prognosis and your pet’s quality of life. We want to hold on to our pets forever, but sometimes this is the last loving thing we can do.
2. Know Your Options
If you must euthanize, you will face choices about where and how it’s done. Do you want to be there at the end? Would you prefer that a visiting vet come to your home? You’ll also face choices about burial or cremation. Do you want to bring your pet’s body home to bury in a special place? Or bring ashes home or have them scattered them in a communal pet garden? There are websites offering resources, such as Pet Partners.
3. Seek Help for Grief
Pet loss support hotlines, support groups and online services are out there. Ask your vet for resources or check the American Veterinarian Medical Association’s pet loss support hotlines and other resources on their website.
4. Capture and Share Memories

Write about your pet and the wonderful memories you have of him or her in a personal journal or in an article, as I have done. It’s important to share your grief and loss with others who are in your situation. Your experience may help other pet owners who are making these difficult choices, and in the process, may help you through your own grief.

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