Goodbye Penny: On Losing A Dog with Dementia

21 Mar

I helped my sweet girl Penny leave this life on Saturday. She had dementia and rapidly growing mammary tumors and things were getting worse quickly. I wanted to make sure her passage was peaceful, not panicked. A veterinarian came to the house and Penny lay on her sofa with her brothers and me at her side. Neil Young’s Only Love Can Break Your Heart played as she left us.

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But the truth is, like her brother Justin before her, Penny had been leaving for a long time. Dementia does that. The loss you feel for your beloved pet happens every day for months or years as you watch them lose their joy. The last time I saw Penny roll in the grass was last summer. Rolling in the grass had been one of her favorite past times. And instead of enjoying sitting in the sun as she always had, the brightness confused her and she would react as if startled and frightened. Just last week, we had a warm sunny day and I took her outside to sit in the grass, careful to point her away from the sun’s rays, but still she was not comfortable there. I carried her back into the house.

I’d been carrying Penny around for six months because she forgot how to go outside, where her water dish was (and how to drink – she would often drink the air above the bowl, which I kept raising up in hopes she would find it), and how to back out of places she got stuck in. With Justin, whose dementia lasted longer, I had to put boxes in every corner and crevice where he might get stuck and he still managed find his way into spots he couldn’t escape from.

There is no easy way to experience grief. It is awful to lose a pet unexpectedly. I’ve done that several times and it feels like someone has physically ripped the heart out of your chest. It is equally awful, but completely different, when the loss is spread out over a long period of time. Death feels like a relief, but you feel angry at yourself that you are not as torn apart as you believe you should be. You forget that tiny pieces of your heart have been ripped out for a long time. The sadness creeps up on you, but it seems familiar instead of surprising. You still glance around the room, looking for your sweet furry friend, but when you remember, pain is balanced with the calm of knowing they are not lost, afraid, or confused. Only you are.

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3 Responses to “Goodbye Penny: On Losing A Dog with Dementia”

  1. Martha Upshaw March 21, 2018 at 8:28 pm #

    So so sorry to learn that Penny is gone.

    Martha Upshaw (Watson’s grandmother)

  2. Elaine M Phillips March 21, 2018 at 9:42 pm #

    Thanks for giving us all a place to think about this and rest with it.

    • accidentalcomic March 21, 2018 at 10:05 pm #

      You’re welcome. I thought it might be helpful to other pup and kitten parents.

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