Accountable Thinking: Choosing Thankfulness Even In Pet Loss

On Tuesday 9/18/18, we buried “Nug the Pug.” She was only 9 years old. Surreal and surprisingly painful, I miss her terribly. In fact, in a text to a daughter who checked on Dad, I responded, “I can’t find Nugget anywhere, but I see her everywhere.” ?

A week later, in my final Denver Rescue Mission board meeting (my 5-year director stint is up), I shared a message with the group in the photo below. These are wise, Godly, successful people who are committed to helping the homeless of Colorado. They are bankers, CPAs, pastors, executives, and even another professional speaker.

So I kept it simple. 🙂
One need not be a Christian to find value in the Bible verse that says, in part, “In everything give thanks … .”
(1 Thess. 5:18)

It does not say give thanks FOR all things, but to give thanks IN all things. We aren’t glad Nug left us so young, but I can find 5 blessings to be thankful for in her passing if I choose to—and I do.

5 Blessings

1. Nug wasn’t human. Yes, we loved her and she was family, but far more important are our 7 kids, their spouses, and 10 grandchildren, who are alive and well. I’ve lost a human—my 51-yr-old mom when I was 17—so like many of you, I know that level of pain. If you’ve read Flipping the Switch, you know that story.

2. Nug gave us <mostly> joy for 9 years. I say “mostly” because she sure had some irritating behaviors (don’t we all?!), but she brought silly and goofy fun to our home. If Pugs had a tagline, it’d be “I’m so homely I’m cute.” Her face alone brought us joy.
3. We acted swiftly, minimizing Nug’s suffering. Everyone handles these situations differently, but ending her pain was paramount. I’m thankful no “paralysis by analysis” took root here.
4. Dr. Sam Grossberg of Pets R Us vet. He didn’t sell us $225 X-rays, a $495 ultrasound, and/or a bunch of blood tests just to confirm what we knew from a $175 biopsy: malignant mast cell tumor. Cancer. When I’m making emotionally difficult decisions, I don’t need an expert to battle me, I need him to guide me. “Dr. G” did.
5. Karen, my wife. She’s a deep feeler while I am the logical one. Yet when Karen, a former oncology RN, heard the diagnosis, we jointly chose the pragmatic option. This was better for Nug—and for our 38-year marriage.

So that’s the list I shared with the DRM board. I felt it had gone well, but was surprised when men came up to share their heartache over losing a pet. One fella pushing 60, hugged me and said that ironically he’d put his Lab down the day before Nug left us. I felt his sadness. I think my message topic caught him off-guard. Thus the “man hug.”
Another gent, a banker in his 60s, said that when his wife stated, “Let’s get another dog now,” he responded, “Only if you can guarantee that dog outlives me.” He doesn’t want to go through that pain again.
That’s how I feel right now.
However, it really does help to discipline my thinking—to be accountable for my thoughts—and choose to be thankful in this painful time. There’s no denial here, it hurts to lose my little pal who “owned” me for almost a decade, just as she’s owning newborn Liam John in the photo above. Yet, some good did come from Nugget leaving us forever.
I hope these thoughts help those who’ve lost a pet. Feel free to share this blog with others. If you have lost a furry friend and would like to share, we’re listening.

47 Responses

  1. Well said, it does make one pause and think about how all aspects of life factor in to the leaders we want to be. I am sharing this. Thank you.

  2. What I tell my friends who lose a fur baby…make a scrapbook of pictures. Places you were with her, things you enjoyed feeding her, that frisbee she chewed on more than played with, things you did. Share the stories and memories of her often. There are places where you can upload pictures and they will make a book for you. If you can add dates and places, even better. Make sure you write the stories down so you don’t forget. It might sound crazy but it’s really cathartic. I promise you will pick up that book often. So sorry for your loss!

  3. Great insight to a painful time, my friend. Having been through pet loss throughout the years, I feel your pain and can see your perspective. Definitely a blessing! Thank you, John!

  4. The pain of losing a beloved pet is a very particular pain. As you said, John, they give us such joy and laughter. They also give us so much of themselves. It has been said that dogs are the only creatures that love us more than they love themselves. I’ve lost several fur babies and it never gets easier. My husband is the same as your friend; after the ones we have are gone, we won’t be getting any more because it wouldn’t be fair to them or whoever would have to take them should they outlive us. However, I too am thankful for every one of my fur babies. They each gave me some of the best the best days of my life and one of the worst and I wouldn’t change a thing.
    Thank you for sharing this story.

  5. I had to say goodbye in June to my best little friend Lewis after 15 great years. He was the best dog I could have asked for. I miss him terribly every day and some days the pain and grief are more that I could have imagined. I had to make the painful decision to say good-bye as he was suffering for horrible hip pain and dementia. I SO appreciated your comments and 5 blessings. Thank you for that perspective and also acknowledging the loss of a pet is real pain. By focusing on the blessing I can start to heal and remember ALL the great joy he brought to me.

  6. I’m sorry for your loss Miller family. It will be 2 years this Christmas Eve we said goodbye to my (what I call) puppy niece. Chanel had just turned 16 years old 20 days earlier. She still had a puppy look to her and acted like a puppy. Fast forward to this past weekend. I was helping my sister (Chanel’s human) move, and while I have been to the house many times over the past almost 2 years, I caught myself looking around for Chanel. It made me sad but I am so thankful for the time we had with her. She brought a smile to everyone that met her. She made non-dog lovers (my Mother) love her! Thank you for explaining “In everything give thanks … .”
    (1 Thess. 5:18) I am going to continue to work on in everything give thanks.

  7. What a sweet tribute to a great pooch. And you are so right about being grateful in the pain. It’s never easy but it is always the right thing to do. It even helps lift the burden a bit to remember all the ways we are blessed.
    And we get to thumb our nose at the devil! Thank you for sharing such a personal story.

  8. Several years ago, I was passing by an elementary school at the end of the school year. On the marquee was, “Be happy for all the good times you had, not sad that it is over.” What an outstanding way to think about almost anything. Especially, in the loss of a loved one.

  9. In our mid sixties we have made the choice to take on another dog, another labrador. A chocolate one this time.
    She is one and half years old and “owns” us in so many ways. Yes, we chose knowing full well we might have to endure her passing at any time. Yet, she might have to deal with one of us sailing away!
    We just wanted that activity and emotional strengthening that comes with pets. Guess we’ll have to see how we do! Meanwhile our 11 year old cat, who came as a stray, cooly endures us all!

    Thanks for sharing a bit of reality.

  10. John – so sorry to hear of Nug the Pugs passing. I have had that pain myself many times. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts and encouraging way to look at the situation. Take care and hold those memories tightly

  11. To John and your family, I am truly sorry for your loss. Six years ago I lost my brother who was actually caring for my 92 yr old Momma, my dog helped me get through that. Three months later I lost my Mother, my dog helped me through that. Three months later I lost my nephew, my dog helped me through that. Three months later I lost my 9 year dog and I felt like my world ended. I couldnt believe God could take the one thing that helped me get through all that pain. It was a long journey to find peace again. My pup had been sick for a week, the day I took him to the vet to do exploratory surgery, I told him “I’ll be back my baby, I’ll be right back”, as I always did. Little did I know the vet would call and tell me my pup was full of cancer. He was in surgery, the question the vet asked, do you want me to sew him up and wake him up so you can say goodbye or would you like me to just let him go in peace. I will never forget that day. It broke me completely. I chose to let him go. I went to the vets office to hold him one last time as I sat there crying with a broken heart, I vowed never to go through that pain again! It still hurts very much and that hole is still there. But I am thankful for the years God gave me with my baby. I did go on to eventually own more pups that need me too. They are shihtzu’s like my first baby. I can look back now John, and find the nuggets but it was definitely a journey for me. Thank you for sharing your story. Blessings to you and your family . ❤️

  12. Thanks, John, for sharing your thoughts. Even though they elicited memories of the two saddest decisions we’ve ever had to make: our first Beagle, Clancy (23 years ago) and our second Beagle, Toby (18 months ago), they brought forth our happiest memories, as well. It’s those happy memories that have prompted us to succumb once again and bring Snoopy into our family. My only hope is that he’ll outlive me!

  13. My tears are still flowing as I relive my own pain from when I had to make the same decision about my best friend as you did. I was blessed to receive comments and well wishes from more people than I thought I knew. I was in the place where you are, thinking that I might not want to get another dog that I would out live. Of all the advice I received when my beloved German Shepherd NIkko passed at nine years from cancer, the best was from a friend in Oklahoma. He said “Don’t deprive a dog of the blessing of having you as it’s owner.” With tears filling eyes I began looking for my next best friend. I picked her up a week later as an 8 week old puppy and we have had two and 1/2 years of joy together. I still cry over Nikko, just not as often and I will cry over Wookie as well when she crosses over. Until then I am grateful for every moment I get to be her human. God bless you my friend. My advice to you would be not to deprive a dog of having you for it’s human. Happier trails…

  14. Licia was a 2 year-old abused Spitz who had found refuge in a Stephens County, GA animal shelter in 1998. When my wife and six-year old daughter walked in to the shelter to pick out a dog for Rachel to celebrate our new life in a new house, Rachel picked out the dog for herself, and immediately dubbed her “Licia”. What Bev and I did not know at the time, was that Rachel had picked out THE dog for all of us, and I like to think especially for me. Licia was afraid of men, you see, and when I came home from work, this very timid dog hid under furniture to avoid me in the early weeks. I can only speculate as to what the man or men in Licia’s first two years of life must have done to her that made her so afraid of me. With time, however, Licia began to trust me as she already had with Bev and Rachel; I took it upon myself to work at our relationship sensing a need to compensate for whatever Licia had experienced before she came to us. Licia captured all our hearts in the end. We took her with us to all of Rachel’s soccer matches, on family picnics, short and long trips, not to mention my runs when training for the next 5K, 10K, half, or full marathon. This beautiful dog was an excellent runner. Licia became the mascot of Rachel’s soccer teams and a frequent supporter of my coaching six years of college cross-country teams. Everyone loved Licia, perhaps none more than I. My favorite memory was the day I had scheduled a 9-mile training run, some of it on country roads with rural traffic, and I assumed 7-year old Licia could not run 8-minute miles that far, so I tried to find her and put her in the house before I took off. She was nowhere to be found, and after five minutes of searching in vain, I took off on my run. After about two miles into my circuit, Licia popped out of the woods, overjoyed to have reconnected with me. I was too far into the run to want to turn around and take her back home, and so, I accepted my faithful partner’s company. She ran by my side, without a leash, never wandering out into the road in front of oncoming cars, never tiring during the remaining seven miles, only meandering into the woods at times to dwell on a certain scent from some other animal, otherwise at my side as if I was the most important focus of her life. I don’t think I was ever more grateful to God for any pet as that day. But there are so many other pleasant memories. During her 17 years of life, Licia knew the sound of my car, long before she could see it. When I would come home from work, she would go to the door and want Bev or Rachel to let her out because she heard my car coming before anyone else could see it. And often, there she was waiting for me in the driveway as I pulled in. I loved her loyalty. During one of my short runs, when Licia was 16 years old and slowing down a bit, I noticed it began hurting her to run with me, and so, we finished walking home. And at age 17, we contented ourselves to just walk together. As she lost mobility in her hind quarters and later became incontinent, finally abstaining from wanting to eat, Bev, Rachel, and I knew the inevitable was fast approaching. The night before the day we would take Licia to the vet to end her suffering, I came in the house, and while lying on the living room carpet and in obvious pain to even move, Licia wagged her tail and tried to crawl to me. I told my wife I would sleep with Licia on the living room carpet during her last night of life, and for the first time since moving to our Toccoa home in 1997, I sobbed at the sadness and necessity of saying good-bye to the most amazing pet we had ever owned. Bev and I took Licia to the vet that historic morning in 2012, and stood by the table where she wagged her last tail and took her final view and breath of life. I am so glad Bev and I were able to weep together on that 15-mile ride back home. Licia is buried in the woods just on the edge of our backyard. If you ever come to visit, I will show you the pile of rocks over her grave that I often look at with God-given gratitude.

  15. John,
    Sorry to hear of your loss – I appreciate you sharing, as well as these really insightful blessings. How we look at circumstances changes our response – may we always see the blessings in the midst of whatever we face.

  16. I am so sorry to read about Nug; somehow I didn’t pick up on what had happened via your FB, so this took me by surprise. Yes, I’ve been there and had to make those tough decisions, too, so I can sympathize and empathize equally. What a spot-on thought: can’t find the fur baby, but see him/her everywhere. You and Karen have my warmest thoughts as you get used to missing your Nugget.

  17. Sorry for your loss John but thankful for the Joy and Love Nug gave you, I know the feeling too well, as I’m sure many do!

    Dave Field

  18. Hi John, So sorry to hear about your Nugget. Our dogs are such a blessing in our lives, and darn it, every one I have ever had is gone too soon. In fact our family has lost two this year. But I am grateful for the time they spent with us. Far outweighs the grief associated with their passing. Thank you for sharing.

  19. Hey John,

    I enjoyed this email. I’m sorry for your loss, I can identify.

    For what it’s worth, my mom used to say God made our pets live short lives so we could meet more of them. I like that. Hopefully you will too.

    All the best

  20. This email literally come through just as I was getting ready to put our own beloved boxer Hazel down as she was in the final stages of congestive heart failure. I’m sensing some divine intervention here. Your thoughts have been both timely and helpful. Thank you.

  21. I’m inclined to comment on your post, as we are getting closer to the day that we say goodbye to our sweet Jessie. She’s a Beagle…..nuf said. Our family has been here before and unfortunately will revisit it again. But as Garth Brooks said, “I could’ve missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance.”
    I am a little surprised however that one of the things you are thankful for is that Nug wasn’t a human. I’m not sure that it would make it any less painful for me, personally. It hurts. No way around it.
    That said, you did provide a nugget of great wisdom when you said that you look to the professional for guidance, and not to fight you. That was profound and a thought I will carry forward.
    Fantastic article and Nug is in a better place. With an endless supply of treats I’m sure.

  22. I don’t cry often at work, but I did today. Cooper was my Nug. Cancer at 7 years and it was awful. And still today, I’m thankful for the time we had with him! I sure wish I had this message a year ago, but I guess God thought today was okay too!

  23. Thank you for this message. I lost my Fred over a year ago and every time I think of getting another pet I cry. I can’t say I will ever be ready for another dog. But this article reminded me of the Blessing my Fred was!!!! Thank you

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