Farewell, Baby Girl: Grieving the Loss of Our Beloved Dog
Columnist Carlos Briceño is reminded of the losses to come with Huntington's
As I write this first paragraph, I’m in the living room. My wife, Jill, is on the sofa next to me doing her nails, and my dog, Baby Girl, is several feet away on the floor under the piano, sleeping on her side. I can hear her breathing. By the time you read this, she won’t be alive anymore.
As I write this second paragraph, I’m in the living room again. Jill is on the sofa next to me playing a video game on her phone. Our beloved cocker spaniel isn’t under the piano where she normally slept this time of evening. Several days have gone by since we put Baby Girl to sleep.
The decision wasn’t easy, but it was the right one for our dog, who was 13. She’d been suffering from back issues for several years, had trouble walking, and couldn’t hear anymore. The freedom she enjoyed when we’d let her run loose in a field was gone. We hadn’t taken her for any walks in over a year.
Baby Girl’s routine for going to the bathroom consisted of either Jill or I picking her up, bringing her outside, and putting her on the pavement. After she did her business, we’d pick her up and bring her back inside, where she’d essentially stay within 20 feet of her bed.
One memory from the end of her life will always remain with me. When we got Baby Girl, Jill, our daughter, Alexus, and I made a conscious decision not to feed her human food. We wanted her to eat healthily, especially since she had a sensitive stomach. This wasn’t an easy discipline to maintain, as she excelled in getting us to feed her whatever delicious food Jill was cooking.
A few months ago, Jill and I made another conscious decision: We would let her have all the food and treats she wanted. A Starbucks pup cup filled with whipped cream and topped with little dog cookies? No problem. A hamburger from McDonald’s? Coming right up. Two chicken-flavored bones in the morning and in the evening? Why not?
She enjoyed it all.
We were just paying her back, as she always made us happy. From playing fetch and extending her paw out to slap us “five,” to her zest for life, calm demeanor, and constant presence waiting for us at the top of the stairs when got home — Baby Girl filled us with much love and joy.
The loss hits us hard
What makes Baby Girl’s death especially difficult is that the “emotional vitamins” she supplied throughout the day are gone. This especially hurts Jill, who works from home. Our dog was so cute and stuck to Jill like glue, either by watching her or trying to follow her. Losing that loyal and beautiful presence has pierced my wife’s heart.
Jill is gene-positive for Huntington’s disease (HD) and grapples with anxiety and depression. Having a dog helped ease some of those mental health issues. It’s hard to feel down when your dog looks up at you with big, brown eyes, a heart bursting with love, and a tail that wags like windshield wipers on a rainy day.
Seeing my dog’s decline was also a grim reminder of what’s in store for Jill. As her HD worsens, she won’t be able to do everything she can do now. Walking will become difficult for her, and she’ll lose much of her freedom. For instance, while she can currently get in the car and drive to the store, she won’t be able to do that one day.
Jill and I understand that we have to enjoy every moment. Nothing is put off until tomorrow. She doesn’t have a bucket list, as our biggest priority is being with each other and with family. Those memories are priceless and bring us great joy.
I grieve for what is to come for Jill and our daughter, who is also gene-positive for HD. And I grieve the loss of my dog. Grief is a crazy emotion; it doesn’t take much to trigger an intense wave of sadness.
Every time I go outside, I’m reminded of Baby Girl’s presence. Whenever she peed on the driveway, which gently slopes downward, her urine would travel down the pavement like a little river. The driveway is streaked with these jagged pathways. The streaks look like tears.
Even the driveway misses Baby Girl.
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Thank you for sharing this. We recently put our pup of 15 years down. For me the grief has been palpable, unexpectedly rearing it’s head at the find of beloved toys here and there, or a picture on Facebook, or a treat that was hidden in plain sight. But as you say, we have much to learn from their presence about living joyfully and dying gracefully. May both of our dogs stay in our hearts, but rest In peace until we meet again.
Hi, Mrs. Andrews,
I was saddened to read about the death of your pup. I totally understand how grief can pop out of nowhere. But what stays in my mind are the great memories and all the love that she shared with me and my family. So, despite the sadness, there is much gratitude and a glow in my/our hearts for her presence for 13 years. So, yes, our dogs will remain in our hearts, and what a great day it will be to see them again. Take care and thank you for sharing.
I am sorry to hear your news regarding your dog, Baby Girl.
There are some similarities in our situations. My wife had HD, she passed away on August 1st this year.
My daughter has tested positive for HD.
I have a cavalier king Charles Spaniel, called Monty. He is now almost 8 , with eating/food issues and arthritis in one front leg/paw.
I hope you are ok yourself and coping what is a difficult situation.
All the best wishes for the Christmas and new year.
Thanks for your message and kind words. Yes, there are definitely similarities in our situations, so my heart goes out to you and your family. You have my condolences on the death of your wife, and I'm so sorry to hear that your daughter is gene positive. And that Monty has health issues, too. I hope you have a good support structure in place. I'm blessed that I do, not only through Jill's family, but from my church community. I cope through faith and through being grateful for each moment my wife and daughter are alive. You and your family will be in my prayers. I wish you a Merry Christmas and peace in the new year.
Dear Carlos and Jill,
Pets are like family members, especially dogs. Please give Jill a hug for us and know that you are all in our thoughts and prayers. May your holiday be full of peace and light.
Hi, Mrs. Makoul,
Thanks for your kind words and especially for the much-needed hug. We appreciate your empathy. Best wishes for a joyful holiday season for you and yours.