When Casper died, we weren't ready. While we never could have been ready to lose him, the timing--4 days from the first sign of any illness--was really brutal. Then, in another unexpected turn of events, we adopted our new pup, Willie, pretty shortly after losing Casper. It's all been a lot, with highest highs and lowest lows. Today I want to share a little bit of what I've been feeling in the aftermath, in the hopes that others can relate or take comfort.
I have several blog posts that I've drafted or am planning to write, but I keep coming back to what's actually on the forefront of my mind: worrying, fear, and paranoia from watching Casper's life slip away so quickly right in front of me.
I am no mental health expert, nor have I done a lot of research on this. But, I got a few messages and comments after posting about Casper from people who had also lost pets recently, and my hope is that sharing my experience will help--both myself and anyone who might be reading.
In short, since Casper died and since getting Willie, I have been VERY paranoid about Willie's health. A few examples: Grace and I asked our vet if Willie could have bone cancer because he had a slight limp--like we were first time dog parents or something! I snapped at Grace after she played with Willie and he tripped and fell, irrationally, and felt badly afterward. Willie got fleas (gross. I know. It's common right after they come home from the shelter) and I acted like he had an incurable disease. Willie threw up some white foam after eating some dirt while we were out in the desert, which is a common stomach reaction, and I became convinced it was Bloat and he was about to die. And just generally, I worry. Willie isn't a puppy, and we don't know much about his history, but otherwise, there is NOTHING about him to rationally make me believe that he is ill or has any health issues whatsoever. But ever since losing Casper, I can't be rational. In fact, I ended up worrying myself sick, as I am currently writing this post stuck in bed with my bedside table covered in tissues, cold medicine, and fever reducers. And what was my first reaction to being so ill? Googling, "can dogs catch the flu from humans." It's a little wild how paranoid I can make myself. (For those wondering, I found a couple of websites claiming that dogs can catch the human flu in rare circumstances, but it seems like they pretty much can't).
It's funny, because up until the end, I thought Casper would live forever. I mean, not forever forever, but for many more years at least. He would have days where he was super lethargic, and he had a collection of moles and skin tags that seemed to multiply daily, but I just didn't think anything of it. Now, poring over photos of him, I see how incredibly white he had gone in his last months, especially compared with when we adopted him. In the top photo in this post (taken the day before he died), you can tell he was an old boy. But I saw him as my little baby who would always be there.
Now, Willie has the energy of a 2-year old (though we think he is older) and the elastic skin and shiny, healthy coat of a puppy. But I act like it's the opposite. Casper's eyes were covered in cataracts, and Willie's shine so clearly and brightly that I have had strangers comment on how crystal-clear his eyes are. And yet, I can't accept that he could just be a healthy dog that will be ours for years to come.
Here is another example of my level of worrying: the other day while I was out of the house and had left Willie at home, I randomly scrolled through my phone and saw an article someone posted about parents accidentally leaving their kids in the car, and the kids dying of heatstroke. I suddenly felt like my throat was closing up. Could I have accidentally left Willie in the car?!?!?
What? No. That is a beyond ridiculous thought. But that's the level of paranoid I've been dealing with. Willie was safe and sound. But even now, as he sleeps at the foot of my bed, I catch myself watching his stomach, just to see if he's breathing.
Warning: this post doesn't really end with an epiphany of me "getting over" this feeling. I'm not sure that I ever will after going through the shock and horror of losing Casper. But I can trust. All of the things that I wrote about in my post about adopting Willie--the meant-to-be-signs, the coincidences, and the gut feeling that led to us adopting him about 30 minutes after first laying eyes on him--those have to mean something. Losing Casper showed me how fragile life can be, but it's also strong and resilient. I believe that's especially true with shelter pets. They get a new lease on life when they are adopted that I think really does extend their lives. I have no way of knowing how long Casper would have lived had he stayed in the shelter for another year, or stayed a stray, or stayed in an abusive home, but I think it would have been shorter. Same with Willie. He'd already lived in the shelter for a year, and I think the reason he feels like a puppy to us is because he, himself, feels like one! He gets to play in the waves and sleep on the people bed and meet new dog friends and eat yummy food. I have to believe that will prolong his life beyond what it would have been.
We don't get to keep our dogs forever. It's the natural course of things for us to outlive them. But natural as it might be, it doesn't make it any easier to accept. Just know that if you worry yourself sick over your dog's health, you're not losing your grip on reality. Maybe I'm just saying that to reassure myself that I'M not losing it, but so be it. If you've been feeling similarly to what I've described in this post, I offer solidarity :)
Wishing those of you reading with pets many, many more years of snuggles and happiness together.