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The Giveaway: On the Loss of a Beloved Pet

For the first time, I missed the writing deadline for my monthly PPG blog this month.  Sadly, it was unavoidable, as I could muster neither the energy or the words to do so.

We each lose our beloved pets, and in the past couple of years I have read far too many posts from PPG colleagues expressing the loss of their pet, most of whom have been dogs.  I read each post with tears in my eyes, sharing the sorrow with my dear force-free colleagues, remembering my own painful losses.

How do we cope with this pain?

I think it is a learning process, sadly requiring repetition as we face each loss in our lifetime and struggle to cope with it.  At least that has been my experience.

Medicine Wheel. Photo: Daniel H. Antolec

On October 17, 2020 I suddenly lost Buddha, my canine soul mate.  Like everyone else who suffers such a loss, each day since then has been a struggle for  me to adapt to the new reality.  Today I received a card in the mail which referred to the compassionate act of my friend, the chair of PPG Shock-Free Coalition and fellow graduate of my high school alma mater, Don Hanson.

I am sharing this in the hope that it helps other PPG colleagues as they struggle to cope with their losses.  It can feel as though you are quite alone in your pain, but PPG is a compassionate community and you may find comfort accepting their acts of kindness in your support.

This was my personal response to Don Hanson.

Compassion, In Action

Dear Don,

Today I received a sympathy card from The Labrador Connection, an organization which I have had a 13-year relationship with. In the handwritten note I learned that you gave a very generous donation to TLC in memory of Buddha.

I am moved by your generosity, compassion, and kindness. You did not know Buddha, but you would have loved him as I have loved him. He was a gentle soul who inspired me to become a professional trainer and behavior consultant, and to specialize in helping dogs who suffered anxiety and fear.

Buddha taught me more about dogs than I would ever have learned otherwise, he helped me (with Gandhi) in my group training classes, and later in my individual work with families whose dogs were anxious and leash reactive.

He was also my Pet Partners therapy dog for six years and I was amazed at how he affected people, and even changed their lives. One moving experience occurred during a visit to the maximum-security prison at Columbia Correctional Facility. Buddha and Gandhi were among a select few therapy dogs who helped launch a new therapeutic program for inmates who were at high risk among the general population and were in treatment programs directed by the prison psychologist and social worker.

During one special visit an inmate, who had not spoken for years to anyone, met Buddha. He showed me the photograph of his (deceased) German Shepherd and spoke first to Buddha, and then to me. We held a conversation for 10 or 15 minutes until his time was up. I looked around the room and saw the psychologist, social worker and guards smiling from ear to ear.

It was a magical moment and a breakthrough in that poor suffering man’s life. As the inmate walked toward the exit, he stopped to speak with every other inmate who was waiting in line for the opportunity to visit with our dogs, and he showed them the treasured photograph of his beloved lost dog.

I was so immensely proud of Buddha, and the awesome power of Dog Medicine.

On another occasion we visited a juvenile detention facility in Janesville. The kids we met were not criminals, they were abused and neglected and had to live in a secure facility for their own protection. Among them was a 10 or 12-year-old boy. He was in protective custody, waiting for a foster family.

I heard him wailing in anguish in a room adjacent to the large room where all the other kids were gathered. There were two adult staff members present and they each tried to console the boy, without success. He was endangered by his own family and had to leave his pet Pitbull in the hands of those who meant him harm. It broke his heart, and mine to learn of it.

After a long period of mournful crying the boy poked his head out the door and saw the three therapy dog teams. They were Buddha, Gandhi and another dog with their human handlers. The boy stopped crying and slowly approached Buddha with a terribly sad look on his face.

As soon as the boy reached out to him, Buddha licked him on the face It was a breach of Pet Partners protocol and I held my breath for a moment, until the boy declared joyfully “Buddha kissed me!”

He spent the next 15 minutes or so petting Buddha, thanking me, and then walked about the room with a happy expression, engaging with the other kids and therapy dog teams. When it was time for us to leave, he shook our hands with a smile on his face and said goodbye.  Once again, I was awestruck by the power of a dog’s gentle healing heart. Buddha was such a dog.

Now I seek that healing power, daily, for what is life without a dog?

Your kind donation may well give the next Buddha, or Gandhi, the opportunity to live up to their full potential and thus help untold numbers of people, and dogs, in their lifetime. I am grateful to you Don, and to others who have made donations to honor Buddha.

We each lose the pets we love and hold dear, eventually. It is part of the Giveaway, as some Native Americans teachers once informed me. In time we lose everything and must then give up ourselves. Buddha has returned to Mother Earth, where we all go in our own time. Once more, he has gone ahead to teach me how to walk the path of this Earth Walk, living life in a good way.

Dogs are a blessing to this world, for we poor humans are weak and pitiful, and we seldom find the way on our own. Without their guidance I think we would spend our lives, lost in darkness. I would have.

Many thanks to you, my friend.

If you have suffered such a loss, I implore you to be kind to yourself and take whatever amount of time is necessary to grieve.  When I lost my first puppy, I cried for her each day for six months, and felt the pain of it for two years.  The more significant a dog is in the meaning of our life, the deeper and longer we may suffer the loss.

That is OK, and we will be OK.  The most important thing, I believe, is to continue remembering our pet.  In doing so, they may become…immortal.

If We Care Enough About An Animal

If we care enough about an animal

Its spirit will continue to live.

If we don’t

its sprit won’t.

Because of this

the Indians took feathers

from a dead eagle.

Victor Bull Bear

Gone, but not forgotten. Photo: Daniel H. Antolec

I challenge each of you to make a donation to whatever adoption organization you feel most attached to.  I confess that my bias is toward The Labrador Connection, but supporting any such organization gives hope to countless pets who deserve a second chance at enjoying a great life, as Buddha did.

All My Relations.

© Daniel H. Antolec

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