This piece was published in the Pasadena Star News on March 23, 2008.
I used to lower Cookie over the block wall separating our backyards so she could spend
the afternoon stretched out on the couch in Wilbur’s family room. Cookie was our
slightly neurotic female Beagle and Wilber was our neighbor, well into his retirement
years, who loved to spend long, lazy afternoons with Cookie by his side.
My dog and my neighbor spent many happy years together until Wilbur’s 95-year-old
mother died and Wilbur sold the home he raised his family in and moved to Lake
Havasu. For weeks after he left, Cookie kept running over to the wall and stared at it,
waiting for Wilbur to reach his arms over the wall to pick her up. Eventually, she gave
up and resumed her place in her doggie bed in the family room.
Wilbur and I exchanged Christmas cards after he moved and I always included pictures
of Cookie. His son stopped by a few weeks ago and told me Wilbur died after
complications from surgery.
Last Saturday morning we took Cookie to the veterinarian and bid her farewell after
her liver started to fail and we decided not to pursue aggressive medical treatment for
our 13-year-old dog. She was tired and so we put her to rest. Our former neighbor
Wilbur and Cookie were parted forever, or reunited, depending on how you look at it.
You don’t have to believe in an afterlife or have a deep religious conviction about the
spirit continuing after death to imagine Wilbur and Cookie on the couch, enjoying each
other’s company once again. When you lose a pet, the loss isn’t equal to the loss
of a spouse or a child, but it is the loss of a family member just the same.
This is especially true when you make the decision to put a dog down and she looks at
you through her cataract clouded eyes with complete trust as you say goodbye for the
last time. That kind of moment taps into a part of one’s heart that bears deep pain.
People may think I am naïve or even stupid to gain comfort from the loss of a neighbor
and a dog by imagining them on a couch in the sky, but I made that choice. When I
think of Wilbur I could imagine his body buried deep in the earth, over and done with,
but that is far from a comforting thought. I could entertain the macabre thought of
Cookie being cremated, along with other dogs, which is an even more depressing image.
I choose instead to imagine Cookie and Wilbur together, reunited in the spirit world, far
from liver problems and surgery suites. I will always carry that cheerful image of two
friends, one canine and one human, when my thoughts go back to my neighbor and
Nobody really knows where we go after we die, but those of us left on this side of life
can be depressed, or sustained, by our images of where our loved ones are after they
leave us. It is our choice.