Beginning After the End

Here are some numbers:

On November 19, 2009, Gadget, my Bouvier des Flandres service dog, died of cancer. That was five weeks and three days ago. He was nine-and-a-half. We waged war against the cancer for six months. Depending on who you quote, from one-in-four to one-in-eight dogs in the US will die of cancer this year. So, we are in good (or rather, bad) company.

But this blog is not about numbers. It’s about surviving a devastating loss that most people are very sympathetic to, yet few really understand – the loss of a service dog.

It’s about a dog who liked to chase squirrels, slam doors, and let himself out when he wasn’t supposed to. He loved stinky things like cheese and liver — and long-dead carrion! — and me. We shared a fierce, deep, quiet love.

It’s about celebrating him, mourning him, finding ways to live without his love and without his practical assistance. It’s about the emotional and physical journey of grieving a star of a service dog while beginning the raising of a new pup. It’s a place for others who have, or will, experience a similar loss to find comfort and joy.

Sharon asleep in bed with Gadget sleeping between Sharon's legs with his head on her thigh.

We fell asleep together

Why start this blog now?

Why not the day after Gadget died? From a practical standpoint, that probably would have made more sense, but nothing about death is practical or neat. Until now, I’ve been too much in shock to do much of anything. I still am in shock most of the time. In fact, right now, writing this blog is the only thing that does make sense.

Why This Blog?

First of all, it’s a way for me to grieve and make sense of this loss. I’m a writer, and so far I haven’t found a way to “cope” that feels like it works. Writing about Gadget, sharing his life and story with the world, seems like the natural path. I’ll share my feelings and my memories of Gadget as a joyful, loving spirit; as a working partner; as a teammate in training and creative problem solving; as a playmate and clown; as my means of survival. In words, in photos, in video. Fortunately for you, he was beautiful.

Gadget with long hair in the winter, lying in the sun

Gadget last winter

I also hope that for you, if you’ve gone through a similar loss, this will help you grieve, too. Grief in all its forms is welcome here: numbness, anger, denial, sadness, loss, relief, questioning, or whatever you feel.

There are very few resources that I’ve found for grieving the death of an assistance dog.

There are groups who understand the loss of a beloved pet dog. I belong to one such listserv, and it has been a lifeline. The people on it are loyal and open and funny and kind. I love them.

Still, some parts of my loss are unlike theirs. Tonight, for example, I had a lot of trouble getting out of my bedroom because I couldn’t open my door. And I couldn’t call for help because I’m often nonverbal. If Gadget was still alive, not only would he have opened the door, he would have been happy to open it. It would have been fun for him, a game. He would have wondered, “Will I get some liver for this?”

When people help me, even when they are doing it because they love me or they’re being paid to help me, or both, they are never thrilled to do it. Sometimes they are resentful, frustrated, irritated. Sometimes they’re not bothered at all, but I worry that they are, anyway.

When I cry over the loss of Gadget, it’s not just his soft fur, his wet nose, his deep brown eyes, his beating heart against mine, it’s also how much physically harder and more limited my life has become. How much more dependent and scary. His death has created so many layers of aloneness in my life. Some of these layers of aloneness are common for pet bereavement, but some are unique to assistance animal loss.

Sometimes it is even hard to get support from others who have lost service dogs. There are groups for assistance-dog partners who are grieving, but they may be small or inactive. My guess is that unless one is in the midst of grieving, it is too painful to be exposed to the topic. That emotional wound could reopen at any time, because — if we’re fortunate — we will outlive our assistance dogs, again and again. The choice to be a life-long service-dog partner is as Kafkaesque as it is fulfilling. Few who have escaped the black hole of that loss want to be reminded of staring into the abyss again.

This will be a refuge to cry, to remember, to distract yourself, to laugh, and to find little ways — or big ways — to move on. All forms of sincere emotion are welcome here. There is no wrong or right way to grieve. There is just emotion that moves through you, that rises and falls like waves, and the process of surviving loss.

The loss of an AD is not just that of the heart, but of love, companionship, independence, safety, and partnership.

The Coming Attraction

I will be getting a puppy in several weeks whom I will train to be my next service dog. The puppy is due to be born in a week, January 1, 2010.

Looking back necessitates looking forward, and vice-versa. Even as I mourn Gadget, I prepare for his successor. Training the new dog in a Gadgetless home will be part of my mourning process.

Here, you can join me on my journey as a severely and multiply disabled first-time puppy raiser!

It seems a ludicrous, risky undertaking. Even healthy people find puppies exhausting! Yet, I’d always planned for a puppy this time around, instead of adopting an adult or adolescent, as I’ve done in the past. I thought Gadget would be here to help train the pup, as his predecessor helped train him. Now it is just us humans to raise the pup, and me much more disabled than when I trained my previous SDs. Still, I am full of hope.

I am excited and nervous. I already anticipate the joy and frustration, the weariness and triumphs, and how it will take everything Gadget taught me to be very, very, very patient to get through two years of raising and training to get a working service dog again. A dog whom I am sure I will love and come to rely on, but who will never be Gadget.

There can only ever be one Gadget. He wasn’t my first service dog, but he was and for forever will be my best. (I think!)

I wish you’d gotten to know him as I did. But here at AfterGadget, you will know him a little. Thank you for joining us in this journey.


Sharon and the spirit of Gadget, forever my Muse

P.S. I welcome your thoughts and feelings on my journey or on your own journey — whether you are facing a current loss or have lived through it in the past. Leave comments below.

Gadget stands at water's edge in silhouette with natural blue background.

His last great adventure

42 Responses to “Beginning After the End”

  1. 1 Amy (Thunder Angels Mom) December 28, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    Oh, Sharon this was so beautifully written. You have such a way of presenting things. Gadget is looking down on you saying I am proud of you mommy…”woof”. I look forward to your other posts on “AfterGadget”. For the first time I actually felt somewhat at peace with my Angel boy. Thank you for the gift :-).

  2. 2 Leisa Wick December 28, 2009 at 5:10 pm

    Sharon, what a beautiful tribute–not just to yourself and your surviving this tremendous loss, but also to Gadget. Gadget was SO handsome–my, my, my!!! I loved those photos you chose to upload.

  3. 3 Amy P. December 28, 2009 at 9:41 pm

    Your blog is so moving and well done Sharon…I’m nearly speechless. What you are doing is one of the best tributes I have ever seen to a beloved companion, and you will help countless people in doing so. I agree with Amy and Leisa; beautifully written and the pictures of Gadget show what a gorgeous boy he was (inside and out). I wish you and your new puppy a wonderful 2010, and beyond! Love and light to you…

  4. 4 Sharon Wachsler December 28, 2009 at 10:41 pm

    Thank you so much for your comments. It means so much to know that this blog touches others who have lost our beloved dogs. Peace is such a hard thing to come by. The moments are fleeting, but priceless.

  5. 5 Sharon Wachsler December 28, 2009 at 10:44 pm

    Thank you Leisa and Amy P!
    Yes, I must agree that Gadget was a very handsome dude! If he were here, he would agree (though he would act like he didn’t care, because he liked to pretend he was cool).
    If I can write half as beautifully as Gadget lived, I will be on my way to achieving what I hoped for here. It’s a challenge to make my words live up to his spirit.

  6. 6 Catherine (Angel Casey's Mom) December 28, 2009 at 10:57 pm

    Sharon, I’m in tears. Your words are so special and they hit home. Gadget was such a special friend and a part of you. I feel your pain and your loss. It’s been 328 days since Casey went to the Rainbow Bridge, but the pain is as strong as the day he left. I know time will ease the pain, but when you know the love of a special pup it will take time to heal. Gadget was your best friend, you love and your heart and soul. I’m happy you started this blog. It will be a great place for all of us to express our thoughts.

  7. 7 bettina December 28, 2009 at 11:00 pm

    sharon – you are a wonderful writer. the love you had for gadget is clear in your words. it always has been. not only is this a wonderful tribute and a great tool for you to release and learn to heal, but it will surely help others that are faced with the same things.

  8. 8 Hilary December 29, 2009 at 4:28 pm


    You are such a talented writer, and I am glad you have found a way to keep Gadget’s spirit alive. I think about his adorable Muppet-y face every morning when I give Lilly his pine bark, etc., and it brings a smile to my face because I feel like it must make him happy to know that he is still helping others.

    I look forward to reading about your new experiences!

  9. 9 Kenneth Lederman January 1, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    Good luck with your new dog and may you repeat your success with Gadget.

  10. 10 Laura January 2, 2010 at 10:09 am

    What a great tribute to that special soul that was Gadget. You know me, I don’t need a service dog but you have seen first hand (remember Wednesday as a pup?) my love for animals and particularly dogs. We lost Alex to cancer after a difficult battle 2 years ago and Wednesday last year (probably of a broken heart after losing Alex. She appeared and acted like she was healthy). I’ve had pets and animals of all sorts my whole life, literally. I’ve loved them all but there a a few exceptional connections that I made with some that will forever surpass the others.
    I am glad you started this blog. It has been a difficult time for you. Have fun raising your next SD “from scratch”! If you need any pupy advise I am here, we have 2 at the same time right now…and yes they are exhausting at times but mostly just wonderful to watch and teach and love. BTW our one pup is deaf so it is quite the challange in training and behavior for us and her. She is smart though and eager to please so hopefully all will be well.
    Love you,
    Happy New Year, may 2010 be a good year for you and your new pup.

  11. 11 Sharon Wachsler January 2, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    Thank you so much for your comments. I’m so sorry you lost your beloved Casey. And in regards to your email address, thank you for helping all dogs and their people to fight canine cancer. All we really can do is love fiercely, grieve deeply, and try to use our experience — in whatever way works for us — to help others to prevent such losses or to survive them. You are doing all of that, and I am grateful to you.

  12. 12 Sharon Wachsler January 2, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    Bettina, Hilary, and Laura,
    I’m sorry you have had to wage the canine cancer battle, too, but so glad that you came here and posted. It’s become a cliche, but it’s still true: there is strength in community.
    Hilary, I had to laugh at your comment about Gadget being muppety, because we always called him that, too, when his hair got long. There is something so wonderful about a muppety face covered with hair, and that pink tongue hanging out! It’s as if you knew him!
    Laura, your post reminds me of one of my favorite articles, How to Train a Deaf Cat to Come Inside for Medication. I have complete faith in you learning to communicate with and train your deaf pup, but if ever you need some inspiration (and a laugh!), give that article a read.

  13. 13 Maggie January 2, 2010 at 1:02 pm


    This is really so warm and touching. I wish I had known Gadget longer as he was obviously such an amazing boy and had so much to share. Both of you have been an inspiration to me and in my own brushes with canine Lymphoma.

    Wishing you the very best in the new year, much happiness with your new puppy and our thoughts and heart are always with you.

    Maggie and Tucker

  14. 14 Karyn and Thane January 2, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    Oh Sharon! You know how much my heart goes out to you- Losing a service dog as special as Met and Gadget were- it changes you. During the process its like you can’t imagine life ever being OK, but in time little by little- the new pup evolves into this awesome successor- first its the little things like sit and come, then one day they surprise you and are doing the things you are teaching them- they emerge out of that awkward long legged clutsy stage and become in real life your sidekick.
    But right now is the part where you begin to pick up the pieces in tiny increments- and in doing so you have brought Gadget to all the world- your words are so eloquent that anyone who has suffered this depth of loss, can put themselves right back in your shoes. My loss may have happened over 2 years ago, but he is still very much a part of who I am, who I became, and the trainer I have been for Thane. This too will be the case with you dear friend- one moment, one day, one week, one month – before you realize it, you will have this new sidekick. It will have wormed its way into your heart. It won’t be Gadget. There will be plenty of times you wish it were, but eventually you will realize that you love this new dog for him or her. Your love for Gadget will remain forever as the heartdog connection, but there will be this awesome love and kinship with the new one that is just as wonderful- just as good, but different as it will be all theirs. Today I think of my Met at times and chuckle while I train Thane things trying to avoid the funny moments that were oopses in Met’s training, but all the while knowing the dogs will and are forever linked by the lessons taught by Met both through health and through training. My best to you dear friend. Keep Writing!

  15. 15 Mary January 5, 2010 at 12:17 pm

    My deepest and most heartfelt condolences to you, Sharon. As I have never needed a service dog, I cannot even begin to imagine all of the losses and pain you are experiencing. But I have survived the death of many beloved cats and dogs and I have felt their losses keenly. I am forever changed by all of my non-human relationships, as I know you have been by your deep bond with Gadget. I look forward to hearing all about your experiences with your new puppy.
    From a Sick Humor fan,

  16. 16 Laura January 6, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    I am so enjoying your journey. Maybe enjoying is not the right word but I feel the connection in your loss and appreciate what you are going through.
    BTW thought you might enjoy the fact that a Catholic Blog site is listing your Gadget blog as a resource. Here’s the link:
    Enjoy. Oh the irony 🙂

  17. 17 Lisa Gray January 6, 2010 at 6:46 pm

    Hi Sharon,
    I am so sorry to hear about Gadget’s death. I hadn’t heard yet until I got your email yesterday. Wow, I can only imagine what you are going through. Thank you for doing this blog. What a gift this will be to others going through a similar journey.

    I’m subscribing!


  18. 18 Sharon Wachsler January 7, 2010 at 6:26 pm

    Thank you so much for your comments. Your success with Thane as your successor to your heartdog assistance dog, Met, gives me hope and inspiration that I can do it, too. Although, as you say, I’m sure there will be oopses!

  19. 19 Sharon Wachsler January 7, 2010 at 6:31 pm

    Thank you so much for your comment. Indeed, I have suffered losses of other dogs and cats before, too, and they were also profound. Gadget’s illness and death have been life altering in a new way, and I am still groping my way through it.
    And how wonderful to have a Sick Humor fan find me and support me on this journey. Thank you!!! That means the world.
    I promise you, eventually, some humor (and, being who I am, disability-wise and personality-wise, I can guarantee it will be sick), will find its way into these posts, too. Actually, Gadget had a really terrific sense of humor. It’s one of the themes we noticed from people who wrote remembrances of him for his memorial. So, I gotta bring back some of his trickster spirit into this blog, too. 😉

  20. 20 Sharon Wachsler January 7, 2010 at 6:43 pm

    Thanks so much for following along!
    I think “enjoying” is totally OK. I know why that might feel weird, but there are many ways to enjoy. My hope was to connect deeply to myself and to Gadget’s memory, and to convey that and connect to my readers. To me, any meeting of the minds and hearts is the best kind of enjoyment, even if there is sadness as part of it.
    And, yes, I saw that wheeliecatholic had posted about aftergadget, and I was so honored and pleased! I have read wheeliecatholic sometimes in the past, and I think we have “bumped into each other” in the virtual world working on some of the same disability rights efforts.
    Wheeliecatholic is a respected blog, and I’m truly grateful for spreading the gospel of Gadget! In fact, one of the things I enjoy so much about the disability rights community is that, for the most part, we are so used to and accepting of such a wide array of differences that we focus more on the barriers we are all facing, and not so much on erecting barriers among us. (I think [?] that’s part of the reason wheeliecatholic uses a small “c” in the masthead – the dual meaning of catholic/Catholic.)
    I look forward to more of your comments!

  21. 21 Sharon Wachsler January 7, 2010 at 6:49 pm

    Thank you, Lisa! It’s been so long — it will be wonderful to have you following along. You bring so much to any journey.

  22. 22 Abigail Astor January 10, 2010 at 5:20 pm

    Not only was Gadget a great service dog, but he was beautiful. The photos of him put a huge smile on my face. I still ache for my beloved Trumble even though she lived a good, long life and I was not physically dependent on her. You will never stop missing Gadget, but having a puppy to train should help a little bit to fill that huge empty space–it will certainly keep you busy. I am sending you positive energy. I look forward to reading your future blogs. Good luck!!!

  23. 23 barbara folan January 12, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    I really feel your pain. I lost my dear friend and the canine love of my life to a bad vaccine reaction on November 1, 2009. It was horrible and really broke my heart and spirit. In the end he was so sick he had to be euthanized. It’s the worst thing I’ve ever had to do and the hardest experiece to navigate thru this loss.
    I see so much of my own thoughts and feeling in your words. I kept a journel to get thru this and I see the commonality of sentiment reflected throughout. It’s the language of loss. Somedays I cryed so hard that I almost vomited and then there’s the days where it’s hard to go on.
    The lessons still keep coming and still I look for my friend Eli in different ways everyday. All I can do is pray that love embraces his spirit somewhere in someway. In my heart love is always there for him.
    Peace to you through this time of loss, change and growth. Peace to your dear friend Gadget and his beautiful soul.
    Eli was a dear love to me

  24. 24 Sharon Wachsler January 15, 2010 at 7:45 pm

    Thank you for your comment. I’m so sorry to hear about Eli. Yes, I know just what you mean. I have almost vomited on occasion from crying so hard, too. I didn’t even know that could happen. What a growth opportunity neither of us needed, huh?
    The vaccinosis is a terrible thing. You know, Gadget had bad reactions to vaccines, too. One of my best friends — my assistance dog mentor — her first assistance dog and heart dog also had vaccinosis, and it caused him health problems, including epilepsy, his whole life. Gadget’s reaction wasn’t as severe, thank God, but after trying a very low dose of killed rabies vaccine and having him react badly to that for the weeks after, my vet and I decided he should just “fly under the radar.”
    More and more people are learning about the dangers of vaccinating, and especially overvaccinating. I hope our vet reported Eli’s death. Most of the time, these incidents go unreported.
    I’m so sorry for your loss. But I’m very glad you’ve found your way here. I do think, as you say, the language of loss is universal.
    You will get through. And your writing is lovely. I like that — “love embraces his spirit.” I hope so, too, dear Eli.

  25. 25 Sharon Wachsler January 15, 2010 at 7:48 pm

    Thank you so much, Abigail. I’m so sorry about Trumble. Even when you know it’s coming, and it’s “her time,” it still hurts.
    And yes, I do agree, Gadget was beautiful. My favorite image of him ever is running through the fields, with his ears flopping up and down. He was so gorgeous when he ran. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

  26. 26 Michael Lee Johnson January 15, 2010 at 7:57 pm

    Being a pet lover and someone who has suffered from depression off and on over my 62 years, I certainly relate to the lose and dread the day, the love of my life, Nikki my cat, leaves. Sometimes sadness can become beautiful if you can keep the tears back.
    Michael Lee Johnson, poet, Itasca, IL.

  27. 27 Duncan Long January 15, 2010 at 9:06 pm

    I’m so glad you took the plunge and started your blog – and so well done. It is good to let people know how you feel — and also to let people see that many of the trials they go through are not unique to them, but something many of us suffer through (too often silently) throughout our lives.

    I’m hoping you can keep up the good work and will try to keep on keeping on during this down time with the loss of your pet and good friend.

  28. 28 Sharon Wachsler January 16, 2010 at 8:51 am

    Hi Duncan,
    Thank you. I appreciate your comments. And it’s nice to “see you” again after all these years. I hope you’re writing is going well and that I’ll hear more from you again.

  29. 29 Thomas Gagnon January 16, 2010 at 10:05 pm

    I like the sentence, “He would have wondered, ‘Will I get some liver from this?'” I like the concept of making a game out of a task. I wonder–can I do that?

  30. 30 Nancy Kosling January 17, 2010 at 2:30 am

    Sharon and community,
    I’m not used to blogging at all. Emails emano/emano yes. Our state local bar-blog to discuss personal and business isssues, even where we want to go during the summer, yes. I feel like a voyeur where I shouldn’t be.

    Yes, I’m a wheelie 99% of the time. I just retired from a good paying job after 35 years. Loading the folding wheelchair in and out of my car six times a day just got too much for my energy and strenghth level. I’m trying to get the retirement-bugs worked out… like getting a penion annuity set up so I have cash flow from my buyout.

    Like you I take Plaquinel and was afraid of long term use because of drug induced blindness in some patients from the drug. It seemed to take so many months for the drug to show any effectiveness, I couldn’t guage if it made me better or not.

    Doctors are a lot like dogs, they can have short attention spans with a level of concern near zero.

    I look forward to photos of your new puppy-to-be in training during the year.

    May the year give you many blessings. Nancy Kosling

  31. 31 Sharon Wachsler January 17, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    Thanks for your comment. Don’t worry, you did just fine. 🙂
    This one is in response to the latest post, I think, “Eyeteeth,” from the note about Plaquinil.
    There are some new pics up of the puppies from that breeder. There’s the first litter, which is now about 2.5 weeks old, taken a few days ago, and then there is a second litter of newborns. If the right SD candidate doesn’t seem to be in the first litter, she will evaluate the second.

  32. 32 Sharon Wachsler January 17, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    Thomas, do you mean, can you do this for others (dogs or humans or other species) — make a task or learning a game/fun? Or do you mean, can you do it for yourself? Either way, the answer is probably, “Yes.”
    My “guru” is Karen Pryor, who started the clicker revolution. I always recommend her book, Don’t shoot the Dog! to anyone who wants to learn about teaching, training, learning, applied behavioral psychology, etc. There is a section on clicker training and dogs, but the book is NOT about dog training. It’s about the different ways people try to modify behavior (punishment, positive or negative reinforcement, eliminate the problem, extinction, change the motivation, etc.) and how each works or fails to work, and why. She uses examples throughout of people (yourself, your boss, your kid) as well as animals (dogs, cats, elephants, polar bears, etc.). It’s fascinating and educational. I have “trained” myself, my friends, my dogs, my cats, etc., using her book as my guide. It’s a best seller and has been reprinted many times. Try to get the most recent edition.

  33. 33 Nancy Kosling January 17, 2010 at 6:36 pm

    Lyme disease? In Texas it is difficult for doctors to diagnose Lyme in a timely manor to alter the signs caused because of secondary stages Lyme.

    I grew up in New Mexico where Bubonic plague still infects at least half dozen folks a year. The first 48-hours after the bite looks just like the flu. If the doctor gets it right, they live. May people take their pets out to wilderness areas and let them do their business. Dogs sniff out the odors of dead animals and bushes. If an infected animal died, the fleas jumped off the animal at death and onto brush to wait for their next host. The city dog comes along and sniffs the area. The fleas jump on their next host. You would think dead dog! No. Canus (dogs, coyotes, wolves) are not effected by Bubonic plague micro organisms in their blood stream, but contaminated fleas on the dog can jump from the dog to his owner, giving pesti to the owner. Lyne is a rickettsia/spirochete illness like Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. How long did the parasite critters beat you up before the doctors identified them? My youngest son at scout camp as a child was bit by a flea on his upper leg. His lymph locations in his groin and stomach swelled with pain and then each lymph higher up became infected trying to cope with the spreading rickettsia. Because it was treated immediately the doctors got it under control. He had another flare six months later and another round of medicine appeared to end new out break. Nancy

  34. 34 Sharon Wachsler January 18, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    Hi Nancy,
    Since I didn’t mention Lyme in this first post, I’m going to put my reply after the post I think you’re asking about, “Eyeteeth.” Just to try to prevent confusion.

  35. 35 Glenda Barrett January 19, 2010 at 7:28 pm

    I did not realize your dog was a service dog since we’d only met through the computer with our work. I’m sure the loss feels as keenly as another human being because Gadget was your best buddy. He really is adorable, and I’m truly sorry that you lost him. Sharon as you write about your experience so well, if I were you I might consider a book. You’ve probably had a lot of experiences over the years with your dog, and I’m not sure I’ve read a lot of books about those kind of stories. They may be out there, I might just have not be looking.
    It’s quite clearly the survivor in you has reached out to others with your story, and I’m sure it will help with your grieving. My poetry chapbook came after many losses. In fact before I sent it off, a friend said one day, “There’s too much sadness in it.” Another lady spoke up who writes so well and said, “That is how life can be, filled with sadness.” So I didnt change much. I sent my manuscript out and it was published.
    Good luck Sharon with your blog. It looks like you’re well on your way with it. All the best! Glenda Barrett

  36. 36 Sharon Wachsler January 21, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    Glenda, Thanks so much for the compliment and for your encouragement. I have actually started several books (a book of poetry for children, a compilation of my Sick Humor essays, and a science fiction novel, to name just a few), but I always end up too sick to complete them. Natalie Goldberg refers to a novel (and I think it applies to any full-length book) as “a whale” of a project. Right now, all I can handle are these minnows of blog posts, which to me, feel like dolphins, at least! I hope some day to be able to follow your inspiring example.
    And yes, I agree, some of the saddest things I’ve ever read were sometimes the most meaningful. In some ways, even brought me the most joy. It can be an uphill battle to publish truth/reality in our smiley-face, take-a-happy-pill, sitcom culture.

  37. 37 jeannette bonifas March 22, 2010 at 9:33 pm

    hi sharon,
    i am a friend of linda h. and i came to your house about 10 years ago. so much has happened since then. i am so sorry for your loss. Gadget was a wonderful companion. you know so much about dog training! Reading your blog i was reminded of my loss of Cappie, and english setter that i rescued when she was 4. She was a totally sweetheart and died of cancer at 6. Six month later i got a 8 week old english setter named Kerry. She is now 2 and a half and a total delight. I was hesitant to get another dog, but immediately i knew i made the right decision. So good luck, and enjoy your new puppy!

  38. 38 Sharon Wachsler April 2, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    Thank you, Jeannette! I hope you have many long, happy years with Kerry. I’m sorry to hear about Cappie. Canine cancer is truly an epidemic. I’m glad you found After Gadget!

  39. 39 Em June 18, 2012 at 7:39 pm

    My 10 year old service dog died last week. He was healthy and as youthful as a puppy up until a month ago, then suddenly he had cancer so widespread there was no way to help him. I feel so lost. I’m overwhelmed and though my family loves me and misses him too, they don’t really get it. It made such a difference to me to read about Gadget, the way he was so happy to help you. My dog was too. I can’t understand how to get through this.

  40. 40 Sharon Wachsler June 19, 2012 at 4:21 pm

    Dear Em,

    I’m so sorry to hear of your loss. I can imagine that you are in shock, feeling lost and lonely without your SD.
    Cancer is a beast. Regardless of whether it was a long, drawn-out battle or a short one, it’s devastating to lose your assistance dog to cancer.

    As to how to get through it, I wish I had a simple answer. I have found grief very confusing and overwhelming. I never realized how much work grieving was and how long it took, before. It’s been 2.5 years since Gadget died, and I guess all I can say is that it does get easier. I am now able to remember Gadget with joy and love, and sometimes pain, but for the first year, it’s all a blur. It was such a struggle. The first weeks and months are agonizingly painful, often, I think.

    I just encourage you to find support for your grief wherever you can and to hold onto the fact that there is no one way, no right way, to grieve. Everyone does it differently. Some people want to look at pictures and videos all the time, and some can’t bear to see them. Some want to talk about it and can’t stop crying, and others are numb and can’t feel a thing. Just let your emotions lead you, and let the people who you feel comfortable with support you. If you have an idea of what might be helpful to you, you can ask them if they are willing and able to offer you that kind of support.

    For three years I’ve meant to put up a lot of grief resources here, and I haven’t done much of it, but here are a few that might be of some help.

    This is a page on service dog loss by the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement. They no longer have a service dog group or page, but I found this through a cache search online. You might find it affirming:

    This page is on normal signs and experiences of grief. I found it very helpful. It’s not specific to SDs; it’s for any companion animal, but I think a lot of it is relevant:

    Lastly, if you are a member of IAADP, I just learned from my newsletter that I got a couple of days ago that they are trying to start a telephone support group for people who have recently lost their partners or who are about to lose them. If you’re not a member of IAADP, I encourage you to join. You can learn more about it at

    I have been very touched by your comment, and I will try to post more grief resources soon on the main blog.

  41. 41 Em June 20, 2012 at 2:20 pm

    Thank you so much for the resources. They are helpful. It’s good to know that grieving can take so many forms, I thought I was going crazy. Sometimes I’m just numb and in shock, sometimes I cry so hard I don’t think I’m ever going to stop. Mornings are the hardest, waking up and discovering again that he’s not there. Mostly thank you for understanding. When I read your response I cried again, but there was comfort mixed in with the pain, because you’ve been there, and I’m not as alone as I’ve felt.

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