I created this blog about two months after my beloved service dog, Gadget, died. Although he was my second SD, his death hit me much harder than the loss of Jersey, my first. While most early posts focus on Gadget and my grieving process, once my puppy (and future service-dog-in-training) arrived, these newer posts often focus on Barnum, especially our training process and my struggle to manage my grief while raising and training a puppy/successor.
If you’ve come to After Gadget to get support for a loss of an assistance dog, or a pet dog, too, I’d like these posts to be easy to find. I hope that they support you in your grief, by letting you know you are not the only one going through these feelings and experiences. There are probably other posts that might fulfill this need for some — and I’m sure I’ll write more on the topic of grief in the future — but for now, here are some of the posts that deal with issues such as Gadget’s cancer journey, his death, my grieving process, and other posts with resources for assistance dog loss. I hope you find them helpful.
Fresh Grief – Posts from the First Few Weeks or Months After Gadget’s Death
Beginning After the End (the first post)
- Excerpt: This blog is about surviving a devastating loss – the death of a service dog – a loss that most people are very sympathetic to, yet few really understand. It’s about a dog who liked to chase squirrels, slam doors, and let himself out when he wasn’t supposed to. It’s about a fierce, deep, quiet love. After Gadget celebrates and mourns this special dog and shares my journey of finding ways to live without Gadget’s heart and practical assistance, even as I take on a new pup to train in his pawprints. It’s a place for others who have, or will, experience a similar loss to find comfort and joy. Or anyone who wants to know how, deeply rooted, the human/canine bond can grow.
- Excerpt: I’m having the dreams again. The death dreams. They started the morning Gadget died and lasted every night for a week. Then they went away for six weeks, until right before the puppies were born. This timing seems backwards — the punishing sadness of death right when I’m so elated over new life — but what I’m learning about grief is that often feelings that seem to be the opposite of what they “should” be are actually flip sides of the same coin.
- Excerpt: My whole body aches with missing Gadget: his nose, his breath, his muzzle, talking to him. My list of the what I miss most about my service dog, as I prepare for my new puppy. As in meditation practice, I keep circling back to the breath.
Grief About the Loss of a Service Dog (Loss of Assistance/Partnership)
- Excerpt: My service dog, Gadget, was my bridge to communication with others in my household, as you see in this short video. Without Gadget’s help, I’ve turned to technological aides, which have both freed and frustrated me, making Gadget’s absence even more keenly felt.
- Excerpt: How can I even put into words what Gadget meant to me, how inextricably he was entwined in my life, how he was a part of my body, mind, and soul? It’s a struggle I have every day now, as the anniversary of his death descends on me, and my grief at his loss feels overwhelming.
- Excerpt: Maybe you didn’t have it a lot or maybe it didn’t hit you until your third dog; but comparing, and finding you don’t love or like second dog as much as first dog, is as natural as dogs greeting by smelling each others’ back ends, but not nearly as much fun. The first step in dealing with second dog syndrome is accepting it as real and forgivable.
On Treating Gadget’s Cancer & Coping with his Death
- Description: Lists of how I was lived with Gadget’s illness when he was in remission, when he was getting sick, when he was dying, and after he died. Shows how the experience of being caretaker/partner was transformed by his cancer and how hard it was to let go of that role, even after he died.
- Description: On the one-year anniversary of Gadget’s death, I use pictures to show the changes we went through, from before diagnosis, through remission, and then when he was dying.
- Description: Although this post is about Gadget’s last night, writing it felt uplifting and cathartic, because there were moments of great peace, joy, and spirituality in it, along with surprise and some truly wild adventure. I think this is one of the posts that struck a cord with the most readers.
- Description: This post is mostly about anticipatory grief, and how much I wished “it would all be over” when Gadget was dying and I was doing home hospice, even though I didn’t want him to die. It’s about my mixed feelings of loss and despair as well as relief after he died, and a sense of having lost my role as caretaker. I wrote this post less than two months after Gadget died, but I didn’t publish it until almost two years later. So, it shows how raw my feelings were in the immediate aftermath, as well as how my grief has changed over time.
Grief Over Time or Over Multiple Losses
- Description: May 12, 2009 was the date that Gadget was diagnosed with lymphoma. I also experienced a lot of other grief at this time, as I was reminded of the loss of a good friend who died January 2009, another friend who stopped speaking to me this past year, and the losses associated with the severe worsening of my Lyme disease from 2007-2010.
- Description: A post about how many losses I cope with, and how sad I am in that moment, when I feel overwhelmed by them. Also describes in a funny way how Barnum, my adolescent service-dog-in-training cheers me up by being playful and goofy, which helps pull me out of my dark moods.
- Description: Two years after Gadget’s death, I write about how I listened to the Communards’ song, “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” as a way to let out some of my grief. Includes music video and links to transcript and captioned music video.
Offering Support to Someone Who Has Lost an Assistance Dog
- Description: A year-and-a-half after Gadget’s death, reflections on what was helpful or unhelpful in the immediate aftermath of grief, as well as during this later upwelling of grief. The main focus is that there is no one right way to grieve, and that what I find most helpful from others is openness and invitation to share my feelings with them, whatever form they may take.
- Description: Short post with a link to an international, nondenominational website where you can light a virtual candle in honor or memory of someone (of any species) and share the link with that person. The candle “burns” for 48 hours, and you can leave a message for them to let them know that you’re thinking of them or their lost loved one.