It’s October first, and my heart is broken. My sweet Cocker Spaniel, Curley Sue, died today. She would have been 11 next Valentine’s day, her chosen birthday, because when we got her in April, 1995, the vet said she was about eight weeks old, so we picked Valentine’s Day for her special day.

Curley was found by friend Sue Dell, wandering the streets in the Tujunga area, and after an extensive search, no owner could be found, so because Sue knew we were looking for a puppy, Curley became ours. The tiny, adorable, black and white Cocker Spaniel wiggled her way into our hearts right away. As we were driving to pick her up, I said “Wouldn’t Curley be a good name for her?” Richard didn’t think so, but when we got to Sue’s, she said “I hope you don’t mind, I’ve been calling her ‘Curley.” So it was a done deal.

Curley had talent. At dinner time, I’d sing “If you’re hungry and you know it, bark out loud,” and she’d bark two sharp barks, on cue, which amazed a number of people, especially those who knew the old Sunday school song. I would sing “If you knew, Curley Sue, then you’d know why I am blue” (Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue,” customized) and she’d wag her tail and bow with her butt in the air to be petted. She was my shadow, slept through many hours in my counseling office or under my computer. In her last days, blind, hobbled, and with lots of health problems, she’d panic if she couldn’t find me, and I’d hear her little claws tap-tapping on the floor as she searched. As soon as I called, “Currrrrr-ley” she’d zero in on my voice, and she was my shadow again. 

My feelings are mixed.  I am so sad, yet I feel Curley right here at my feet as I type this. I’m also relieved, because I knew Curley’s cataracts, glaucoma, tumors, and allergies had her in constant discomfort, and the daily medication of her eyes was not fun for her. I dubbed her “St. Curley” for the stoic way she put up with drops in her eyes, and many medications. She was always sweet about it, never difficult. Curley was an American Cocker Spaniel, and the Vet Opthamologist said they should come with warning notices, because their gene pool is so compromised. We were blessed to have her, problems and all, and we are grateful for our good years with her. 

On the door of my office is a quote from Martin Buber’s grandmother: “You never know in advance what an angel will look like.” With pictures of my three who all became angels in the last year, Curley Sue, and her sisters, Sandy/Spike, and Peach the cat. I know they’re looking down on me.

If you’ve had a pet, you know how hard it is to lose them, and yet inevitable, because they have such short life spans in comparison to us. If you’re grieving, too, or know someone who is, I hope the following will be helpful.

Over time, pets become significant family members, and losing a beloved animal is an occasion for grief. Just as with other family members, ceremonies of remembrance help the grieving process. Most veterinarians provide cremation services, and pet ashes are easier to dispose of than bodies. If you choose, you can work the ashes into the soil in your pet's favorite place in the yard, or keep them in a special container marked with the pet's name and dates. Allow plenty of time for each family member to talk about his or her memories of the pet, and have a picture of the pet in happier times available. Don't discourage children from crying or talking about the pet—even if it comes up for weeks. Expressing grief is the best way to help it pass. Wait until you feel it’s right before getting another pet, to give everyone a chance to feel that the lost pet has been honored.

Any time we love, whether it’s a life partner, a dear friend, a child, a sibling, a parent or a beloved pet, we are risking the loss of that love, and a broken heart. When you lose a beloved pet, you may experience intense grief for weeks or months after the loss.

You may think you'll never want another pet, but eventually you will have survived and healed, and be willing to take another chance. The promise of happiness is strong enough that the risk is worth it. You'll have a feeling of gratitude toward your previous pet, for the love you shared and what it taught you that makes it possible to love this new companion.

There are many wonderful websites to honor lost pets. Probably the best known is Rainbows Bridge, which contains a lovely poem about the place where beloved pets go when they die to wait for their owners. The same poem is found here.  Another pet grief site is Chance’s Spot

“Well, I love you girl, and I need you, Curley Sue.” Until we meet again.  (Adapted from It Ends with You © 2005 Tina B. Tessina)

Author Bio:
Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California, with over 25 years experience in counseling individuals and couples and author of 11 books, including "It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction" (New Page 2003)""How to Be a Couple and Still Be Free"  (New Page 2002) "The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again" (Wiley 2002)  and "The Real 13th Step: Discovering Self-Confidence, Self-Reliance and Independence Beyond the Twelve Step Programs" (New Page 2001)  She publishes the “Happiness Tips from Tina” e-mail newsletter and has hosted "The Psyche Deli: delectable tidbits for the  subconscious" a weekly hour long radio show. She is an online expert, answering relationship questions at www.CouplesCompany.com and Yahoo!Personals, as well as a Redbook Institute expert and “Psychology Smarts” columnist for First for Women. Dr. Tessina guests frequently on radio, and on such TV shows as “Oprah”, “Larry King Live” and ABC news.

Phone: (562)438-8077   |    for permission to reprint, email: tina@tinatessina.com
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