As a young girl, I was most fortunate to grow up with animals. Our family had dogs, and many cats. My earliest recollection of a family pet was Jack, the dachshund. I was about 6 years old, and Jack was my best friend and play mate. I was the oldest of three girls, and my younger sisters where still a bit young to make mud pies and play in the make-believe world with me. Jack would gleefully play alongside me. I would tie a handkerchief around his head, dodging his slobbery kisses, while we played house. Jack was the perfect companion for afternoon adventures in our small front yard.
I lived in Fontana, which was a small town in Southern California. The little town was known for its big steel mill, Kaiser Steel. Kaiser Steel provided a thriving little economy for the community. Our house was in view of the giant stacks from the mill, and next to a field. There was a small, white church across the street. The street was a dead end, and it had its lively range of characters from the pastor and his wife, who lived across from us, to the biker gang that lived down at the end of the block. Jack and I enjoyed watching the parade of characters, come and go, from our little house at the top of the block.
I have fond memories of sitting on a big checkered blanket in the sun, with Jack at my side. The grass in our front yard was dense and prickly, and made me itch, so the thick, soft blanket provided a comfortable spot to spend our day. Often, my little sister would by lying next to us, fixated and giggling at the antics Jack and I were conjuring up in the mud. When we were playing in the mud, we had to avoid the gargantuan red ants that lived in the mounds of dirt. Jack and I both had to learn the hard way that the red ants were not our playmates, and were not to be trifled with. Even as I share this story with you, those rich memories come in flashes of brilliant detail and emotion.
Heartbreakingly, many of us experience death at a young age. My experience with death and grief came one night when my mom and I walked down to the local store for some groceries. The family-owned store was about three blocks away, and we had to cross a busy street. I really enjoyed going to the store, because they always gave me a sucker. It was a warm summer’s night, and the sun was setting. We returned home, and when we got back, my dad and mom started to have a conversation in the kitchen. I remember feeling the heaviness of the conversation. My little heart sensing the uneasiness of what was to come. I remember vividly that I was eating a can of button mushrooms, which was one of my favorite treats. My mom came over and picked me up to set me on top of the counter to sit. With shock and horror on their faces, they began to share that Jack had been hit and killed by a car. I was just beginning to understand what death really meant. Again, I was only 6 years old.
I later learned that Jack wanted to come with us to the store so badly, that he wiggled and squeezed his way out of the yard to follow us. He attempted to cross the busy street, and was hit and killed instantly by a car. In that horrifically, devastating moment, without understanding, a very precious part of me was taken away.
My parents didn’t know how to handle the grief that I was experiencing, and I was too young to understand. I started to have terrible nightmares, and would cry uncontrollably. I knew Jack was gone, but I think I expected him to return. I remember a feeling like I was missing something, but not knowing what it was. I was missing my beloved Jack. It was only later in my life that I was able to unearth the emotions that had been buried deep down, and begin to heal.
Fast forward to my current life with pets, and it’s even more rich and rewarding. My family and I started a pet care business called Pawderosa Pet Care. We began our business in 1999, when my husband and I moved into a home where we could adopt some animal family members. We were thrilled, and this is where Klee’s story begins. (Pronounced Kaylee)
Klee was the first dog we adopted. She was 5 months old when we brought her home. Our pet care business got started, because I was out walking Klee at Pt. Isabel, a stunning local dog park with magnificent views of the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a magical place to take the pups, because the views were stunning. You could see the ships coming and going from the Bay, the air was heavy with salt and dirt, and the sounds were of lapping waves, seagulls, and dogs happily barking.
While I was out walking Klee on that fateful day, a sweet woman named Sharon approached me and asked me if I was a dog walker. I said no, but I should be, because I was out every day to take Klee, and her newly adopted sister, Olive, out for a walk. Sharon, whom I consider to be an angel in disguise, told me that she had a thriving dog walking biz in Sausalito. She said that it’s an amazing way to make a living, and I should consider doing the same. I felt the seed of destiny being planted in my head. I came home that night and told my husband we were going to start a dog walking business. He gave me a cockeyed look, and said “are you daft?” I said “yep,” and the rest is herstory/history
Sharon’s encouragement was just the incentive I needed to start a business where I could support families and their pets, and spend my days with animals. What a dream it would be to be able to give back for all of the amazing joy and wisdom I had received throughout my life.
A few years into the business, we added two human family members, Mason and Garrett. They are so incredibly lucky to be growing up in the business, and are a vital part of the service we provide. It can be chaos in the house sometimes, let me tell you. Kids and dogs running to and fro, hairballs flying. My poor Dyson is on its last leg.
We all feel such a sense of honor and privilege to spend years with a client, supporting them with their pet care needs, building an intense bond with their animal family member, and then providing love and compassion when their pet gets to the end of its life. We all grieve together as a community, inextricably bound by the uncommon bond we all share together.
My family and I have experienced more than a dozen deaths in the course of the 16 years we’ve been in business. Each one no less profound or emotional. My journey into grief counseling came after we lost Klee.
Klee was a happy, strong and determined girl. Chasing balls was her passion. She’d sooner jump off a cliff chasing a ball, than lose it. For those of you with a ball obsessed dog, you know what I mean. She spent many, many wonderful years walking with us in the Oakland Hills, and beyond; camping with us up and down the California coast, as well as taking adventurous road trips to Nevada and Utah. She definitely lived a dog’s life. She taught us patience, as she came to us with severe separation anxiety. We spent many years working with various trainers, and reading all we could to help her. She did improve a bit. Like any other creature, she had her quirks and dysfunctions. We loved her no less. She taught us determination, and unconditional love. Even when she was older, and hobbling around, she was always excited to see us or any other human. Always smiling and wagging her tail in a welcoming greet, even if it was that you just walked into another room for a few minutes and then returned. A big smile broadens my face, and a tears fills my eye when I think of her. I miss her.
As Klee got much older, we knew that we would spare her from pain and suffering, and that when the time was right, choose euthanasia. When Klee began to reach the end, we spent many emotional months trying to decide when it was time. This was the hardest part. When Klee couldn’t make it down the stairs, and had fallen twice, we knew her quality of life was diminished. She was about 15 years old, and had various tumors on her body. The vet determined that she probably had cancer, but that the treatment would be painful, and really not spare her any extra time. We decided we were not going to go to any heroic efforts. We understood that disease and old age were taking Klee’s life, not the mercy afforded by euthanasia. We also realized that animals don’t have the same hang-ups we humans have about death. They understand that it is the cycle of life, and don’t resist when it is their time to pass.
As a family, we spent a few extra days dotting on Klee. Feeding her extra yummy meals, and lying with her longer in the evening. My husband took her back to her favorite beach spot to spend some time in the water. When it was time to release Klee from her pain, we took her to the vet. We were all in the room, holding and talking with her. The vet administer the shot that would relax her and take away any pain she was feeling. The moment came when the vet injected the solution to bring about death. She passed quickly, with some guttural noises. Her body twitched a bit. Her physical death came quickly. However, I could still feel her spirit within. We sat with her for another 15 minutes, stroking her, crying and telling her how much we loved her. About 15 minutes later, I could feel her energy release. Call it a spirit, or life force, there was something tangible that emanated up from her body. This is when I knew she was gone.
We cried for many weeks. Klee was cremated and her ashes placed on a memorial we built for her on our mantel. We have since put her ashes in a bio-urn and planted it to grow a tree. Our family honored Klee for several weeks, telling stories and looking at pictures of our adventures together. The boys drew pictures and wrote love letters to Klee that have since been put into her memorial album. Klee was the first furry child my husband and I adopted, and the impetus for our business. Her life had a profound impact on all of us.
Knowing what I know now as a Pet Loss Grief Counselor, I can see that we did so many things right. We cried, which is one of the most healing things you can do, especially for boys and men. We honored her, and used art as therapy to create a loving memorial for her. We allowed ourselves the time to grieve, and to share our story with others.
In the future, I would have the family attend a few grief counseling sessions. Having gotten my counseling certification to help families through the loss of a beloved pet, I am aware of the incredible resources that now exist. I am also aware of how immensely important it is to seek the guidance of a counselor and support groups, because they provide understanding and insight to the process of grief. In the future, I will know how to create a community of loving, understanding friends and family that extend a compassionate hand to support our healing. I will reach out to the boy’s teachers to have a teaching moment around grief and the loss of a pet. I will cry more and feel more on my journey to celebration of the soulful gift that was my beloved pet. I will remember that releasing the heart-wrenching pain through the stages of grief, like guilt and depression, is in no way dishonoring my memory of our beloved pet. Healing is the best way to honor a dear pet’s life.
Klee’s timeless lessons live on in our hearts and souls, and provides us with the wisdom to enjoy every moment. Her lessons were to chase every ball for the enjoyment of play, be in the physical body, appreciate and be grateful for the people in our lives, and to always forgive. The profound, yet brief experience we have with our pets, bless us with such unconditional love and compassion, we can’t help but be physically, emotionally, and spiritually changed.
Thank you dear Klee. You burn brightly in our hearts. We love you so very much!!