Sarah Wilson

Dog Expert

Pet Loss: The Price We All Pay


Pet Loss BrackenThe plastic box under the shelf in the garage is dusty when I pull it out. Snapping the lid open reveals a bin of dog gear. Bracken’s dog gear. Her red backpack (which I am giving to a friend) and her tracking harness (which I will never part with). A collar, some tracking articles, a toy.

My hand pauses over the rolled ball of tracking line and memories jostle against each other for me to see: teaching her how to track (she was a slow starter), the hours spent with friends tracking in New Paltz, NY, our test days where she passed easily and the one where we barely made it through.

My heart pinwheels between the happiness of those memories and the pain of her loss. Why do emotions have no half life? Shouldn’t pet loss get easier with time?

It was five years ago.

And then I remember the end, where her pain tackled her one day out of the blue and she screamed. The long talks with my beloved friend and trusted vet, Dr. Jim McKiernan. He tried everything but the pain broke through.

I curled around her on the floor at night. It was the only way she would sleep.

I never want my animals to feel the kind of pain she felt. I don’t know how I could have done it differently.┬áSometimes life just isn’t perfect.

Then my mind is sitting on the grassy rise behind Jim’s clinic. Bracken loved games with me so we invented a new paw me game as I waited for Jim to come sedate her. The last words Bracken heard on this earth were mine of love for her and thanks.

She went peacefully under Jim’s steady hand and was gone.

But here, years later, I weep again. Maybe I always will. Maybe if the grief softened so would my memories of her. Now that I could not bear.

The bond is a gift given freely but it has a price and this is it.

And I pay it; all of us dog people pay it. Even with the tears, it is still a very good deal.

I hope there is a rainbow bridge and if there is, I will see you there, Bracken.

I will see you there.



  1. Oh, Sarah the passion you felt and feel for Bracken is so beautifully expressed in these words

  2. Beautiful post, I cried as I read it as our own loss is still too new, too raw. Here is my blog from the day we had to say goodbye;postID=196813961763443494;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=186;src=postname

  3. I had to say good bye to both my GSD’s last year… I understand the 13yr old’s time had come but my male was 8 & had been an incredible presence. He had lost a leg & showed no noticeable change in personality or behavior really He still chased rabbits & deer & balls. He then got an autoimmune disease that we “managed” for 1 1/2 yrs but had a final relapse that he couldn’t recover from. I still cry when I tell people this or think of him. It doesn’t seem to get any easier & actually I wouldn’t want it to really. He was so special & I think it honors his memory that I am so affected by him. I too hope for that rainbow bridge and look forward to meeting with all of my past animals again some day!!

  4. Tears came as I read this. It’s beautifully written.


    PS mountaingmom, your link doesn’t work for me.

  5. Crying here as I read your beautiful words. It was a privilege to know Bracken and be her friend. I will always remember her and miss her.

  6. I have a plastic bag in my dresser drawer with 2 collars and a leash ­čÖü

  7. 7 months tonight since Gypsy crossed over. They will all be there waiting for us. I just know it.

  8. Oh Sarah, I am crying as I read this. Bracken was a great dog and I loved hearing about her antics. I am expecting Bailey to go to the rainbow bridge in the next couple of months. She has cancer and now it’s just palliative care…

  9. Beautiful words, and she sounded like a wonderful dog. I don’t know how I’ll handle it with my own comes to that point but I’m glad he’s still a youngun.

  10. Wow, Sarah, just the mention of tracking in New Paltz again brings great memories – I lost my shepherd, Po, earlier this year to bloat while she was boarding – the pain is still so intense sometimes, as is the guilt of not being there. I’m so sorry for your loss of Bracken – it has been my experience that of the great dogs we’ve known through our lives, the loss of some just cuts to the quik –

  11. Oh Sarah,what a beautiful post. I still have Suzi and my dear Annie’s collars and toys. Annie has been gone a year and I still cannot think of her without crying (doing that as I type this). My dearest Suzi has been gone 2 years and I still reach out for that sweet face and soft ears. I miss them both everyday and I always will.

  12. What a beautiful post. Tears are gard to read through. I’m sitting here looking at my three 14 year old dogs cherishing every moment we have. These are my first dogs as an adult and it rips me apart every time I think about losing them. I feel guilty thinking about losing them while they’re in front of me.
    As a dog trainer, I receive alot of posessions from clients lost dogs. I have a bin full of collars, leashes, tags, and toys, in case they ever want something back. Because I board dogs in my home as well as train them I am very bonded to many dogs. This is the hardest part of working and living with dogs.

  13. If I remember right, we heard you speak at the Barkleigh conference shortly after. Unfeeling, and sadly, Everydaylife goes on.

    Loosing dogs always hits me SO much harder than I expect. Much harder than losing people, for some reason…:-((

    • You’re not alone.

      And no one speaks of losing a pet in an “unfeeling” way. But, especially right after, if I had to perform on a professional level, like speaking, then I have that emotional door as closed as it can be because to open it at all would be a flood and I would not be able to function.

      So, it is a brief and intellectual discussion but believe me, feelings were very much there, just barely in check.

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