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It has been nearly ten months since we said goodbye to our little guy. It’s so hard to imagine time could possibly pass without him. Over all these months, though, the pain has subsided. We had an outpouring of wonderful people reaching out to us in our time of sadness. It was a great reminder of the life we have and, although I still sometimes feel the tug of pain that is life without Parka, I am thankful for those who showed me the way.
Goodbye is never easy.
Some of those same people were kind enough (brave enough?) to ask about Parka’s last moments and what happened after. These same people have dogs of their own and were uncertain what to expect when it was time to say goodbye to their own furry friends. So, I decided to add information and resources for anyone out there facing that last mile with their beloved pooch.
First, we had to go to an emergency vet clinic in the area to explore what our options were. For us, Parka’s liver and pancreas values were through the roof. In the case of the liver values, his were 44 times normal. So, if normal is 100 and 400 is alarming, Parka’s values were 4400. We needed to get to an emergency vet clinic fast and we needed one equipped with weekend radiologists who could do an ultrasound.
In our particular area, which is near Phoenix, Arizona, we went to the VCA Animal Referral and Emergency Center of Arizona (VCA ARECA) in Mesa. This hospital is open 24 hours a day and has doctors and techs on staff all the time. They also have specialists, such as radiologists, available over the weekends.
For those not in Arizona, do a search for VCA Animal Hospitals or go to the link above to search that website for a location nearest you. VCA is a group of animal hospitals across the US. In fact, when we lived in Seattle, we took Parka to a general practice clinic which was affiliated with VCA and I know they had a specialty clinic nearby as well.
Once we had the results of all the tests and we knew the end was near, the doctors at VCA ARECA gave Mr. P an extra dose of pain medication so we could bring him home and spend some time with him. Our initial thinking was that we would contact a mobile vet to come to the house to administer the last moments, but there was not time for that. Looking back, as much as I had initially hoped he could be in our arms in our home when he breathed his last breath, a part of me is thankful that we did not go that route because that would be another memory which would make it hard to be in the house. Being that he was so much a part of our lives at home, the house is filled with special memories but right now to remember that we had to say goodbye at home would have been too painful.
Instead of saying goodbye at our house, then, we took him to an emergency vet which is more local to where we are: the Emergency Animal Clinic(EAC) of Arizona. This is where we took Parka when he had his bout with congestive heart failure more than two-and-a-half years ago. It is a clean facility filled with compassionate, hard-working doctors and techs. We did call ahead to let them know why we were coming in and to double-check that it was okay. We also had papers from the VCA ARECA which indicated what our plans were. These papers were from the doctor at VCA ARECA and showed that Parka’s condition was not going to get better. Having these helped get us through the door without having to answer a million questions during a time when we could barely see through the cloud of tears in our hearts and eyes.
We did have to fill out some paperwork when we got there, though. One of the things we had to decide was whether we were going to take the body with us, have a third-party pick up the body for cremation, or have the EAC dispose of the body for us. (Saying it like that is so clinical, but that is how it is worded on the forms.) As you will see below, we opted to take the body with us to Fairwinds Pet Memorial, so, after Parka had passed away, the doctor took his body to the back and laid him in a cardboard coffin for us. They also made a little clay print of Parka’s paw for us and etched his name into the clay as well.
Not surprisingly, the cardboard coffin was tiny. It was strange how it didn’t really feel like it weighed more than Mr. P had his whole life. The cardboard is, of course, lightweight, but I expected it to have a bulkier feel than it did. The weird things one thinks about when they are in mourning can never be explained.
As I said, we took his body to Fairwinds Pet Loss and Memorial Services in Phoenix where Mary Rauchwarter took care of us and everything else. She took charge of the coffin as soon as we walked in and, before we knew it, she had the body of our little guy “sleeping” in a little cushioned basket. She gave us time to sit with him and, when we were ready, we went out to her office and went over what we wanted. We wanted to be present for his cremation. We wanted an urn etched with his name, birth date and death date. We asked for a little baggie with part of his ashes in it so we could spread them in the park behind our house. We wanted some time to say goodbye.
There were some other options she gave us. Some things we accepted, others we declined. Mostly, it’s how many little mementos did we want–paw print frames and boxes, jewelry embossed with his very own paw print and/or nose print, jewelry with his DNA in it. There was never any pressure from Mary about any of it. She simply, gently showed us what was possible and allowed us to decide what all we wanted.
By the way, Mary has a list of resources on her website. I highly recommend going there if for no other reason than to learn about what’s possible for you and your pet when you must grieve their loss. For both my husband and me, we are incredibly thankful to Mary for being the kind of person who is compassionate and strong enough to face the kind of loss she sees in people’s hearts day after day.
The day after Mr. P died, we went back to Mary’s funeral home (because that’s what it is). She had cleaned up our little guy and placed him in a pet bed with a blanket. He looked like he could get up any minute and start barking. Of course, he didn’t. After we cried for a while, we told her we were ready (we lied–we were never going to be ready, but it didn’t help to prolong things). Then we followed her out to the crematorium where she laid our buddy into the oven and closed the door forever.
That particular avenue is not for everyone. I barely made it through. I wanted to run over and pull him out and breathe life back into him. Now, though, there is no question in my mind that he is gone. I have the ashes to prove it, but I have the memory to darken any possible doubt. It still makes me angry that he is gone, but I know now that no matter how hard I wish, his death is not reversible. We faced the finality with stark reality.
If you do not live in the Phoenix area, I recommend doing a Google search for “pet memorial services” or “pet cremation”. You will see there are different options in a lot of places. You can be present for the cremation or not. As I said above, you can opt for a service like Mary’s to pick your pet up from wherever his or her death took place (your home or a clinic). Mary does do pick ups and she is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We did not have her pick up because we wanted to be with our guy as long as we could.
One last thing. This was heart-wrenching. Both my husband and I had moments of sheer madness where we screamed at the heavens and rolled on the floor. (Okay. I was the only one rolling on the floor because that’s where Parka used to greet us and I had this irrational sense that maybe, just maybe, he would come up and surprise me with his wet kisses. As I said, death does not breed rationality.)
One bright moment in all of this was when we took the little bag of ashes which had been set aside for us to take to the park. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined how therapeutic that would be to sprinkle little bits of ash in all his favorite places. Yet, both of us had a smile on our faces before we were done and there was, even for a moment, a sense of relief for him, of happiness even.
We went been back to those places days later and the ashes were still there. It took about three weeks for them to be gone completely. I had a theory that as the ashes dissipated and moved on, so too would our grief and sadness. I think it will always be a part of us in some way–no different than the wind which will take his ashes to parts unknown will always be with us. At least that gives us some peace of mind to be able to visit his favorite spots and walk through favorite memories.