A Lesson in Love and Heart

One year ago today, we said goodbye to Kekoa. After a month of bucket list indulgences going from kale to turkey and then, that day, chocolate chip bacon ice cream, I said I love you one last time.

We pet owners talk a lot about heart dogs, that dog who just ‘got’ you, the dog who changed you and will never, ever be replaced (you can substitute dog for any pet, of course.) And once you have a heart dog, once you lose a heart dog, you may wonder if you will ever have another one again.

I’m here to say yes, you can.

Emmett was my heart dog, the dog who taught me fierce love and how to be a family and how even the best of us were allowed our jealous moments but we’d get over them eventually. He taught me forgiveness. I loved the other dogs I had before him just as much, Taffy and Mulan and Nuke, but he was the dog who spoke to my soul.

Kekoa was brought into our lives furtively, a sneak adoption if you will. We were supposed to adopt a different lab, a younger one, one glossier and with better teeth, but as I didn’t realize until after she was gone, she spoke to my daughter’s soul, and there it was. She was the shoe that fit. That was a February as well. This is her month, the month of heart.


Kekoa lived without a spiteful bone in her body. I think she growled once in her life, when Apollo tried to steal a bite of her food, and even then it was more indignant than menacing. She loved food, almost as much as she loved us.

When she died, when I made the decision to euthanize her when her bone cancer was causing her pain I couldn’t control, I wrestled with the same emotions every pet owner struggles with: uncertainty. Is it the right time? Guilt. I’m acting too soon. Pain. I don’t like seeing this. She was bothered by none of this internal turmoil, choosing instead to just trust us and sleep in my daughter’s room at night. I was so busy thinking of my own distress I really missed the boat on thinking about how the kids would be affected, but Kekoa stepped in- completely unaware she was even doing it- to be there for them.

Many things happened afterwards as a direct result of her death. I began working with Paws into Grace. In the midst of my mourning, her story wrote itself into the book proposal I was working on, which will be a forever monument to her. I committed to getting certified in pet loss counseling, which I completed last week, in order to give a voice to those who are sad and suffering so they know: NO, you are not alone and your grief is real. They don’t call them heart pets for no reason. They take some of it with them.

She was a heart dog too, and I never even gave her credit for it until long after she was gone. This sad, head hanging little black dog with terrible head/chest proportions and bad gas taught me how to take care of others just by being true to yourself. If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is.


Miss ya, girl. Thank you for everything.

Filed: Blog, Cancer sucks, Daily Life, Musings Tagged: ,
  • Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart

    Tell me it gets better … because at this point (8 weeks tomorrow) it’s only getting worse.

    • carolinegolon

      Love to you, Roxanne.

    • Lisa W

      Big hugs to you, Roxanne. It took me weeks before I wasn’t crying every day, but probably a couple of years to get to the point where the memories were more comforting and loving than sad.

    • It does get better, in the way that a broken bone heals to something that is a dull ache. It’s less tender, but never gone. But I’ll tell you a few very specific things I have recently learned, that I wish I had known earlier with all of my pets:

      1. I wish I had known about the benefits of talking to a trained grief counselor. I had always assumed- unfairly, because I’d never actually been to a pet loss support group or anything like that- that it would be bunch of people kind of sitting around talking and reading the Rainbow Bridge, and while that was fine I didn’t think that would help me. The thing that I realized about someone trained in this type of work- not just a general ‘good listener’ kind of person, who also has their place- is that they have the tools to unravel that ball of mess in your head and your heart and find the knots so you can untie them. They can sort out the guilt, anger, the depression, into chunks. They don’t erase the pain or your need to still work through it, but their ability to guide you through it can certainly accelerate the process to healing. I got there eventually on my own, but it took a really long time. Really long time. I think it would have helped. I was never around people who knew the right thing to say, and you really need that, I think.

      2. This was another big one for me, from Dr. Sife’s excellent book “The Loss of a Pet” (I can’t say enough good things about this book.) He said, and I’m paraphrasing, healing is a choice. It is a conscious act to commit to doing what your pet would have wanted for you, which is to forgive yourself whatever it is you feel you have failed at, to make it a goal to reach a resolution. It’s not like it suddenly happens once you make that decision, but it gives purpose to your grieving process. And that is a tough one, especially when you (generic you, not you in particular) are dealing with a series of difficult decisions, illnesses, and euthanasia. I guess it really struck me that I had always viewed healing as a passive activity, but once I reframed my interpretation of that, it made a big difference.


      • E.A. Summers

        #2 really resonates with me. At some point after my first loss, I read something about how we (generic we!) sometimes hang onto grief as a way to hang on to what we lost. I realized that I was doing that and although things didn’t turn around immediately, and it is so, so hard to let go, just realizing what I was doing gave me enough different perspective to really start healing.
        I know I still hang on to grief but there comes a point – for me – when I realize that I am and make the decision. I can’t say it gets easier but in a way I feel a bit more in control and that helps me.
        I’m sure most know the Isla Richardson quote, but just in case and because I love it dearly:
        “Grieve not, nor speak of me with tears, but laugh and talk of me as if I were beside you. I loved you so…twas Heaven here with you.”
        I thought of this Dr. V. when you wrote in your last that in your “conversation” with Kekoa, what you heard her say was “I love you”. I have a feeling that is what they say to us.
        Wishing peace to Roxanne and good thoughts for finding your way through.

  • Jody Brittain

    Yes, IT DOES GET better! You never stop missing them, but it does get better. We lost our Taumee, who was our heart dog, on April 29th, just 23 days after her 10th Birthday. She we never sick a day in her life, and then one evening, WHAM! She collapsed and we rushed her to the vet, and he said she was bleeding internally. She was dieing right before our eyes. The choice was evident. The decision was hard. The tears would not stop! My heart broke into a million pieces. I was in shock! Yes I have loved all of my animals with my whole being, but when you have that one “Heart” dog, it is especially tougher. Take care. I do have a blog, and I wrote a little something about our beloved Taumee: http://www.mrscravitz.blogspot.com/2013_04_01_archive.html I still tear up when I see pictures of her.

  • Lisa W

    I think Oscar is another heart dog for me, but not in the same “soul mate” kind of way that Bailey was. He’s just so sweet and he loves to be loved on — I tell him that he makes my heart smile. He was 9 weeks old when I adopted him 8 weeks after Bailey died. Ironically, he was born the weekend she started going downhill quickly and he was rescued on the day she died. I took her picture with me when I traveled (25-hour round trip) to see him and his brothers, and asked her to help me pick the right puppy. I think she did an awesome job!

    But, while it does get better, it never goes away. I am able to remember her now with love and a smile (even if my smile is somewhat wistful because I still miss her). It will be 5 years in July since she left us, and I miss her every day, but with less sadness now and more of an appreciation for all she brought to my life.

  • An open heart is never empty.

  • JaneK

    I think St. Kekoa has a nice ring to it ๐Ÿ™‚ thanks for sharing your love and your grief and your journey of healing with us.

  • Cathey Avery

    Thanks so much for sharing. In a small way,I feel like Kekoa is a heart dog to me – the day she died, I printed a photo of her and it’s still hanging near my phone at the office. I look at her every day and smile. There was just something about her – even at a distance! Hugs to you all!

    • Wow, that might be one of the greatest compliments either of us have ever received. I am truly, deeply touched that you shared that with me. Thank you for making a bright moment in a day that’s been a bit sad for me.

  • Steph S

    It will be a year on the 25th that we lost our Reno. I still expect to hear his bark when I pull into the garage. When we moved ten years ago I stayed home for the first year and having him by my side everyday helped keep my sanity. He was my heart dog, my loving buddy and confidant. Thank you for letting us know it’s ok to grieve, even a year later. I have been so teary eyed the last couple of weeks and kept thinking I needed to “get over it”.