Coping with the loss of a pet during the pandemic

May 8, 2020 at 7:13 pm

Danielle Lewis, CVT

Publisher and Editor-in-Chief for The Denver Dog magazine


If you’re reading this, chances are that you have lost a loyal companion at some point in your life. Losing a pet can be one of the most traumatizing experiences a person can go through, in my opinion. The world seems like a different place now with the COVID-19 pandemic. Everyone has been touched by this terrible virus in some way. Countless people have lost their jobs, businesses, and are suffering from the loss of a loved one due to the virus.

The news is flooded with stories of the virus and how it is impacting our day to day life. Many people have chosen to foster shelter pets while in quarantine. Of course, this is wonderful news to hear. Then, my thoughts turn to those who have lost their canine companions during this difficult time. I decided to write this article because I am one of those people.

In early March, my cherished best friend, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel/Cocker Spaniel mix named Tulo began to suffer from vestibular symptoms caused by an infection in his right inner ear. With him being part Cocker Spaniel I was well versed in dealing with his ear infections. He had a series of MRSA infections in his left ear several years prior. The telltale symptoms of his infections were not present during his episode with the inner ear infection. Since the infection was in the inner ear, I could not see it externally. Typically with his infections he would be pawing at his ears and there would a foul odor. This time, the infection just looked like waxy debris. I had been cleaning his ears at home regularly and when I noticed the waxy debris, I figured I just needed to get better at cleaning them. I did not think I would have to rush him to the ER with a right head tilt and nystagmus (when the eyes dart back and forth).

I immediately began to treat the infection and I was taking him to the vet every few days to ensure he was progressing. He was showing many signs of improvement that gave me hope. On March 24th, I woke up with Tulo by my side. I had been so worried about him that I was keeping him close at all times. He was either sleeping right on my chest or right by my side. I knew something was wrong when I carried him downstairs and placed him on his bed. He immediately fell over and could not get himself back up. I rushed him to the ER where he was evaluated by a neurologist.

The news I heard took my breath away. The neurologist believed that his infection had spread from his inner ear to his brain. He likely had meningitis or a brain abscess. I wanted to know what my options were as I wasn’t ready to let him go. The vet offered to perform an MRI but told me that due to his drastically declining condition he was unlikely to survive the anesthesia. If he did survive the MRI, his prognosis was still very poor. When told that there was essentially no hope to save him, I had to make the decision to let him go.

It ripped my heart out because he was only 8 ½ years old. I have always envisioned him being a thirteen-year-old grouchy dog. I thought we had years left together. Amidst all of this heartache, the coronavirus pandemic was becoming a greater force in the news. It was around this time we all realized how serious this whole situation was. I had been so focused on Tulo that the virus wasn’t front and center in my mind. I was saddened by the news of the deaths but was so consumed with my own grief that I did not think of it on the level as most others were.

Here I was grieving the loss of my best friend and thousands of people are dying from this virus. I wondered if people would criticize me for my grief and shove the pandemic in my face. They could say “People are losing their kids and you’re over here grieving the loss of a dog?” No one said this to me but I had these thoughts in my mind. Tulo was more than a dog to me-he was my best friend and my baby. I had rescued him from Capital Humane Society in Lincoln, Nebraska when he was only eight-weeks-old. He was the first dog I had obtained as a puppy. He came to me in during a time in my life when I felt lonely and I needed a friend. Tulo filled that role and gave me so much hope and joy. I realized that I had every right to grieve the loss of Tulo in the midst of the pandemic. I could grieve for him and still feel pain for the countless people who were losing human loved ones. 

With all of the pain and suffering going on it felt that the loss of Tulo was amplified. I wanted him by my side on the days I had to stay at home. I was constantly reminded that he wasn’t here anymore. I know I am not the only person in this situation and I felt compelled to reach out towards others in the same boat. I want everyone to know that you still have the right to grieve the loss of your pet during this time. Do not let anyone tell you that there are bigger problems in the world.

There is help out there as most therapists and counselors are offering telemedicine appointments. You can still call up your friends on the phone if you need someone to turn to. You do not have to grieve alone during these trying times.

Stay safe out there everyone.