Can pets become spirits? Can dogs communicate with us after death? Perhaps with a bark from beyond?
Nutmeg, our beautiful Labrador, died while I was at a sales and marketing conference in Brisbane. Home at the time was Adelaide – many hours away. She’d had a stroke some months ago and was still struggling to walk properly. Stephen, my husband, and I had discussed possibly having her euthanized if she got any worse, but we were both hoping against hope she would continue to improve.
On the second day of the conference Stephen messaged me with an urgent request to call him back. I contacted him as soon as we broke for morning tea. He told me Nutmeg had suddenly declined, probably due to a second stroke, and he’d had to have her euthanized that morning.
Even now, almost two decades on, I struggle to find the words to express my grief, my guilt at not being there, the emptiness that filled my chest. The conference dragged on, I acted on autopilot for the rest of the sessions.
I was due to fly home that night, but after tearfully explaining to my manager the situation at home, I changed to an earlier flight by a couple of hours. I made the four hour trip home with my chest tight and my head pounding.
Stephen met me at the airport, still shaken and upset. No amount of apologizing, for leaving him in the agonizing position of having to make the decision by himself, seemed to console him.
Wide awake, a brilliant image.
Two nights later, I lay in bed still overwhelmed with grief and guilt. I was wide-awake, wriggling from one side to the other, still crying fitfully. I’m absolutely positive I wasn’t asleep – though most people I tell this story to insist that it must’ve been a dream.
An image of Nutmeg burst into my brain, that’s the only way I can describe it. It was, and in fact still is, the most vivid image I’ve ever seen in my head. Nutmeg danced on her front feet like she always used to when she was waiting for the ball to be thrown. Her eyes were bright, her tail whacked from one side to the other like it always did when she was truly happy. She lifted onto her back legs for a few seconds and barked, three times, three happy barks.
The image faded slowly. I got up to get a drink of water and pace the hallway, half-questioning whether or not I’d really just experienced my dog talking to me from the other side of death. I had no doubt, I still have no doubt, that Nutmeg was letting me know that she’s okay. She was telling me to stop feeling guilty for not being there for her or Stephen.
Getting another dog.
I’ve always loved living with dogs. They are my favorite people. But it took me a long time to persuade Stephen to get another. Losing Nutmeg had been just as bad for him as for me, and he’d had the added stress of having to be with her when she was euthanized and having to make the decision by himself.
He finally agreed. His only stipulation was that we get a smaller dog, so that if she got sick, the same way Nutmeg did, he’d at least be able to pick her up easily.
I saw an English Cocker Spaniel puppy in a pet store at the shopping mall we usually shopped at. She was absolutely gorgeous, all floppy ears and big brown eyes, and I wanted her immediately. Stephen dithered, she’d grow to be a medium-sized dog, nowhere near as big as a Labrador, but larger than a small dog. He said we could have her, if she was still there when we finished our shopping.
She was, and a cinnamon colored puppy came home with us that day. We christened her Ella, after my favorite jazz singer. She was the naughtiest puppy. She ripped up pillows, scratched the paint off doors, ate the washing out of the washing basket. But her greatest feat was ripping the collected works of William Shakespeare into tiny pieces. It was a huge book, it ripped into confetti size pieces that spread across the family room and into the kitchen..
She was a self opinionated princess.
We adored her anyway. Stephen always said she wasn’t naughty. Just high spirited! I talked Stephen into another puppy a few years later. Another Cocker Spaniel, this time a light colored and very small pup, obviously the runt of the litter. We named her Billie. Ella turned her nose up, it was ages before she even let Billie approach her.
Sadly, the inevitable time came, and Ella’s lifespan ended at 12 years with a heart attack. This time I was at least at home with Stephen, and we were together with Ella when we agreed with our vet that the time had come.
Even though we’d had her company for 12 wonderful years, losing her was still gut wrenching. I waited for an image of Ella to appear in my head, just as Nutmeg’s did.
Day’s passed, then weeks, still nothing.
We were in the car, not doing anything special when I suddenly remembered how Ella used to sit in the back of the car, one leg on the armrest, her expression coy, as if a princess driving past her subjects. I fought back tears, tears of grief at losing her, and sadness that she hadn’t appeared for me like Nutmeg had.
I felt a paw on my shoulder, warm breath across my ear. It was what Nutmeg used to do when we traveled in the car with her. She’d lean against the back of my seat, playfully swat me with her huge paw, and if I was lucky, lick my ear.
I told Stephen immediately. For whatever reason Ella couldn’t talk to me herself, but Nutmeg had just let me know that Ella was safe with her.
Skeptics will scoff. I don’t care.
I don’t believe in a heaven, or a hell. But if something does exist beyond this life, I want to go wherever my dogs are.
This post was inspired by a post written by Catherine Green Farewell Beloved Pets
What about you? Have you heard from any beloved pets that you’ve lost?