How Can We Recover From The Death Of Our Dog?

Posted June 16th, 2010 in Coping With Grief, Dogs, Friendship, Losing Your Pet by Glenn Plaskin

In our neighborhood, brimming with more than 800 dogs, my cocker spaniel, Lucy and I, bump into our regulars daily–from Herman the Great Dane and Stanley the Dachshund to Sammy the Bulldog, Berta the Standard Poodle, and Captain the Fox Terrier, among numerous wagging tails.

In recent days, three of our canine neighbors have suddenly disappeared from the Esplanade of Battery Park City, which runs alongside the Hudson. One day they were out walking, the next they were gone.

Their owners are devastated. To them, their pet was more child than dog.

Sammy’s owner, Ben, has lost 15 pounds. He stopping shaving and has hardly left the house, in avoidance mode, uncomfortable at receiving condolences. His dog Sammy, at age 17, had survived far longer than most dogs ever do, but it’s never enough, the heartbreak no less when a dog dies at such a grand age.

The vacuum left behind is profound. What could be sadder than putting away your dog’s leftover toys, their food and water bowls, or their collar and chain? And what could be emptier than a bed that’s suddenly bigger than it should be, only the ghost of their spirit lingering in the room. Little wonder that Ben feels despondent and depressed. All in all, losing a dog is simply heartbreaking. Many say they’d almost rather lose an unwanted relative!–than their canine companion.

I’m sure there are many of you who have experienced the death of  your family pet. The bond between owner and dog is a profoundly close one. When a dog looks up at you with adoring eyes, tail wagging, or falls asleep in your arms—there’s nothing more blissful. Our canine companions are like little kids that never grow up. . They need our protection and love—and give it back in spades.

Some nights, my dog, Lucy, is propped up against the pillows, staring into my eyes with wonder as I massage her stomach and stroke her ears. The feeling of total contentment is mutual. In fact, it’s been proven that dogs reduce stress and lower your blood pressure, creating a sensation of total well-being and peace .

And when that bond is broken by the inevitability of death, nothing hurts more.

I can tell you that losing my dog KATIE was one of the saddest moments of my life. Just pick up my book, KATIE UP AND DOWN THE HALL, and read the chapter titled Nocturne, the final good-bye.

On the last day of Katie’s life—though she was blind and deaf and barely able to walk, very much in pain—she still had the strength to let me know she loved me, licking my face one last time. And then, cradled in my arms at the Vet and breathing peacefully…she was sent to heaven. I bent over her, in tears, and nearly choking as I stroked her beautiful head for one last time, barely able to pull myself away.

The devastating pain of that moment, even years later, never completely goes away, just as our 15-year bond never ends.

But I’ve learned to concentrate less on the loss and more on the gift that was given to me. I always remind myself: Our dogs want us to be happy. They live for it. And it would be painful for them to sense, even in death, that they were causing us pain. Knowing this, more than anything, was one secret to recovering.

For those who may be experiencing the emptiness and loss I did, I want to share with you some secrets to feeling the grief and recovering from it.

Go Ahead and Cry: Being stoic in the face of profound loss never helps.  So acknowledge your grief and give yourself permission to express it. Instead of bottling up feelings of sadness, let them out—and let them go. No matter how old you are, man or woman, young or old, crying is cathartic. It reduces stress and eases the loss. It did for me.

Tap Into Your Memories: I’d rather celebrate the memory of my dog than avoid it. So I keep a photo of her in my wallet and carry her engraved name tag on my key chain. Find your own way to remember. Write a tribute. Frame a photo. Compose a song. Take out your scrapbooks or watch videos, reliving the indelible moments that defined your life together. And talk about your dog with sympathetic friends and family who understand your loss, telling funny stories and recounting adventures. You’ll find yourself smiling.

Plan A Memorial: Create an event—a funeral, a ceremony, a party–something that celebrates your dog. Inviting all your friends and family, make it a personalized memorial related to who your dog loved, and what he or she liked to do. When Katie passed away, because of my classical music background, and because she was well-known in the neighborhood, I planned  two memorial piano recitals in my home, inviting 30 friends (and their DOGS!) to attend. I had a big carrot cake (my dog’s favorite) with her picture on it, candlelight, and photos of her around the room. Our local Pastor even came over and said a prayer. It was beautiful and fun—a fitting tribute to Katie’s spirit. Others choose to memorialize their dogs with a headstone or urn or a donation to a dog-related charity. Do whatever feels right to you—but do something special.

Reach Out To The Experts If You Need To: Don’t be embarrassed or too proud to get help. The loss of an animal, whether due to death, or being lost or stolen, is devastating and traumatic. For kids, losing a pet may be their first experience with death. A child may blame himself, his parents, or the Vet for not saving the pet. He may feel guilty, depressed, or frightened. Expressing your own grief reassures the child that sadness is OK. A therapist is another option, one that helped me. You can also ask your veterinarian, local humane society, the Delta Society, or your local animal shelter about pet loss hotlines or online chat groups. Not least important, give surviving pets lots of TLC, as they may whimper, refuse to eat or drink, or suffer lethargy. Maintain a normal routine. It’s good for them and for you.

Welcome Recovery: Much as we think it never will, the pain eventually passes and you’re going to feel better. The shock, depression, and emptiness are going to fade. But in the days following the loss of your pet, look after yourself—exercise, eat well, see your friends, keep active, take up a new interest, and indulge in small pleasures. One little thing that helped me was re-arranging my home, moving the furniture, changing the colors, adding plants, creating a new environment for a different life. Shift things around. Craft your recovery your way, but carve out a new path that fosters increased energy and optimism, without ever forgetting the joyful spirit of your dog. Doing this will pave the way for the next stage—getting a NEW dog.

Don’t Try To Replace Your Dog: Some people are ready for a new dog after days or months, while others, like me, take years. In any case, just as you could never replace a family member, it’s impossible to replace a dog. Give yourself time to recover from the loss before rushing out to get a new one. Consider a different breed, or a female if you had a male, or at least a different color. You can’t replicate what you had. And if you attempt to replace a day, you maybe be setting yourself up for disappointment, for every soul and spirit is different. Don’t be rushed. Take it easy. Take your time.

Do any of you have any other ideas or tips for recovering from the loss of a dog? I’d love to hear from you.

Comment on this story »


Incredible Cuteness: The Secrets To Socializing One New Puppy (And Me!)

Posted June 15th, 2010 in Cocker Spaniels, Dogs, Friendship, New Puppy, New York, Puppies, Socializing Dogs by Glenn Plaskin

In early May, when I brought home my new cocker spaniel puppy, Lucy, there was one thing I was determined to do–socialize her the right way!

Why? Because the first 16 weeks of a dog’s life are crucial–the window of time in our puppy’s lives that determines who they will become as adults, how they react to strangers young and old, kids, all kinds of dogs, and the environment in which they live.

For me, the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touch of our little waterside community in Battery Park City–with its more than 700 dogs–is the perfect training ground for any puppy, a circus and dog show rolled into one.

In the Introduction of  KATIE UP AND DOWN THE HALL, I describe it this way:  “The Esplanade is jam-packed with bikers, joggers, rollerbladers, skateboarders, picnickers, volleyball and soccer players, and a cavalcade of baby carriages. This is Kid Central–with toddlers and school kids everywhere–their bikes, skateboards, frisbees, and kites filling the neighborhood with action.”

In short, it’s the ideal place to socialize a puppy, desensitizing a dog to all the stimulation of city life–traffic, garbage trucks, sirens, elevators, fountains, blaring music, fireworks, the sound of the waves, the hoofs of a police horse, golf carts, any and everything.

A neighborhood boy who can't get enough of Lucy

So, after four weeks on the job, Lucy isn’t bothered by any of it.  She loves watching the birds and squirrels and she doesn’t flinch at screaming babies or noisy kids. She’s intrigued by the grass and blowing leaves. And vitally important, she adores dogs of every shape and size. She rubs noses with majestic Great Danes and pint-sized pugs. She chases Golden retrievers and Labs. One German shephered in the neighborhood named Jake, renowned for his “singing,” croons to Lucy. She chases boxers, Yorkies, poodles, and Boston terriers.

Thinking back, there was a time when the heroine of my book, KATIE, was withdrawn from most other dogs, most interested in humans and I never understood why, until I read some articles about socializing dogs. Now I see that it was because I never actively exposed her to dogs during the first 16 weeks. So throughout her lifetime, she was somewhat aloof to all dogs except the few she knew.

So this time around, I am focused on making Lucy a bon vivant. Indeed, her social calendar is packed with people and dogs from morning to night during our 8 walks daily (until she gets a little older, this is my fate!)

I can tell you that she has been passed into the arms of countless strangers since she arrived here in the Battery. Anyone who stops to admire her incredible cuteness gets a hug and a kiss. She’s permiscuous to a fault and kisses anybody she meets. She’s had her picture taken with tourists lonesome for their own dogs; she crawls into baby strollers and snuggles with new-borns; she chases elementary school kids, attempting to undo their shoelaces; she tackles 90-pound dogs and playfully whacks them in the face with her paws, biting their ears. On one recent night, she found a huge dog and got a good grip with her mouth on his long bushy tail and wouldn’t let go! He gave her a wild ride, whirling around and around, and I’ve never seen her happier, her tongue hanging out with pleasure. The encounter ended with her putting her entire head in his mouth. Not a bruise.

Lucy and her boyfriend Stanley

And of course, she socializes daily with her “regulars,” our neighbor Mike and his pug Duchess, Brandon and his Bijon Frise Fred, Ben and his two Shih Tzus Mico and Sammy, Maria and her Wheaten terrier, Norma, and most important, Elisha and Raffi’s adorable dachshund STANLEY.

This has become a special connection. Lucy and Stanley, who both live on the same floor in our 35-story building, are in LOVE! Boyfriend and girlfriend, they adore adore each other and race up and down the hall just as Katie used to with blinding speed. Lucy is voracious for these whirwind runs. And when they play inside the apartment together, the action goes on for hours, until they both collapse for naps.

It gives ME such pleasure to see my puppy so happy, so healthy, so well-exercised and socialized.So while many dogs in our neighborhood are skittish and afraid of their canine compatriots, literally clueless about how to appropriately “play” with another dog, thankfully, my bouncy spaniel is filled with curiosity, eager to strut along the Esplanade–finding new canine pals wherever she goes–sniffing, licking, circling, jumping, racing around, eager to have some fun.

As for me, I’ve lost 12 pounds exercising. It just goes to show you what incredible cuteness can do for you.

And not least important, Lucy has helped socialize ME, as all dogs do. I’ve never had so many new human and canine friends. I’m virtually never alone when I’m outside, not for a minute. All kinds of people come up to me to talk and to pet my dog. Fellow dog owners have given me dog toys and books about training a puppy, late night visits for housebreaking tips, shared dinners out by the Hudson, you name it. One night, when I was in a panic about having bitten off more than I could chew training a puppy, two kind friends, Helen Lee, Mike and their pug, Duchess, stopped by to cheer me up and cheer me on. Who could ask for anything more? And it’s all because of one incredible cocker spaniel named LUCY.

For anyone who would like to meet Lucy in person, please join us on September 16 at Barnes & Noble Tribeca, a book signing for KATIE UP AND DOWN THE HALL, hosted by Liz Smith.

Incredible Cuteness

Comment on this story »



Posted June 10th, 2010 in Dogs, Family, Friendship, New York, Reflections by Glenn Plaskin

A few days ago, at an all-day media coaching conference at Hachette Book Group USA, a group of four authors with upcoming books–myself included–had the rare opportunity of being coached for our upcoming radio and T.V. appearances.

Joel Roberts

Leading the way were brilliant media experts Joel and Heidi Roberts. Joel is a veteran prime-time talk radio host-turned-corporate media coach, and his partner and perspicacious wife Heidi, is an award-winning TV producer, both indispensable in their astute observations of the day. They were joined by well-known TV producer, publicist, and media coach, Tom Martin.

And as the long 8-hour day unfolded, with each of us receiving critiques of our presentations and being drilled over and over again about how to effectively hone our messages concisely for a national audience–I found myself filled with the one thing that often eludes me–Gratitude.

Heidi Roberts

Why was this the case? Well, there I was surrounded by my Hachette family–the group of people I’ve grown to know so well, each of them expertly helping to launch my book, KATIE UP AND DOWN THE HALL, including the great publicity director Shanon Stowe, Internet geniuses Kelly Leonard, Valerie Russo, and Anna Balasi, Hachette’s marketing guru, Martha Otis, not to mention Editorial Director, Harry Helm, my brilliant editor and book’s greatest champion.

Everyone this day was drawing together, supporting one common mission, making each of our book launches successful.

In the end, this wasn’t just about ego or making money. It was about pulling together as a TEAM. And when I left the day behind–I carried with me something just as valuable as the lessons of the media training–i.e., a profound feeling of thankfulness.

Tom Martin and You Know Who!

In an article I wrote about gratitude for Family Circle, I remember one wise interview subject telling me that the glass isn’t just half-full; it’s always full. Opportunity doesn’t knock just once, it’s always knocking.

Yet, racing through a daily marathon of household chores, obligations at work, and

short-term goals, how many of us take our good fortune for granted, focused solely on what we don’t have?

Perhaps money, time or love may seem to be in short supply. Maybe we don’t have the body we’d like, or the right car or house. Even worse, a crisis of some kind may be intruding upon us. So narrowly fixed on these perceived lacks and problems are we that our days are saturated with panic, irritation, worry, and a sense of deprivation: the tendency to compare and despair steadily depleting us at every turn.

This thankless attitude–or ‘stinkin’ thinkin’,  a phrase humorously coined by 12-step recovery groups–can lead to chronic backaches, ulcers, headaches, depression, and multiple addictions, say medical experts who chart the connection between body and mind.

Today, many health-care specialists,  therapists, and spiritual counselors believe that the solution to such a commonplace dilemma is a simple, yet profound one: putting gratitude into your attitude–”waking up” from an ungrateful mind, and allowing ourselves to appreciate the so-called ‘little things’ in life, that aren’t little at all.

How often do we disregard a bright moon, the taste of an apple, a child’s laughter, or the welcome wag of our dog’s tail? In a perpetual rush, we may ignore the smell of freshly-mown grass, a friend’s concern, the feel of sand in our toes, or the miracles of  technology–not to mention how well our arms and legs work, and how terrific it is to breathe and experience our senses.

What, then, is true gratitude? And how can we cultivate it? I just start by counting my blessings–and find that I have a very very long list. So will you!

Comment on this story »


An Unbeatable Technique For Losing Weight–Get A Puppy!

Posted May 19th, 2010 in Dogs, Friendship, New Puppy by Glenn Plaskin

Although the adventure with my new puppy started ten days ago, today is the first time I’ve written about Lucy, named after one of my all-time favorites, Lucille Ball.

Why has it taken me so long? Because I was so overwhelmed, and at times panicked, by Lucy’s homecoming and the challenges of taking care of a 10-week-old cocker spaniel puppy–that I admit to seriously contemplating returning her! (Whew, but I didn’t.)

For me, the transition really shook up my world. I guess it’s because I haven’t had a dog for eight years, not since Katie–the star of my upcoming book, KATIE UP AND DOWN THE HALL. So I was out of shape, but no longer. The dining room has been completely given over to her large play pen and kennel and the house is littered with every kind of chewy and plush toy you can imagine.

After just a few days, Lucy’s puppiness–her contagious energy, those big brown eyes, her astute intelligence, and that puppy smell–completely won me over. She is the most outgoing, confident dog I’ve known, completely comfortable with anyone. You can hang her upside down and she’s happy, extroverted and ready to play with adults, kids, and most importantly, other dogs.

The other night there she was, weighing in at six pounds, wrestling assertively with a 92-pound bushy-haired giant (I don’t even know the breed) who loves puppies. Eating them? I wasn’t sure.

But Lucy didn’t have a care in the world. She grabbed onto his bushy tail and went for a ride–never letting go until she was left with a mouthful of fur. Then she put her entire head into his mouth before biting his ear and chasing him around the lobby of our apartment building.

She also has a Wheaten terrier friend named Norma and a Dachshund named Stanley, both regular play dates.

She also loves kids, and over the weekend, she met a little boy in Greenwich Village, pictured below, his smile telling you the entire story about the joy that a puppy can give, to anybody, anywhere, at anytime.

Lucy is making her debut on May 26th at Book Expo America, where I’ll be signing autographs for KATIE UP AND DOWN THE HALL.

I hope you’ll drop by at 1 pm to say hello. You can ignore me–but you’ll never get away from the Hachette Book Group USA’S booth without getting a lick from Lucy.

And for the first 100 people who come by, there will be special dark chocolate treats shaped into dog bones–bad for dogs, good for people. See you there!

Comment on this story »