Rest in Peace, Lily

Rest in Peace, Lily

Our beautiful, happy girl lived full out until the last 60 seconds of her life, and then she passed away suddenly in my arms.

jennifer waters the happy dog mom smiles at boxer dog

The last 60 seconds of Lily’s life were the only warning I got that something was wrong.

She walked down the hall toward me, acting like she might be sick to her stomach. I guided her to the kitchen, wrapped my arms around her and asked her if she was okay, and then laid her down gently as I felt her legs give out.

Three more big breaths and she was gone.

I know there’s a blessing in saying she lived a good life right up until the very last minute, and then left quickly without suffering. It also would have been nice to have had some warning.

There is no easy way to lose a dog.

If I could play you a slideshow of the 11 years before yesterday, you’d see a stream of pure happiness, play and affection. Lily had a remarkably good life, one that wasn’t marred by the hardships and traumas that the other dogs we’ve brought into our family have experienced. She will be remembered in so many stories, and all of them will end in laughter. She was always ready to play, and she never passed up an adventure. But she was just as eager to settle down for a good cuddle, too.

Many of Lily’s stories also end with, “She was so naughty!” But you have to understand that her particular style of naughtiness wasn’t a source of frustration—it was something to be admired. She came into our world like a 5-pound whirlwind, deviously scheming up some of the most complicated, expensive acts of destruction I’ve ever seen in a dog. I am perversely proud that my baby girl chewed off every cement board corner of our house, stripped young trees of their bark and once ripped out all the wiring on the underground sprinkling system. I don’t remember her bothering with normal activities like chewing shoes or pillows—that was too mundane for her style. She preferred things like rolling jack-o-lanterns down the driveway—just to watch them get crushed by cars.

She also was sweet, and thankfully mellowed out later in life. She loved two things the most: her big brother Tyler, and my son, Aidan. Lily would hardcore ditch anyone and anything to spend time with her “boyfriend” Aidan. The day she died, I had told her, “You get to see Aidan one week from today!” He was away at college and hadn’t seen her since August. Going home for Thanksgiving will be very bittersweet now.

I am thankful that I can look back at the last weeks and not spot any signs that I missed. I wouldn’t want to live with the idea that I could have done something to prevent this. I am thankful that we braved the snow and cold to take the walks she loved the last days of her life. I am grateful that I made the effort to cut trails through the property because going on our daily “adventures” was one of her favorite things. I am grateful that I tucked her in every night, telling her I loved her and that she was the best baby girl. I am grateful she didn’t suffer. And I’m so thankful that she was our princess for almost 12 years, although no amount of time would have been long enough.

Every death has taught me something. Duke and Tyler taught me how to live those last days in presence and joy, saving the grief for after they’re gone. Lily is pushing that lesson further. Even when you don’t know that your dog is dying, live in presence and joy. Take the walks. Give out the treats. Say “I love you” every night as you tuck them in. We hear it over and over—live every moment like it could be your last. It’s an idea that is easy to dismiss when you always think you have more time. Lily’s gift is to show us that our next breath isn’t a given. Choose presence and joy today, like it’s the last day you may ever have.

Go get ‘em, Baby Girl. I know you’re pestering Tyler so hard right now, but I also know his playful little sister was one of the great joys of his life. Georgia is grieving, missing her constant outdoor adventure partner. And Archie…you might be interested to know that he guarded your body after you were gone.

You will be so missed, Lily, it’s hard to even comprehend right now in the hours after your sudden death. I’m so glad you didn’t suffer, and we’ll use that as a reminder not to suffer over your loss. I know we didn’t get to say goodbye, but I also know we never really have to say goodbye. You’re always in our hearts and we’ll be watching for you in our dreams, beautiful baby girl.  

Rest In Peace
2/8/11 – 11/16/22

Rest In Peace, Tyler

Rest In Peace, Tyler

On November 6, 2021, after almost 14 years of love and adventures, Tyler went to join Duke in spirit.

A Celebration of Life for the Dog Who Changed My Life

After almost 14 years of life and love, Tyler has gone to join Duke in spirit. The timing was perfect. We had beautiful moments until the very end, and then it was time. He didn’t suffer, but he also had no time left to spare.

senior dog boxer tyler

The last photo I took of Tyler, the day before we said goodbye.

There was a dark time in my life when I honestly didn’t think I could survive losing Tyler. He and I had a bond like no other. So it is a bit of a surprise that my overwhelming feeling in the days since his death has been one of gratitude for his life, rather than grief over his death. I miss him deeply and am grieving, of course, but I’m also aware that I couldn’t have asked for a moment or a memory more than he had already given me.

happy boxer dog in red flowers

The last photo I took of Tyler before we moved from the house where he lived for 13 years.

Tyler changed my life. It’s hard to describe his complexity and presence in words. If you met him, you knew: he wasn’t like other dogs. He was stubborn and demanding, but he also had a huge heart and an old-soul wisdom. He showed me a deeper, wiser, more emotional side of animals that I’d never seen before, and it opened up a passion and purpose in me. Tyler was my inspiration to leave corporate and become a pet photographer. A decade later, he continued to inspire me to go beyond pretty pictures and start advocating for greater dog health, happiness and longevity.

boxer dog in lake michigan

He was a model for what is possible when we see the inherent wisdom, divinity and unconditional love in dogs, and learn to give back to them as much as they give to us. He healed me, and he pushed me to learn how I could heal him in return. The end result is that we had almost 14 years of beautiful moments together. To have a Boxer reach almost 14 years is no small feat. I promised him I would keep showing others how they can do the same for their own dogs.

boxer dog in fall grass field

Tyler loved our new life in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and I’m so grateful he got to experience it. Apparently, he had waited his whole life to be a “farm” dog, and he finally got to live his dream. He loved “checking the perimeter” with me, walking the borders of our property to make sure everything was in place. He loved doing “chores” with me, jogging alongside me as I did yard work. He loved watching sunsets on the deck with me, staying by my side for as long as I chose to stay and watch the sky. He played in Lake Superior, waterfalls, the mouth of the Huron River, forests, lighthouses, and ate dinner at the Mackinac Bridge and just about every roadside park between L’Anse and St. Ignace. One week after he was given a week to live, he was standing in the wild waves of Point Abbaye, grabbing mouthfuls of the Lake Superior water he loved so much. My boy wasn’t one to rest. (Fun fact: Tyler didn’t let me sleep in or take a whole nap for a single day of his life!) He was my constant companion, protector and co-adventurer until the very end.

boxer dog in lake superior point abbaye upper peninsula michigan
senior boxer dog watching sunset from deck lake superior keweenaw bay upper peninsula michigan
boxer dogs eating dinner point abbaye lake superior upper peninsula michigan
happy senior boxer dog
happy senior boxer dog fall field

The day before Tyler died, I had a dream that Duke was a deer and he was waiting at the fence line for Tyler. The day after Tyler died, two deer ran full speed into traffic at a busy intersection, darted right in front of my car, and leapt off into the field on the other side. (At exactly 11:11am. If you know, you know.)

It was an unmistakable sign. Duke found Tyler, and my boys are running through new adventures of their own now. And obviously causing all sorts of trouble, as all good Boxers would

Run free in love and joy, my heart dog.

Thank you for all you gave us. 

I love you more than words will ever be able to say.

jennifer waters happy dog mom signature


How Is Georgia?

How Is Georgia?

Understanding How Dogs Grieve and How to Help Them Through It

“How is Georgia?” Bless your kind hearts, I’ve been asked that a lot since Duke’s last day.

My answer is a slightly unsatisfying…I think she’s fine, maybe?

The reason I can’t give a definite answer is because it’s more complicated than whether or not she is grieving Duke.

Dogs absolutely feel grief, and I have no doubt that she misses her constant companion for the last year and a half.

From the first day Duke arrived, Georgia was so attentive to his every move, helping him navigate when he needed it and simply being in close proximity when he didn’t. It was a fact that I couldn’t bend down to pet Duke without Georgia zooming in alongside him to join in. I would laugh and call it POGO…Pet One Get One free.

Georgia had a bond with Duke that is unlike any other relationship I’ve seen her have. It would be hard to comprehend if she didn’t miss him.

But is she grieving?

Signs of Grief in Dogs

These are the signs of grief in dogs that I’ve been watching out for:

  • sleeping more (or less) than normal
  • eating less
  • having accidents in the house
  • withdrawing from people and other pets, or becoming more clingy
  • showing more aggressive or destructive behaviors
  • making more noises (like whimpering, whining, barking or howling)
  • separation anxiety
  • unexplained personality changes

Overall, Georgia seems happy enough. Nothing seems “off” about her personality. She is eating, exercising and playing with her new favorite toy, the stuffed avocado I gave her to cuddle when she was done saying goodbye to Duke. She also has been cuddling a lot with Lily, which is what they used to do before Duke came. It’s amazing how my camera photos used to be filled with pictures of Lily and Georgia together, then Duke and Georgia together, and now back to Lily and Georgia.

She has shown some signs of grief, though.

She slept in Duke’s bed the first night he was gone. She occasionally sits in front of me, ears back a little, and just stares into my eyes, almost seeming to plead for something I can’t give her.

She also has been sleeping a lot.

But they ALL are sleeping a lot. And that’s where the question of grief gets complicated.

The extra sleeping could absolutely be a sign of grief, or it could be them settling into the normal patterns they would have had if Duke wasn’t around to wake them up every two hours.

Duke had a fairly busy schedule for an old blind dog. His world was dark, so his stimulation came from getting up and walking around. We had a routine where he would wake up about every two hours, and I would escort him around wherever he wanted to go, usually ending up outside and then helping him back inside. The other dogs would always come along, of course, because where mom goes, everyone goes.

But the other dogs didn’t actually need to go outside every two hours. They just went because they didn’t want to be left behind.

So, are they sleeping more because they miss Duke and feel the heart-heaviness in their people?

Or are they sleeping more because Duke isn’t here to wake everyone up every two hours and give them a reason to go outside?

If in the next couple weeks they start to get more active, I think we could say it was grief. If they don’t, then we can say they’re just settling into the routines they would have had if Duke didn’t keep interrupting their naps!

How to Help a Grieving Dog

Either way, losing a family member is a big adjustment, and I’ve been doing several things to support them through it.

All the dogs are getting extra attention. That is one of the best things you can do for a surviving or grieving dog. Attention doesn’t have to be long, drawn out cuddle sessions if you don’t have time for it. It can be as simple as talking to your dogs while you’re doing other things, meeting their eye contact when you find them looking at you, or maybe an extra walk or extra time outside together. One of Georgia’s absolute favorite things is when I sing songs to her with her name in it, such as Georgia on My Mind by Ray Charles. She wiggles her tail and butt every time I get to her name, and luckily she’s not much of a voice critic.

Another thing I’m doing to support my dogs is keeping them on their regular schedule. There is enough change in their life right now that I don’t want them to have to navigate unexpected schedule shifts, too. Keeping them on the same feeding, walking and bedtime schedule they had before Duke left gives them the comfort of knowing what to expect out of each day.

Letting them say goodbye to Duke after he left his body was possibly the most important part of their grieving process. Georgia hasn’t had to look for Duke (a common occurrence when a dog dies away from home) because she was right there with him. I was so fortunate to have Heaven at Home Pet Hospice minister the euthanasia at our home, on blankets in the sunshine and grass in our own yard. Each dog took turns smelling Duke after he took his last breath, and then the vet pointed out what happened next: each one of them turned their back to Duke, including Georgia.

I don’t know what this means, but they stood like a wall around him, heads pointed out away from him, until a silent understanding passed through them and they all walked away. Tyler and Lily seemed to go back to their regularly scheduled business, while Georgia came back and spent quite a bit more time with Duke. She stayed very close to him as the vet gently moved his body onto a stretcher, and as my boys carried the stretcher to the car. She spent more time sniffing him and reaching her face close to his once he was in the back of the car, and Dr. Amy Hoss was gracious enough to give her all the time she needed. I believe this understanding of exactly what happened to Duke and where he went is the main reason they seem to be navigating this change so well.

Finally, I’m managing my own grief around them. I am not crying into their fur when I’m reminded of Duke, such as those moments when I’ve grabbed four leashes to walk three dogs, given Duke’s name to the vet when I meant to make an appointment for Tyler, or habitually reached to pick up a fourth food bowl that is no longer there. Those moments will bring you to your knees, but I prefer to handle them on my own. Not that my dogs wouldn’t gladly cuddle up for a cry if I needed them to, but I want to be considerate of the fact that their hearts might be hurting, too.

In time, I know that my grief, as well as theirs, will fade.

I love this beautiful message sent to me by life coach Lisa Carpenter last week:

“Just keep surrendering to the waves as they roll in, knowing they’ll roll back out and feel more gentle in time.”

Additional Resources

If you or someone you know would like extra support while navigating the grief of pet loss, please check out these resources.

Joy Session Network

Goodbye, Friend: Healing Wisdom for Anyone Who Has Ever Lost a Pet (book, affiliate link)

Heaven at Home’s Memorial Page 

Local Pet Loss Grief Support Groups

jennifer waters happy dog mom signature
Rest in Peace, Duke

Rest in Peace, Duke

On April 3, 2021, we lost our Duke to cutaneous lymphoma and megaesophagus.

I could have lived a lifetime with you, sweet boy.

Gently, slowly, guiding your beautiful blind self around obstacles, into sunbeam napping spots and through big adventures in the woods and lakes. Delighting in your happiness. Grateful for your healing presence. Inspired by your resilience and never-ending trust.

Feeding you bananas while you looked the wrong way.

There was something magical about you, buddy. You came to me in the moment that I needed you most, even though I certainly didn’t think an old, blind, abandoned dog was what I needed. You healed my heart.

You gave the kids and me comfort in quarantine, making it okay to slow down and enjoy simple evenings watching you and Georgia cuddle by the fireplace. You cast a spell over those who met you and brought joy to so many more who could only meet you through photos.

You never asked for anything, but I would have given you the world. I promised you a good life, and I hope you feel like we delivered. Now that you’re gone I can see how much I rearranged my life for yours. I ache for the impossible chance to do it again, for even one more day.

Thank you for letting me know it was time.

Thank you for hanging on until we could all be here to give you the beautiful last day you deserved.

And thank you for the signs letting me know you’ve arrived, you’re okay, and we are loved.

Your Georgia will be okay. She spent time with you after you left us, and she slept in your bed the first night it was empty. I gave her a stuffed avocado toy because you know how she loves to cuddle things. We are taking good care of her.

Cielle, Aidan and I will be okay in time. Our hearts are shattered. Only a love that runs so deep can hurt this bad.

Rest in peace, Duke. Run with eyes wide open. Spread that magical love wherever you go. Know that you are forever loved and forever family, my beautiful boy.


jennifer waters happy dog mom signature


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