When A Pet Dies

Dear friends at Banfield Hospital,

As I sit down to write this long over-due note of thanks, I find I’m still fighting back the tears from the loss of my sweet friend, Caramel. I am still sorting through the tornado-like mess of feelings that her death caused, and words alone cannot express the gratitude I feel for the compassionate care that we received during that very difficult time for Caramel and our family.  Despite the fact that we were spending ridiculous amounts of time, energy, and money on a little rodent, we were treated throughout her illness with dignity and respect.  We appreciated the warmth and concern from your staff which guided us through every step of this incredibly painful journey.

Nothing could have prepared me for that emotionally-charged afternoon when we made our last visit to your office and finally realized that we had no other choice but to say “goodbye.” I thought my heart would break in two when we brought Caramel in to ask you to put her to sleep. It felt like I was killing her, which wasn’t making sense at all because I wanted to keep her forever, to never let her go, to never say goodbye. I felt so stupid crying like I did, carrying on like that, in front of my kids and your nurse, whom I’ll call Jennifer because I was so distraught that I never did get her name. My daughter even asked me if this was my first time to ever lose a pet. Can you imagine? But Jennifer never said a word.  She just waited until we were ready and, with a soothingly-calm reassurance, she let us know that you supported our decision about what’s best for our furry friend. Since Caramel’s health had deteriorated so badly, it was the kindest thing we could do, the only thing we had left to give to her. But that “gift” of peace for her translated into unimaginable pain for us.

We aren’t really even pet people, or at least we weren’t until Caramel came along. Having grown up on a dairy farm, I always believed that animals belong in the barn. And since we live in the suburbs and don’t have a barn, I figured we wouldn’t ever be pet owners. But things changed so quickly that fateful day, right around the time when our fifth-grade daughter, Kaitlyn, found out the truth about Santa, The Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny all at once. She was sobbing so hysterically that when she came up for air and asked to have a pet, I said “absolutely!” just to de-escalate, appease, and calm her. I guess I’m lucky she didn’t have a horse in mind! Anyway, we were headed to PetCo before we knew it and she picked out the cutest little teddy bear hamster she could find. We didn’t know a thing about hamsters so it was with extreme caution that we even decided to give her a try. The trip home was funny, really, because that little rascal tried so desperately to scratch her way out of that little paper carrier that we were all so nervously-aware, okay, frightened, of her every move. We were scared about what Dad would say, too. The kids wanted to farkle (you know, paper, rock, scissors) to see who had to tell him that we were now proud pet owners of a new little friend, basically a mouse without a tail. And so Caramel came to live in our family and in our hearts. For almost two years.

She was such a cute little friend who developed an interestingly-playful personality, really. It was especially “fun” on those occasions when she escaped (did I mention that her middle name was Houdini?) and was on an adventure in the house somewhere. We’d hear her scratching in an attempt to make a jail break into the great outdoors. Those hamsters really can find and fit into small, remote spots. And when you want them to play, it’s more like they play on you than with you. Still, she endeared herself to us in no time and the two short years we had with her went all too quickly. We don’t know how, but she got sick last summer while we were away on vacation and she wasn’t ever the same. In the months that followed, she was so miserable as she scratched and itched and fought whatever it was that was making her so uncomfortable. We tried shots and vinegar baths and lots of TLC, but the illness, coupled with aging I suppose, got the best of her. It was mid-November, almost Thanksgiving, when we had to decide what would be best for our sweet little girl.  She didn't deserve to suffer like that any more.

I won’t ever forget dialing your phone number and choking back the tears just to ask the question no one should ever have to ask, “do you euthanize hamsters?” I was holding her up so that she could have a drink, knowing that soon she wouldn’t ever be thirsty again. I remember driving to your hospital and softly asking through misty eyes if we could see the exotic-animals doctor. I remember Jennifer explaining that our choices were cremation or a burial and I remember exactly how big my son’s eyes got when she defined the word cremation. I remember my little Joshua in your office asking, “if you put her to sleep, how long does she sleep?” That six-year-old innocence was about to be shaken a bit as Jennifer went on to explain that Caramel would be going to sleep forever. I remember him saying that that’s a very long time to never see or play with Caramel again. Jennifer gave us ample time to thank Caramel and bid her farewell before she returned to take Caramel to the back. After what seemed like an eternity, Jennifer came back in to our room and gave us Caramel’s little body so we could head home to bury her.  Before leaving, I went to pay and it was then that I noticed that Jennifer had decided not to charge us for an office visit since we’d already spent so much money trying to save our little friend’s life before facing her inevitable death.

I called my sister right after we buried Caramel and tried to explain how silly I felt grieving so hard for a hamster, but she put it so beautifully when she said, “yeah, but love is love.”  She was right.  I’d let myself love that little rascal and now I was paying for it with incredible pain.  If pain measures love, then I must have loved her like crazy, because I hurt like crazy that night.  And the next day.  And the next.  And a few more after that.

Things are better now.  We have a new sweet thing whom we call Candy.  She’s not Caramel, and at first I secretly didn’t even like her, but she’s growing on me. I take comfort in knowing that, should we ever need help for our little Candy-girl, the staff at Banfield will be there to meet not only her physical needs but our emotional needs as well.

Thanks again for being there in our time of need.




  1. Once again tears. I know how you feel, we just put our beloved Bronson down this past summer...he was the best dog ever. Before that my daughter had 2 rats and we watched their health deteriorate. The first rat Itty-Bitty was loved so deeply by my daughter she died in her hands as Kelsey lay in bed willing her little friend to get better. The unfortunate thing was that it was right in the middle of state testing and Kelsey was so upset she couldn't take the tests...they thankfully let her do make-ups the next week. It is amazing how quickly and how deeply we fall for our 4 legged friends. I am sorry for your loss but Candy is a lucky little hamster!
    The Picture Book Teacher's Edition

  2. OMG, I'm all choked up. Seriously. I've lost so many pets over the years (gerbils, rabbits, guinea pigs, dwarf African frogs, dogs) and I've cried my heart out for ALL of them. It's not weird, or strange ... it's normal. Cause you loved Caramel so much. Bless her little soul ~ and have fun with Candy :)

    Grade ONEderful

  3. I so feel your pain. We have had several dogs over the years due to living on a farm that found their lives cut short for one reason or another. We sobbed like babies every time. We now live right outside of the city limits on one acre, all fenced and have had to just bury one dog and one cat. Our other animals are all house animals (where they're a little safer). Your Caramel lived a good long life it sounds like. We had a beloved hampster, too. Miss Jackson was her name. We were told by our science teacher hampsters usually only live about one year. Miss Jackson lived long past that, too.


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