It's a word that can invoke in us the deepest, most terrible feelings of loss, horror, anger, and helplessness. Why did I do what I did? Why couldn't I have done more? Did I kill my beloved pet? Did I not do enough? Did I do too much? Did I put him/her down too soon? Did I wait too long? If only I had closed the gate. If only I had noticed sooner. If only I had waited longer. If only I had more money. If only I had rushed to the vet sooner. If only I had known more at the time. If only I had listened to my gut feelings. If only I had gone to a better vet.
And we beat ourselves up for all these questions and "if-onlys". Why do we do this? Because we loved our pets. Because we wish we could have done more, or wish we had not done what we did.
But we cannot bring them back. We cannot change what we did or did not do.
What we can do is stop hurting ourselves over the guilt. Each of us, in our own way, did what we thought was right at the time, using what we knew and felt. Each of us tried to do the best we could, and did it with the intention of love.
We are human beings, with frailties and faults. We don't know everything. We make mistakes. But we make them with the best of intentions.
To hurt ourselves with the terrible additional pain of guilt is to do disservice to the love we felt for our pets. With very, very few exceptions, we did the best we knew to do at the time. Even if we feel that we didn't do what we should have, or did what we should not have, we have learned, and everyone will benefit from that knowledge now.
Our beloved pets are gone, and out of pain. We still torture ourselves with the pain of guilt and doubt. It's human to do that, too, but are we being fair to ourselves?
We loved, deeply, and that says that we have a deep capacity for love that many do not. We are basically good people. Should we not recognize that goodness, instead of inflicting pain on ourselves for what we could, or should, or should not have done?
We took in a beloved creature, and gave him or her everything we could. We petted, we walked, we fed, we changed litterboxes, we played, we stroked, we sat sleepless on difficult nights. We cared, and did everything we knew to do at the time. And we looked in their eyes, and knew they understood that we loved them, and knew that they loved us.
If we didn't know enough, or made an innocent mistake, do we believe that they did not understand, and love and forgive us in spite of it? I believe they did, and that they do.
We need to forgive ourselves. If we can, we can increase our knowledge, reach out to help others, and use our pain to make things better for our pets, for others' pets, and for those animals out there who are alone and lost. We can make a difference. But only if we quit hating ourselves, blaming ourselves, for being human.
Let the guilt go. Know that your furbabies don't blame you; they understand, because they know your heart. Let yourself forgive yourself, and allow all the love you have to be there for another. There are so many who need it.
Learn, and then teach. Keep learning, and don't stop. Every pebble of knowledge and caring you send out will ripple throughout the world, and keep growing. And perhaps in time, every animal will be loved, and well-cared for, and there will be a great golden age for the animals, and for those of us who love them.
September 10, 1999