Dog Family

Heart in a Box – One of the Saddest Days of My Life

Dog Family saddest days of my life

It has taken me many years to get over the death of the first dog I owned as an adult. Now that we’re settled back in Austin, we’re thinking about the possibility of expanding our little family of two (no, not a baby) but even the thought of it still pulls at my heartstrings. I’m stuck in this living status limbo. Do we get a pup, solidifying our life back in the States? Or do we not, live with the hole in our heart and our family, and have the capability to leave the country on a whim again?

Let me explain why I feel like I can’t really do both.

Our first backpacking trip was to our biggest love, Japan. We stuffed everything we could into a normal back-to-school backpack for our 3 week exploration of a country where we didn’t know the language and really felt cocky that we could throw ourselves in and be fine. We learned that a week in Tokyo was too little, that you have to be on your feet to catch a glimpse of a Maiko in Gion, and that my tattoos were no problem since I was a foreigner.

In a time before smartphones were an accessible thing and none of our devices had access to wifi, we were essentially off the grid for a period of three weeks. Our lives weren’t particularly exciting, so what could happen in three weeks?

After we landed in LAX an hour before we took off in Tokyo, we were confused and incredibly jetlagged but excited to check in with friends and family. A quick press of a button to turn on our phones and our first *ding* of a voicemail. It is always nice to feel missed. Then an explosion occurred. *DING* *DING* *DING* *DING* *DING* *DING* *DING* *DING*

Holy hell we had 9 voice messages.

I quickly pulled the phone to my ear and a shaky voice was on the other end. “We… had… to put… Gizmo… down.”

Tears streamed down my face and my phone fell to the floor. My legs gave way and I fell into a weeping mess in the middle of the airport floor. I felt sick and everything started spinning. My dachshund Gizmo, my life, was no more.

saddest days of my life

At only 8 years old, this dog made a hell of an impression on me. When Shaun and I were barely affording to feed ourselves through college, were on the brink of dumpster diving starvation, and with no help, this little buddy crawled onto my lap for snuggles. When I had endless tears of frustration of holding a full time job and finishing college, I would come home to kisses and a long nose being jabbed into my eye. He was a warm heater in the winter and a hiking buddy in the summer. He provided more emotional support for me than anyone else besides Shaun. He was my comfort, my familiar, my best friend. I had officially met up with one of the saddest days of my life.

Dog in sleeve of jacket
He liked to snuggle up in the sleeve of my jacket.

The 3 hour flight home seemed like the longest flight I’ve ever been on in my life. When the flight attendant came by to ask if we could handle the emergency exit, Shaun and I both had tears streaming down our faces. Horrified looks appeared on the faces of those seated nearby, who assumed our tears were the result of a debilitating fear of flying, as they imagined what would happen in the event of an emergency.

All I could think of was that I failed him. I failed him. I wasn’t there in his last moments. I wasn’t there to stroke his head as he fell into his last slumber.

He had back problems before. We had to crate him for a month as he bounced back from near paralysis. Holding his little butt in my hands to help him go outside was heartbreaking. I can’t help to think that our “abandonment” of him was part of the cause of his relapse. I would have been able to see the warning signs. I could have taken initiative. The money from the trip could have gone to surgery.

It is all of the would’ves and could’ves that make it where, even 5 years later, I am afraid to get attached to another animal. I’m always smiling when I see other travel bloggers with their wee ones (or big ones!) in tow. It is something I want so badly. But between the guilt and the feeling of needing to get up and go, how does one do it?

So I’m still in limbo and I will be for another little while – besides the fact we currently live with 3 dogs (roomies) and can’t do anything until we get our own place. As we stood in the garage doing another item purge, I opened a box and a light blue collar with tags fell into my lap. I grabbed it and held it to my heart.

I’ve stored away my memories of Gizmo in a place I don’t have to visit very often, packed up, stashed in the corner gathering dust… along with a piece of my heart.

My dog saddest days of my life

37 thoughts on “Heart in a Box – One of the Saddest Days of My Life”

  1. Thank you for sharing this. One week ago, we had to say goodbye to our beloved, adored black lab, Chester. Chester was the world’s greatest travel partner and, like you, we got such incredible comfort from his love and loyalty during some of our most difficult times. We wrote our goodbyes to Chester on our blog and it was heartbreaking to remember all those incredible adventures and realize that we won’t be having any more with him. Already everyone asks us if we’re going to get another dog. But it’s not another dog we want -it’s Chester. I really hope, when the time is right for you, you’ll share the experience with us. I know that when you’re ready the right dog (or cat, or ferret, or goldfish)will be there.

    1. Spot. ON. I wanted more adventures with Gizmo. I wanted his little stubby legs and massive chest to come bounding at me when I get home.

      Funny thing though – we’ve actually had goldfish and ferrets before! 😛

  2. Oh, this makes my heart hurt! I immediately gave my two pups a hug. We’ve traveled the year with them in tow, but it hasn’t been without challenges. Many places don’t allow dogs and if they do it cost more. Kennel prices were outrageous when we left the country, and our puppies had a hard time adjusting with the non-stop travel. I’m always worried about their safety and happiness. Although it’s been tough, it can be done. You will know when the time is right to get another pup.

    1. Do it. You should give them a big ol’ smooch too. I have a few places I think I could keep a pup but it would have to wait until we get our own place. It just breaks my heart to think of a replacement.

  3. First off, im so sorry that happened to you. I also lost a family dog when I left for college. Its never easy – whether it happens when you are there or when you are gone.

    Theres nothing like the love of a furball.

    Which is why we decided to get a pup even though we travel often. We decided that we didn’t want to put our home life on hold just because we love to travel. Our pup, Cambodia, travels with us in the States, and has loving places to go when we leave for longer. She has a network of friends and family that watch her and we have a wonderful (and surprisingly affordable) daycare center/farm to send her to when we go away for longer spurts.

    I have never been so happy at home now that we have her. I highly recommend getting a pup again. Has helped me adapt to life both at home and on the road.


    1. You know what is funny (but not really)? I had never gone through a pet death until this one – and the fact he was MY dog probably made it a lot worse. I want a pup to travel with us in the States as well. I’m just not sure I’m ready yet and it happened in July 2008!

  4. What a sweet dog – Go for it, get another – any canine would be very lucky to have human friends like you guys and you can add my name to the list of potential puppy-sitters… so long as it’s house-broken. 🙂

  5. I’m so sorry you lost Gizmo.

    I would also love a dog. A few years ago we when we hatched the plan to go travelling we made the decision not to get one as we knew that there was no way we could have left it behind. This became all too apparent when we looked after a dog for 2 weeks in the summer. When he had to go back to his owner I cried because I knew I was going to miss him. I don’t envy your decision and I know we’ll be in the same position one day too.

    1. It is something that everyone should think about before either traveling long term or picking up a new pet. I’ve also had some sad times when we did housesitting/dogsitting as well. There is this awesome furbaby keeping you company and then you have to let go.

  6. I will never forget your call to me from the airport. I felt so helpless being far away and being unable to help you. As you know putting Viking down was a horrible experience for me too. But although I never wanted another dog, Elvis helped me through it. He will never replace Viking, but he does not have to. He is there for the hugs and snuggles when I need it.

    1. I think a huge part of it is that we don’t want to get a dog until Barrel passes since I feel awful that we “dumped” him on you (even though he is very much part of your family now). I just don’t know if I’m ready yet.

  7. I cannot even imagine what you went through. We left our beloved cat at home while we are away on our RTW trip. It was so hard, I can’t imagine what I would do if anything happened to her. I actually got her tattooed on my side, so every time I wear a swimsuit she’s there with me.

    Thank you for sharing your story with us

  8. thank you so so much for your lovely and meaningful post erica. you are wonderful. and i’m sending you big hugs 🙂

  9. This post nearly made me cry! Ever since I was born we’ve always had multiple dogs (and even a few cats), so I’ve seen quite a few pass.

    I worry constantly about my dogs back home while I’m in Asia as they’re getting older. Johnny and I constantly toy with the idea of getting a pet while we’re out here, but we’re just not sure it’s the right time. If we were just traveling around the US we’d do it in a heartbeat… but I just don’t think it’s fare to make them ride across the Pacific when it would be time to go home, and then to sit in quarantine.

    I think when the timing is right, you’ll know. 🙂

    1. I’ve had so many dogs over the years that being without them is really weird.

      So, not that I’m being a bad influence, however I think that the USA doesn’t have quarantine as we have every animal borne illness. 😛

  10. Oh Erica, this is so sad! I’m crying. I can’t imagine having to find out about your dog that way. Don’t blame yourself, you couldn’t have stopped it, and you certainly can’t go back and change anything now.

    Instead of baby fever, I think I’m having puppy fever. I see cute dogs everywhere, and I’m constantly pointing them out to Andy and saying “aw cute puppy!” as if I’ve never seen one before. But for me, I know I don’t want to travel with a dog, and I think I’d be miserable having to take it out for walks in the cold German winter.

    If you do decide you want to look into getting a dog that you can travel with, talk to my friend Gigi at She travels full time with a small (and adorable) dog, she has tons of posts on her site about how she does it, and she’s really great if you want to email her. Traveling with a dog isn’t for everyone, but it can certainly be done if you want to. Hers is certified as an emotional support dog, which comes with some extra benefits for when you fly. Just something to think about.

    Big hugs from Germany! So sorry about your cute dog!

    1. I started crying when I was writing it. I knew I had to get it out there if that was the case as writing is incredibly therapeutic for me.

      The thing is, I am not a fan of small little dogs. If I get something, I’m looking at 40lbs+ and that isn’t a dog you can stick under your seat, ya know? 😛

      1. You technically can get a bigger dog certified as an emotional support dog, and they have to let you fly with it even if it doesn’t fit under the seat. (Supposedly they’ll seat you in the bulkhead row so the dog can lay at your feet.) It’s certainly a bigger pain though, and I can completely understand it’s not a commitment to take lightly.

  11. awww… what a cutie he was! And he was lucky he had you both. 🙂

    I am going to go on the other side of the fence here and say do not get a dog right now. You are constantly saying that you want to travel and you have a lot of traveling to do. Take it from someone that travels and has a dog. It is HARD leaving him. It is the hardest part of travel. It sucks and it never gets any better or easier. We are lucky we have a great place for him to stay but I still feel terrible and I can say chachy is prob. one of the biggest reasons we do not hop around overseas as much as I had planned. He is a great travel dog and loves to go on trips but it is a very nerve wracking thought to consider taking him into other countries. Chachy randomly walked into my life and I wouldn’t have it any other way but I wouldn’t have actually gone out to purposely get a dog and I definitely wouldn’t recommend it knowing how much you love being able to take off on a whim.

    It is really hard to leave and if you still want to travel you’ll be holding yourself back. Wait a while see what happens and how much time you spend overseas first.

    1. I do want to travel, however I am convinced that we are at the end of our line when it comes to long term travel. I am waiting another 6 months or so to see where we end up with Shaun’s firefighter thing and the whole deal but I’ve basically called it at this point. Only small 1 week trips every so often and the occasional weekend. No money in blogging. No money in photography. I’m keeping the blog for the love of blogging but I’m moving on.

  12. I have grown up with dogs and it is so difficult to say goodbye. The most difficult was the last one, he had been in our family longer than my sister and all my childhood memories are with the dog.

    1. Oh that is pretty crazy. My mom had a habit of getting rid of every dog we owned well before they expired so this was my first pet death. I can only imagine how hard it was to have that long time family member pass.

  13. This is my worst nightmare. Even though “my” dog has long since become my dad’s dog (who he liked the most from the beginning, anyway) I sometimes feel like life at home revolves around him! I don’t think anyone could stop me in my tracks quite like hearing news like you did.

    One thing that has helped me, somewhat, with my puppy lust is that whenever I’m somewhere for a longer period of time I volunteer at an animal shelter. Its a win win as I get some doggies to snuggle and they get some love white waiting for a forever home.

    1. Our other old dog has also become my dad’s dog! He was never the same after Giz died and I’m glad that he could find a place in my dad’s home with other puppies to keep him company.

      I am hoping to volunteer a bit more once we can get our money under control.

  14. Oh honey, this brought tears to my eyes. I totally understand your pain and your struggles with bringing another love into your life. I have been on the road for two of my dogs deaths — both who essentially grew up with me. The first was when I was in Vegas. I was hysterical for days and felt so sad I wasn’t there to say goodbye. The second was last year. It was easier, but still hurt so bad. But, I can also say this — animals add such an incredible joy to life. They ARE there when you need them, when you hurt, when you don’t hurt, and it is a beautiful thing. We all have to experience their loss, but we also get to experience THEM and while the pain will be tucked away, so will beautiful memories. I love you my sweets.

    1. It sucks when you’re not there. It really, really does and there are no words that can accurately describe it. I think you have pegged it though – I’m afraid of going through the loss again.

    1. Aww! You’re blog is super cute. I love that you take your dog with you. I wish more places were more dog friendly so that we could take our furry family members with us, wherever we go.

  15. Wow – heart wrenching story! I never grew up with dogs but have actually (secretly) been considering taking in a new pet of my own…

    PS: Gizmo = Great name.

    1. OOOoooooo – what are you thinking about getting? Also, thanks! The way I name my animals is that they kinda have to reveal themselves. I like to have them reflect personality. 🙂

  16. Thanks for posting this-I recently lost my Jack Russell in August and still mourn his loss. People without pets post judgement on facebook via email for me to seek counseling when i post pics of him…for me it like loosing a child and he was mine.

    1. I am so sorry Chris. I COMPLETELY get it. I post pictures of my baby too. Some people don’t view their animals as family – we do. They will always hold a very special place in our hearts and people need to get over themselves with how we mourn.

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