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No Happy Endings—Dealing With Pet Deaths: Actors Joe Pantoliano and Tony Denison Weigh In

Do you cremate? Keep ashes? Drop off your dead animal and walk away? Do you hire a company to collect the body and return the ashes? Two pet-loving actors discuss their experiences and feelings.

I'm on a cold slab of concrete petting my big, black lab who is about to die. She's breathing stubbornly, looking at me for permission to let go. I'm telling her in every way I can it's okay with me for her to leave that cancerous body all full of pain and tumors.

"It's okay, Bellah. I'll be okay, Belle."

I sneeze. The concrete is littered with stubborn left-over hairs from the last dogs who died here this evening. Some white and some red hairs remained after the last sweep-up in this clinic. Bellah was dropping several of her own brown and black hairs now. She seems ready to drop the whole furry body she's been stuck in.

(This is a situation where one waits until the last possible moment to go to an emergency pet clinic for emergency euthenasia.) 

It is actually perfect in many ways. It is so late that it's like being partly sedated by sleep deprivation. It is so rushed that I forget to grieve until moments before and then all the long, forever moments after that fatal injection.

The vet leans down and asks if I'm ready. A conduit for the lethal dose was already installed, and they'd given me plenty of time to say goodbye. Bellah needed to say goodbye as well, though some would say I project this onto her. Some would say I am not really listening to life but giving a line reading to all my living things, while pretending to be listening. My view is that animals are more conscious than we admit or perceive or understand. Bellah knew she was dying, on some level, and seemed to want to hear and see me give her the release command to move on.

It's not science. It's just my personal take on it.

"Yes. We're ready," I tell the vet. Bellah has been blinking these long, slow-motion blinks that seem to say:

"I'm ready, master. Please let me go!"

She sniffs at me a great deal at the end. She licks me a bit. But her gaze is dull and unfocused, seeming to slowly inspect the corners of the room and then blankly facing the throw rug the doctor pushed under us to comfort our last minutes.

It was a newly cleaned rug, thick enough to add a gentle layer of cushion for an otherwise completely uncomfortable moment.

The doctor administered the injection, and Bellah's eyes found mine immediately, locked on and opened wide.

"Oh!"

I let out a little startled sound, because I am suddenly terrified she is hurting from the shot. She collapses right after letting out a huge sigh. No more breath, just a last twitch or two.

I stay on the floor for a while, holding her huge, limp, furry frame like a life raft in a rapids. Later I surrender her to the vet's choice of cremation company, and I receive the ashes the next day or so. Her ashes are distributed in several spots: across a favorite garden, into the ocean where she loved to splash, and  strewn across her favorite stopping spots beside the Fryman trail.

And that's how Bellah ended.

Did I drop her off? No. I stayed. Did I hold her during the injection? Yes. I needed to hold her and see the dying breath. Did I have her cremated? Yes, and I paid for the ashes and a receptacle.

There are many choices people can make. This is part of a series of pieces exploring the options for handling pet death that people in Studio City and Sherman Oaks and North Hollywood have. To give some color to this topic, I asked Joey Pants (Joe Pantoliano, actor known best for his work in Sopranos and many other fine feature performances, recent author of his memoir called 'Assylum,' which is his second book) and actor, Tony Denison (The Closer and Major Crimes) to share their experiences and choices with how to handle dead animals.

We gather in the Apple Store, where Joe is having emergency work done on his iPhone, while we discuss the actors' experiences with pets, death, families, feelings and the choices they decided to make as their pets died.

(A note for the video: Joe is talking about dogs, mostly, though he mentions briefly a cat. Tony is a long-time cat lover, and his line of loved pets is featured in an upcoming tribute later in this series.)

Don Helverson June 12, 2012 at 09:52 AM
I think we are partly taken by surprise at how much we need our pets. We kid ourselves into thinking they need us, but not vice versa. When they pass, the truth of "It is better to love than be loved," rings throughout our lives. We care for animals, an act of love, which helps us much more than others loving us. We need to be needed, and that may be the deepest need of all. Something pets fulfill beautifully is that they do need us. For better or worse, we love them and benefit. Someone telling me I'm beautiful is fun. Someone telling me it's time for dinner is connecting me to real caring, consciousness of others, service. Pets literally heal us from our selfishness. It gets no deeper.
Rosemary Chiaverini June 12, 2012 at 04:45 PM
Thank you all and Don for continuing to write about the lost of our dear pets. I agree with Don that we need them as much as they need us. Perhaps it is because they have no voice that we open our hearts with so much compassion, commitment and love to the degree we do. But they do the same for us. When I went through 15 months of cancer treatment 9 years ago, my beloved Sophie never left my side. When I was wretching over the toilet, her head was on my feet as if to say "it's going to be OK." So when it came to her life, I never left her side either. I am one of those people (and I am sure the other posters would agree) that if I had been in New Orleans during Katrina, I would have been on top of the roof too.
PM July 09, 2012 at 03:48 PM
Thank you so much for sharing this. Grief leaves one feeling so alone and this piece makes it less so. My two crazy wonderful dogs are elderly and I know the end is coming soon. In the last two years I also lost 3 horses. The pain is as deep as the love.
Jan July 18, 2012 at 06:15 PM
I never considered myself an "animal person," so I was quite surprised at my reaction to the death of the first pet I had as an adult. Sobbed off and on for days!
jennne September 18, 2012 at 11:59 AM
Ham thanks for being the part of us such a wonderful content and i filly agree with your all the points.also wanna suggest you that is you wanna more info about the pet after their death so just have a look of www.petmemoriesok.com

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