My Dog Died and I Didn’t Make it Home in Time to Say Goodbye

Putting your dog to sleep is one of the hardest things to do. Sadly I learned, not being there is even harder.


I still vividly remember the day my dog Teddy died six years ago. We got him when I was six so we had grown up together, and as cliche as it sounds, he was my best friend. The last year of his life we slowly saw him go from a dog who ran around the basement in circles (I swear he would have made a great track star) to a dog that could barely walk down the stairs. The day we had to put him down — Monday, July 21, 2008 — he couldn’t even stand to go to the bathroom. It wasn’t easy to say goodbye.

One of my last photos with Teddy the summer he passed away.

Exactly six years later — Monday, July 21, 2014 — my parents were forced to put down our other dog, Jessy. Her illness was such a surprise that I didn’t even make it in time to say goodbye. Saying goodbye to your dog, your best friend, is one of the hardest things to do. What’s even harder is never getting to say goodbye.

Jessy was always very photogenic.

I left for a weekend trip to Nashville the Thursday before Jessy’s death. That was also the same day my parents brought her to the vet and found out she had to go to the animal hospital in New Jersey for intensive care. The doctors didn’t know what was wrong at first, but they assured my parents that they could take her home in the next few days. (They later figured out she had systematic inflammatory response syndrome, a response to a form of bacteria). Not wanting to disrupt my vacation, my parents never mentioned her hospital trip. When I returned on Sunday, still nothing — they were told she would be coming home the next day.

Jessy taking a break on my parents’ bed.

On Monday, I called my dad to catch up — we hadn’t spoken on the phone in almost a week. Only minutes before our conversation, the doctor had called to say that Jessy had taken a turn for the worse. At nine pounds, she wasn’t big enough to fend off the bacteria and her kidney and liver were failing. Trying to speak between sobs I told my father I would get on the next bus (a three-hour ride upstate from New York City) and go with them to put her down. Sadly, there wasn’t enough time. “I don’t think you’re gonna make it,” he told me. “We’re leaving for the hospital in a few minutes.”

Jessy not-so-patiently asking me to play…typical.

Less than two hours later, my dad called from the hospital and held the phone up to Jessy’s ear. This was my only chance at saying goodbye. I spoke into the phone and, of course, there was no response. My dad said into the receiver, “she lifted her head when she heard your voice.” That was my only goodbye.

My roommate’s idea of the perfect birthday present—a Jessy tank top.

I understand my parents tried to protect me from seeing her in pain. I get to remember her as she was — a hyper, loving nine-year-old Yorkiewho still acted like a puppy. Saying goodbye to my first dog Teddy was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, but I gained a sense of closure from it. By not getting that moment with Jessy, she doesn’t feel dead to me.

Maybe it’s partly because I didn’t see her every day. I still feel like she’s at my parents’ house lying on the couch or barking at their front door. When I’m in Manhattan, she’s still there to me. When I visit for the weekend, it’s like realizing she’s gone … again.It’s like experiencing the same moment again and again,like the movieGroundhog Day.I find myself looking at the couch or the stairs, expecting her to be lying there.And I feel disappointed when she doesn’t wake me up at 5 a.m. to go to the bathroom and play.

She couldn’t possibly be gone. I didn’t get to say goodbye.

Have you ever not been able to say goodbye to a beloved dog? How has it affected you? What advice would you give others? Let us know in the comments.

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12 thoughts on “My Dog Died and I Didn’t Make it Home in Time to Say Goodbye”

  1. I lost my puppy today. Lexi was almost 12 and she was SO loved. I didn’t get to say goodbye. We knew something was going on because she was losing weight but the vet kept saying she was just getting old. I went on vacation this week and my parents took her to a new vet. It turns out she has cancer. They thought they could do a surgery but she got weak really fast. I tried to get an earlier flight home but it was still too late. My parents and my sisters got to be there with her and they FaceTimed me. I don’t know how I’ll ever move on. I’m so heartbroken. I’m completely devastated. I love you, Lex.

  2. I’m reading this in a study hall at school. I’m only in eighth grade… I lost my dog one year ago, in January. I knew she had cancer but I was horrible to her. My last word to her was, “Move!!”. My parents are divorced and I switch houses every Sunday. I was about to leave to go to my mom’s house, when she was in front of the door. I bet she just wanted me to pet her, but no, I pushed her and yelled, “Move!!”. I never hurt her, but I never really spent time with her. It made me feel awful when I got a call the next Friday, saying, “Joan… (I could hear my stepmom cry in the background) you know… Nala (my dog) has had cancer… (At this point I knew what had happened and I started crying myself) I’m sorry you couldn’t be here with us, I would give you a big hug and we could cry together… I’m sorry to be telling you over call. I would’ve told you in person but then I would have to wait until next Sunday… I didn’t want you to wait… I wanted you to know right away.” Then I hung up. I threw the phone across the room, I was so mad. (Then I got in trouble ’cause it was my mom’s phone, it didn’t break though) I was even more upset when I found out that she really died that Tuesday, and I was told on Friday! I had a picture of her when I was young and a video with her in it. That’s it. One video and one picture. I never said goodbye. I never told her just how much I loved her. I never told her how mad I was at myself for yelling at her. I locked myself in my room and didn’t come out until a few days later. My dad told me to come down because I needed to eat, take care of myself. I ate some food, took a shower, then I saw the box with her ashes in it on the table. I started crying and ran to my room. I never locked it and my dad came in and told me about how she died peacefully. I wouldn’t have wanted it to change. I just want to say goodbye. I even write letters to her even though she’s a dog and … (dead). If it weren’t for her death, I never would have gotten my two new puppies. She died in January of 2018. We got our new puppies in August of 2018. It’s now March of 2019. I miss her very much, but I hope she knows I love her.

  3. At least she was with family. My dog of 14 years died in the kennel while I was recovering from surgery in the hospital. She died all alone and I can’t hekp but think after being there 2 weeks she didn’t know if we were coming back. Awful

  4. thing is… i dont even know when my dog died, or that my dog was going to, he was only 10 and i study abroad.
    my parents never told me the state of my dog, it was only whe n i went back home after 4 months of being away that they told me that they put him down- he couldnt walk, didnt eat, and he didnt move…
    its been 8 months since i knew, yet i have no idea where he is, whether if hes cremated or if hes buried, the only thing my parents tole me was that he remains in our hearts. i know my parents are trying to protect me but i didnt get to say goodbye to my dog, not even through phone call, it hurts so much and im still hoping i see him again when i go back home after my school term.
    i feel like my dog forgot about me because i started studying abroad and im rarely home.. i just miss him so, so much…

  5. Missy’s 2nd Best Friend

    I lost my dog today. I didn’t say goodbye, because she had always come back from the vet before. There was nothing special about today, either. I had always wanted to feed her hamburgers and ice cream and chocolate on the day she died, but I don’t think she even had lunch. I didn’t say goodbye because I was too preoccupied with what I was doing to rub her belly one last time. That’s all she ever wanted, was to be with people, have her belly scratched, and protect her family. I love her so much, but no matter how much I loved her, my dad loved her more. They were inseparable. That’s why he won’t bury her, or go back for her ashes. He can’t bring himself to do it. I won’t ever see her, ever again, unless it is when I die, too. She meant so much to us, but I don’t know if she knew it. We had to lock her up every day in a metal cage because she would chew through wood, plastic, anything a dog could. Why? Because she wanted, more than anything, to be with us. I didn’t take her on as many walks as I should have. I didn’t play with her as much as I should have. I didn’t clean her cage, or her bowl, or the yard because I am so selfish. I didn’t pet her enough. I hope she knows how much I love her. I love her so much

    1. I feel you. I lost my chinchilla that I had for 5, almost 6 years a few days ago. I never really pet him or played with him ever, in fact, I only played with him once every three months probably. I only pet him about once every two weeks so I didn’t pet him for weeks before he died. I really loved him though, but I was so ignorant and selfish and I didn’t care about how he was in a little cage every day and all he could do was eat and sleep. I am still so guilty and I really hope he forgives me. I cried sooooo much for the past few days. The day he died my friend and I had a sleepover I didn’t even acknowledge him at all, so we don’t know the time he died. I also only have about 4 pictures of him, the last photo I took was in 2018. I will forever feel guilty and sad, I miss him so much I remember holding his body before he was gonna be cremated, remembering, it was the last time I’d see and hold him until I join him in heaven. I still have to go to school and bottle up my feelings. How have you been coping?

  6. We lost our boy yesterday, he went in his sleep at the kennels and we are on the other side of the world. He was 10 and seemed fine, it’s a huge shock and we are devastated.

    I feel awful we weren’t there for him, and won’t get to hold him again, he’s already been cremated and we are both struggling to accept the reality of this as it all happened so fast.

    He was a good boy. Loved forever.

  7. Yes. I lost my darling wonderful girl… she had neck problems…. everytime she would yelp, I thought it was a sore ear or tooth. I took her to vets… he said probably a creak in her neck ie whatever she lay or an injury….. this went for a few weeks…. until she started to barely hold her head up. I took her 5th time to the vets…. at this stage the guy was just shaking his head…. I asked him could he take an xray… he said no….as it would show nothing up…. I was offered no advice just take her collar off her….finally he took her in for observation… I hated leaving her.. she was whinning leaving me…. we were so close….. vet told me “don’t come to visit as she’ll get too excited and will hurt herself more… only advice he gave was an Mri in a Dublin veterinary clinic… €1200… we were shocked at price… but it was our baby girl… she was to go the following Tuesday… Thursday they said she is not doing great.. call down… I bawled when I seen her lying on ground…she yelped when she heard me… Friday I lay with her all day… I was loathed to leave her.. I knew she was dying I just knew.. I begged to take her home… receptionist told me off saying vet woukd be struck of if we did!!!!! I cried leaving her…. she cried after me and tried to crawl over… she was left in that dark room on her own …. and died on her own….. they rang us next morning… I actually howled on my knees… she slept beside me or my son.. we took her everywhere…. I am still grief stricken at their callousness… and brokenhearted over losing her this way… to say I miss her would be an understatement….. but to not to be there with her near the end… and her on her own……. couldn’t eat or sleep… cried non-stop…… to have an almost closest friend in your life that you simply love and adore is just dreadful to lose in this way x

  8. I am so sorry to hear about your loss. I hope that you and your family find closure as you come home. It is one of the hardest things to deal with.

  9. Hi, I am readinh this while at LAX airport. We will be flying home in stages for the next two days to arrive Thursday morning. Past Sunday, we got the news that our beloved dog Lola died. I have been gutted and guilt ridden since. We were not there when she died, we were on vacation. We left her in the care of others often and she loved the people she was staying with, but we were not there. She had a heart condition, and it was in the cards, but we were not there. She will be cremated, so we will get a chance to honour her. But it is uncertain if I get to see her before that. They don’t know how long she will be presentable. It’s the second time a dog of mine dies when I am not there and with the first one, it happened 23 years ago, I grieved and hurt for so long. I remember coming back from summer camp, to a very sick dog, (she had been diagnosed a half year before) and then the next day leaving for college introduction for a week. I waved and thought I’d see her in a week. She had to be put down while I was out. This time, with Lola, I made sure to get a hug in before we left, but I remember the same sad or questioning eyes as we walked away. She knew we would be back, but we didn’t in time. I can’t help but wonder if she gave up thinking we would not be back. On the other end, maybe she decided to spare us and herself the trauma of more doctor visits, pain etc. She died peacefully, in her sleep. I need to deal with this, and maybe coming home and getting the closure of scattering het ashes or seeing her will help, but I am feelng very lost right now. It doesn’t help that I am in general an overanxious and sensitive person.

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