Tara Wray is a photographer…and a dog person. Her pictures of dogs are haunting and beautiful and every bit as distinctive as pictures of individual people. I interviewed her shortly after the death of her beloved dog, Nighthawk. Then my friend Tobin’s dog died, and he told me that he sometimes felt ashamed for feeling so much about the death of a dog–a dog who had been his only companion throughout the pandemic.
It seems that a lot of people feel like they have to hide the amount of grief they experience when their dogs die. But the death of a dog can be just as painful–sometimes more painful–than the death of a human family member. This is a show about dog love…and grief at their loss. And there is absurd singing.
More about These People
Learn more about Tara Wray and her beautiful work.
Tara’s latest project, Pickledog
Learn more about Tobin Anderson
Learn more about musician Brian Clark’s band, The Anachronist
Hi Erica, I’m a devoted listener to your show and one of the things I love about it is how every little slice of life you share is so profound; without meaning to be at all! I listened to this episode with a good deal of apprehension; I wanted to be sure I was sober and happy before I listened. My dog Max and I grew up together. Not in the way you think of people growing up with dogs but I got max when I was 20, and underprepared and dumb. But, I’m 31 now and max will be 13 in November and we’ve learned a lot. This episode gave me the words to what I know I will inevitably feel with his passing. And to forgive my guilt. “ that to me would be saying who cares about love or who really needs love. It is what it is to me in my little corner of the universe and that’s really all of any of is have is just our little spaces that we carve out for ourselves and whatever we put into those spaces and however it get assigned value is different for every single person on the planet. Just because I feel my dog doesn’t mean I don’t feel for people that are going through things that are bigger; but it’s not an Olympics of suffering.”
I have so many more things to reflect upon thanks to this episode. And all the more beauty to appreciate because of it.
Meg & Max aka Maxy aka maxine-y aka doo-Tini aka the teen bean, the great boy beany
I stumbled upon this show through 99 Percent Invisible and I’ve been listening to the back catalogue and loving every second of it, but this episode was the first that prompted me to comment.
My dog Luna (Lu, Lulu, Monkey, Chicken, Monster, etc) is almost 10 and just now starting to show her age a little. She used to have thick black spots around her eyes (passersby would often compliment her on her “makeup”) and the fur on her face is now almost completely white. She still bounces around on walks and I hope she has several good years left, but no matter how much longer she’ll stay, the years she’s spent with me have been an immeasurable gift. As Mary Oliver said: “Because of the dog’s joyfulness, our own is increased”. She has been by my side through great heartbreak and grief. She’s always curious about the smallest corners of the earth; equally excited to explore the wilderness as she is to wander around a hardware store – everything is worth careful examination in her opinion. She loves destroying rotting logs and hates crows with an inexplicable passion. I fully expect to grieve her death as deeply as I would a close human family member or friend, but of course…it’s all worth it.
Thanks for creating such a beautiful show,
Natasha and Luna
Thank you for this episode. Yes, ‘more than a dog’ says it all. 5 years later I still miss my dog Betty. I dream about her all the time. I will never forget her, but I will have many more amazing dogs, and I will love them all. PS- Don’t tell
my other dogs, but I think I will always love Betty the most.
Betty!!! What a face. And the best dog name ever. Thank you for sending this picture and note Cherie,
As people who are routinely taking in strays for the past 17 years, me and my girlfriend are well acquainted with the grief and sadness that follows the death of these dear companions. Kato, a yellow kitten joined our family about six years ago, and he became my little buddy. Two years later he disappeared and I searched every day. Finally, on the third day I found him, both front legs broken and mangled. He had been attacked, likely by a raccoon, likely because Kato was not afraid of anything and just wanted to be friends with the raccoon, just like he did with the deer in our back yard.
After we had him euthanized and he joined the others in our back yard cemetery, my grief lasted a very long six months. It took that long before I could finally avoid weeping during my daily reminiscence of him.
Well, here we are four years later, two more rescued cats added, bringing our family to five.
All our dogs have long since passed – hope a cat story can be tolerated.
I’ve been listening to your show, numerous episodes, for about a week.
I like listening to your voice, and the connection you have with Vermont.
I just listened to “More than a Dog” (I think part 2), and these honest stories returned me to my self, and a time of joy, and grief, I experienced with my pup and best friend of 8&1/2 years. Yeah, that was the best 8&1/2 years of my life.
Listening about the cremation options brought it all back hard and fast, and my throat swelled up, my heart got tight,
And the tears found their path. Thank you. I want to keep listening. I’m feeling shy, but wanted to say hi, and thank you.
Thank you for taking the the time to write in Theo, and thank you for listening. I wanted to make that story for all the people who know exactly how hard it is to lose a dog, so it’s a show for you. Thank you again. E
This episode is profound, poignent and heartbreakingly beautiful. I have never heard a better understanding told of what it is to love a dog and to lose a dog. The things I thought only I did. Like sing made up songs to my dog…it made me laugh and cry. Thank you for this and for explaining the grief I have been unable to with these conversations.
This was just beautiful, and reading the comments is making me tear up. We got our rescue pup Jax in May of 2020, when it became clear we were going to be home for quite some time and it would make our kids (then ages 6 and almost 9) so much happier. He was a non-housebroken 5-month-old chiweenie when we got him, and for the first three months I seriously questioned my life choices. We were in the middle of a pandemic – why did I add what was essentially a third child to my life?? But two+ years later we are all completely besotted with him. In love, perhaps obsessed. He sleeps under my daughter’s covers every night, and his fondest wish is to spend 17 hours a day napping in direct bodily contact with one of his humans. He is our Jax, Jaxy, Little Mr Pushy Paws, the portable pupper (at 13 pounds, he can be conveniently relocated to the place of your choosing). I actually think often about the fact that he will predecease us by a good amount, and that despite knowing it’s coming, I will be absolutely bereft when it does. I still work at home two days/week, and I look forward to the hours that we spend on those days sitting in his favorite easy chair, me working and him wedged in next to me (pic attached), or sometimes (voluntarily) acting as what we call the worst lumbar pillow ever. He is a beautiful little guy, the embodiment of enthusiasm, and we love him so much.
I LOVE this. And now that I’m thinking about getting a dog again, it gives me strength…
Thank you Rachel!
Erica, I just discovered this amazing podcast episode in early January 2023, even though my dog Trixie passed away on May 27, 2022, only four days before this podcast. Her loss caused me to grieve in uniquely profound, ineffable ways, different from grief experienced from the losses in the past of deeply loved pet dogs and even of the most special and beloved people in my life. I did not know how to express this kind of feeling–but you have beautifully captured the unique, poignance of this feeling through the heartfelt, evocative words of the good Vermonters you have interviewed who have felt the same way about the loss of their cherished dogs. Your podcast hit a special chord with my continuing sense of loss from Trixie’s physical departure from our midst. I could–and may someday–write volumes about it–but, for now, I just want to let you know how thankful I am for your creating and sharing this most moving podcast.
P.S. I spent my early years on a farm outside of Lebanon, NH, and later, during college, lived and worked in Vermont–and have visited it several times since, so I relate to and greatly appreciate all of your podcast episodes. –Dave
Hi Erica – What a great podcast you have! I am 70 and I grew up in Seattle and currently live in Northern Idaho, still part of the Pacific NW. I walk my lab-blue healer mix about 4 miles every day while I listen to podcasts and occasional audio books. It can get cold and snowy here in the winter. I have a stocking cap that contains speakers for each ear embedded in the lining of the cap. This creates a very warm and cozy environment where I can listen to stories or music despite the weather conditions. Its really kind of fantastic actually and this is where I heard Tera Ray and Tobin Anderson talk about having and losing their dogs. I heard Chris and Beth too in your Puppy Diaries episode where they described the labor intensive but funny trails and tribulations of puppy-hood. It took me a few years to get over the death of Izzy, our Border Collie. Like all dogs of this breed, Izzy was smart, but she also seemed quite wise from a very young age. At ten, she died so painfully from an illness. I felt irrationally guilty and responsible and could not fathom having to go through that again. I mean ever. With Izzy we escaped the angst that most puppy’s spawn in our lives and know first hand what Tobin was referring to when talking about his true grief. Eventually though, the “hole” that she left in the lives of my wife and I was not to be denied. We really needed to do something about it so we let a six week old puppy back into our lives. (Too young by the way if anyone is thinking of getting a puppy). This new girl needed to be constantly taught right from wrong and required a boat load of attention. Attention which led to all the walking and to be truthful, your podcast. In getting our new buddy to a place where she would become a welcome member of our family, we have gone through all the efforts described in the Puppy Diaries as well as the feelings that manifested in Tobin as he portrayed in the first two years of Lerou’s life. Our new friend, Pepper, is about 14 months now and she has successfully stepped into the role of loving companion. As I write this, she is pawing my thigh and trying to lick my hands asking me to please come play! Her face is as sweet as the companion of every pet owners in the universe and once again, a spiritual connection has been made. Also once again, the clock is ticking towards having to lay this friend to rest, not that I am dwelling in that, but if Tobin has the time and maybe the inclination, he knows it is worth the effort and the grief too…
Hi Erica – I too am a BIG fan of Rumble Strip, looking forward to it’s appearance on VT Public radio because your episodes always make me stop whatever I’m doing and listen and I am always rewarded gaining a deeper feeling for Vermont and Vermonters and all that we share. I’m moved to comment on this episode “More than a Dog” because I’m a life-long “dog person” (and I really appreciated and laughed out loud at Tara’s description of cats as “cold pizza” – good but not as good as hot pizza. I am once again facing the end of the journey with a beloved dog – this time “Belle”. This week, as I wrestle with managing palliative care for this 16-year-old “beautiful girl” (see attached photo of her in her prime) who, although she has no dramatic illness, is just at that stage of the clock of life winding down, I felt the universe was speaking to me, first through stumbling on a rerun of an interview on WBUR with E.B. Bartels, author of the book “Good Grief: On loving pets, here and hereafter” (https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2023/01/25/pet-loss-good-grief) And then your promo on VT Public alerted me to this new episode of Rumble Strip.
Everything in your podcast was helpful in reminding me why I love this dog (like Larue, she has been full of challenges) and every dog (and cat) who has shared part of my journey through the world. As much as any human, they are unique individuals, IF we take the time to pay close attention to them. It is in that paying attention and sharing of so many beautiful and mundane moments that I think the source of the profound grief springs. As with the death of humans, we need to make sharing and talking about these profound feelings welcome and not shunned. Thank you for helping to do that.
Andrea, I’m so sorry to hear about Belle. I’m also grateful to you for taking the time to write, and write about something that so many people face. THANK YOU, and I hope you have lots of good dog people around you who understand how hard this is. Best to you, erica
I still think about the dog I lost, over 30 years ago– Hero. She was a lab/malamute mix, very smart, very strong, and incredible loyal. She went everywhere with me. I raised her from a puppy. Taught her how not to bark, to heel, to fetch, to retrieve. We hiked mountains together. She loved hiking on a trail in the woods. She never tired of it. The love of a dog is not like any other love. It’s impossible to describe.
She died too young. She drank anti-freeze out of a toilet, and died in agony at the vet’s. I couldn’t watch her die, it was too painful. When I came back the next day to pick up her cold, heavy, stiff body, I cried uncontrollably.
We buried her up on the hill, in a back pasture. A little memorial service, with a few friends. I read a poem aloud from Shakespeare. Cymbeline. “Fear no more the heat of the sun, nor the furious winter’s rages…”
Sometimes I walk up on that hill. There’s no marker up there. But I know she’s there. I buried her with her red dog collar, her tags, and her dog bowl. She’s in a shaded corner of the pasture, a lonely high place that catches the breeze. The pasture’s still mowed every year. And she’s still my Hero.
Thanks, Erica. And Tara. And Tobin. Your stories made my day.
This story made my day. Maybe my month. Thank you Tom.