Life After Dogs: Is There?

I’ll have to get back to you on that one. This is a new phase for us.

As a couple, The Mate and I have never been without at least one dog or cat, if not two of each. As an individual, I have not been without a pet for 33 years, and then only for a couple of years in college when I was still going home to my parents’ farm during breaks.

Our sweet malamute Juniper left us Saturday morning, exactly the way we were hoping she would: she went to sleep under a tree. Since she had been diagnosed with cancer several months ago, and since she had stopped eating a week and a half ago, we had many goodbyes. I am still very sad and will be for a while yet. Juni was only ten, and I thought we’d have more time together.


I used to describe Juni as a mix between a malamute and a Persian cat, that’s how soft and fluffy she was. Especially the fur around her face. “Stroke her there,” I used to tell kids we’d meet on our walks, kids nervous of such a LARGE-seeming dog (how could they know it was mostly hair?). “Her cheeks are soft as a bunny.” And their eyes would light up when they discovered this was true.

Juni 2

In temperament, too, Juni was more cat than dog, preferring to curl up on my feet –literally–than to go for walks. She was pretty darn lazy, really. Sometimes in response to people’s questions, “What IS she?” I’d throw “part Yak” into the mix, or “Snuffleupagus.” That seemed to capture her table-wide, fluffy profile and her badger-like gait. Our older son called her “Trundle-Bear.”

Besides her fluff, Juni’s main striking point of uniqueness was her vocalization. Malamutes don’t bark, people say, they talk. In Juni’s case, when she was excited to see you, or to eat dinner, it was more of a roar: “Rrrrooooohhhhh!” My friends Dia and Bert would sing trios with her. “Rrrrooooooooooo!”

Damn, I miss her.



But we are not talking about getting another dog. In fact, we are talking about NOT getting another dog.

Four years ago, our youngest child headed off to college. We moved away from our suburban house with its enormous garden and started our new lives on this small island. No children. And no garden: I decided to take a break and let the island’s many farmers grow my veggies for me, and I’m still okay with that decision. But we still had our dogs.

The similarities between the three have always struck me. Gardens, like children and animals, have their seasons of neediness, where you can get pretty cranky with their demands. They have their time of independence where you sit back and watch them romp and grow. And then there are those wonderful harvests: armloads or moments of pure, delicious joy that you gather and hold onto, savorable months and even years later.

Freedom is not a word that you use with kids, nor gardens, nor pets. The Mate and I have grown used to our freedom to come and go as we please during the day, and not to have to worry about watering or weeding when we take a trip. But we’ve always had to find a dogsitter. Now…we look at each other and say in slow disbelief: “We could go camping if we felt like it. Whenever we wanted.”

A young friend of mine, like me, bred to think that life without dogs is no life at all, insists, “You could get a small dog and take it with you whenever you go somewhere!”  Maybe. But I’ve always been a large-dog girl. That’s a switch I don’t think I want to make.


I used to think I knew exactly what I’d do when our older malamute, Molly, passed away a year ago: we’d get another older dog as a companion to Juni. But Juni didn’t seem to want a companion; she wasn’t interested in other dogs. Part cat, remember? So then I thought, okay, when Juni passes, I’ll go to the shelter and find another dog who needs us. I even had a great name picked out: Skagit (the name of the closest county on the mainland, and a beautiful agricultural valley–but also a great sound: “Here, Skagit!”)

Now, though? We’re thinking we will let someone else adopt that potential “Skagit” and name him/her whatever they want. We are going to investigate the question of Life After Dogs.

I’ll keep you posted.

But I’d also like to hear from you about your pet/no-pet lives. Have you made the transition from one to another? Have you lived long with, or without? What’s it like out there?

17 thoughts on “Life After Dogs: Is There?

  1. I’m tearing up, Gretchen. I’m so, so sorry for your loss, and so glad she went peacefully. I’m a huge big-dog lover and pretty convinced I need one for my survival. (Told my husband before we were married that I was a package deal.) My five-year-old black lab/golden retriever mix was diagnosed with cancer a year and a half ago. We caught it early. Because of her youth and overall health, I opted to take her leg. She’s amazing. I’ve kept her weight down and she’s doing remarkably well.

    Treasure up those pictures and memories of Juniper. They’ll always be special. Your choice to go dogless isn’t written in stone. If you decide later that you’d like another companion, there are always too many waiting for homes.

    • Michelle, good for you for saving your doggie’s life. They are vessels for our hearts, pets, aren’t they? And you’re right–the dogless life is going to be a month-at-a-time thing, a little bit like the way I left teaching (I still have my certificate current, just in case I’m called back in…). We shall see. Thank you for your words.

  2. Gretchen, I’m so glad, too, that Juni just went to sleep under a tree. How wonderful. And in the month of May. Perfect. Feeling sad for your loss and knowing that, still, All is Well.

  3. It’s terrible losing a furry family member, so I send you hugs. We’ve got two middle-aged cats and we’re also unsure if we’ll continue as pet owners when they pass. We love having them, but they do make spontaneity difficult. And the fur is not great for my allergies… Tough decisions.

  4. I am also a large dog person, had dogs for most of my life (the first one in the USA was a wedding present from your parents, Norwegian Elkhound Irmin). Six years ago, within two month, i lost both dogs, the young one was run over by a car and the old one was quite old and quite sick. I also thought “gee, how would life be without a dog? all the things i could do, i could stay in Vienna over night after a concert….travel a bit more?”, — so i waited. Then i realized, i did none of the things i thought i would do, but i sat here, looking at dog pages on the Internet, went to different dog pounds, i was 70 by the time, – the same thoughts, should i get a small dog? a grown dog? I discussed it with my children, talked to the teenager next door, who always loved my dogs, – well, after not quite three month a had a puppy. Emily is now 6 years (they all are Golden Retrievers), and i can’t imagine life without her ;-))).

  5. What a sweet looking dog. We’ve had First Dog and Last Dog. Hope to leave it at that. Yet, Skagit has a good ring to it.

  6. Ohhh, Gretchen. I’m so sorry to read of the passing of Juni and the emptiness that comes with it. We, too, arrived on this island with pets and had a long history of having animals in our lives. We believed we were away too much and that getting more creatures would be unfair to them. Now it’s okay. We also learned we had allergies to them that cleared with their absence. The feral cat that adopted us for food but doesn’t want to live with us has been enjoyable. You’ll figure it out but you might wait a while to make a decision… Rita

  7. I’ve been pondering this as our children grow into and toward their teens. The Corki-dog is only 7, but he’s always had bad knees, and he seems to be aging younger than I’d hoped. He’s a pit-bull/Vizsla, near as we can tell, deep of chest and narrow of hip, and I think it’s hard on him being built like that.

    I fell in love with pit bulls because of this dog. I’d own another in a heartbeat….

    If I was going to have another. And I don’t know.

    My husband is good to the animals – but I am the animal person here. All the animals like me best (my daughter is jealous, but she’ll mature into something similar; I can see it. She just needs the seasoning of awareness of their reality, and she ‘s not quite ready for it, yet).

    I felt I needed a big dog when they were little. My husband is a chef, and he gets home well after dark. A big dog was protection, and warning…

    But we like going places, too – and Corki is wearing one of the “wrong” faces in the dog world. I think he’s beautiful. The UPS man leaves our packages at the end of the driveway (Corki got his name because he has a stubby, curly little bulldog tail pressed tight to his butt. The UPS man can hear him bark, but not tell that he’s wagging that little stub.

    So, like you, I don’t know what we’ll do.

    Juni was gorgeous. Trundle-Bear is a wonderful nickname. And I grieve with you, as the Vulcans would say.

    • My friend Dia, who sometimes comments on this blog, had two pitbulls who were the loves of her life and passed away in successive years, just as our malamutes did. (Hers were father & son, and though they hated each other, they adored her and vice-versa.) But she was always lamenting the way the rest of the world shied away from them. We were lucky with Juni–she drew people to her with her Disney-like cuteness. Still, for us owners, it’s what’s inside that counts. I will be interested to see where you guys go in your dog-lives as Corki ages. Thanks, SJ.

  8. We have a little Pomeranian and and a toy poodle. My mother-in-law is coming to live with us and we Can report that while our poodle is needy and sticks close by me, our Pomeranian, in addition to being a master Houdini artist, is one of the most lively, loving and intelligent dogs I’ve ever seen. He’s neutered of course, but I’ve seen him dominate pit bulls and German shepherds–males. I can also tell you, having had two poodles in a row that the last one was so different than the current one. My mother-in-law his had two miniature Schnauzers ad it’s sort of like the Patty Duke show (referential to those in their second half-century), with Misty being more like Cathy and Molly being more like Patty. What I can tell you that is the buzz I hear from most Pomeranian fanciers is that they’re the greatest. If the dog days of August don’t persuade you, perhaps a September Pom might train you so that you’re doing things just right. Polo, our Pom, is half cat, as well! And a a mere pounds, you can hold him in your handbag like that great role model to American youth Paris Hilton did with her Yorkie What was its name? Accoutrement?

  9. Jay, you are indeed tempting me toward the Dark Side. All I can say is, if I showed up with a Pom, I think all those near and dear to me would drop dead of shock. Nothing against Poms, you understand…they’re just WAAAAAAAAAAY different from any animal I’ve ever owned. But you, my friend, are hilarious. Keep writing!

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