Why Do Dogs Die So Soon?

Has there ever been anyone who didn’t wonder why their beloved dog had to die so soon?

If there is, I’ve never met them.

Honey the golden retriever and Pam in dinghy.

Life’s short. Take more boat rides.

Sad Times

This year, several of my friends have lost dogs they’ve loved. And every one I hear about feels like a death in the family.

Some of these dogs I know only through the pictures and stories their people share about them. But it still hurts to hear the sad news.

Every friend who loses a dog reminds us of the dogs we’ve loved and lost.

Grief is the club no one wants to join but everyone eventually ends up a member.

It feels so unfair that our animal companions live such short lives. Oh, there are some bird lovers out there who may have to arrange for a pet who might outlive them. But most of us grieve many animals over the course of our lives.

Why do our dogs have to die so soon?

Memento Mori

Have you heard the phrase “memento mori?” It’s Latin for “Remember you will die.”

Sounds harsh, eh?

This phrase (or one like it) is a subject of meditation in several faith traditions. I most associate it with medieval Christianity.

Architectural memento mori.

An architectural memento mori. If you look, you’ll find them everywhere throughout Europe. But you rarely find one in the U.S. Apparently Americans don’t believe in death.

It’s a reminder that life is fleeting. And that our actions should reflect that fact.

In truth, very few humans live as if they’re ever going to die.

Teenagers live as if they’re immortal. At least if their driving is any indication.

But even we adults with fewer years ahead than behind us don’t keep our deaths in front of our minds.

If we felt constantly aware of the shortness of our lives, would anyone ever keep up with the Kardashians or eat at McDonalds?

Somehow I doubt it.

We do have one reminder of how precious a gift life is. And it’s short, furry, and has a tail.

Honey the golden retriever looks down the companionway ladder.

Are you talking about me?

Dogs Remind Us Life Is Short

If we’re lucky, we might have a dog in our life for sixteen years. It’s far too short a time.

It feels like only yesterday that Honey was a fuzzy little thing chewing up my underwear and peeing on the floor. Could she possibly be turning six years old next month?

Honey the golden retriever puppy.

I was never that tiny, was I?

Only a few months ago, I noticed that Honey’s fur was turning white on her back. Her eyelashes are lightening too. And just this week, I’m seeing patches of white forming under her eyes—the first sign of the white mask a golden retriever gets as she ages.

Because our dogs age from infants to senior citizens in less than a decade, we have a constant reminder of the preciousness of life. And the smart ones among us don’t waste a second of the gift of time with our dogs.

We toss on boots to go out in the snow with our pups when we’d rather cuddle up inside. We take hikes on hot summer days, carrying enough water to keep a thirsty dog hydrated on the trail.

Heck, I’ve even dined on crackers over the sink because I was too tired from making my dog’s dinner to cook for myself.

No matter how long our dogs live, it will never be long enough.

Why do our dogs die so soon?

I think it’s a message from the universe to appreciate every day we’re given.

It’s too frightening to live as if we might die someday. But we’re lucky to have furry memento mori sitting beside us on the couch.

They remind us that life is short. Every day is a gift. So make the most of it.

Sniff like your nose is going to fall off. Roll in the grass. Devour your food like it’s the best meal ever.

If we live our lives with as much gusto as our dogs live theirs, maybe there is some grace that comes from loving animals that die so soon.

And maybe their short lives make us better people too.

Honey the golden retriever high five.

Just watch me. I’ll show you how to be a good person.
High five!

photo credit: Memento Mori via photopin (license) Click on image to learn more about the photographer.

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  1. And this is why we live the live we do, and why you are too. None of us are getting out of here alive. Better make the best of it.

  2. Such good and timely advice. Really trying to focus on the everyday with our Maggie.

    • Savoring each day will help you collect so many wonderful memories with your sweet girl that you’ll have forever. Hopefully you have many days ahead of you to enjoy.

  3. Our dogs and other beloved pets remind us just how precious life is.

  4. Dogs live every day like it is our last and we don’t let life get us down. We try to get our humans to follow but they are a tough breed.

  5. Mary lou Stevens says:

    I lost my best friend Odie in September and I was heart-broken… Thanks t volunteering at our local animal shelter, I have lots of dog-loving friends who helped me with everything from final expenses to food, to encouragement
    One quote I love is that the best way to honor a dog who has passed, is to rescue another..Enter Walter.
    He was a quivering mess in stray hold and we immediately bonded.. I offered to take him on as a foster to help him heal..
    He hasn’t left, and it’s been over a month now…Just say we rescued each other!

  6. Correction: You never find white hair on a golden. Instead, a golden becomes a silver golden!

    • It’s so unfair that our beloved pets have such short lives. Yet our pets live one moment at a time while we tend to become obsessed with either the past or future. Since Callie’s passing, I’ve been trying to stay focused on the present while having faith that the future will work itself out and the past can’t be changed, only accepted. Callie was a wonderful teacher, for both me and her younger sister. We all miss her calming energy. Yet, there are times when I can feel her presence. Her physical self may be gone from this earth, but her spirit lives on.

      • Nicely said, Sue.

        And I like to think that blogging is yet another way to keep those happy memories. Not only did you take pictures of and write about Callie for your own memory. But you’ve shared her with all of us. Think of all the people who remember her sweet spirit along with you because of how beautifully you described her for us.

    • I think of it as starlight that twinkles from within as they get older.

    • You’re right, Skye. I’m so sorry for my inaccurate language. 😉

  7. Beautiful and of course, bittersweet. I am feeling the pressure of that short life now that Wilson is truly getting up there. He’s rounding the bend toward 13 and gets a little grayer and a little slower each day. I now take Jimmy for solo walks so he can get enough exercise and not walk at the old man’s pace. It breaks my heart to think how little time is left. It goes so fast.

    That is the one bonus of this unplanned unemployment….many more hours with my precious pups!

    • Hopefully you’ll have many more Wordless Wednesdays to celebrate with Wilson. :)

      But I wouldn’t share the benefit of unplanned unemployment. You might find no one wants to work at a job.

  8. As I type this my thirteen year old lab snuggles next to me. Last January we lost our twelve year old golden boy to cancer. My “baby” has aged a lot in the past year. Very grey/white muzzle (on black), a very slow deliberate walk, and a ramp to the sofa she loves so much.
    So as always I keep hoping for just a little longer. More belly rubs, chicken for treats (don’t tell my six year old)! I now keep a crate ready in the car at all times. Have a back up vet. I use a groomer instead of lifting her in/out of the tub (more chicken treats)!
    But every once in a while she still gets silly and frisky. So I enjoy each moment while I can.
    Yes, we are having chicken for Christmas dinner.

    • And those silly and frisky moments mean so much to us when our senior pets slow down.

      I suspect that with chicken roasting in the oven on Christmas day, you’ll see a lot of friskiness :)

  9. This is such a awesome post. I am the same way whenever one of my friend’s looses a pet. I’m a disaster. I always feel so bad for them and I never know the right thing to say.

    I’m so grateful for every moment I have with my furkids, I try to make the most out of our time together and I always feel bad when I couldn’t get them out for something fun. Their lives are way too short. I worry about it all the time.

    • But don’t you think that blogging about Zoe and Phoenix is one of the ways you also make the most of your time together?

      You’re celebrating them in every post you write. And you’re making us fall in love with them too.

  10. *applauds* Fantastic post! I had similar thoughts in October when Nola turned 5. She’s not showing any signs of aging (she’s still as hyper active as a puppy), but it’s a stark reminder. Treasure them.

    • Thanks. :)

      When Honey was a puppy, I couldn’t wait for her to grow up. She was so mouthy. But what I wouldn’t give to start all over again and get five years back.

  11. I’ve always heard our pets have short lives, because there are so many more pets that need love.

    I don’t know if it is true or not but I still can’t explain losing Brut. It hurts too much.

    • For many of us, pets have to die so we can bring others into our household. But we’re not all amazing like you who lives with multiple dogs and other animals. And who even has a green thumb.

      If I were magic, I’d let you be the one person whose pets never died. Because you’re already giving the best home to them that anyone ever could.

  12. Awwww… such a sweet post. I wish dogs did live forever, but in the meantime I just love my pups and hold them close and try to enjoy all our time together.

  13. Beautiful post, Pamela! My parents lost their golden this summer and it was so hard. And my dog Ace is going to be 10 in a few months. I’m trying to appreciate every day with him as so many others are trying to do with theirs.

    I really like how you said, “We do have one reminder of how precious a gift life is. And it’s short, furry, and has a tail.”

    So true.

  14. It’s got to be by far one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to live with – no lie…