May 21, 2024

Safe and Warm

I wake up to the silence of deafness. It’s 6 am and cool, but there’s warm pressure against my spine. Lying on top of the blankets, Disco stretches her lean body against my back.

Almost five years ago, a six week old black short-haired fostered puppy climbed on my lap and fell asleep, I trusted her choice when she chose me. She had been shipped to NY by an SPCA in FL I don’t think she had more than a few weeks with her mother, so she gravitated to my older dog, a gentle chocolate Lab Willow. Willow tolerated Disco’s affection but wasn’t keen on licking and snuggling. Willow preferred her bed on the floor next to my bed, close, but not too close. Disco crowded her and Willow went downstairs, so I let the young puppy sleep on my bed with Willow on the floor next to us.

Willow taught Disco how to stick with the family pack and not stray too far. Since Willow stayed with me, Disco did, too. When Disco was a few years old, Willow slowed down and had trouble walking.

When Willow was 14 and in constant pain, the vet came to the house on a sunny April day and we let Willow choose a spot to lie on the grass. Maybe I should have had a friend stay with Disco who was on the back porch, but Disco was used to time on the back porch by herself, so I wasn’t focused on her needs. Or maybe she should have been with me in the front yard to witness Willow’s last breath. I lay next to Willow and embraced her while the vet euthanized the companion who comforted me after my husband died in 2008. It was gentle and quick. She was ready.

Disco only knew Willow left in the vet’s car so she began searching. It hadn’t been necessary to keep her on a leash, but now she stood in the road, looking up and down. When cars stopped, Disco looked inside and seemed to say to the driver, “Have you seen Willow?”

I called Disco and chased her out of the road, but my chasing and calling were ineffective. Disco was on an emergency search. Cars stopped and waited for me to get control of my pup and eventually she ran after me toward the house, looking back at the road. For a while, I leashed Disco at all times and then she lost interest in the road and stranger’s cars and rarely needed a leash.

In time, I became Disco’s Willow. She followed me and pushed against me in the way Willow had disliked, but I loved Disco’s sleeping body on top of my blankets, warming me at night. I loved this snuggly girl who stayed near me when we walked. She was my little black shadow, always nearby.

Baby Disco trying to make Willow her mother

She wanted to be safe and warm and loved. I understood since that’s what I wanted, too.


Have you dealt with pets suffering in this way? I read an article recently saying we should allow pets to see an owner’s death so they won’t feel abandoned. That made me wonder if Disco should have witnessed Willow’s gentle death. What do you think? We have a cultural habit of hiding death, but maybe there’s a better way, even with our pets.

For other posts about Disco and Willow, see Love and Loss with a Soul Animal. I borrowed the term “Soul Animal” from Marion Woodman who wrote about her experience with her dog who was her soul animal.


  1. May 26, 2024 at 10:30 am



    A beautiful , heart wrenching post Elaine – Willow was such an important part of Discos life with you in the early days, I can understand her searching. I think sometimes we continue to search for someone after we know that they passed – looking at pictures, visiting places we shared, revisiting memories to try and keep that person alive in our soul. Perhaps that’s some of what Disco was doing in her own searching – it’s so beautiful that you have each other now to stay safe, warm and loved. Sending you love and light.

    1. May 27, 2024 at 9:32 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thank you, Lin. I agree with you. After Vic died, I thought I would see him somewhere unexpected, in the grocery store or meditating or somewhere. I did see him often in the early years, but in dreams, not in waking life. I’m still searching for the love Vic and I shared, but in truth it hasn’t gone anywhere. June 3 is the 16th anniversary of his death and he’s still close in my heart. I’m grateful you have a loving marriage. It’s one of life’s finest gifts. Sending all good things to you and Deborah.

  2. May 25, 2024 at 12:32 pm

    Sharyn Duncan


    Sometimes one of our pets will kind of jump into my head and say something. When we had to euthanize our beloved Gypsy in 2008, we had someone come to the house so she could die on her beloved couch. We tried to get Rocky, her sidekick and younger brother, to leave the room, but he just looked at me and said “no. This is my place.” And he stayed. You met Rocky that August when we came to Ithaca with us. He was despondent. Daisy nagged him until he gave up and played with her. They tore up and down your land for hours, only stopping to grab a drink of water from the porch before heading out again. ❤️❤️

    1. May 25, 2024 at 1:16 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      I remember Rocky and Daisy coaxing him to play. In our family dog lineage, Daisy raised Willow and Willow raised Disco. I didn’t give Disco a choice to be with Willow for that last breath and maybe that was fine. The vet came to my house and it was all so peaceful with Willow lying in the grass in the sun–but Disco was not involved. Again, maybe that was fine. Disco seemed more worried with her searching, but not despondent. When other dogs came over the following week, she played and ran. It worked out as it did, but I wonder if I could have made it easier. Mortality is challenging, no matter what we do. (Thanks for coming here after Vic’s death when I needed you. The lupines are blooming again. June 3 is the anniversary of Vic’s death.)

  3. May 23, 2024 at 6:32 am

    Jan Maltzan


    Loosing our beloved fur persons, as May Sarton called them, is our inevitable fate if we choose to bring them into our lives, they can never stay with us as long as we want them to. It takes a while for we humans to learn that we who are open to loving them must also be open to the heartache of loosing them. And yet, we choose this particular heartache over and over again, if we’re lucky. As they bring us a constant joy of devotion and non-judgemental companionship. And laughter, skin to fur warmth and giving us lessons to learn. Lessons about ourselves and them too. I’ve had pets almost all of life and have had to learn those lessons over and over again going deeper into the meaning of that heartache of what loss means, what it represents. My father was the consummate dog man with veterinarians throughout the county calling him to take in dogs that needed a home. One of his last dogs found her way to the house on a deep winter night standing at the door in the blowing snow. Of course he opened the door to her to discover later that she was pregnant. He kept her and one of the puppies and they were a team until she could not live without constant pain. He told me that her son mourned her for weeks, lying at the end of the driveway looking out at the road completely bereft. He said that he should have let her son see after she died so she could have understood what happened. A lesson learned by him and me. I read somewhere long ago that animals have their own unique way of understanding and accepting death that we humans do not possess. They eventually are able to let go of the memories when they still have members of their tribe around them. And now you are Disco’s tribe – a glorious tribe of two.

    1. May 23, 2024 at 1:13 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      I’ve lived with dogs most of my life. The first was Amigo when I was 5 years old and Amigo got me through my father’s death when I was 14. The love is worth the price, so I have no regrets other than one SPCA dog who turned out to be vicious. After that, I adopted puppies because I could bring them up with love.

      I love the story of your father. My dad would have loved it, too. I don’t think I’ll adopt another dog because of my age and Disco is only five, but we never know. My vet and I made a beautiful experience for Willow lying in the sun in the front yard with me hugging her, but I could have helped Disco just by asking a friend to be with her. Now I know. Yes, we have a sweet tribe of two. Disco is almost five and I’ve never heard her growl. She loves all dog visitors and she’s fine in every way, although a little cautious with men she doesn’t know.

  4. May 22, 2024 at 8:47 am

    Marian Beaman


    What a poignant post, Elaine. As soon as you started talking about Willow, I knew you were probably reminiscing, not referring to this pet in the present tense. Have I dealt with pets suffering in this way? Yes, we had to put our children’s pet to sleep because of her suffering. It felt like the death of a family member. You know all about that kind of grief. I believe you still have Disco though. 😀

    1. May 22, 2024 at 3:45 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      Yes, I was reminiscing and missing Willow. Our pets become such trusted friends and they teach us, over and over again, that nothing lasts forever. I still have Disco who is 5 years old, affectionate and devoted. Willow was a gentle mama-surrogate.

  5. May 22, 2024 at 5:56 am

    Aladin Fazel


    It is always sad to lose a loved one, and the pain is the same when it comes to a house animal, especially a dog. I might have once told you about my collection of dogs and cats when I was a young boy, and I also mourned the loss.
    So, dear Elaine, Willow is now with Vic, and they both will care for you. Be safe, dear Elaine and blessing.

    1. May 22, 2024 at 3:41 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      It is, Aladin, no matter if they’re our pets or family. Since I live without other humans in the house, Disco is family and I wanted to ease her pain while realizing I couldn’t. I also remembered childhood pets and various disasters, but Disco and I have a great life and she gets better care and food than most children in this suffering world. Blessings to you and your family.

  6. May 21, 2024 at 10:33 am

    Deborah Gregory


    Dear Elaine, what a beautiful, heartfelt post you’ve penned, thank you. You can feel the grief and love you hold for each soul companion in your touching words. Disco’s search for Willow is heart-breaking to read about, as I imagine you must’ve been hurting deeply for weeks and months on following Willow’s death. In certain situations, like being brave enough to write about this moving event today, I imagine your wounded heart aches all over again as Willow, in particular, came at a pivotal time in your life.

    In answer to your final questions, I think I would’ve done the same as you my dear friend and gone along with whatever was happening at the time. If Disco was happily snoozing, I would’ve let her carry on sleeping and not woken her. If, on the other hand, Disco had wandered over to see what was happening, I wouldn’t have shooed her away. How wonderful that dancing Disco is there with you every morning, listening to the coo coo sounds of love descend from above your window. Love and light, Deborah.

    1. May 22, 2024 at 3:38 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      It seems natural to look back to the deaths of those we love–animal or human–and wonder if we could have eased the suffering. I’d never had a dog respond like Disco did with constant searching. So it was a learning experience for me. Disco is a Mama’s girl, but she loves women in general and other dogs. In her five years, I’ve never heard her growl which is remarkable. Have a wonderful holiday and ritual. Sending you love across the wide turbulent oceans.

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