What It's Like To Lose A Pet While You're at College

Two weeks ago, I was walking out of my dorm, on my way to pick up a package from mail services, when I realized I’d missed a call from my mom. In an age where most of us just text each other, phone calls seem extra serious. I knew something was up, but I still wasn't prepared for what she told me when I called her back.

“We had to euthanize Frost last night,” she said.

I remember freezing and saying “Oh.” Those first few seconds, it was all I could say. Over the next several minutes, I sat on a bench and cried as my mom told me what had happened. Frost had had trouble breathing the night before. When my parents took her to the vet, they concluded that she had lung cancer. Aggressive lung cancer. It wasn’t going to get any better, and my parents had to make the difficult decision to put her to sleep.

Frost was an old dog. We knew she had been having some health problems recently, but the cancer wasn’t on anyone’s radar until it was too late. Before I went to college, one of my biggest fears was that my pets would die while I was away, especially since I was going so far - Charleston and Charlotte aren’t that far apart in the grand scheme of things, but far enough. Still, even though I’d known it was a possibility, I didn’t expect to lose Frost so soon. There was no slow, steady deterioration. I’d seen her the week before and thought she was fine. How could I have prepared myself for it?

As long as I can remember, my family has always had two dogs in the house. Before I was born, my parents adopted two puppies, Maggie and Tucker. Tucker died when I was in the first grade, and Maggie followed a year later. Before long, we were missing having dogs, and my parents decided to adopt another pair: Frost and Buddy.

When we got Frost, we knew she was around two or three years old. She was sent to an adoption center after she got pregnant because her owner didn’t want the responsibility of puppies. The puppies found homes quickly, but for a full-grown dog, it wasn’t so easy. She was living in a foster home, and her temporary owners decided to name her Frost because it was around Christmas time. Somehow, she caught my dad’s eye online, and we went to visit her at her foster home. Immediately, we could see that Frost was something special: she was friendly and energetic and beyond happy to meet us like she’d been waiting for us to show up all along. Just as we were about to leave, Frost hopped into our car like she wanted to go with us right that second, and we knew that she was meant to be part of our family.

We adopted Frost and Buddy in December of 2007, and I’ll never forget how happy she made us for those 11 years. She was a scrappy, loving, quirky dog who always made us laugh. Even though Buddy arrived first, she quickly established herself as the queen bee of the house. She had such a fun personality - her tail was wagging constantly, she always nudged our hands to make us pet her, and she begged for food more persistently than any dog I’ve ever seen.

The hardest part is that I wasn’t there to say goodbye to her. I wish so much that I could’ve told her I loved her and given her a hug one last time. All the time at college, I miss my pets and ask my mom to send me pictures of them. But now, I’m really never going to see Frost again. I’ll never get a new picture of her or see her greet me when I come back home after a long time at school. It’s been a hard thing to deal with, especially with the stress of finals pressing down on all of us, and being at college so far from my family, it made me feel like I was grieving her loss all alone.

Sometimes I feel silly that losing a dog can cause so much hurt, but I think all of us who have ever lost a pet understand. Animals have a way of truly becoming a part of our families. I’m at peace with what happened to Frost - even though it hurt to lose her so abruptly, I know putting her to sleep was the kindest option we had. Losing her while at a school several hours away from home may have made it hurt more, but it gets easier every day. I’ll always miss Frost, but I can laugh and smile at the good memories I had with her, and it reminds me to appreciate Buddy while I still can.

If you ever have to deal with the loss of a pet like this, just know you’re not alone and that life will go on as it’s supposed to. Grieving is perfectly natural, and it’s okay to ask for an extension on that paper or take a day to just relax. As easy as it can be to push your feelings away to focus on schoolwork, it’s important to accept your sadness and not bottle it up. Dogs give us so many amazing memories, but college can, too, and it’s important to keep moving forward. At the end of the day, Frost lived her life with all the enthusiasm and love she had, and I know she would want me to do the same.