Image: Gabi and I at the computer in 2013.

I have started to write a new message 25 times, and I keep stalling out. The only thing I know to do is to write about the thing that is keeping me from writing: my dog died.

Many of you who follow the blog have followed our adventures over the years. I joked about the “rabbinic assistant” who would sit by my side as I wrote and taught but the truth is that there was something to it: I’ve been a mess ever since she died. I cannot seem to write original material, and my sleep is badly disrupted.

Gabi picked me out one Friday afternoon right before Passover in 2009. I stopped by the home of a congregant who fostered adoptable poodles. Gabi climbed into my arms, and howled when I left. That night, at services, Julie informed me that the dog was still howling, hours later: “I think she might be your dog.” I took her home with me a week later.

We didn’t know much about her history: she’d been found barely surviving on the Las Vegas Strip, a tiny toy poodle with a huge tumor under one leg. Our vet speculated her age at 13, and said that the type of tumor was typical of dogs who had had too many litters of puppies. We speculated that maybe she had been fired from a puppy mill, but we never really knew. The estimate about her age was a bit high: she lived another 13 years, and it defies belief that a toy poodle survived to 26. Mostly, she was a mystery.

She loved me and I loved her.

The pandemic came, and she was pleased: finally, she had trained me not to leave the house! It suited her for me to tap away at the computer or knit, with her nearby. Then she developed another tumor, this one cancerous, and they told me she had six months, tops. She had surgery to remove the tumor and lived for another two years.

About a year after the cancer scare, old age finally began to slow her down. By the time I called the hospice vet, she’d been blind for a couple of years, and deaf, and her sense of smell seemed to be going, too. She was still the house Alpha, bossing any dogs who visited no matter their size, but then she’d collapse and sleep for hours.

The last couple of days and nights were bad. I had made an appointment for the hospice vet to come euthanize her on Dec 30, but I had to move it up, because she went suddenly from decline to misery. On Dec 29 Dr. Taddy Fick from BluePearl Pet Hospice came to the house and administered the two injections while I held Gabi in my arms. In a few minutes, she was gone.

What have I learned? I have learned that losing a pet can be profoundly disruptive. It hurts. Jewish mourning rituals don’t apply to animals, and I’ve come to the conclusion that that is appropriate. Pets are not people. Loss of a beloved person includes a lot of ambiguity: words not said, issues unresolved, unfinished business. Gabi and I had none of that: it was all affection, all the time, for thirteen and a half years. The grief for her is uncomplicated; I just miss my dog.

I did my own rituals: mostly, I assembled a keepsake box with her collar, a pawprint, and a lock of her hair. I put it on the shelf and it will gather dust. We got a new dog and he is completely different from her: a senior male, a Maltese, with no teeth at all. Ginsberg is noisy and sometimes a pain in the neck, but I can feel myself growing fond of him.

That’s where I’ve been. In the past, writing about the source of my writer’s block has proven to be the cure for it. Here’s hoping for a good result.

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

23 thoughts on “Grief”

  1. I’ve been in your place and it is a profound loss. The comfort is that we have one more loving act we can do for our beloved quadruped friends- we can end their suffering with love. And that is something.

  2. Remember that our animals are sensient and they love us and we love them in return, the depth of your grief is because of this depth of unconditional love, let yourself grieve as you would for any family memeber, light a special candle and say the payers we all recite when a loved one dies…Hashem put us here in charge of the animals and I am certian that in Hashems infinite wisdom he knew we would come to love the ones we tamed and took into our homes and our hearts. On the aniversary of the death of my beloved Myraah who traveled to Israel with me and live a long 24 years I still light a candle, intone and prayers and take time to remember. Grief is not selective, we a doomed to grieve when those we love leave us here to go across the divide no matter what or who they were. Please allow yourself to mourn…those who know Hashem and his ways will not fault you for this time. Love and Prayers for you and Gabby, Leah

    1. Absolutely — and I got more evidence of the wisdom of the Jewish process of mourning when I realized at 30 days it had shifted; I was sleeping a bit better.

      Grief is the price of love.

  3. Dearest Rabbi,
    Words cannot express the many condolences I share with you. I am so sorry for your loss.
    I know grieving for a dog is deeply personal and all consuming.
    When I was little my mom had a toy poodle like yours. When her prize puppy passed she made all of us go outside while she grieved.
    May your precious pup’s memory be a blessing.

    1. Thank you, Rachel. When you were grieving Butterfly, I was already dreading losing Gabi. Looking back I was lucky to have so many years with her. Cricket reminds me of some of the ladies at the senior home I served as chaplain for a while. The fierce ones live a long time. And I agree, the love they bring is completely priceless.

  4. Oh dear one,
    I know too well the grief of losing a furry friend.
    We are still grieving the loss of our kitty (he was 19) after 7 years.
    Our senior Havanese boys are now 12.
    I also the dread the time when…
    Please keep Gabi in your thoughts and memories.
    I hope your Ginsberg (what a great name!) will bring you much happiness.
    My two boys have Hebrew names.

    1. Thank you, Pamela. Ginsberg came with his name; he got it at the shelter in San Francisco. We think they named him after the poet who wrote HOWL, which is 100% appropriate; Ginz’s voice is WAY bigger than he is!

    2. Oh, Rabbi, I’m so sorry. Does Torah have some comforting words for your loss of such a love, of such a loving being, as your Gabi? The simplicity, the purity, the totality of Gabi’s love created an actual world with you.
      Thank you for sharing your loss & your Gabi with us. We’re hoping that your generosity rewards you by removing some of the obstacle to your writing & sleeping.

  5. Dear Rabbi,
    Thank you for your reflections on dear Gabi. I take your point on pets not being people, but they are definitely part of the family dynamic, and their departure creates a gap. Thank you for sharing your insights on how are you are addressing this life event.
    Wishing you understanding, compassion, and Shalom,

  6. I’m so sorry to hear of your beloved dog’s passing. It sounds like you shared wonderful, loving years together. Our pets take part of our hearts with them when they die. I hope your new bond with Ginsberg will continue to bring you (both) joy for many years.

  7. I’m so sorry for your loss. Losing our furbabies is so hard. They are our comforters and loyal companions through thick and thin. Sending hugs and prayers for your comfort. 🙏❤️

  8. I am a retired veterinarian. I have been on both sides of losing pets to euthanasia and it brings me to tears each time. My deepest, although belated, condolences to you on your loss. I hope your friends and family have acknowledged the depth of grief that losing a cherished pet can cause. Many in our society just don’t understand, which can be isolating and painful in itself. Enjoy your new dog knowing one never replaces another.

    1. Thank you for your wisdom, Jo. I’ve always connected with animals and cannot imagine living without them. People have been very kind.

      Ginsberg won’t replace anyone — he’s his own little guy. We just couldn’t imagine living without a doggie or two.

  9. Thanks for a beautifully written blog. I lost my husband three years ago, and have grown even closer to our pomchi Adele. I’ve rebuilt my life, but I’m not sure if I could handle it if anything happened to her. She’s one of the last links to Michael. Hang in there, and take care of yourself.

  10. Hi there,
    I am sorry to hear your precious pet has died… When my cat died some years ago I was glad that I had some photographs of her and I also so wrote an essay to her of all the things she meant to me and my family..

    Which all helps to process the grief I also dreamt about her a few times.. And speaking to friends..

    Eventually your able to speak about the memory of them without getting upset as you have come to accept they have passed on… And you gave them a good life and home..


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