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Pets Large & Small

When death take a pet's owner

Jennifer Vanderau
Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter

(3/2013) He never realized how quickly life could change. Was it really only last night that he slept in bed beside mom?

Now, he's just really confused. The humans are talking, using words like car accident and drunk driver and he doesn’t get it. He remembers them all from holiday visits, but he's not sure why they're here and mom's not.

There are arguments. About who will take him. About where he'll go. He figures when mom comes back, she'll explain that he's not going anywhere without her. They're inseparable, you see, he and his mom.

They go for walks together, she takes him to the dog park, she kisses his nose every night and says "sleep tight, sweet boy." They wake up snuggled together and she says she doesn't know what she'd do without him.

It's not until he's in a kennel at the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter that he realizes he might have to figure out what he will do without her.

The nights are kind of scary. It's quiet, but easy to sense the fear in the shelter. He knows he's not the only one who doesn't want to be here. There's so much sadness here.

He misses his mama something awful -- the smell of her perfume, the soft touches she always gave him, the kind words and tone she would use when she spoke to him.

It's not that the people at the shelter aren't nice -- quite the contrary -- it's just he really believed he'd found his soulmate with his mom and now she's gone and he just wants her back.

He would trade everything he knows just to get her back.

His days become pretty routine -- wake up when staff arrives, eat his breakfast, watch for volunteers to walk him, say hello to some people in the public and go to bed when the lights go out.

It's a random Tuesday when he sees him. A gentleman alone, and there's something about him, a spark that says they understand each other, that they're both looking to fill an empty place. He takes him for a walk and it's really nice, makes his heart flutter in a way it hasn't since his mama went away.

Something pangs when the gentleman leaves, a feeling that he really wants to go with him -- that he should go with him, that they belong together. He's kind of amazed when he finds out he filled out papers to adopt him and takes him home a few days later.

His new home is nice -- he gets lots of attention and a warm place to sleep and after a while, when he settles in, he really thinks that he could be happy here.

He still loves his mama and misses her sometimes, but his new dad is so nice and he's grateful that he got a second chance.

Sometimes, when he's in his bed late at night, he'll think to himself, "goodnight, mama, wherever you are" and he's sure -- really deep down in his bones certain -- that he'll see her again and they'll be together.

His first mama will always have a special place in his heart, but until the time when he can be by her side again, he's going to kiss and play with and adore his new dad and feel really lucky that he got to be loved, really loved and cared for, by so many people in this lifetime.


This story is written as a tribute for a dear German Shepherd who came to us a few weeks ago. Her human mama was killed in a car accident -- hit by a drunk driver.

I took some literary liberties with the story, so I changed it a bit -- gender and some details -- but you could tell when the dog came to us she was grieving. She had a look of sadness about her. It never really left.

She was always quiet and calm, very dignified in her mourning. And she had those incredibly deep brown eyes that spoke volumes.

Her story and stay at CVAS touched a lot of hearts.

The sweet girl got adopted a few days ago by a single gentleman who fell in love with her. He waited through three other applicants to get her -- she just didn't work out with the other two. If ever there was a meant-to-be tale, this one fits the bill.

We're all hoping she can start a new life and once again find the happiness she knew with her first mama.

We wish nothing but the best for everyone involved and our thoughts go out to all who lost so much in a moment so careless.

Jennifer Vanderau is the Director of Communications for the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter in Chambersburg, Pa., and can be reached at The shelter accepts both monetary and pet supply donations. For more information, call the shelter at (717) 263-5791 or visit the website

Read other articles by Jennifer Vanderau