Going Home: Finding Peace When Pets Die

Going Home: Finding Peace When Pets Die

4.3 21
by Jon Katz

View All Available Formats & Editions

In this invaluable guide and touchstone, New York Times bestselling author Jon Katz addresses the difficult but necessary topic of saying goodbye to a beloved pet. Drawing on personal experiences, stories from fellow pet owners, and philosophical reflections, Katz provides support for those in mourning. By allowing ourselves to grieve honestly and openly,…  See more details below


In this invaluable guide and touchstone, New York Times bestselling author Jon Katz addresses the difficult but necessary topic of saying goodbye to a beloved pet. Drawing on personal experiences, stories from fellow pet owners, and philosophical reflections, Katz provides support for those in mourning. By allowing ourselves to grieve honestly and openly, he posits, we can in time celebrate the dogs, cats, and other creatures that have so enriched us. Katz compels us to consider if we gave our pets good lives, if we were their advocates in times of need, and if we used our best judgments in the end. In dealing with these issues, we can alleviate guilt, let go, and help others who are undergoing similar passages. By honoring the animals that have graced our lives, we reveal their truly timeless gifts: unwavering companionship and undying love.

With a brand-new Foreword by the author.

Editorial Reviews

The life expectancy of cats has nearly doubled since 1930 and, depending on breed, the average dog lives from eight to 16 years, but there is no avoiding the fact that you will probably outlive your beloved pet. In works like The Soul of a Dog, Izzy & Lenore, and A Good Dog, Jon Katz wrote with powerful authenticity about the bonds between humans and the animals who share their lives. In Going Home, he relives the full cycle of his friendship with Orson, the irrepressible border collie soul mate, who first inspired him to buy Bedlam Farm. In life, Orson was sometimes a pest with his affections; after his death, Katz missed even his most outrageous intrusions. This book about mourning and recovery belongs on the shelf of every pet owner.

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sold by:
Random House
Sales rank:
File size:
5 MB

Read an Excerpt

Animal Dreams


In my dreams, dogs don’t die.

 In my dreams, my dogs talk to me.

 They speak to me of life and loss, of love and joy, of the gates through which they entered and left my life. This is comforting. And nourishing. And very real to me. My dogs touch me in ways that stick. And that does not die.


Orson emerges from a sea of bright blue lights, ranging

up a verdant hillside under misty skies.

Will you talk with me? I ask.

Of course, he says.

Will you forgive me? I plead.

For what? he asks.

For not being better.

For not fixing you.

For letting you die.

The lights all flicker in the gentlest of breezes.

His bright eyes meet mine.

You didn’t kill me, he says.

It was my time to go. It was my way of leaving,

of saying goodbye, of going home.

Where did you go?

I came here, to rest, and to wait.

And I came back to see you. I put my head on your foot while you worked, and watched over you. You seemed sad, alone.

Then you saw why I brought you to the farm,

why I came into your life, and led you to a different place.

So you could find work you loved.

And find yourself.

And find someone to love.

You did that?

He is silent, staring beyond me.

We come and we go, entering the lives of people

at different points, in different ways. When we are called, we leave. It doesn’t really matter how we go; there are many ways for us to leave. I wish I could have told you that you didn’t have that much power over us, to decide our fates.

I was ready to move on, and so were you. Ready to find another kind of love. To change your work. To find out who you are. I could only do so much. You had to do the rest.

Did you love me?

Yes, always. But not in your way. Not only you. We serve human beings, and we love them all. In our own way, we protect and guide, and fill some of the holes in your lives.

And then he touched his nose to my hand, and he moved off, disappearing into the lights.

I will always be close by, he says.


Good Life

There is something elemental, even beautiful, about the natural death of an animal. When a pet dies naturally, it frees us from the agonizing second-guessing and guilt that can accompany the decision to euthanize it in order to spare it suffering. Still, the experience of having a pet die naturally has its own pain, as well as its own opportunities for gratitude and love.

Julia, a nurse in Kansas City, wrote me about her dog Spike, a fourteen-year-old mixed breed adopted from a shelter when he was a puppy. Spike suffered from arthritis and had some colon and kidney problems. He was on a special diet. Julia knew he was getting old, but he was still eating, still able to walk outside and follow her around the house. During his last exam, the vet had said that his heart was weakening. She warned Julia that Spike could go at any time.

Julia talked to the vet about how Spike might die, and the vet said that since the dog’s health problems weren’t particularly severe or painful, he might well die naturally. This was difficult to hear, but Julia was relieved that the vet wasn’t recommending toxic drugs or scary procedures. She didn’t want to put Spike through that.

One night, as she sat reading a novel, Spike climbed up onto the sofa and put his head in her lap. Julia remembered enjoying the pleasure of a good book and the fire crackling in front of them when something made her look up. She sensed, rather than saw or heard, a change. “Suddenly, Spike wasn’t breathing. He was gone. I knew it.”

She was surprised by how calm she felt. Instead of being upset, she felt full of love for her dear friend. She sat with him for a while, then picked him up and laid him on his bed. In the morning she took him to the vet’s office for cremation. The ashes are now in a small urn on the fireplace mantel.

“How lucky I was to have him go that peacefully, and with me. I felt tremendous grief, but I didn’t have to make the decision about his life that I had always dreaded making. And he didn’t die with stitches all over or tubes in his nose, or drugged. He had always had a good life. And he died a good way. Recognizing that made me feel a whole lot better.”

I love the idea of the Good Life. I believe this notion can be an enormous help to people who have lost their pets. The fact that Spike had had a good life was a great comfort to Julia. It gave her perspective; something to take pride in. When you clear away all of the emotional confusion, there is this: all we can give our pets is a Good Life. We can’t do more than that. We miss them because that life was good, loving, and joyful. Too often this truth is lost in our grieving.

When I was a teenager I joined a Quaker meeting. I loved many things about the Quakers but was especially drawn to their notion of death. When someone or something dies, rather than mourn, the Quakers celebrate the life. They laugh and sing and tell funny stories about the person who is gone, and they remember the very best things about that person’s life. What a lesson for those of us who have lost a dog or a cat who has meant a lot to us. And that is just what Julia did for Spike. She didn’t just mourn the dog she lost, she celebrated the life they had together. The Good Life.

Over the years I’ve heard many wonderful stories about dogs who die a natural death, who say goodbye in their own way and time. Donna told me about her Welsh corgi, Cora, who went off into the garden for her final sleep one summer afternoon and was found lying in a bed of hostas, at peace. Raiki, an elderly golden retriever who lived in northeastern Vermont, was struggling to walk, eat, and see. One winter’s night she walked off into a blizzard and was never found. Jen and Peter, who loved her, believe that she became a spirit of the wind, and that she blows back to them with each storm.

Dan, an Upstate New York logger, would let Sadie, his ferocious rottweiler/shepherd out of his truck at 5 a.m. every day, and she would return faithfully about twelve hours later when his work was done. He never knew where she went or what she did, but she often came back limping, bleeding, covered in scratch and claw marks. Sadie was aging and was now stiff with joint pain. One morning, after she scrambled out of the truck, she paused and stared into his eyes for the longest time. He had ridden with this wild and beautiful creature for ten years, but he had never seen her look at him in this way. When she finally limped off, he knew that he would never see her again. And he didn’t.

“I was happy for her,” he said. “She died the way she wanted to die.”

She had, he said, a Good Life.

To give a creature a Good Life is a precious thing.

As your pet ages and you sense the end may be near, focus your mind on the best parts of the life you shared. On love. Loyalty. Comfort. Laughter. Remember that you still have time. Record your memories. You might want to take some photos or make a video. Consider gathering friends to say goodbye. And lift your heart in celebration of the amazing gift of loving an animal’s spirit—and being loved in return.

Finally, it might help ease your sadness to ask yourself the following questions:

Did I give my pet the best life I could?

Did I feed him every single day of his life?

Did I care for him when he was sick?

Did I take him with me whenever I could?

Did I appreciate and return his affection?

Did I recognize and honor his true nature?

Did I love him?

Do I miss him?

Did he have a Good Life?

If the answer to these questions is yes, know and remember that you gave a special animal a Good Life.

From the Hardcover edition.

Read More

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher

“Wonderful [and] enormously comforting.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“A must-read . . . Numerous books have been published on the subject, but Going Home ranks right up there with the best.”—Seattle Kennel Club
“[A] heartrending book . . . Katz addresses a need, and he does it beautifully.”—Library Journal
“Refreshing in its honest depiction of grief over pet loss.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Katz offers wisdom on finding peace.”Baltimore Sun

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

Going Home 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
After reading this book I have shed some tears and felt how it was to lose a dog. I highly recoomend it to pet owners.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read the first 40 pages of the book looking for support after losing a beloved pet. This book read more like a horror story of cold and careless people. Here is a sample... A person adopted a cow as a pet. He later couldn't afford it so he had it slaughtered. He split the profits with the friend that took the animal to the slaughter house. This isn't what any true animal lover would ever do. This book didn't bring me any comfort but rather it has given me even more grief and depression.
Just-Aimer More than 1 year ago
I had to have my cat of 17 years put to sleep back on Sept 30 of this year. Heart wrenching but the right choice. After a weekend of tears and sadness I started to feel less grief at her absence. I happened upon this book just after Jon Katz had appeared locally at the WI Humane Society - I wish I could have heard him speak. The book itself is well done. It was comforting for me to read and brought up the tears again - but that's ok. It's normal to grieve a pet. It's comforting to know you aren't alone when you experience a high level of grief over a pet. It really is a beautiful book - quick to read, and resonates deeply.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm still mourning the loss of my beloved dog and reading this book helped me sort through my thoughts and feelings. I think the various anecdotes and author's insight can be helpful to all sorts of people. If you've lost a pet, have a terminally ill pet or have an elderly pet I would recommend this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
You can teah ctas how to do tricks. Just get somw good cat treats. Hold the treat above their nose until they sit down, and then immediately give them the treat and say 'sit'. This should work, but it may take a few days. It also works with 'speak', but it takes a while longer.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If we can post anout our pets...for theboet of the day, this is my post. Jasmine! Shes my black labrador retreiver(lab for short) and shes FAT! LIKE A WALRUS! She wears a purple flower collar around her neck, she has a son that she like to nplay with, and she has a long tounge that she likes to give kisses w ith! She has floppy ears, and bounces around. She loves to play with the horses at the barn she lives at!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Parts of this book was good. But i was hoping for more. I like his other books better.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
*smiles at you then looks into your eyes*
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
KAT a granite island thingie with a bowl of lemons and limes on it plus an oven microwave and coubtee abd cupboards with kitchen supplies
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book completely helped me grieve my dog. I cried and laughed.....but mostly just felt relief.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Touching. It's one of the best books i've ever read. Unlike Katz, I lost a beloved horse, not a dog, but it's still all the same. I highly recommend this book to people who have lost a furry member of their family.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
FluffyOH More than 1 year ago
Jon Katz is a compassionate author and in writing this book shows his kindness and concern for his four footed family. I would recommend this highly and it is a fast read.
tempestfan19 More than 1 year ago
Jon Katz is brilliant, as always! He knows dogs, and the people who love them. He knows love and loss, and in this book he provides comfort to those who are grieving. He also provides guidance to pet owners who are faced with the difficult question of euthanasia, and helps with the myriad of feelings which follow that decision.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am less then a few days away from having my beloved dog euthanised because of severe behavioral issues. I have been struggling with the decision for almost a year and have been doing alot of crying and second guessing the decision. After reading this book I feel more confident about the decision and better equipt to cope with the grief that will follow. Thank you.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"B-because I thought maybe one day... After I met you... Th-that we might have kits," she replied bashfuly. "Oh, it's at "can you stand" first result."