I Took My Dying Dog on a Bucket List Adventure

“Doing a bucket list for Gizelle not only helped me cope with losing her, it was also one wild ride. So paw in hand, we packed our bags and set off.”

By Lauren Fern Watt

When my 160-pound English Mastiff was diagnosed with terminal bone cancer, I was crushed. Together Gizelle and I had been through college, boyfriends, our early 20s, and a move from simple Tennessee to big and scary New York City. This dog wasn’t just my best friend — she was my roommate and confidant. What does the vet mean she only has a few months left?

My sobbing seemed unstoppable, but Gizelle was sensitive and didn’t like to see me cry. I had to be strong. So I decided we would bury our worries in the dog park and create a bucket-list adventure of everything we wanted to do before she died. It was my mission for us to indulge and explore life’s joys. We’d escape the city and search for waterfalls, cook lobster, and nap in the grass. We’d jump in the ocean without towels, just to enjoy the sun drying us, and never stress about details like sand in the car.

Doing a bucket list for Gizelle not only helped me cope with losing her, it was also one wild ride. It helped me live in the present and see life for what it truly is: a sweet, simple, precious adventure. So paw in hand, we packed our bags and set off. Here are some of our favorite adventures.


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Ride in a canoe

Gizelle and I always used to watch The Little Mermaid together, and a favorite scene was the one where Ariel is chauffeured in a row boat by Prince Eric. So I was determined to get all 160 pounds of my easily spooked pup into a canoe. I tried to keep from wobbling as she hesitantly tip toed in one paw at a time. We weren’t quite as graceful as Ariel and Prince Eric. Gizelle was confused by the paddle splashing water in her face, and when a spider jumped onboard, we nearly capsized as I swatted at it with a life jacket. But when a light breeze picked up, Gizelle plunked her heavy head on the side of the canoe as we floated across the water, and I could almost see the wind tickling her jowls. I know she was embracing the quiet and nature that we didn’t have in New York City, because I was, too.


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See Times Square

Like most New Yorkers, Gizelle and I were a little repulsed by Times Square. That said, it’s still a famous New York City landmark, so I decided we would go at 6:45 a.m. before the life-size cartoon characters and tourists could clog the sidewalks. The streets were clean – no tossed Broadway-show brochures or trash, the sun was rising, and it was pretty empty except for some smiling families huddled outside of the Good Morning America offices clutching coffees. We stood at the Crossroads of the World and realized it did sparkle like it’s supposed to. It was magical.


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Cook lobster in Maine

We travelled all the way to Well’s Beach in Maine to find two perfect lobsters. Unsure of where to get them, a local licensed clammer we met on the beach suggested that super market lobsters were as good as any in Maine. I walked to the back of the store and asked the grocer to let me dunk my arm in the tank so I could sift through each one for the biggest claws. Before cooking them at a friend’s beach house, I freed the lobsters to tap across the kitchen floor with Gizelle. She sniffed at them like they were her dog pals, and I almost felt bad for how short-lived this friendship would be. But we kissed them each farewell before plopping them in the pot. I fed Gizelle hot buttered lobster chunks with a fork, so I’m sure she didn’t mind too much.


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Eat ice cream on a dock

In complicated and busy Manhattan, it’s easy to forget about the simple things. I made it my mission to find a quiet dock where Gizelle and I could have an ice cream, watch the boats float by, and enjoy. No trendy truffle-oil gelato or fancy flavors, just basic vanilla. We both loved it.


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Go on a road trip

Gizelle loved the car, so I rented one and Gizelle, my best friend Rebecca, and I took off for a four-day girls-only road trip through New England, with no particular destination in mind. We’d take turns sticking our heads out the window, and didn’t worry about work, deadlines, or boys. In fact, our only real problem was navigating with a paper atlas (we’d sworn off Google Maps for a smartphone detox) and trying to figure out if Gizelle preferred Taylor Swift or the Beach Boys.


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Cuddle as much as possible

Sure Gizelle was bigger than me, but she never knew it. After I discovered she was dying, dog hair on my once-forbidden bed and slobber on my face didn’t seem to matter as much as spending time cuddling with Gizelle. She helped teach me that love is the most wonderful gift I can receive, and it is the best thing I have to give. My lap became her desired seat, and it was awesome.


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Spend a whole day at Washington Square Park

For an entire day, Gizelle and I sat in Washington Square Park in downtown N.Y.C. and people watched. We were serenaded by a man strumming an out of tune guitar with broken strings, talked to a guy with a fish tattooed on his face, and helped a lady in the red kimono feed the pigeons and bird call at the hawks. (Gizelle always introduced me to more people than my sometimes reserved personality allowed me on my own.) It was then I realized how proud I was to live in such an odd place — and looking over at my 160-pound slobbery roommate, I realized we fit right in.


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Go to a party and meet a cute boy dog

Gizelle had always been my wing girl for picking up guys in the East Village; now it was her turn. When I found out a friend was having a party with 19 adorable single dogs on the invite list, I knew this was Gizelle’s chance to meet someone special. Here Gizelle and the cute blonde, Auggie, are clearly flirting over a little beer pong (or in this case, paw-ng).


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Find the best doughnut in the world

As she got sicker, Gizelle’s appetite began to disappear and mine did, too. So when a friend told us about a family-owned doughnut-store gem, Congdon’s Donuts, we went on a quest to find it up the coast of Maine. These donuts were so fresh they took unusual shapes and had mini air-filled dough bubbles. We sat in the grass and ate the whole box. And you know what? I still don’t feel bad about it!


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Meet Santa

I knew 2014 would be Gizelle’s last Christmas, and I really wanted her to meet Santa. The only problem was, my pup might be afraid of a tall man with a big beard and a sack full of unpredictable toys. So when we stumbled across these three trusted pug Santa’s helpers, I couldn’t have been more thrilled. Although the dogs didn’t seem to notice each other much and the pugs weren’t as jolly as a human Santa, I still made sure to pass them Gizelle’s Christmas list of rib eyes, hotdogs, and vanilla ice cream.


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Sit on the beach in the winter

I was told Gizelle wouldn’t make it until Christmas, but in January we sat by the ocean in Maine as it snowed the day before she died. Part of me wondered if this was her plan all along, to take me on an adventure, knowing we’d end up on a deserted beach alone. The sky was white, the trees were bare, and even the birds were hiding. The whole world felt lifeless, and it was hard to believe this beach was once filled with rainbow-colored umbrellas and cute boys lathered in SPF. It was then I realized that I was okay with letting Gizelle go. Just like I had faith that the trees would sprout lime green leaves again and kids with yellow buckets would splash in the water once more, I had faith I’d carry Gizelle with me. Even in the emptiness of that beach that day, I could see Gizelle running free long the shore, rolling in the sand, awkwardly spooked by approaching waves. I knew she would live on through my experiences, and that I gave her the best life I could. And that to me was infinitely healing.


598 thoughts on “I Took My Dying Dog on a Bucket List Adventure

        1. You might consider joining ISIS, they are very heartless people and have your mind set. I’m convinced they would cheer and accept you with opened arms.

          1. WOOOOOOOOO.
            there are powerful people all around you!
            WATCH YOUR BACK!! side…and your SOUL.
            FOR YOU ARE GOING STRAIGHT TO the pit of evil..

      1. Says the deranged bearman with countless innocent stuffed animal carcasses looming in the background of this video. I find humor in his comment about Lauren’s feeding her pup an ice cream. Fascinating perspective Sir…keep your koolaid to yourself.

        1. Apparently you are one as well, since it takes one to know one. People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw rocks.

      2. Maybe you was a little bit agressive, but i get the message.. and I think that too. This is selfish (like 90% of the human behaviour) and yes, some of those things were not the best thing to do with a dog.. but I guess she did all of that with a heart full of good intentions.
        I’m not justifing stupidity tho.

    1. This is so sweet. I can’t help but cry because two years ago this month, found out my Rottweiler had bone cancer in right front leg. As it progressed, the leg from armpit to paw got big. His paw got so spread out and painful that he couldn’t put weight on that leg. Doctor said about same thing; just had short time to live and gave him meds to help with pain. As time went on, the medicine wasn’t controlling the pain as long. He started licking paw almost constantly toward the end. I didn’t even think of doing a bucket list. That would have been perfect. Thought it was probably time for him to go. He was starting to cough some. When took him in to doctor, doc said that it had spread to lungs.

      Sabien was in back seat on way to doctor. Think he knew it was time for him to go. He wasn’t quite ready but neither was my heart ready to let him go. Finally got him out of car. Doc agreed that it was that wicked time to say goodbye to my very best friend and love of my life. I stayed with him until the very end. On way home, I heard a song that really made me cry. One phrase said I see you breathing for the last time. That just did me in. I did see him breathe for last time. I had him cremated and his ashes are next to my bed. I reach down at night and pat him good night. I want his ashes to go with me when it’s my turn to go to heaven.

      I put few ashes on my mom’s grave so he’s also keep watch over her in heaven. Also put some ashes with another grave. Had a German Shepard mix that died about 11 months before him. She’s in backyard. they were best dog buds. Those two will always live in my heart. i’ll see pictures of both of them and laugh at how they truly blessed my lift. they were a hoot.

  1. What a beautiful journey. Thank you for sharing. I hope that you find peace. And take comfort in the memories

  2. Thank you for sharing! I’m so sorry for your loss! May she RIP and may you know your an amazing mother because I’m sure she had a great time on your guys trip!!!

    1. Kate Kelly hear I am a dog lover. My last dog that died was my dogs mum when she’ stopped breathing my heart sunk..I had took Bruner to the vet she had phoned me to say he was stable. About15minutes later the vet phoned me to say he had died.i was devastated.i wanted to be with him.never forgave myself.R.I.P.I HAVED SPOKE BACK A NDFORWARDCOULD WE GO OUT.AT NO ONE WILL EVER CONVINCE ME.that dogs are sometimes better than humans.amengod bless all dogs.amen.

  3. It hurts to even attempt to read this as it is the day that i dread experiencing with my dog, Coco, who i love so much. I love her more than life itself. This is such a beautiful story. ❤️️

    1. Prepare yourself Jen. what was so tough for em was it was a sudden thing and the whole experience was the worst thing that ever happened to me and i lost me dad two years ago. I Loved my guy so much and miss him so much still.

  4. Such a beautiful for story to cap off a beautiful friendship between a beautiful dog and her amazing owner! Thanks for sharing! RIP Gizelle I hope you had the time of you’re life!

  5. I need to stop reading these things before I go to bed. Pillow is covered in tears… So sorry for your loss! You gave her an absolutely beautiful life.

  6. Thank you for sharing your heartfelt experience. I lost my best friend in August 2014. I’m sorry you lost yours too. <3

  7. I had to let go of my Kain kitty a few years ago in much the same way…he was with me throughout the crazy and trying years of college and by my side through all my adventures and struggles after. Kain was 18 1/2 and I’d adopted him on Valentine’s Day. They gave him 2 weeks and I spent that time giving him all the love and treats and shrimp and steak and milk he could have ever wanted. I took him to the docks one quiet night to watch the fish (as he loved to do when we lived on a floating house) and people walking past were amazed at his intent. In the end, we both knew how much love we shared and I am forever grateful for that time to say goodbye. Thank you for your story with beautiful Gizelle…your love reminded me of my love that will never die. Forever in our hearts and amazing, loving memories!

  8. I’ve read your story before, and every time I see it posted again, I read it again. And cry again. Sad and happy tears.

  9. I loved your story. Beautiful, heartwarming. What a gift to have had Gizelle in your life and see the world from her eyes.

  10. I was crying reading your story. I ran quickly to hug my two beloved four legged children. I have a senior dog who has some issues. I know my time will come and I don’t know who would I cope with his absence. All I know is that I love them both. I snuggle with them. I kiss them good night and morning. I lay with them in their beds. My husband said he will put a mattress right beside them so I can be with them. This is how much I love them! My pets are my family. I read your story and what you did for your wonderful and beautiful dog was AMAZING.! how brilliant idea. A bucket list for your pet. Why not? Bless you. Your dog was loved and respected. That is all they want and you gave him that. Thank you! ( can’t stop crying) I love animals..all sorts..

  11. thanks for sharing your last moments with everyone…what a joy, albeit sad, to read all the fun and memories you had and made. RIP Gizelle…you were so truly loved and will be forever missed

  12. I could hardly read this through my tears. Such a great way to spend the last days with your best friend

  13. you should write a book about you and your dog the way you wrote about your bucket list. It would be great.

  14. I wish I had done this with my Tiller Dog. But pain overcame a lot so I took a few lasting shots this one is one of my favs. Last snow of the year.

  15. 🙁 I’m crying here. I am so so so sorry for her loss!! What a beautiful story, and a beautiful soul!

  16. Beautiful story. Thank you for sharing. It makes me happy to know that Gizelle had such a wonderful and loving mama.

  17. What a beautiful thing to do. I didn’t have that with my dog because at 13 his cancer just got him fast and furious

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