The pain of losing a pet is like losing a family member, and it can be incredibly hard to cope with the grief.
One owner who knows the heartache only too well is Stephanie Painter, 25, from Virginia, US, after losing her dog Chevy two years ago.
Labrador cross Chevy was suddenly diagnosed with fatal bone cancer in March 2020 and passed away just six days later by her side.
Stephanie planned the most perfect final day on earth and treated Chevy to a McDonald’s burger for his last supper.
Afterwards, she couldn’t bear to part with the brown paper bag and kept it in her car boot as a memento, before finally framing it on his shrine.
Stephanie told The Mirror : “I decided to keep it in my car, that way he would always be with me on car rides.”
Stephanie says Chevy “loved people more than dogs ” and enjoyed playing on the beach.
“He wasn’t an average dog that needed to be spoken to in pet language. I would talk to him like any normal person and he would understand,” she said.
Chevy had years of mild medical problems, then one day Stephanie came home from work to find him “acting strange”.
She immediately called her vet to book an appointment – but nothing could prepare her for the heartbreaking news.
“I was told he had chondrosarcoma, a bone cancer that affected his hips and caused swelling in his abdomen. It had spread throughout his entire body,” Stephanie explained.
“Due to his age, I would have to put him to rest or he would continue to suffer.”
With six days to prepare for her dog’s death, Stephanie began planning how they would enjoy his final 24 hours.
“I spent his last day doing what he loved – nothing,” she said.
“I let him sleep and made sure he had all the good meals. Because of past health scares, I was always strict with his food.
“But that day, he deserved to have some junk. On my way to the vet, we stopped at McDonald’s and I got us a McDouble, fries and a sweet tea.
“I wanted to capture the moment so I could always go back to it. After eating, it was time to go.”
Chevy passed away at 3.38pm on March 16 2020, and ever since, Stephanie hasn’t been able to part with the brown McDonald’s burger bag.
It’s one of many items she treasures from their 13 years together.
“I kept the bag in my car up until this year, when I decided to make a TikTok about it,” Stephanie explained.
“After so many suggestions on how to keep the bag safe, I decided to put it in a spare shadow box and keep it in my corner cabinet which I now call ‘The Chevy Shrine’.”
Stephanie’s TikTok video of Chevy’s final McDonald’s meal has racked up more than 12 million views online, and inspired thousands of dog owners.
Talking about her experience with grief, Stephanie says: “There is no right way to heal, there is no timeline.
“It’s okay to still grieve the loss of a pet years ago, even decades. Never feel bad or let anyone else make you feel bad for hurting.
“To anyone who has a dog, if you have a gut feeling that something is wrong, call the vet and take them in.
“To a dog parent who is about to go through this tragedy, take all the photos you want.
“Take in every moment, because honestly, nothing can prepare you for what will happen in that room, no matter how hard you try.
“It’s difficult but never leave them alone. Be with them during their last breath. Make sure they see you and feel you.”