Dogs have always been called “man’s best friend,” but that phrase just seems so, so—not enough, doesn’t it? A dog is so much more than a best friend; they are often your constant companion, a confidante, your therapist, your exercise buddy, and sometimes the one thing that can make you smile and lift your mood after a very bad Monday. Just like other beloved beings in our lives, eventually you have to say goodbye. Coping with the death of your dog can be traumatic, whether it was expected or not, so here are some ways to both deal and heal.
The Hurt is Real: Let Yourself Go Through the Stages of Grief
Writing for Psychology Today, Ralph Ryback M.D. puts the experience truthfully: “…the death of a companion animal can be as devastating as the loss of a human significant other.” So if a well-meaning friend says, “it’s just a dog—at least it wasn’t your child,” that’s not exactly true. Dr. Ryback explains, “[the passing of a dog can] create a large void in our hearts and lives—comparable to losing a close family member.”
So go ahead and let yourself feel all the feels. The hurt is real, and it’s important to let yourself go through the stages of grief, as outlined by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her book, On Death & Dying:
Denial: It’s normal to suffer disbelief at first, but you’ll work through it
Anger: You might feel this, especially if your dog died unexpectedly
Bargaining: You might torture yourself with possibilities: “What if I had just…?”
Depression: Sadness is going to come, and it’s the longest stage that may never quite go away
Acceptance: Accepting a loss does not mean letting go of memories; life becomes normal again
What about the Kids?
Many dog owners suppress these stages of grief and put on a brave face in the hope of “protecting” their children from the hurt. Writing for KidsHealth, Steven Dowshen, M.D. counsels parents: “Don’t feel compelled to hide your own sadness about losing a pet. Showing how you feel and talking about it openly sets an example for kids.”
Get Help from Others
No doubt family members make great sounding-boards for expressing grief, but your sadness and need to talk about it may last much longer than their patience. Remember there are all kinds of support groups and other resources out there for people just like you who are coping with the death of their dog. These support-aids could include:
- Pet-bereavement counseling
- Pet-loss support hotlines
- Online support groups
- Local pet-loss support groups
If you’re not sure where to start, get advice from your veterinarian.
Turn your Grief into Action
Going through this kind of inevitable loss can produce feelings of helplessness and frustration that you couldn’t do anything about the death. The good news is, you can do something for the living, in honor of your lost pet. Turning your attention outward and directing it toward a constructive act can be an important part of healing. Some grief-to-action examples might be:
- Fostering orphaned puppies/homeless dogs
- Volunteering to walk dogs at an animal shelter
- Sponsoring a shelter kennel in your dog’s name
- Organizing a fundraiser for an animal group
There is No “Right” or “Wrong” Way to Grieve
An employee at DDC Veterinary managed a Humane Society for over five years, and one of her jobs was to counsel with dog owners before their pet was euthanized. She noticed that a lot of owners felt guilty because they wanted to get another dog right away instead of waiting. In short, they worried that wanting to get another dog right away was showing disrespect to their pet. On the other hand, she also saw people who had no desire to get another dog right away and they also felt guilty. The truth is, there is no right or wrong way to grieve—there is only the way that’s best for you, and everyone is different.
The Tip of the Tail
The passing of a pet is one of life’s great griefs, but no doubt we all agree that the love and joy our pets give to us during their lifetimes make up for the pain of losing them.
May I Go Now?
May I go now?
Do you think the time is right?
May I say goodbye to pain filled days
and endless lonely nights?
I’ve lived my life and done my best,
an example tried to be.
So can I take that step beyond
and set my spirit free?
I didn’t want to go at first,
I fought with all my might.
But something seems to draw me now
to a warm and loving light.
I want to go
I really do.
It’s difficult to stay.
But I will try as best I can
to live just one more day.
To give you time to care for me
and share your love and fears.
I know you’re sad and afraid,
because I see your tears.
I’ll not be far,
I promise that, and hope you’ll always know
that my spirit will be close to you
wherever you may go.
Thank you so for loving me.
You know I love you too,
that’s why it’s hard to say goodbye
and end this life with you.
So hold me now just one more time
and let me hear you say,
because you care so much for me,
you’ll let me go today.
Written for a beloved pet & friend, by Susan A. Jackson