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Grieving the Loss of a Dog

Being a dog owner is one of the greatest things in the world. Never before have you experienced the rare unconditional love that comes from sharing your life with a dog. Whether you come home from work full of smiles or with a dark cloud of gloom hanging over your head, your fave canine pal is thrilled to see you, and just the thought of his excitement at your arrival is enough to make you break out in a grin. Though dogs bring immense joy to our lives, they also bring one of the most significant heartbreaks we will ever experience– the day when they pass away. Every dog owner tries to shove the thought of that terrible day into the back of their mind, but the sad reality is dogs don’t live forever, and at some point, you and your fave furry friend will have to say goodbye and look forward with tearful hope to the day you will be reunited at the threshold to the Rainbow Bridge. If you’ve recently lost a dog, you know how hard it is. It is every bit as painful as losing a human family member. Yet expectations of how to handle the loss of a cherished pet are different from what is permitted when grieving a spouse, child, or other family member. But grieving is a unique process, and each person must experience it in their own way. How do you grieve the loss of a dog? 

The Pet-Owner Bond

The relationship between a dog and his owner is very special indeed. A beloved dog or cat is often with us through some of the most difficult—and some of the most joy-filled—times of our lives. The constant knowledge that your dog is there to provide love and support is often enough to help us find our way through some of our most challenging days. Fido becomes inextricably linked to our memories, and for many dog owners, it is impossible to reminisce without fond remembrances which include their beloved dog at the front and center of each occasion.

Non-dog owners often don’t understand the bond that exists between a dog and his beloved “master.” Yet that relationship is often as deep and meaningful as the bonds formed between friends and family members. When faced with going forward without a cherished pet by our sides, we can easily become overwhelmed by crippling grief.

For some people, a dog gives them a sense of purpose. When nothing else seems to go right in their world and they don’t feel they have a reason to go on, their dog provides all that they need to keep putting one foot in front of the other. When considered from this point of view, it is not hard to see how easy it is to plunge into feelings of uselessness and despair. Losing a dog is like losing your best friend. That quiet sense of confidence and comfort that propelled you through your darkest days is gone, and it is very difficult to see your way forward after such a tremendous loss.

How to Cope With the Loss of a Dog

If you have lost a beloved pet, you are intimately acquainted with how it feels. Like many dog owners before you, you likely felt confused as to how to cope with the crushing deluge of painful emotions which bombarded you daily. Though time does soften the blow, you never really get over the loss of a beloved dog. But with the passing of time, the pain begins to fade at the edges while the memories become that much sweeter. Yet in the early days of loss, it is hard to know how to move forward.

Here are some suggestions to help you cope with the loss of a cherished dog:

  • Give yourself time.

Substantial loss takes substantial time to bring about healing. Don’t expect yourself to bounce back after a couple of days or to be ready to put away every last vestige of Fido’s life in your home.

Grieving is highly individual and cannot be forced or rushed. Don’t feel guilty if you start feeling a little brighter after only a few days or if you can barely stand to leave the house after two weeks. If you break down in tears at the sound of a touching song which brings to mind your beloved pet or when a kindhearted soul expresses sympathy for your loss, it is okay. Grief takes time; give yourself permission to take as much of it as you need.

  • Allow yourself to feel.

For many families, a prolonged illness precipitates the death of a beloved pet. For others, it may be a sudden illness or a tragic accident. All of these scenarios are devastating and bring different feelings with them. It is critical that you allow yourself to feel whatever is in your heart. You may feel angry, sad, frustrated, despondent, lonely, and even like bursting into laughter all in the same day, and that’s okay. You loved deeply, and you will hurt deeply. Not only is this normal; it’s healthy.

Don’t try to ignore your pain or push it away. You must feel to heal. It takes great courage to face your pain, and it is necessary for you to process and move forward. 

  • Realize there is no “right” way.

The truth is there is no right or wrong way to grieve a substantial loss. Even well-meaning friends and relatives who have lost a pet cannot truly advise you as to what steps you need to take to heal. Don’t feel obligated to respond in any one specific way. Grieving your beloved dog will be as unique a process as your precious relationship with him was. Whatever you need to do to find peace is okay.

  • Connect with others who have also lost pets.

Finding likeminded people who have experienced a similar loss can be very helpful. If for nothing else, it will provide you with a compassionate sounding board with which you can share your most precious memories of your beloved pet. This sense of unity and support can provide needed emotional strength at a time when you feel shattered and exhausted from trying to hold your heart and your world together. 

  • Consider holding a memorial.

Some people find great solace in holding a memorial event to commemorate the life of their most faithful canine friend. Today, there are many companies offering cremation services and pet memorial urns and even jewellery.

  • Create a remembrance.

For some, the path to healing is found in simple reminders of a life well lived. Some people like to write a journal of their pet’s life to allow them to remember some of the special memories they shared. A scrapbook of photos can become a precious reminder of an old friend. Often, the opportunity to reflect on the good times paves the way for your heart to be mended.

  • Take care of yourself.

Though the tendency is to fall apart when your heart is broken, it is critical that you continue to care for yourself properly. This includes showering and dressing, eating, and even trying to engage with the world when you have the strength to do so. This becomes even more important when you have children or other pets depending on you. The simple act of going through the motions of caring for yourself will help even if everything in you feels like falling to pieces.

  • Seek help.

If your grief is so crippling that you feel you cannot function, there is no shame in seeking help. Taking the time to visit your doctor may assist them in formulating a treatment plan to help you cope with your grief. For some people, the loss of a beloved dog robs them of sleep. Without proper sleep, your emotions will soar out of control, making it difficult for you to manage your pain. A doctor can prescribe short-term medication to help you get some rest. Maintaining your physical health is key to emotional healing. A doctor can help you with this. Don’t let fear of judgment or shame prevent you from reaching out to a medical professional if you feel that you need it.

Dealing with the loss of a dog is incredibly painful. There is no magic pill to take the sting of loss away, but in time and with proper self-care, the hurt will diminish and be replaced with the sweetness of the memories of time spent with your most faithful friend. Dogs bring immense joy into our lives and one moment of indescribable pain. But the joy of knowing and loving them outweighs the bitter pill of their loss a million times over. The passing of Fido feels too large a burden to bear, but thank goodness, we have the hope of a sweet reunion at the Rainbow Bridge.

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