My Dog Died: Support When Your Dog Passes Away
The grief you're likely to feel after the loss of a pet can often be overwhelming. After all, your dog or cat was probably a huge part of your life for a decade or more. There was once a deep bond, but now there is emptiness and you feel alone without your pet. Grief recovery is a process that can take longer than you might expect, so give yourself plenty of time to process your feelings.
Several different emotions factor into the grieving process. One of the most common is depression - those lingering feelings of sadness that naturally come with a loss of any type.
In some circumstances, you may also feel guilty, wondering if you did everything possible for your pet, or finding yourself playing the game of "If only I had..." Pet owners who make a difficult decision to euthanize may also be plagued by guilt. Especially in the case of terminally ill pets, it's important to remember that you made every decision with your pet's best interests in mind and that there's no reason to beat yourself up over the outcomes.
Depending on how your pet died, you may also feel anger - say, if you feel a careless driver was at fault, or if you feel your vet didn't do everything possible in the event of injury or illness.
Experts in bereavement agree that it's important to express yourself, no matter what you're feeling, rather than trying to keep your emotions bottled up inside. If the animal you lost was a family pet, the whole family can support and listen to each other, while single people may have to turn to outside family and friends for a sympathetic ear.
It's also true that friends who aren't pet lovers may not understand the impact the loss of a pet has had on you, and are not willing to listen empathetically. If this is the case, you may be able to find a pet support group in your area - call your vet or the local humane society for a recommendation.
Dogster's Saying Goodbye: Memorials & Support forum is an amazingly supportive place to share your loss with others who understand exactly what you are going through. It's often ranked as one of the most valuable forums in our community.
Remember that other pets in your household may also be grieving. It's not uncommon for dogs or cats that were raised together to react to the loss of a companion with listless behavior and loss of appetite. You can support them with love and extra attention.
For children, the loss of a pet is often their first experience with death. Being supportive to them means explaining the event in a way that is appropriate for their ages and that fits into your family's spiritual and religious beliefs. Children under six often don't understand that death is permanent, while older children may be so curious about the process that they ask questions that seem morbid. No matter what age, let your kids be part of any rituals or activities you plan to celebrate your pet's life or memorialize its passing.
If your pet died at home or if you had a cat or dog put to sleep by your vet, you may be disconcerted by the process of deciding what to do with the remains. Deceased pets can often by handled by veterinary offices for a fee. Home burial is perhaps the most popular option, giving you the comfort of laying your pet to rest in his own yard or garden. Be aware, however, that in most cities, ordinances discourage or prohibit pet burial, even though it's unlikely these ordinances will be enforced.
If you rent, or if you move around a lot, home burial may not be an option you're comfortable with. You can check your local Yellow Pages for a pet cemetery or pet cremation facility. Or, go to The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement and then click on your state to find a listing of all such services in your area. You can also shop online or locally for a decorative urn to hold your pet's ashes, or a custom head stone to mark its resting place.
Often pet lovers have to deal with the question of when to adopt another pet. Some may feel ready to do it right away, while others may feel the need to wait weeks, months, or even a year. In general, any time frame is okay, as long as you're sure you're adopting a new pet in an effort to move forward, rather than looking backward and trying to replace the pet that you lost.
Related Advice from Other Dog Owners
Give Yourself Time
I'm so glad to see all this in print. The death of a pet is not something to overlook, it's serious and yet so many in our society think its silly to grieve for a pet. Give yourself the time to do this in your own way, no matter what pressure others are putting on you. I love and recommend the book "Tear Soup."
~Noah, owner of two mixed breeds
Share Your Grief, It Helps
When I lost two of my buddies about eight months ago, I really struggled. For years I bought products from a natural pet products company and I know it made a huge difference in the quality and longevity of my two dogs...but after they died, I kept getting their emails and newsletters. When I replied to be taken off their mailing list because it was a painful reminder, not only did I get an e-card from the customer service reps but I got a personal email from the owner of the company expressing their sympathy, thoughts and prayers. I was blown away! I never had a company do this. But, I was so glad I had shared my grief instead of just unsubscribing. They were so kind! I have since adopted another pup and the first thing I did was to contact Dinovite and get put back on their email list!
~Candace S., owner of a dog and a ferret who thinks he's a dog!
Create a Memorial and Know the Jouney Continues
What beautiful advice the author of this article has provided for us all. I would like to second all that was said above, and encourage anyone who is grieving the loss of a pet to find an understanding support network - be it online or among friends or in a grief support group.
I would add that a memorial can provide healing closure for us and our children. Creating something - be it a journal you record your memories and grieving process in or a scrapbook of mementos and memories - is a therapeutic way to celebrate the life of the one you've lost. I would also like to say that those animals who have transitioned into spirit are not as far away as they may seem. The love and bond is not broken but has only changed form.
A book I would recommend to pursue this idea further is "Animals and the Afterlife: True Stories of Our Best Friends' Journey Beyond Death" by Kim Sheridan. This book has helped me through both animal and human loss, as they are not really different phenomena! I wish you all peace as you heal and know that you will get thought this, and be stronger because of it.
~Ashley B., owner of a Rottie
The Grieving Process
For most of us, losing our pet is like losing a family member. As such, you go through all the stages of grief: denial, anger, guilt, etc. If you look, you can actually find good advice on how to survive the grieving process online. I did when I lost my extraordinary dog last year. The funny thing was that the stuff I had been doing to cope were all suggested things by these sites! I actually was working on healing myself.
If you've lost your pet, don't let the folks who act like "It's just a dog!" get to you. Your pet was a legitimate family member. I went to Joann's and got a memory kit. They actually sell kits for making pawprints or memorials of/for your pet. This was actually a great tool that helped my husband. We were able to get Elvis' pawprint before he passed, and now we have a lovely little memorial for him in our little zen garden.
~Tena A., owner of Jethro
I echo Tena's thoughts exactly! The loss of a pet is so hard to deal with. I just had to put my cat down (suddenly) ... I loved Tonka so much.
Give yourself time to cry and know that you did the best you could for your pet. Only caring, responsible owners suffer through this grieving process after their pet is gone -- and the world needs us. So grieve your loss, but do not get lost in "If only ..." thoughts, because they are not productive.
Remember the good times, and if you're like me and had to make the choice to let your pet go, know that sometimes it is the most humane gift we can give our animals. It is the most unselfish act of love we can offer: To end a pet's suffering, we must choose to accept our own.