Have Friends or Family Ever Failed You After a Dog’s Death?

Some can't grasp our love for our pets, and it can lead to hurt feelings when one dies.
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“Don’t ask me to talk about it,” says my friend Rose. “I don’t want to stir it up again.” Turns out, her family’s failure to send condolence cards after the death of an aunt’s dog spurred a huge family feud.

I understood how such behavior could incite conflict and hurt feelings. Our dogs, in my opinion, are like our children. We expect people to treat our dogs with the respect and love they’d give our kids.

However, I’ve learned that these expectations can lead to deep hurt, battles between family members, and crushed friendships.

When my dog, Lucy, died suddenly about a year and a half ago and I threw a “Remembering Lucy” celebration. I was hurt when some of my friends and neighbors didn’t show up.

During that first raw week after I lost my best friend to cancer, I didn’t sleep, couldn’t work, and felt like I was bleeding from the inside out. Somehow, in the midst of all that pain, maybe I understood that many people don’t hold the same strong feelings about our canine companions. But my grief drove all rational thought from my being. I wanted to talk about my pet, my loss, and my pain, to anyone who would listen. And I resented friends and family members who weren’t interested in responding to my grief.

I’ve since learned that I’m not the only one who feels this way about how people behave when you lose your best friend.

Sheryl Berger recently lost her Golden Retriever, Tiki, and was disappointed when her grown children didn’t want to attend a memorial service for the dog. “I especially had a problem with my daughter,” says Berger. “We had to-dos and arguments over this. My daughter’s attitude was, ‘He was old and had a great life.’ She just didn’t understand the closeness I had with my dog.” What’s more, one of her best friends, “not an animal lover,” called once but didn’t follow up. “I told her, ‘You could have at least sent me a text saying your were thinking of me,’” Berger says.

Like Berger, I learned that I have three types of friends: Those who don’t like animals and feel that my love for tail-waggers is over the top, those who own dogs but don’t view them as family members, and people like me, who revere the magical animal-human bond.

Given that I’m one of those animal lovers who home cooks her (new) dog his meals, brings him along on clothes-shopping excursions, and organizes doggy play dates, I’ve developed some guidelines for dealing with each of the above-mentioned friends when you’re struggling with grief over a dog’s death.

1. Dealing with friends who don’t like animals

Let’s begin by taking the worst grief supporters: friends and family members who don’t like animals. Should you invite them to a pet memorial service? Sure, but don’t expect them to show up. Should you hope that they’ll send a card or call you? Go ahead, and get your heart broken.

You might say that your closest friends and family members, even if they’re not dog lovers, should understand how you feel. Truth is, I agree. They know how much you love your furry buddy. They should have enough love and empathy to acknowledge your pain.

But often they don’t. Stephanie Smith, a psychologist who specializes in grief, says that some people just don’t know how to respond.

“I think it can feel as though our families are discounting the importance of the relationship with our pet when they don’t acknowledge our heartbreak at our pet’s death,” she says. “They may fully understand our pet’s importance, but knowing what to say to a grieving person is always tough.”

So that’s the official line from a psychologist. Did thoughts like this make me feel any better when I wanted some of my friends to be there for me? No.

2. Dealing with friends who don’t view animals as family members

Next, let’s look at friends who have dogs but aren’t the type, like me, who worry about their dogs when they’re home alone. They’re not the type who stay up all night with their pups if they’re sick. Should you invite these friends to your memorial service or expect them to give you cards and flowers? Yes. But brace yourselves. These folks might not understand your intense feelings, either.

“We can certainly hope that friends and family will understand our grief and do what they can to be supportive, but it may miss the mark. It’s likely not out of spite, but simply a lack of understanding of the relationship with a pet, the role pets play in some people’s lives,” says Smith.

3. Friends who totally get it

The third type of friends and family members are animal enthusiasts who completely understand your pain. They arrive early to your memorial service, with cookies, flowers, and condolence cards in hand. They’re eager to share fond memories about your adorable, one-of-a-kind tail-wagger. They’re the last ones to leave your memorial service and are sure to hug you.

These folks are like my friend Elisa, who has three dogs. When Lucy died, I called her at 6 a.m. and cried until I was out of tears.

Another friend, a new puppy owner, MaryAnn, touched me with kindness at Lucy’s memorial service. She brought a card and, when friends were asked to say a few words, spoke about how fortunate we are to have dogs in our lives.

Take my advice, when you’re grieving the loss of your best friend, focus on friends like MaryAnn, Elisa, or on other animal-loving friends. These folks will send empathic emails and will cry when you post your video of your deceased pet on Facebook. That’s what happened to Berger, who teaches meditation.

“Animal-loving students who come to my healing and meditation classes were most supportive. They sent me condolence cards and beautiful emails,” she says.

As for other friends and family, consider Smith’s suggestion. Even though you’re bleeding from the inside out, lower your expectations and give them a break.

After all, what would your dog have done? I know my buddy Lucy would have wagged her tail and found someone else to pet her.

Have you experienced different reactions from your friends and family when a beloved animal died? Tell us your story in the comments.

Read more about rescue on Dogster:

About the author: Lisa Cohn and her six-year-old son are co-authors of the award-winning kids’ dog book “Bash and Lucy Fetch Confidence,” which they wrote to help them overcome grief over the loss of their dog. Visit them at www.BashAndLucy.com

28 thoughts on “Have Friends or Family Ever Failed You After a Dog’s Death?”

  1. My little dog, a miniature dachhund/
    chihuahua cross died a week ago, 2 months before she would have been 19 years old.
    It was the longest relationship I've had. I have become closed off and guarded in this grief. It is a part of me that I only shared with her, an unspoken bond of silent togetherness.
    When my first min.dachund died of cancer in 1993 and I told my mother the following day, her words were " I don't know why you're so upset you knew she was dying of cancer"….followed by a sigh and "oh I suppose you want a hug now?". as if my grieving for my first dog as a young adult was an inconvenience.
    I share my grief with no one. There are so many insensitive people in this world that I feel unsure of allowing someone to see the inner vulnerability that losing my companion created.
    It's comforting to read the comments posted here.
    My dog gave me a reason to live, she pulled me out of myself. We shared road trips and quiet moments in the yard together. She was my comfort in a callous world of insensitive people. I could be myself and let my wall down with her. She is in my heart now forever.
    She taught me how to love unconditionally, and to forgive.

  2. My dog died on July 16, 2020 Lucky was my once in a lifetime dog and the love of my life. It’s been a little over seven months now and my pain and hurt has not lessoned, I still cry very often. I think the thing that blows me away the most is the people I thought would be there for me aren’t and the down right rudeness from others with the get over it attitude. Yes, she was old – it was still sudden and I still hurt and I will miss her all the rest of my days! I’m so sorry for everyone’s loss and sending (((Hugs)))
    Your still the one Luck, you’ll always be the one ❤️

    1. Suzanne Schramm

      I am deeply saddened by the loss of my beloved dog and I sincerely understand your pain. I am very sorry that you must endure this pain through the loss of your beloved pet. Our hearts are expanded in love with our pets and devastated when we have to say goodbye. Know that the universe has expanded with your beloveds spirit. A certain slant of sunlight, a moonbeam, a scent, are all signals from your beloved. They may not be tangible like the hugs you shared in this plane, but they are real spirit, none the less.

  3. I came across this when googling I miss my dog. I had to put him down last month. He was 18 and I loved him so, so much. He went to work with me for years and since covid we spent every day together. I know it was time because he was so sick. But I have waves of guilt. My husband was very sympathetic afterwards but is tired of my continued greif. He says he was a dog, a good dog, he got sick and you did the right thing. He said I depended too much on my little guy. He says I am acting like my child died. I am trying to keep it together. I miss him so much. When I suggest looking for another puppy he said no way. He said he doesn’t want to go through this again. I love him but can’t make him understand and I sound crazy to myself when I try and explain it. I find comfort in your comments you all shared. Ty.

  4. What a wonderful article. I’m sorry for your loss. Lucy was beautiful. The photos make me want to hug her. I can relate to all you said about the grief before and after her death.

    We had our beloved, 7-year-old Saint Bernard euthanized last week as she had bone cancer, which had spread to her lungs. It was a horrible experience for her and us. I’ve cried every day since she was diagnosed in August.

    That cancer came out of the blue with a slight limp, which the vet thought nothing of in July. We all thought the limp was merely the result of her rough play with our three-month-old Saint Bernard puppy and that it would go away. Instead, it worsened.

    In fact, the tumor in her wrist was barely visible in August, but by October, it was the size of a tennis ball. Still, it was hard for me to come to terms with losing her. I felt like I couldn’t let her go.

    Caring for her in the end was difficult as she was 175 pounds, and it was hard to get her out to the bathroom. I made her homemade meals, and when she didn’t want to eat during her last two weeks, I hand fed her. Sometimes she ate a little just to appease me.

    Exceptionally smart, she knew something was up and didn’t want to let me out of her sight, even hobbled down the hall in a frantic search for me when I went to the bathroom. So I stayed by her side as much as possible and never left the house. I even moved out to the couch and slept beside her each night.

    I tried to make her happy despite her pain, got her lots of toys and treats, including Christmas toys as I knew she wouldn’t be here in December. I gave her daily messages and countless hugs and kisses. We even had an early Thanksgiving dinner in celebration of her and the blessing that she was to our lives.

    But the quality of her life was poor, and, finally, I realized that I had to euthanize her for her sake, had to do what was best for her. She was in pain and I had a great fear that her leg would fracture as that often happens with bone cancer.

    Still, getting her euthanized was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Thankfully, she went quickly and peacefully.

    And now, I’m grieving horribly. She was my soulmate dog, and she loved me more than most humans ever have–maybe more than any human ever has.

    Her love made me a better person.

    Despite such a devastating loss and all we went through, many of my family members and friends on Facebook didn’t bother to express their sympathy, and that was very hurtful for me. Sure, maybe some didn’t see my posts announcing the diagnosis or her death, but I’m sure many did and don’t understand the depth of my pain over her loss or, like you said, the feeling of “bleeding from the inside out,” during the weeks before the loss. Hopefully, I’ll forgive them someday.

    1. I can relate to much of what you described. In August my 11 year old pug had a small mast cell tumor and by October it was huge and he could no longer breathe on his own. I had to make the hardest decision ever to let him go . I changed my mind a dozen times before I finally resigned to it. I have cried every night since and feel most don't understand my grief. Even those whom I know loved Franklin don't want to talk about his death because it makes them sad. I feel alone with my grief. I have another dog and he is missing his big brother and I am trying to be there for him, but I am too overwhelmed sometimes. No one understands the bond I had with my first dog, my sweet boy. I hurt a lot right now.

  5. Sandra J Kilpatrick

    Yesterday. Cancer.. sudden. He was breathing loudly, I dropped him off at the vet, got a call a few hours later that he was dying of a cancerous tumor. No warning, no hope. He’s gone. I find myself thinking he’s here for a moment, then it hits me. I have no friends, he was the only friend I had, and the best one by far, ever. I’m an open wound. No appetite, no nothing. 100 supportive people couldn’t help me now. Life is meaningless.

  6. I lost my little pomeranian 2 years ago. Her name was Misha and she is the reason i am alive today. I suffered through horrible depression for 6 years and she was the one thing that made my life worth living. She never left my side. Friends do not understand my depression was not “Oh i dont feel like chatting today” it was a pain from the top pf my head to my feet. Some friends were supportive for a few days after Misha died. But like someone else on this board said, you dont grieve for just a day or two. One friend invited me on a trip a week after she died and then got mad at me because i was not bubbly and fun and cheerful. She accused me of being mean to her. To be mean to her I would have had to think about her and all my thoughts were on my pain and losing Misha. The friendship was a 20 year old relationship, did not survive.

    1. I lost my boy to brain cancer a week ago. My "friend" of over 40 years expressed her sorrow for him (after I made the painful decision to put him to sleep) but never said those 2 simple words "I'm sorry", to me. It was not in her despite having a dog she pushes around in a baby carriage, lies to doctors that he is an emotional support dog so she can travel with him and won't even go to a restaurant or store that does not allow him in.
      Our relationship had been strained but at times like this you put those things aside when there is suffering.
      This friendship did not survive this despite surviving much having been almost life long. I cannot forgive this blatant lack of empathy for the pain I was going through and the ultimate pain of when I had to say goodbye.
      This came on very suddenly and progressed quickly by way of screaming seizures twice a day mostly that woke he and I out of a deep sleep. I sent her a video to show what he was going through and why I made the decision I did.
      There are people in this world incapable of empathy for the pain of another and these are the people I do not need in my life. I have no forgiveness for someone who can't say those two simple words…I'm sorry.
      I am sorry for your loss Kim and I do understand Vicki

  7. Hi there…
    I like to join the kind people, collectively having same unconditional bond with their dogs.
    I totally feel the pain that everyone of you is feeling.
    I lost my best friend, Happy, on July 25, 2020, 10 years old Jack Russell.
    And my life hasn’t been the same since.
    With this painful heartbroken void, it’s very difficult to carry on the daily routines.
    I want to thank you all for sharing your lovely stories and giving me comfort in this difficult time.
    I hope that you all find peace and comfort in your hearts, soon.
    God Bless, take care.

  8. Thank you for sharing. I completely understand your pain and loss.
    I lost my joyful Bella almost four years ago. My eyes still search for her in her favorite places where she slept, or if I look out into our yard I see her running to me with a ball in her mouth and a sparkle in her eye. I see her every where. I know they are just memories, but sometime they are so real that I want to reach out and touch them. She was family, and I grieve for her as I would a beloved family member…Maybe more?

  9. It’s somewhat refreshing to see that others are experiencing what I am going through – friendship wise. I know that I can have high expectations from people, but reading this solidified that I am not completely responding using emotion mind.

    I lost my Maltese a few days before my birthday and Christmas, very unexpectedly and am shocked by the support from my co-workers but lack thereof from friends. I have a hard time understanding a lot of things these days, but especially how some have seemingly responded like I lost a favorite hat…or something that can easily be replaced. “Expectation is the root of all heartache,” I guess.

    I miss her terribly and hate that I have to pretend to be okay. My sweet girl, momma loves you and can’t wait to hold you in my arms again in heaven.

    1. It’s almost 6 months that I had to send my two best friends to doggie heaven both 15 years old. Pippin took his favorite ball with him because he loved to play soccer. Mr Frodo too his picture of them with him to find him. I miss them more than I can say but I am getting better. I have them with me in spirit whenever I go on my hikes to the trails we took. I see them running and looking back at me to make sure I am there. Sometimes I cry and sometimes I smile so I know I’m getting better. They were my happiness and I know I was theirs. I saw it in their eyes all the time. I have wonderful pictures of them and movies to help me laugh. They came to me the other night to let me know they are happy and healthy and will see me when the time comes because they are in their SECOND forever home
      So to all those who know my pain, know that I know yours too and hope we can all be happy in our memories of our best best friends.

    2. I am replying to your post, as it is written on the day I lost my best friend. It has been over two months now and I am not stronger or “better” than I was that day. I have family that was/is supportive, but not entirely. I try to cry alone. But truly, I don’t really care who is supportive and who is not, I just miss my baby, I want her back, nothing can fix that and nothing else really seems to matter to me. I wake up each day and go through the motions.
      I just don’t know how I am going to go on like this everyday.

  10. Lynn,
    I feel your pain. My boy went to heaven a year ago and I am still in pain. Our dogs are our children. They love us unconditionally which is something that can’t ever be replaced. You can’t fill the hole in your heart left by your boy. That is a place that will always be his. I know you will hold him again, as will I with my boy. Nothing can replace the special bond that the two of you had. I wish you love and peace.

  11. My boy went to heaven eight days ago, like everyone here I’m totally devastated and heartbroken, after one day I was being told that I had to stop having tears and get on with things. The people I thought would be there for me just don’t seem to bother and say well you can get another dog its not as though it was a human, my dog gave me more than any human has or ever will. God protect all our fur babies until we can hold them in our arms again x

  12. I had to let go of my long haired mini-dachshund Gabby the begging of Decmember 2019
    My parents are not sympathetic or empathetic so I waited a week to tell them, though all my friends knew pretty much the day she died.

    When I told my dad, he said “if she was that ill, she is better off” and continued into another conversation.

    I now find that I no longer have any desire to speak with him again. I am struggling with hurt, resentment and overall bafflement of how he acted. I think it will destroy my relationship with my dad as I no longer see him the same as I did before.

  13. My dog Tundra, a Chesapeake, died at age 13 after a sudden uncontrollable “Mersa” like infection. It was devastating to me her mom as she was always there for me and was always waiting with a happy smile to greet me (which she picked up in her own). Some friends and relatives were fantastic, others just said to move on. But even with a new puppy in our family, the original is just that – a unique individual. Wish we all could celebrate that in pets as well as in the humans in our lives.

  14. Thanks to the writer, I feel a little less sad. It’s been almost a year since my dog went to heaven but I stil struggle about forgeting and forgiving those relatives or friends who seemed quite indiferent to the situation.

  15. I recently found out that there are also friends who seem to view their animals in the same way that you view animals, but don’t. When my sweet little dog died, I expected my best friend to understand how hard it would be on me. She didn’t. She was there for me the first day, but she didn’t seem to understand that I would grieve beyond one day for the little guy who followed me around every day for the last 15 years. I was blown away by her lack of empathy.

  16. My eyes look for her in the places where she used to be.
    I can hardly bear the loneliness of what my eyes can no longer see.
    I close my eyes.
    My arms become my focus while my eyes are closed and black.
    I wrap my arms together and I dream that she is back.
    I beg my soul to go look for her and protect her for me please,,,
    I must beg again and again and I fall down to my knees.
    My heart sits very still and it waits and listens with intent,
    Hoping for an answered prayer that on my knees I’ve sent.
    I haven’t seen a sign and I guess answered prayers aren’t free,
    My eyes look again at the places where she used to be.
    I closed her eyes.

    In loving memory of my baby girl Lexie

    1. That is absolutely beautiful. I lost my boxer Molly at age 10, after she was diagnosed with gastric cancer. That was on May 7, when I had to call the vet. I held my girl as the drugs where administered and she died in my arms. I kissed her little nose and they took her away. She was my best friend , constant companion and copilot. i mis her terribly and I’ll never be the same.

      I hope you don’t mind, in that I used the base of your poem and put Molly’s name in it.

      My best,

      Tony

  17. When I told my bff that I had to suddenly put my girl down, she replied that I was her “angel”… then told me she was so busy and going to sleep.

    What a pal huh? Not anymore!

  18. My sister never even acknowledged the death of my beloved dog Not even a phone call or text Other friends and family were very kind She was the only one I didn’t hear from Very hard to forgive a person for that I have tried to forgive her but I still feel resentful at times and will definitely never trust her again

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