I Miss My Dog: Has Grief for a Dog Who Died Ever Overwhelmed You?

When my German Shepherd, Hugo, died, it felt like a part of me had been clawed out and torn away. I talked to a pet-loss expert -- here's what she said.
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As I buried my face in his thick, furry neck, I felt my dog take his very last breath. Hugo, my beautiful 14-year-old German Shepherd, was gone. Lying with him in his bed, spooning his now motionless body, I sobbed with an intensity that shook me deeply. I realized I was crying harder than I had in years, my grief so intense, it felt as if a part of me had been clawed out and torn away.

Hugo was the first dog I’d raised from cradle to grave. I had had other dogs before him, but what I had with Hugo was different. He was born the night my father died, so I somehow imagined he had come into my life to watch over me. Intensely challenging to raise, fear aggressive from an early age, and overly protective of me at times, Hugo forced me to become a more patient, compassionate person, to work with his issues but to also accept him for who he was. He was my baby, and I was his mom. He saw me through some very difficult and tumultuous times, and he was a constant, steady presence in my life, always there to lick away my tears. I adored him, and in return he gave me his undying loyalty and devotion.

But now here I was, holding Hugo’s old, crippled body in my arms and showering his grizzled head with tears and kisses, remembering when only 14 years ago I had taken that fuzzy little sable puppy in my arms for the first time and declared, “He’s perfect!” Because he was.

As his body began to grow cold and we waited for the pet crematory funeral director to arrive, it dawned on me that the depth of my sadness far surpassed anything I had felt when my human friends had died. In fact, I had just lost a close girlfriend the month before to cancer, yet I had not felt this level of grief. Was there something wrong with me, or was I experiencing something akin to what one might feel when losing a child?

The author and her late dog, Hugo.

Bewildered and curious about this phenomenon, I later consulted my friend Betty Carmack, author of Grieving the Death of a Pet and pet-loss support-group counselor at the San Francisco SPCA, a volunteer position she had recently retired from after 32 years.

No, I wasn’t weird, she said. In fact, my feelings were far from uncommon.

“That was a theme I heard consistently in my group, that people were grieving more for their pet than they ever did for their parents, sibling, or friend, that the grief they felt for their animal was like no other grief,” Betty said. “That’s because of the relationship we have with our animals — it’s unconditional love, it’s deep, and it doesn’t carry all the baggage that human relationships carry. Then there’s that loving, that mothering, that caregiving that people do for their animals. I heard people say all the time: ‘She was like my baby, she was like my child.'”

During the holiday season, I missed Hugo so terribly. I longed to be in his magnificent presence, to laugh at his silly antics, to feel those lion eyes watching my every move. Yes, I had my three other dogs to fawn over and adore, but the house wasn’t the same. My husband, friends, and family were so kind and understanding, and I was surrounded by love, compassion, and gestures of caring. Yet I ached.

The author's dog, who passed away.

And then a little nagging thought began to cloud my mind: Had I done everything I could for my boy, who had suffered from terrible, debilitating arthritis in his last year? I thought I had followed every medical, natural, and pharmaceutical protocol known to man, but was there something else I could have done?

Betty assured me that these moments of self-doubt and guilt are also very common for people, especially when their pets have died from illness or old age.

“Some people would come to the group questioning themselves and thinking that maybe they didn’t do enough or didn’t do as well for their animal as they could have,” Betty said. “But when they would tell their story about what they did do for their animal, people would say to them, ‘You did so much for him’ or ‘He was so lucky to have you, that you loved him that much.'”

“To get that kind of feedback and support was so comforting and healing for people going through those kinds of difficult feelings,” Betty said.

While I had enough support at home to help me through my grief, I could see the incredible value in joining a group like Betty’s to work through the roller coaster of emotions I was experiencing. I felt so grateful for the people my life who understood and could relate to my pain, imagining how terrible it would be that if instead of sympathetic eyes and warm hugs I had been met with blank stares or, even worse, comments like, “Well, can’t you just go get another dog?”

What would I have done then?

Betty reminded me that while Western society has definitely come a long way when it comes to acknowledging the significance of losing a pet, there are still those who don’t understand how deep and intense that pain can be, and as a result they may trivialize those feelings.

“That can be part of the sadness, when someone negates a relationship that was so vitally important to you,” Betty said. “I would always tell people to only put their grief out where they know it’s going to be respected and treated tenderly, because it’s too private and too personal to let it get trampled on. I would then encourage them to find that one person, that one friend with whom they could share their feelings, someone who would respect and honor their grief.”

Here are some other helpful suggestions Betty shared with me for coping with my pain:

  • Be compassionate, loving, and gentle with yourself. You just experienced a major loss and have every right to be upset and to grieve, for as long as it takes to heal.
  • Allow yourself to feel your emotions — the good, bad, and ugly. Acknowledging your feelings will help you process the loss, so if you’re angry about your dog’s death, let yourself vent those frustrations.
  • Cherish the warm and funny memories. Remember when your dog did something naughty or silly and let yourself laugh. Laughter can be extremely healing!
  • Memorials, rituals, and tributes are great ways to honor your dog and work through your grief. Put together a photo album or scrapbook, journal about your dog, write poetry and songs, create a memory garden. Many pet crematories and cemeteries offer myriad services and products to help comfort pet owners, including online forums where people can make tributes as well as beautiful urns, keepsakes, and jewelry to hold pet remains.
  • If you’re finding it difficult to move through your grief, consider finding a pet loss support group, online chat room, or a counselor. You don’t have to go through this alone. There are numerous groups, hotlines, online sites, and books available to help validate your feelings and guide you through your pain.

Two months later, I am still hurting over the loss of my Hugo, but I am finding ways to honor his memory and focus mostly on the good times we shared. I still look for him in the house at times, thinking he’s right there next to me, eager to give me kisses and whining for my attention. To me, he was a person in a dog suit, a special being who opened my heart as it has never been opened before. Because of Hugo, I know I am forever changed for the better.

Have you ever experienced the loss of a pet and felt the way I did? Share your experiences in the comments.

Do you miss your dog? Read more about grieving for pets on Dogster:

About the author: Lisa Plummer Savas is a freelance writer, journalist, devoted dog mom, and animal activist. In an effort to help make the world a more compassionate place for non-human species, she is especially focused on using her writing to spread awareness about controversial animal welfare issues, including the dog and cat meat trade in Asia and Africa. She lives in Atlanta with two spoiled German Shepherds, one very entitled Pug, and a very patient, understanding husband. Read more of her work.

645 thoughts on “I Miss My Dog: Has Grief for a Dog Who Died Ever Overwhelmed You?”

  1. I lost my amazing little Mini Fox Terrier a year ago. Lily. She came into my life when it seems we needed each other most. She was in a household with a friend of mine who had ended up with too many dogs because of his soft heart for looking after abandoned animals. As stupid as it sounds, she chose me, even when I was in a time in my life when I didn't think it would be right. I helped her through clearly deep psychological trauma (she originally thought she was doing everything wrong, even though she was the most well behaved dog I've ever known) – and she helped me after my divorce by giving me an opportunity to love and help another being i could communicate, care for, and come home to. Over the years she grew into a happy, confident dog, and she knew my every move, sometimes knowing what i was going to do before I'd even decided to do it. She was with me 10 amazing years. I miss her every day.

    This article really resonate with me. Thank you.

  2. I lost my sweet yellow lab, Noelle, today. She was almost 14 and sick with a tumor. I laid with her and snuggled her as she took her last breathe. This sadness is something I’ve never experienced before, even when I’ve lost close friends and family members. I feel like I don’t know how to function now and it breaks my heart to pack her stuff up and to know she’ll never meet me at the door again. I find some comfort in reading your comments, it makes me feel I’m not alone.

    1. Wow Jamie Lee, I could have written your post myself. I too lost my beautiful yellow lab Zeus yesterday (7th July 2021), he was 11years & 5 months old. He got cancer 7 years ago. Numerous operations and chemotherapy & Zeus was in remission. But 3 weeks ago we took him to the vet because he was limping. Turns out our boy had bone cancer in his left back leg. He had gone through enough so we decided palliative care was best for him. His pain grew, even though he tried to hide it. It almost killed me to make the call to end his suffering.
      I surprised myself at how calm I was as I fed my boy strawberries & chocolate and the vet administered the drugs. I too lay with him while waiting for him to be collected, hoping they would arrive soon as I could feel him getting cold. Now I'm numb. Everywhere I look I see him. The house feels empty. It's a pain like nothing I've ever felt. Got out of the house tonight just for the sake of it. Made me feel a little better until I pulled into the garage and the usual excited barking boy was not there to greet me. The silence is heartbreaking. I haven't packed away anything yet, I just can't. I'm sorry for your loss, I can truly understand how you are feeling.

      1. Hi Sandra, I’ve relied to this a few times but I don’t see it posted so I hope you’re not getting it 13 times lol. I too am sorry for your loss. I love that you had a lab too, I think they are the best dogs ever. I feel all of the same things you are and I’m having to force myself to get out of bed and be productive. I keep wanting to let her out or I look for her to meet me at the door. I don’t know why they can’t stay as long as we’d like them to, my friend told me he thinks it’s because they can’t live without us so they must go on before us. I’m trying to take comfort in the wonderful memories and knowing that Noelle wouldn’t want me to be sad. I’m thinking of you, know you’re are not alone in your sadness.

        1. Hi, only the 1 reply lol. I am with you, labs are the best! Such beautiful hearts & cheeky personalities. I'm finding nights the worst, miss Zeus snuggling in with me on the bed at night (even miss sleeping with little room to move). I find cuddling one of his soft toys helps me get to sleep. They definitely wouldn't want us feeling sad. I'm sure you have some awesome memories, as do I. A friend of mine lost her yellow lab earlier this year. She was also completely heartbroken, crying all the time. She promised me it does get easier, just takes time. Thinking of you also.

          1. I agree about the nights being the hardest. I’m trying to stay busy during the day and force myself to do stuff but at night, it’s quiet and I miss her snoring. I got her little pillow out she’d lay on and I’m hoping that will help me rest tonight. It’s bringing me comfort to have these groups to talk with, it reminds me that we had wonderful times with our beloved dogs and were not crazy for feeling this empty and sad.

        2. Hi Jamie Lee, I'm having so many roller coaster moments. I literally just finished having a huge cry. I'm still having trouble believing my Zeus is gone. Sounds crazy, I know he is gone but when I look at photos it just doesn't feel real. How can my beautiful boy be here one day and in an urn sitting on my shelf the next. Feels like 2 different lives.
          Not sure if you're on Facebook, but there's an awesome private group I've joined called Pet Loss Support with Renee Magri. It's a very supportive group of people, much like here. You can share or just read posts that Renee puts up. I've found it very helpful. How are you doing?

  3. I have read all your wonderful tributes to your darling Furbabes
    The pain is awful..because they have gone way too soon..
    They show us Love and how to love…
    I miss my boy 🐅 Tiger…and nothing will ever replace him…
    It's over a year now…and life is empty…
    All I Cared about was him X

  4. We had to say goodbye to our beloved Golden, Maisy, on June 1 very unexpectedly. She was almost 11 and the best dog we ever had–she went everywhere with us! I worked at home her entire life so she was my constant companion, walking partner, cuddler, etc. She was loyal, trusting, and a master of the Golden lean! We never imagined that when we took her to the emergency vet we’d have to make the heartbreaking decision to say our goodbyes (she had an aggressive tumor on her brainstem that once it made itself known caused her to pretty much shutdown). My heart is broken. I miss her so much but am so thankful for the years had together. I’ll love you forever Maisy girl!

  5. This past year has been the worst of my life. I not only lost one, I lost both of my beloved babies, 9 months apart from each other. I have never felt such pain, and grief as I do now, and it is not getting any easier. They were 14 & 15 years old. The best companions a girl could ask for. We went on so many adventures and were connected at the hip. I get signs all the time from them, but I miss them so much. I feel like a huge part of me has been ripped from my body. I lost my children. I keep having to remind myself that this is real.

    1. I feel your pain. I just had to put my border collie/ lab
      down a couple of weeks ago. His name was Shadow. I adopted him while I was still in Afghanistan, and he was the greatest coping mechanism for coming back from a war. About a few weeks before, I found out my Lab/shepherd, Caesar has mouth cancer. The vet days he had approximately 1-3 months left to live. I feel like such a huge part of my life is gone, but I know it will get better. Hopefully you are feeling better and can look back on all of the good times you and your pups had together

      1. I’m so sorry for your loss too! I know exactly how you feel. Going through the pain of one is the worst feeling, but then adding another is so unbearable. We will get through this, and yes remember all the good times. I just miss them so much. Thank you for your kind words.

  6. We lost our handsome little boy JIP a patterdale on Tuesday he was 14 1/2 he’s was full of life on Friday On the Saturday he started being ill sicknesses and took him to emergency vets they said he’s got gastrointestinal he got worse sunday so we took him to our vets on Monday morning put him on iv give him fluids blood test only to find out it was his spleen… so made the hardest decision of our life and have him put to sleep… couldn’t believe he was running round so happy one minute within a few days he was gone. We are so devastated our hearts are broken feels like we cant cope without him.our home is so empty with out him. He was so bossy he ruled the house but we wouldn’t have had him any other way 😭

  7. Yesterday, (6/22), I had to make the very painful decision to release my sweet partner from her debilitating sickness. I gave my pup multiple kisses and said goodbye while my wife stayed with our dog during the euthanasia process. She held our Ipi in her arms as she went fell asleep for the last time. I didn't have the heart to watch her slip away. It hasn't been 24 hours yet and my life has been turned upside down. I already miss the little things she would do such as standing in front of the door when I come home. That was so painful this morning. My wife works at another office while I work at home and it's difficult to work without having my "supervisor" lying next to my desk fast asleep. I love my wife dearly, but I feel so lonely right now. Reading Lisa's testimony hits home to me. I feel the same way. I can only hope the pain fades and the memories will keep me content.

    1. I’m sorry for loss , I lost my Miniature Schnauzer 2 days ago , she was with me for 16 years and I feel devastated

  8. My sweet almost 12 year old Pit Bull died on Friday June 18th after battling cancer for 9 months. My mom and I adopted her when I was 21. She was with me for 11 years. Last year I lost my mom to cancer as well. My sweet girl- Faith had surgery and we did chemotherapy and it extended her life which I am grateful for. However, this pain is excruciating. Could I have done more? Did I pay enough attention to her in the end? Did she know I loved her? She was so scared when we were at the vet so I feel I didn’t take as much time as I could have to spend with her before they put her to sleep. I am beating myself up everyday. Does anyone have any tips? I do not have other pets so my house is very quiet.

    1. I am so sorry for your loss. I totally understand your feelings of "did you do enough." I said goodbye to my 14 and 1/2 year old golden yesterday. I have the same worries. Like my girl, your dog loved you so much…he wouldn't want you blaming yourself for anything. You were his world and everything you did was perfect to him. It is so much easier to give grace to others than yourself. I need to hear my own words. Take care and sorry for you loss.

      1. It is easier to give grace to others. I don’t know what to do without my sweet Noelle. When does the sadness get better? I miss her sweet snout so much.

  9. I just lost my beautiful 13 half year old bichon frise Charlie he was my world he came everywhere with me wherever you could take dog he came with me he was my baby lost him nearly 2 months ago feel traumatised lost out routine it’s seems so unreal empty the joy he brought me I miss him forever i felt breathless with the pain never felt pain like it xxxx

    1. I feel that same pain. Know how much Charlie loved you! I have a Charlie too. We are both feeling the loss of my golden Hailey. He so loved her and was her constant companion.I let her go yesterday after 14 1/2 years. A lifetime and yet not long enough. I truly believe dogs are a gift from God. I have no idea how I deserved the gift of their love.

  10. This article hits the nail on the head. We live in the UK and lost our beautiful Beagle at the age of 12 years and 3 months. It happened so quickly one minute he was a bouncy healthy Beagle and the next minute he had been diagnosed with cancer. We are both devastated he was put to sleep 4 weeks ago and I feel quite traumatised still even though it was a very peaceful and loving ending. I still can't believe we went through it. I remember seeing the vet at our front door dressed in PPE and shouting to my husband oh my god she is here, this is it. I have gone through all the stages of grief…. extreme guilt did I do enough, was my overriding need to ensure he did not suffer determine the decisions we made, did lockdown and not being able to go into vet appointments with him cause a misdiagnosis. I know that time will be the healer and I also realise we do not have our dogs long enough. I do feel lucky to have had him for as long as we did but I just was not ready to lose him but I don't think I would ever have been. My heart goes out to you all and thank you all for sharing. TO LOVE IS TO GRIEVE.

  11. We had to put down our beautiful wonderful Simon. He was 15 years old. He is and was the love of my life. A beautiful English golden retriever. Kind, smart, loyal and he was ours. I was so very proud to be his mamma. He grew so tired. He tried until the very end. He was truly a part of our family. Every family member loved him and he loved every one of us. My heart is shattered. I will miss him every day for the rest of my life. He gave me purpose. He taught me kindness, patience and courage. Rest In Peace my sweet angel. Mamma loves her baby

    1. I totally understand. I feel the same. I waited 15 years to get my first golden. I petted her as she fell asleep for the last time yesterday. She was my first baby. She was tough as nails in dealing with pain. But had a heart of gold and loved me like no other. The pain can be unbearable. Wishing you peace. Maybe our two goldens will meet in heaven.

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