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.

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

  1. I lost my baby girl last year. She was a mixed dog. Likely had corgi, beagle, and others. She was one of the smartest dogs I’ve ever had. I miss her so much. Just like my half German Shepard girl who died when I first went to college. Both were so smart, loyal, and unconditional love. It still hurts and I still cry sometimes.

  2. My dog, Veda, died from CKD after battling like a Viking shield-maiden for over 2 months. I was (still am) so devastated that I slept for over a week and a half and lost 13 pounds.

    Everything is so surreal. She’s supposed to be here. Something’s missing. Something big. But she was just a little Min-Pin/Rat Terrier.

    Where is she?! WHY?!!!!! WHY?! WHY?! WHY?!!!!!

    Why did she have to go through what she went through?! She didn’t deserve it!!!

    I’m not religious. I have no belief about an afterlife. I want there to be one. And since she died, I’ve been obsessed with finding proof (or at least a high likelihood) that one exists.

    The closest I got so far is quantum mechanics and microtubules. It’s a far out theory but it’s all I can trust in. And it might just be wishful thinking.

    I can’t live with the thought that I’ll never see her again. I just can’t. I can’t.

    She was everything. Her beautiful sister is still with me and I love her just as much. She has tracheal collapse. I’m terrified about what might happen if I lose her. I have nightmares all the time.

    I’m exhausted. Every day takes so much effort. I feel so weighted down. I just want her back.

    Veda, I hope you can “hear” me. You’re my choo-chee. I miss you with everything in me. I hope you can forgive me. Thank you for everything. I desperately hope to see you and hold you again.

  3. I lost my Sooty on 8/2/20, Domino his sister and my little girl died on 4/2/22. They were the most wonderful eternal puppies. I loved them so much that it would physically hurt sometimes. When my mum died these two amazing pups gave me reason to get out of bed, when Sooty died it was Domino who helped me carry on, she needed me because she was grieving too. Now that she has gone I feel lost. I know how amazing our fur babies are but underestimated just how pivotal they are to our lives. I know they are now together and happy and healthy once more, I miss them both so much, they bought fun, laughter, games, company and love. There is a film called ‘A dogs purpose’, I think they come to teach us unconditional love and loyalty. Thank you Sooty and Domino for being my babies. I love you both forever xxxxx

  4. To my Zoe, she was my 14 years and 3 month old yellow lab. I can’t stop crying! She was the air I breathe,

    To my Zoe,

    I love you so very much my princess,
    This much is true, nevertheless,

    Losing you hurts more than I can imagine,
    I often ask God, why did this have to happen,

    Zoe, you gave me the best years of my life,
    And losing you hurts like a knife,

    Your presence changed me in so many ways,
    But now I feel like I’m lost in a maze,

    You will always be a part of me,
    No matter where I go or who I see,

    You have placed a paw print on my heart,
    Having you in my life, was like a picturesque art,

    Zoe, daddy is heartbroken without you,
    The beautiful 14 years you gave me just flew,

    Oh what I’d do to bring you back,
    Search everywhere and through every crack,

    My Zoe, you are free to run and play,
    Where the sky is always blue and never grey,

    My sweet Zoe, I know we will meet again my love,
    When I close my eyes, it’s you I want to see sailing towards me like a flying dove!

    I love you, I miss you and we will always be together,
    Our beautiful bond will always live forever!

    Zoe, I’ll see you when my turn comes,
    It’ll be like magical sounds of playing drums!

  5. I had to put Agnes, my sweet little Boston terrier, to sleep last Sunday morning. She was only 8.5 years old and the pain i feel is unbearable. She was my life, my baby girl. I wasn't able to eat since i brought her to the vet 4 days ago. I noticed a lump on her chest 1 month ago wich turned out to be a cancer tumor. Being a Boston terrier she always had problem breathing because of her short nose and operating her would be risky, she could die during the operation.
    She became much worse during the Easter vacation last week. She couldn't lay down to sleep because she couldn't breath normally anymore and was exhausted because of this. On Friday she stopped eating and didn't want to take her painkillers any longer. Sunday morning she started to throw up all over the house and that was enough for me, i didn't want her to suffer any longer.
    I was laying with her the last 10 days, hugging and kissing her, saying goodbye and saying it was ok and she could let go. I cried so much and never felt so much pain. Within 1 month she changed from a happy energetic girl into a puppy who could not breath, sleep or move any longer. I feel i will never be able to go on with my life anymore. Her mother died of a heart attack after having breathing problems when she was 6. They are together now.

  6. Today I’m heartbroken and devastated. 💔💔💔 We sadly had to say goodbye to my beautiful beagle boy Toby . He came into our lives at just six weeks old and has been with us for amazing 14.5 years .He gave us unconditional love and loyalty and amazing memories.
    He was handsome , Regal and had a wonderfully unique character who loved
    sharing the settee with me and chilling . Sleep well my friend and we will miss you so so much. I’m overwhelmed with grief and cannot stop crying when I think of him .

  7. I lost my baby boy Bruce on 4/2/22 he was only nine months old, although I felt like I had known him my whole life. He was hit by a car and I had to have him put to sleep, just thinking about it now I have tears in my eyes while writing this. There is a hole in my heart that feels like it will never heal, I am broken. I love you boy more than life itself.

  8. My dog Rocky is now resting in peace. He was 2 years old puppy and had to be put to sleep because he had a tumor growing in his nose that wasn’t allowing him to breathe and caused bad nose bleeds. He was the sweetest and most loyal dog who taught me to live in the moment. Even when he was in pain he still wagged his tail and went everywhere i went. I can’t believe he is gone and i feel completely heartbroken because he was so young and loving and my best friend. I’ve never felt this pain that I’m feeling now. My only condolence is that he is no longer suffering and can smell all the pretty flowers in heaven now.

  9. I had to put down my 12 year old GSD last week. He was my best friend and I miss him so much. My sadness comes and goes, and I still keep thinking in the back of my head whether or not I could've or should've done things differently. I'm so heartbroken.

    1. We put our sweet baby girl down March 27, just a week ahead of you. (She was 11) I’m right with you. I too wonder if we cared for her correctly, could we have done something over the years to extend her life? And putting her to sleep was more difficult then I thought it would be. 💔 we had just moved and she died five days later. So I’m also grieving in a new town and home. I’m so sorry for the loss of your dear one. 😪 The depth of pain is unexpected.

  10. My family lost our German Shepard, Axel yesterday. We suspect it may have been some form of heart failure, he was 9 years old and we have had him since a puppy. I held him while he took his last breaths and I can’t stop thinking about that very moment, it hurts my heart to know that I’m not going to go outside and be greeted by him anymore. My dad is absolutely broken, losing his best friend was not something we expected so soon. He has not got out of bed since it happened. I have a young son to look after and a puppy of my own so I have to stay strong which makes it hard to grieve. I feel numb, he was so loyal, precious and beautiful, I miss him so much it hurts. I don’t feel like I can get through this

  11. my Beloved Candy died 2 days ago, was an energetic pitbull, she got sick and we treat her sickness as pregnancy, but we try to do something was too late. my mother and I feel devastated for this loss. she was like my little baby. she slept with me on the bet, and I always wake up with the illusion that my little angel will greet me with a kiss or just bark until I moved from the bed. I'm deeply depressed about this situation.

  12. I just lost my beloved Skipperke Coach 2 days ago. He ran in front of a UPS truck. I feel to blame as he wears a collar that use to keep him in the yard, only problem it was not in my hand that day. Coach and I had a bond like no other pet I have ever had. I knew he loved me and he knew I loved him. I was his person. He was loyal, protective, and so smart. He was only 4 years old and I had him since he was 6 weeks. I am finding it incredibly difficult to meet the needs of my other animals that are also grieving the loss because mine is over-whelming. I cry and call out for my beloved Coach. The vision of my last cradling him is something I can not get out of my mind. Did he suffer, was he in pain? All these questions lead me to Google searching every thought I had. I loved my boy and those are the last words he heard.

  13. I had to lay my angel beagle, Dixie to rest on 2/17/22. My heart is broken. She was almost 17. I wish I could fast forward the pain I feel. She was my girl. I have another beagle who I love more than life too and she is lost without her fury companion. We three did everything together. I look at Dixie bed and places she used to lay amd it’s empty. I miss her so much. Life seems so different without her kisses and greeting me when I walked in. I’m lost 😞

  14. I lost my boy just over two months ago. It's the most painful feeling I've ever had, and I think I have depression over it now. I long for another pooch in my house, but I feel it's both disrespectful to his life with me, and I know I'm not ready.

    I went through some tough times during the last 12 years he was with me and my wife. She misses him almost as much as I do… I'm at my end here. I honestly don't know what else I can do.

    Photo album – done.
    Paw Print – done.
    Urn – done.
    Toys and blanket in a tote – done.

    Toys and Tote put in basement – not done.

    I feel like seeing his stuff daily is holding me back from moving on, but I can't take it to the basement yet.

    1. I lost my almost 15 year old Dalmatian/collie cross Domino on 4/4/22. I lost her brother Sooty on 8/2/20. His bowl is now my fruit bowl, I’ve put her coats in my wardrobe, her bed is in the conservatory. We move their things when we are ready, sometimes that takes a long time. The only way to heal is go through this horrible phase. My condolences to you and your family.

    2. I feel your pain Mark.

      I recently lost my little sister, Belle. The pain is surreal and unlike any loss I have ever experienced.

      I try and keep a strong front for my folks, but it can be tough as they are really broken, especially mum.

      Belle was an integral and uniting front in our household and was there for nearly half my lifetime as a 13 year old Bichon X.

      Just wish she could have made it to my wedding.

      RIP Belle. I love you so much.

  15. I said goodbye to my Ginger almost a month ago, on Jan 23. I had her as a foster 13 years ago when she was only 5 months old, and adopted her a few months later. I've sat here for the past two hours going through old pictures and videos one more time, and the sadness is overwhelming.

    She had hip dysplasia as a puppy. Went blind at 8. Swallowed a twig that required 2 surgeries to fix right at the start of the pandemic. Rebounded half a dozen times over the past two years, but developed anemia that even a transfusion couldn't fix for very long. I keep replaying that Sunday afternoon when I took her in to the ER, limp in my arms, hoping for one more miracle that didn't come. I put my face to hers, and she gave me kisses until she went to sleep.

    Shattered doesn't describe it. I can go for hours, even days, okay, but a fleeting thought, a glimpse at a picture, a card from her vet, or insurance company, or the Dog Aging study overwhelms me again.

    I have two other dogs, both rescues, one almost 9 and one just 1 (who came into the house only 5 days before Ginger left) and both good boys. They help a lot, but they aren't my good girl.

    I miss my girl.

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