Grieving the Loss of a Dog

If your dog passed away, you probably are feeling very lost and not sure where to turn next.

I learned some helpful strategies that helped me deal with the loss of my beloved companion.  I believe they can be used to help cope with your loss too.  Here are some ways to help you through the pain of losing your dog: Taking Time to Heal, Get Help, Make a Memorial, Prayer and Meditation.

Grieving the Loss of a Dog

This past year, my miniature dachshund, Reno passed away.  I was devastated and all I wanted to do was get answers.   I had so many questions racing around in my head all at once.  I was in a whirlwind of hurt.  I had lost the dog that I had by my side for so many years.  He was with me before I was married and before I had kids.  He was just always there, and now he is not.  Tears are still flowing today as I write this. I needed help to be able to move on.

 

Why Does The Loss of a Dog Hurt So Much?

To many of us, our dog wasn’t just a pet.  They were a big part of our family.  They brought love and companionship into our lives.  A dog adds routine and structure to our everyday.  They were the influence that helped you go for a walk or go to the park for exercise.  Someone to tuck in every night (sometimes sharing a bed with you).  They relied on you for love, affection, and care.  Sometimes, we don’t become aware of how much we relied on them for a sense of purpose until they are gone.  When a dog dies, it is completely normal to feel such a strong sense of painful grief.

When grieving the death of your faithful companion, it can be just as painful, if not more so, than grieving the loss of a human friend or family member.  Grieving is unique to everyone.  The method people use to cope or survive through losing a beloved pet can look very different between members of the same family.

What Can You Do?

Keep in mind that everyone is different and will take a different amount of time to grieve and go through the healing process of losing a dog.  The way that we personally grieve is an expression of the love that we felt, the pain of the loss, and what we need to do to be able to move on without our faithful friend.

Remember, your pet’s memory isn’t gone, it will remain with you forever.  Below, I have pointed out some helpful steps to help you through the grieving process and find ways to Heal and keep the memory of your dog alive.

4 Ways to Cope with the Loss of a Dog

  • Healing Time

  • Reach Out for Help

  • Make a Memorial

  • Meditation and Prayer

Allow Healing Time, Permission to Grieve

Here comes the hard part, it helps to recognize and accept that your dog has passed away.  Acknowledging the reality of their death is the first step towards healing.  Healing will happen when you go through the pain. It sounds difficult, but it is the truth.  The relationship you shared with your dog is a very special and unique bond. Going through the proper motions will help you find healing.

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Moving Towards the Pain:

Take the time to work through All of your feelings.  It is important to allow those hard to bare, sad thoughts through.  It is so difficult, I know, but it is necessary to move towards healing.  It is OK to let it All out, Cry it out. Take time to release your emotions in your own way.  Healing won’t happen if you stuff your emotions down and ignore them.

My Personal Experience:

I promise not to go into too much detail, just what helped me heal.  For me, of course, crying was a big part of releasing my pain for Reno’s loss. Even though he was considered a senior dog, no one could tell.  Just that morning he was romping around the house, playing, and barking as usual.  He never showed his age.

When everything started to happen that evening, I was in “Robot” mode.  I didn’t know what was happening, I felt numb.  I took him to the emergency vet.  We spent the evening there, looking for answers and finding issues.  What I didn’t know was, it was time to say goodbye.  I wasn’t ready, I was in denial.

The following morning, decisions were made to help relieve my dog from his suffering.  I had to say goodbye even though I didn’t want to.  When I arrived home, I was in total shock.  I had never felt these emotions before.  It was all so new to me.  I felt like I was spinning out of control and I had no one to catch me when I fell.

I prayed for help and something told me to write it all down.  I found an old notebook and a pencil and I just sat down and wrote down everything.  Though I had family members concerned and sad for me (they were sad too), they didn’t know what I went through.  It was all bunched inside of me and I had to let it out.

My pencil couldn’t keep up with the words pouring out of my head.  I wrote at least three full pages of details of what I could remember. I tried to make sense of it all.  When I was finished, I felt that spinning in my head stop.  The weight of that shocking event had been released.  I wasn’t done being sad, but this was my first step to be able to breathe again.

So, for some, it may be crying to release their emotions, but taking time to reflect and writing things down may also help you find some relief.

Give Yourself Healing Time:

Give yourself permission to grieve.  Take time out of the first few days of your loss to stop and just sit quietly, cry, or just take some deep breaths.  What happened does matter, a lot!  It doesn’t matter what others say or think, your pet loved you, and losing them feels like you were hit with a ton of bricks.  You can’t rush grieving time.  Be easy on yourself and allow yourself to feel what is in your heart.

Keep Taking Care of Yourself:

Find ways to feel normal again in your life.  Develop new routines and make adjustments that define your life moving forward.  Losing someone we love can be draining emotionally and physically.  Keep breathing, eating, and getting enough sleep.  Treat yourself to some comfort food, you deserve it.

When your dog passed on, it is normal to question the purpose of pets in your life.  It is so important to come to terms with this question and help you through your grief.  Don’t be discouraged if you don’t find the most stable answers.  It is healthy to keep asking questions.

The grieving process will happen gradually over time.  It, unfortunately, can’t be hurried along or rushed.  Keep this in mind, there is no time limit on grief.  It is yours alone, not someone else’s.  Try to be patient with yourself and others and allow the process to run its course naturally.

I learned that feeling upset, shocked, or alone is a totally normal reaction to the loss of any pet.  Never feel ashamed.  You are not alone.  You will be OK.  Allowing yourself to show your feelings is not a sign of weakness.  It is a sign that this is a part of healing to be able to move on.

Ignoring your pain or bottling it up inside will only make things worse.  Hardening your heart will only end up Hardening You.  It is necessary to face your grief head-on.  No one feels comfortable doing it.  It is something that needs to be done.

Other Living Pets:

If you have other pets in the home, try to continue your normal daily routines for a little while.  Your other pets can also experience loss when a pet dies.  Giving them more affection, making special play times, or having more walks can help them feel loved and lift up your mood as well.

Guilt:

Guilt is, unfortunately, a common feeling after losing a dog.  Instead of reminiscing about all of the love and care you gave to your companion, you find yourself asking the “If only’s.”

  • “If only I had done things differently… “
  • “If only I had taken him to the vet sooner…”
  • “If only I had taken him on that walk…”
  • “If only I had given him more attention…”

The things you should be remembering is how much you really loved your dog.  The proof is in the pain you are feeling following their loss. Accept that the initial sad feelings will lessen over time.  Our love for the departed doesn’t end when they pass away.  Feelings of our love for them could even deepen as time passes.

Some owners hold a grudge against themselves and worry that if they let go of their grief, they are letting go of the bond they had with their dog. That is just not true.  After we mourn, there will come a time of peace and you will remember the many good times together that will never be forgotten.

It will feel unbearable at times, but you will Survive.

Reach Out for Help

Loved Ones:

Seek out support from your close friends or family members – who are Pet Loving People.  If there is any time you need them, it definitely would be now.  Please know the hard feelings you are experiencing now will become more tolerable with time.  Talking with other pet owners who have experienced the death of a pet can be helpful with the grieving process.

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Attend some social events, join exercise classes, or do some volunteering.  They can help give you and your mind a break from everything.  Try not to dwell on the pain all day, every day.  Take time out of your day for grieving, but still allow yourself time to keep living.

Don’t shy away from talking to people who care about you. They can offer genuine sympathy.  My sister invited me to come visit her a few days after I lost Reno.  We talked and cried together for several hours.  It isn’t easy for me to talk and cry it out with others, but when I did, I felt a sense of relieve.  Some more weight had been lifted after I had that long talk with my sister about Reno.  I will always be grateful to her for lending an ear.  Her arms were wide open, and I could tell her heart was hurting too.  She loves animals just like I do.  She was the right person for me to go to.

If it helps to talk about your dog’s death with a loved one or a counselor, then you should share it.  But, remember, your time together with your companion cannot be based on how it all ended.  Death does not represent the whole relationship you had with your dog.  Accepting this can ease the grieving process and help you heal.

Bereavement Groups:

This would be a good time to look for a support group.   You can search for Pet Bereavement groups at your local church or support center.  There are several bereavement support groups online as well for pets on social media like Facebook Pet Loss Groups, Reddit Pet Loss Groups, and pet memorial websites.

Did you know that you can contact your veterinarian and ask them for some help?  They can help you find a Pet Loss Support Group or give you a Pet Loss Hotline.

Professional Help:

If you don’t feel comfortable talking with loved ones about your loss, then look for a counselor.  Search online to find a local counselor who specializes in bereavement.  If you don’t feel comfortable talking to anyone, try Art Therapy.  Counseling and Therapy will help you release so much pain that is buried inside.

Don’t be afraid to talk with your doctor if you feel like you are struggling to get your life back to normal.  Don’t go on this painful journey by yourself.  You need to get some help to be able to heal.

Avoid Non-Pet People:

Avoid People who have no experience, but love to offer too much advice.  You know who they are.  I have plenty of them in my family, and way too many friends who can’t even fathom owning a dog in their spotless homes.  Some of them will try to be helpful but will only end up making you feel worse.

Then there are the people who compare their stories to yours and try to make you feel like their situation was worse.  Some may even say, “Go get another dog to fill the void”.  I actually did think about adopting another dog.  But, then I woke up!  My Reno was a well “established” miniature dachshund that I knew for many years.  Bringing home another dog or puppy won’t fill anything.  Eventually, yes, I want to adopt another dog down the road, but I am in no hurry.  I believe that taking the proper time to grieve is essential.  I look forward to that new adventure with a new pup someday, but not right now.

Make a Memorial

Celebrating the memory of your beloved dog can be a good way of establishing a form of closure. Some people choose to write a letter, create shadow boxes or picture collages.   Some pet owners have a special funeral for their dog.  A funeral can help you and your family express their feelings and share fond memories.

Find a favorite space in the home or a spot at their favorite park to spend time remembering your dog.  There really is no wrong way to memorialize your dog’s life and the special experiences you shared with them.

When Reno passed, the first thing I thought about was, did I take enough pictures?  I had seen his face every day for so many years, I needed to see his face again at least in pictures.  I looked on my computer and realized I had tons of pictures of Reno.  I went online and created a nice image collage.  I bought a shadow box from the craft store and pinned the collage in the back and placed his collar and tags in the front.  That is my memorial to my very special dog.

Planting a tree or a beautiful flower in their memory.  Make a memorial donation to an animal charity. You can choose as simple or as elaborate as you like.  Your choice of a memorial is unique to you.  It’s all about what you feel comfortable doing.

After you have taken time to grieve through the pain of your loss, take some special time out of your day to look at past photographs of your dog and think of the good memories.  Writing down some funny stories can also help with the healing process.  Reflect and focus on the positive memories that you shared.  Find time to feel grateful for the time you did have together.

 Meditation and Prayer

Did you know daily prayer and meditation can help you feel better?  It can feel upsetting and painful that the outside world doesn’t take the time to slow down.  Choosing a calming practice like meditation and prayer can help you clear your mind.

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Meditation:

Meditation helps to actively focus on your breathing and release any stressful tension or anxiety in your body.  You can find free guided meditations or just calming meditation music on youtube that will help you along.

Prayer:

Try to read through the Rainbow Bridge. This poem is specially written for losing a special pet in your life.  Reading emotional things isn’t really my cup of tea, but it really did help me feel better.

Many friends and family around you will have their own opinions on pets going to heaven and thoughts of an afterlife.  What matters most during these times is for you to find answers that are right for you and your personal beliefs.

I do believe in God.  I strongly believe that my dog, Reno, is in heaven and is waiting for me.  Knowing that I will see him again is a special feeling.  So, I better make sure I am on my way there too. Your dog will be waiting to see you again too.

What techniques helped you cope through the loss of your dog?
Leave a comment below and share your story.