Losing a Dog is Hard: Pet Loss Support for Dog Death
The loss of a close friend can be devastating, and pets can be among our dearest companions. A pet frequently provides unconditional love, emotional security, and loyalty. It can be difficult to understand dog death and even harder to grieve and eventually move on.
Routine activities with an animal companion often provide structure, fun, relaxation, and social contact in our daily lives. The death of a cherished pet can mean the loss of an entire lifestyle as well as a devoted companion. Lack of understanding and support from people around us can make this period even more difficult.
Depending on the nature of the relationship with the dog you’ve lost and on the effectiveness of the coping skills you’ve developed in your life, the time it takes to feel better after losing a dog can vary widely. What I tell people is that if after one year you feel no different from your worst emotional pain right after the loss of your dog, then you’re a good candidate for individual counseling.
Seek medical help if a few days after your loss you still feel so depressed or sad that you cannot handle even the basic tasks of your life. If you ever feel so hopeless as not to want to continue living without your dog, tell your doctor about these feelings as soon as possible.
Dog Death: Handling the Loss of a Dog
Here are some tips to help you handle dog death.
- Be prepared. In some instances the death of a pet can be anticipated; the animal may be old or suffering from an extended illness. Other pet owners will be faced with a sudden loss, the result of an accident or short-term illness. Things that will need to be considered with a gravely ill or seriously injured animal include the pet’s quality of life, emotional and financial cost, and when, or if, euthanasia should be considered. It is best to have contemplated these difficult matters beforehand.
- Accept and express your feelings. It is important to understand that grief is a personal experience and there are no right or wrong ways to express it. The most important part of healing is to acknowledge what you are feeling and somehow release it. Try writing your thoughts in a journal or talking with family and friends. A good long cry can help, too.
- Perform rituals. Many people find comfort in rituals, like paying their final respects with a service or setting up a small memorial with photos and objects that had significance in their pet’s life, such as a collar, bowl, or toy. It is important to set aside time to think about the good times and remember to pay extra attention to surviving pets. They may need consolation during this difficult period too.
- Seek support. You may be admonished by well-meaning friends saying, “He was only a dog.” Others may encourage you to “get another one,” as if your longtime companion could easily be replaced. This can make expression of your pain even harder. It is important to realize that you are not alone. Speaking with a counselor, joining a support group or participating in an Internet chat room can act as a wonderful resource for consolation and affirmation.
Feeling connected to other people or animals makes it easier to cope with dog death. The more emotionally isolated you are, the harder it can be to heal.
Pet loss support groups are available throughout the country. If you have specific questions about euthanasia or you would like more information about pet loss support groups, contact your veterinarian or check your local telephone directory or pet store.
One such group – Pet Loss Support Hotline at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine – was co-founded by Bonnie Mader. See the list of options below.
Deciding that you want to feel better is healthy. Some people think that feeling better will take them further away from the relationship they had with their pet. What might be helpful in cases like this is to learn to realize that recovery from grief doesn’t mean forgetting about your beloved dog.
Pet Loss Hotlines
Talking to someone can help you to deal with dog death. The AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) provides this list of grief support resources:
- Chicago VMA – 630-325-1600
- Colorado State University, Argus Institute – 970-297-1242
- Cornell University – 607-253-3932
- P&G Pet Care, Pet Loss Support Hotline – 888-332-7738
- University of Pennsylvania, Matthew J. Ryan Veterinary Hospital – 215-898-4556
- University of Tennessee – 865-755-8839
- Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine – 508-839-7966
- Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine – 540-231-8038
- Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine – 509-335-5704 or 866-266-8635
Understanding Dog Death: The Stages of Grief
Recognizing the stages of grief can give you landmarks on the path to resolution, and help you recognize that your feelings are normal. The term “task” is used rather than “stage” to avoid giving the impression that grief is something marked by well-defined milestones. The mourner should not feel that he or she must follow some pre-set list, each lasting a determined period of time.