We talk with many families who have lost a canine family member. Some are ready to adopt a new puppy days after losing their dog, while others, it takes years later until they are ready to think about adopting a new dog. For example, one lady I spoke with had lost her golden retriever 13 years previous and was just now ready to start thinking about adopting a puppy. Another family had lost their dog a few days earlier and were eager to adopt a puppy as soon as possible. We each are unique individuals, coping with grief in different ways. This page addresses coping with the loss of a canine family member in hopes of giving you ideas on what to expect during the grieving process. How you feel is normal and experienced by many others. A Pet is a Family Member, Too A pet is often a member of the family. In fact, surveys show some interesting facts about pet owners: 84 percent consider their animals family members; 99 percent talk to their pets, and 54 percent celebrate their pet's birthdays.
The term "man's best friend' brings to mind unconditional love, constant companionship and acceptance. And why not? Your dog can take you for a walk, listen when you need someone to talk to or even guard your house. A dog can also lower your blood pressure, change your heart rate or alleviate feelings of chronic loneliness.
With your capacity to love your dog comes the necessity to grieve when that "best friend" dies. The death of a pet is, without a doubt, a traumatic experience. We hope to help you and your family acknowledge the need to grieve at this time and to do so in a healthy way.
A Pet's Death is Significant No, it's not "just a dog". A dog is a family member. With the death of a dog, the family experiences a significant loss. A difficult problem, however, is that society often denies you the need to grieve for your dog. You may even be chastised for openly and honestly expressing your feelings. As a result, your grief may be hidden, buried, or ignored.
Though perhaps denied understanding and support, your family needs to grieve the death of your dog. Grieving means to express your feelings, no matter how painful, outside of yourselves.
Cliche`s Don't Help You Heal Your family will probably be greeted with many cliche`s when your dog dies. Cliche`s are trite comments intended to diminish the loss by providing simple solutions to difficult realities. Comments like, "It was just a dog," or "You can always get another one," or "Be glad you don't have to take care of him any more" are not constructive. Instead they hurt and make your family's journey through grief more difficult.
Memories Are the Best Legacies Memories are one of the best legacies after the death of a dog. Talk about and embrace these memories. Your dog entertained, comforted, frustrated but always loved you. Remember those times. If your memories bring laughter, smile. If they bring sadness, cry. Remember, though, memories made in love can never be taken away.
Your Emotions Will Vary When your dog dies, you will probably experience a variety of emotions: confusion, disorganization, sadness, explosive emotions or guilt. Don't repress these feelings and ignore anyone who tells you that you should. Don't over-analyze your response. Just allow your feelings to find expression. As strange as some of these feelings may seem, they are normal and healthy.
Each family member probably had a unique relationship with your dog. Allow for different emotional responses within the family, and be careful to respect each person's need to grieve in his or her own way.
Should You Choose Euthanasia? When you love your dog, no question is more difficult than whether or not to euthanize. Yet this difficult choice is often the right one, particularly if your dog is in agonizing pain or the quality of life has deteriorated. Sometimes the cost of treatment for a particular disease has also become prohibitive.
Talk to your veterinarian about euthanasia. Fortunately, humane procedures can end needless suffering for both you and your dog. The intravenous drug used for euthanasia does not cause pain. After visiting with your vet, make your decision based on your own good judgment. If you have always treated your dog with gentleness and love, you will probably make a wise choice based upon the reality of the situation.
Some owners want to be present when their dog is euthanized. Some do not. Do what you feel is right for you and your family. Whichever choice you make, you may still want to spend some special time saying "goodbye" to your pet.
Rituals can be Helpful Allowing and encouraging your family to have a funeral for the dog that has died can be helpful. It provides a time to acknowledge the loss, share memories of the dog and create a focus for the family to openly express emotions. While some friends or even family members may think having a funeral for your dog is foolish, don't let them take this special time away. Design a ritual that best meets your needs as you gather to pay tribute to a dog that was and will always be loved.
Children Need to be Involved The death of a dog is often the first opportunity parents have to help children during times of grief. Unfortunately, parents often don't want to talk about the death, assuming that by doing so the children will be spared some of the pain and sadness.
Children, however, are entitled to grieve for their dog. Any child old enough to love is old enough to grieve. And many children love their dogs with all their hearts. As an adult, if you are open, honest and loving, experiencing the death of a dog can be a chance for children to learn about both the joy-and the pain- that comes from caring deeply for a dog and people.
You may not experience the same depth of loss as your children when a family dog dies. You must still respect their grief and allow them to express it without feeling abandoned. Your response during this time can make the difference whether a child's first exposure to death will be a positive or a negative part of their personal growth and development.
Some Closing Thoughts About the Death of a Pet Hopefully reading this web page has helped you understand why your family grieves so deeply when a beloved dog dies. Dogs don't criticize or judge you. They just love and accept you unconditionally.
When a dog dies, you and your family must accept the need to grieve. Even though others around you may attempt to minimize your grief, the hurt must be embraced to be lessened. Be patient and tolerant as you slowly move toward healing.
What Our Families Are Saying
"Oh my goodness, we love Ralphie so much! He is so good and loves everyone he meets. He has no shyness at all. We are in canine good citizen class right now and our next class is going to be training to be a therapy dog! He has so much love to share. The problem is he is very lonely sometimes especially with daylight savings time. I noticed you have puppies soon. Do you have reservations on all of them yet? We would love another Ralphie please!"