Dog Grief

If you’ve shared your heart and home with a dog, you will no doubt feel a great sense of loss and sorrow when you lose her. No matter how old your dog was, how many years you had together, or how expected her death, the grief can be overwhelming.

Coping with loss

Connect with people who understand. Dealing with your grief honestly can help you move through it. Try to ignore comments like, “It was just a dog.” Dogs are family members, and it’s entirely appropriate and expected that you would grieve the loss deeply. Avoid people who don’t understand–they simply don’t–and connect with other dog people who do.

Memorialize your dog if you think it will help. One way to work through your grief is to arrange for some kind of memorial. Whether that means a headstone, urn, or donation to a dog-related charity, a task that relates to your grief will make you feel better. Many types of headstones and urns are specifically designed for dogs.

Consider getting another dog. Many people have a strong opinion on this topic–and offer it unsolicited. “Get another right away” or “Wait a few months before do something impulsive” may be good advice. But most people prefer to come to their own conclusions in their own time. If you’re the recipient of such advice, do your best to politely shrug it off; you’ll know when the moment is right.

Dogs grieving another dog

Sometimes the other dog or dogs in the household grieve so deeply that they stop eating, jeopardizing their own health. This is more likely to happen if the dogs had never been separated. If any of your dogs react to a loss so strongly they become ill, take them to the veterinarian. The pack has undergone a major transition, and it will take some time to adjust. Some dogs will perk up when a new companion arrives, while others acclimate just fine to their singleton status. Either way, take care to spend plenty of time with your remaining dog.

Dealing with someone else’s grief

Dealing with someone else’s loss is best done with tact, patience, and a willingness to listen rather than to speak. Most people don’t like hearing, “I know just how you feel.” It often sounds patronizing or condescending, even though you don’t mean it to. Better to say something like, “I know your dog meant so much to you.”

Though it can be awkward to try to comfort someone whose pet has died, it’s important to acknowledge that there was a loss. Numerous books deal with the issue, and they can make thoughtful gifts when a beloved dog has passed. One such classic is Dog Heaven, by Cynthia Rylant.

Bottom line: There’s no getting around it: if you loved the dog, you’re going to be sad–and the grief may last longer than you expect. Don’t let others tell you how to feel or what to do; only you know what makes sense for you.