When you bring that bouncing bundle of energy known as a puppy into your home, you’ve made an enormous commitment. For the next ten or more years, this charming creature will look to you for food, shelter, exercise, health care, and companionship. In return, he will give you the greatest gift imaginable: true, steadfast, unconditional love. No matter what happens to us, whether we lose our spouse, our friends, our jobs, even our homes, there is one constant in our lives: the love and devotion of our dog. The bond forged there is very deep, and very real.
Then one day you notice that your companion is starting to walk a little slower. His muzzle has turned gray, his eyesight begins to dim, and you realize that someday you will lose your old friend. When that final day comes, your grief and sense of loss knows no bounds, but where do you turn for support during this difficult time?
Not everyone is supportive. Some people will insensitively mock your grief, telling you, “It was only a dog. How can you be so upset?” Remember that it’s okay to grieve. Your dog meant a lot to you, and only you will know when the time for mourning is over.
Grief is often experienced through fairly classic stages, and although this list in not all-inclusive, it does cover the most common. They are:
- Shock, denial, disbelief
- Acceptance, recovery
Usually grief will follow these stages, but sometimes it finds other paths of expression. Sometimes you think you have reached the acceptance stage when something, like the anniversary of your dog’s death or the memory of a special time you spent together, will send you right back to stage one. This is totally understandable, and quite normal.
If you cannot pull yourself from the depths of despair, or if you just want to talk to someone who understands what you’re going through, there are many places to turn.
Friends and family
Your family and friends will probably be your main source of support. Don’t be afraid to ask them for help. Chances are, someone in your family loved your dog as much as you did and they are trying to deal with their own grief over his death.
Your veterinarian and the veterinary-support staff that have been there for you throughout your dog’s life, through good times and bad, are an important resource. In addition, they have lots of experience in helping someone cope with the death of a dog, as they have undoubtedly been through it many times before with other clients.
If you belong to a church, temple, or other religious organization, perhaps the spiritual leader or members of the congregation can give you the help you need. There is no reason to suppose that “just because it was a dog,” they wouldn’t be willing and able to offer you support. Many people there are likely to have well-loved pets, too.
Go to any search engine and type “dog death support group” and you will find literally thousands of web sites devoted to the subject. There are even support groups set up for specific breeds of dog. The members are usually people who are dealing with the same issues you are. Two of the more popular groups are:
Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement
Pet Loss Support
The Humane Society
Your local Humane Society could be a wonderful, supportive option. They deal with grief on a daily basis. Call and see if they have a dog-loss support group.
If your dog has a terminal illness, you may need special help preparing for his loss. Trying to accept his illness and learning to enjoy his remaining days is very difficult, but that is what hospice work is all about. Check with local hospitals and hospice care facilities to see if they can help you.
If you cannot find support from other resources, consider hiring a professional. Your grief and sense of loss over your dog is as real as that you would experience over the loss of a person.
There are telephone hotlines associated with some of the major universities. Below is a listing of the more popular hotlines, along with the times they are available. To see if there are hotlines available in your city, check with your veterinarian.
The Ohio State University
Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, 6:30-9:30 p.m. CST
Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, 6-9 p.m. EST
University of Florida-Gainesville
Weekdays, 7-9 p.m. EST
University of California-Davis
Weekdays, 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. PST
Chicago Veterinary Medical Association
Leave a voice mail anytime. Calls returned collect between 7-9 p.m. CST weekdays.
A final resource to check is your public library. There are many fine books available on grief management.
Source: Adapted from the American Animal Hospital Association