Handling your dog’s death may be one of the hardest things you ever do. These tips are from pet owners who lost their dogs; they share what helped them cope with the grief.
Here’s how one journalist handled the death of her dog:
“When my precious schnoodle, Puccini, died, I channeled my grief into a project I’d been working on for 13 years-a series of children’s books called Adventures With PawPaw,” says Diana Scimone. “After Puccini died, I pushed the project into high gear. About a year later, the first three titles in the series were published-and more are on the drawing board.”
If you want to believe that your dog is in a happier place, read Dog Heaven.
Not everyone can publish a book about their pet’s death, but reading about how pet owners survived loss can help.
What to Do When Your Dog Dies
Surround yourself with people who understand pet loss
“I’ve got four boxes of ashes on my book shelves – three dogs and one cat – for the pets I’ve had to say goodbye to over the last dozen years,” says Carol Hodes. “Each was an important member of my family [I have no children]. I am of the belief that you have to accept that the grief will be as profound, if not more so, than if you lost a human member of your family. And you need to surround yourself with people who understand that. Folks who don’t share your love of pets will not understand your sense of loss. In most cases, I had to make the decision to euthanize the pet and I also find that to be both a uniquely challenging and, sometimes, uplifting aspect of the experience. You got to be there for the pet and give the ultimate gift of a peaceful and pain-free end.”
Cherish your other pet — whether they’re dogs or cats
“I have been lucky that I’ve always had another pet at home to help me through the sadness – and they do feel the loss of their friend, too,” says Carol Hodes. “And I have gone on to get other pets to fill the void. I don’t understand the perspective of some people who, when they lose a beloved pet, won’t take the risk of getting another pet to love because they might eventually have to cope with the death of their dog or cat. Two years ago I lost my Pembroke Welsh corgi, Chip, to cancer. I knew that by the spring I would have “puppy fever” and sure enough, I got a puppy at the end of March. Scooter is a border terrier who is now a year old.”
Explore a different breed of dog
“One thing I have done that may work for some people – I don’t replace one dog with another dog of the same breed,” says Carol. “There’s no way to replicate your last pet and why have the next one held up to comparison all the time? It’s easier [for me] to enjoy the charms of an entirely different type of dog.”
However, when your dog dies the last thing you may want is another pet. Read Can’t Live Without Your Dog? How to Survive Your Pet’s Death.
Remember the funny stories about your dog, and make an album
“We have to put our 14 year old dog to sleep two weeks ago. Not sure how, but he broke his femur bone and he would have had to undergo major surgery to put pins in his leg, or if the break was caused by cancer they would have to amputate and hope the cancer didn’t spread. Neither choice was good for a 14 year old. I had to explain to my children that “Floyd” wouldn’t be coming back from the hospital. We had a funeral and memorialized our dog by telling her funny stories about him-how he liked to chase chickens, how he rescued (by barking to a neighbor) another dog that was drowning in our pool, and how he like to sleep in Mommy and Daddy’s bed with his head on the pillow. We found several pictures of him and made a little album. This helped us heal when our dog died”. – Roni Jenkins
Embark on a new endeavor
“I’ve owned Doberman Pinschers for almost 25 years and each time, the loss of each one was crushing,” says Sherry Stinson. “When I lost my oldest Dobe, Tyler, I was numb with grief. He was old, I knew that, and had lived beyond the average age a Dobie lives, but his passing was still devastating. To pull myself out of the all-consuming grief, I decided to start a pet greeting card company and name it TylerDog Cards. This helped me focus on the wonderful joy I had when Tyler was alive.”
Give yourself time to mourn when your dog dies
“Many people advocate getting a new pet to replace the emptiness, while others say to wait,” says Sherry. “Personally, I think you have to give yourself a little time to grieve pet loss before jumping into a new puppy given they require so much attention. However, that’s just me.”
Let yourself grieve the way you need to
“The most important thing is, don’t be afraid to cry, to grief, to miss your pets,” says Sherry. “Too often people let society deem what’s appropriate to grieve over and what’s not. Pets are an important part of people’s lives today and just as hard to lose as anything else, so it’s very important to just let yourself grieve.”
Share your memories of your dog
“My golden retriever Katie was a huge part of my life for 13.5 years,” says Regina. “We went through everything life tossed at us as a team, including my bout with cancer over six years ago. After she passed away, I hosted a memorial service with my friends. We sat in a circle and each guest told a happy story about Katie. Before each person spoke, I lit a small candle. After that I passed a balloon around and, as it reached each person, they had to express a wish for Katie in Eternity. When we completed the circle, I released the balloon and said that it not only carried our wishes Heavenward to Katie, it would grant those same wishes to every pet who had ever been loved and lost by anyone in the group.” – Regina Leeds
Visit a dog kennel
“We had to put down our beloved dachshund, who was two weeks shy of his 17th birthday. I almost immediately went online searching for dachshund rescue sites to see what dogs were available. I had no intention of replacing Joplin immediately but just found comfort in doing this. I also read up on how to cope with pet loss. Naturally, it’s a very individual thing and people respond differently. The house was eerily quiet without him and 4 months later, my husband and I adopted a wonderful 2 yr. old rescue. We still have photos of Joplin around the house and I do sometimes feel guilty loving Charlie as much as I do, but it is possible, at least for me, to be able to love this dog as much as I had Joplin.” – Jane Cohen.
For more support when your dog dies, read Can’t Live Without Your Dog? How to Survive Your Pet’s Death.
A final tip for before your dog dies: make a clear plan when all is well
“We recently lost Shirley, our cocker spaniel/poodle of 17 years, about a month ago,” says Abby. “My family is still very sad. We have tried to keep it as lighthearted as possible by laughing about her strange habits or funny times when she was around. We did make one mistake the day she passed away. My dad found her body and panicked. To ensure my mother would not arrive home from work and panic also, my dad reacted quickly and buried the dog in the backyard. While preventing my mother from having to watch the burial was thoughtful, it was not what worked for the grieving process. We learned to have a clear plan in case something happens and everyone is not around to make the decision together.” – Abby Harris.
In Letting Go of an Animal You Love: 75 Ways to Survive Pet Loss I interviewed veterinarians, grief experts, and pet owners who survived their pet’s death in sometimes surprising ways. A book like this will help you grieve, show you you’re not alone, and give you ideas on how to memorialize your dog long after he or she has left our world.
If you have any thoughts about healing when your dog dies, please comment below. Feel free to share your story – because writing can help you cope with your dog’s death.