Updated: Jan 25
Grief is the word that immediately comes to mind when confronted with the passing of a Woody’s Place resident. I would imagine it’s the same for you if you’ve experienced the loss of a beloved fur friend.
But believe it or not, the feelings associated with grief may be far-fetched for some when it comes to the passing of a dog. In fact, some don't feel anything at all except for the relief of one less responsibility to deal with, and in my mind, I imagine that those people are the people who would say to someone who just lost their dog….”What’s the big deal? It’s just a dog. Just go get another.” I cringe just writing that.
Like a doctor who lakes empathy, some don’t get grieving over the passing of a beloved fur friend. To that I say, do yourself a favor, and don’t listen to those people. But rather, feel the way you need to feel when your fur friend passes, and take as much time as you need. Grief is a personal experience with no rules or limits, so, however you grieve or however long you grieve, is okay. I feel grief, lots of grief when any of the Woody’s Place residents pass away. I cry till my head hurts. I can’t talk with anyone for a while, eat, or even remember to drink water. I just want to curl up in a ball on the floor with the other dogs and curse the universe for taking away something that meant so much to me. Admittedly, that’s a pretty ugly picture. And it’s only compounded if I have to make the decision to have a Woody’s Place resident euthanized. Then I’m just downright inconsolable for some time, even though I know it’s the best possible outcome for the resident. The truth is. I can’t be an “ice princess,” like others I’ve witnessed, and I don’t want to be. I have feelings. Real feelings that need to be expressed so I can move on and help other senior German Shepherds in need. Having to euthanize a Woody’s Place resident dog is classic anticipatory grief. It’s “the knowing” grief is coming and there is no way around it. It’s the worst part of sanctuary life and, in my experience, it's something you can’t prepare for, try as you might.
Then there’s grief over a tragic death. As if anticipatory grief wasn't bad enough, tragic death can cause intense grief because it comes on so suddenly. We have experienced this with our resident cats here at the sanctuary. One of my cats was only about two years old when I found him dead in our driveway. I don’t know if he was poisoned or what, but I was shocked to find him out of the blue, dead. He has unexpectedly ripped away from us, leaving us no time to anticipate his coming departure from this earth. In instances like this, not only are you suddenly flooded with feelings of grief but also shock and despair as well.
But no matter if it is sudden or anticipated, grief is a personal experience. For some, grief is constant for a day or so then subsides. But for others, it ebbs and flows for weeks, even months on end. And even when one might think that they are past grieving, something comes up, perhaps the anniversary of the dog’s passing, that brings feelings of grief rushing to the surface again. And grieving isn’t just for adults. Children can experience grief over the loss of a beloved fur friend too. They may not grieve the same as an adult, and depending on their age, they may not even know how to express their grief, so it’s our job as parents to help them along by letting them see you grieve. Explain to them what you are feeling and why and that it’s okay to feel sad over your fur friend's passing. Maybe if people, in general, taught their children that it’s perfectly natural to grieve the loss of their fur friend, then there wouldn’t be such a stigma around it. But what if you have other dogs in the house. Do they grieve too? Yes, they do. Not all, but some do. Dogs that live together form bonds. They are pack animals, so to think that when one passes, the others won’t be affected is silly. Think of our Woody’s Place residents Atticus and Brandi. If you follow along with our social media, then you know those two are inseparable. When either one of them passes, the other will undoubtedly realize and grieve the loss of their friend. Here’s a tip to help the dogs remaining in the household understand where their friend has gone. Let them see and smell the deceased dog if possible. Seriously. Let them investigate, and you will see as they do so, they are processing what has happened because dogs understand death, and when they realize their friend is gone, they don’t go searching for him, which is an act they may do if they don't know what happened to their friend. We’ve allowed our living residents to view deceased residents throughout the history of Woody’s Place, and it works. When you are grieving the loss of your fur friend, it’s essential to be kind to yourself. Take the day off if you can. Take two! Talk with others if you feel the need to or don’t. Lay on the sofa curled up in a ball all day clutching your fur friend’s blanket if that’s where your grief takes you, but if feelings of grief go on too long to the point that it becomes unhealthy, then you may need to seek professional help. Now, I’m sure at this point there are some reading this who think, “curled up in a ball on the sofa hugging a dead dog’s blanket?? That's so ridiculous!” Oh, I can just hear them now. But the truth is, for many, dogs are family members, beloved family members. Heck! For some, their dogs are more family than actual family or the only family they have. So yes, the passing of their fur friend is downright devastating, and perhaps curling up on the sofa clutching that blanket is what will them help express their grief. Personally, I turn to the other residents here at Woody’s Place and focus on all the good times we’ve had together to help me through the process of grief. In time, grief will pass, and when it subsides, then it’s time to move on. Even though it still may hurt, it’s time to collect the items your dog once used, such as food and water bowls, bed, toys, leash, etc., anything you couldn’t bring yourself to look at while you were grieving and put them away. If you don’t plan on adopting another dog, donate the items to a rescue or shelter to help another dog in need. Trust me. An act of kindness like this helps with grief. Other actions that help the grieving process is to honor your fur friend by creating a memorial or having a memorial service. There are plenty of ideas for creating a pet memorial online, but one might be planting a tree in their favorite spot in the yard. Another would be to donate to a shelter or rescue in their memory. I’ve even seen a creative memorial of taking their water bowl, putting their collar around it, and turning it into an adorable planter. The idea is to eventually accept your fur friend's passing and move forward in a healthy fashion. Another way to heal is to adopt another fur friend in need, when and if you are ready. It could be the next day, or it could be a year later. The bottom line is you will know when the time is right, and there are plenty of fur friends who need you. Just know that a new fur friend would not be replacing your fur friend that passed, but instead would be a new fur friend. After all, you can never replace fur friends. Like every living, breathing soul, caring for a dog has real-world limitations, and when you are caring for senior German Shepherds as we do at Woody’s Place, those limitations are all too real, and with those limitations comes grief. If there is anything that I've learned living this #lifewitholddogs® it's that grief has to be expressed because if not, it can fester and manifest into something much more unhealthy.
Years ago, after one of the Woody’s Place resident dogs passed, Mr. Woody's Place said, “Are you going to cry like this every time one of the Woody’s Place dogs dies?” And through tear swollen eyes, I cried, “Yes. Yes, I am, because I need to grieve. And that’s ok.
If you need grief support, help is available with grief counselors at Pet Compassion Careline. Their clinicians are available 24/7 and can be reached at 1-888-245-8214.