Coping With The Loss Of Your Dog

Grief is the word that immediately comes to mind when confronted with the passing of a Woody’s Place resident dog. I would imagine it’s the same for you if you’ve experienced the loss of a dog. But grief maybe a bit far-fetched for some when it comes to the passing of a dog. I would 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 has a terrible bedside manner, some don’t get grieving over the passing of your dog. Do yourself a favor. Don’t listen to those people. Feel the way you need to feel when your dog passes. And while you’re doing that, know that no two people grieve the same way. 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 resident dogs pass. I cry till my head hurts. I can’t talk with anyone for a while, eat, or even remember to drink water. I 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 worse if I have to decide to have a Woody’s Place resident dog euthanized. Then I’m just downright inconsolable for some time, even though I know it’s the best possible outcome for the dog. 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 the grief over the guilt of euthanizing. It’s the worst part of sanctuary life and, in my experience, something you can’t prepare for, try as you might. Well, you can, to a certain degree. For instance, if you know you will need support, make sure a loved one is with you when the time comes, but you can’t really prepare for the coming emotions.

Then there’s tragic death and grief. A tragic death can cause intense grief. We have experienced this with our resident cats here at the sanctuary. One of my favorites 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. He was 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 too.

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 they are past the grieving, something comes up, perhaps the anniversary of the dog’s passing, that brings feelings of grief rushing to the surface again. Grief isn’t just for adults. Kids grieve the loss of the family dog 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 at all. 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 dog’s loss. Maybe if people, in general, taught their kids that it’s perfectly natural to grieve the loss of their dog, then there wouldn’t be such a stigma to it. 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 or 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. 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. Dogs understand death, and when they realize their friend is gone, they don’t go searching for him. We’ve done this throughout the history of Woody’s Place, and it works. When you are grieving the loss of your dog, 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 dog’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?? So ridiculous!” Oh, I can hear them now. But the truth is, for many, dogs are family members, beloved family members. Heck! For some, their dogs are the only family they have. So yes, the passing of their dog is devastating, and perhaps curling up on the sofa clutching that blanket is what will help express their grief. Personally, I turn to the other dogs here at Woody’s Place and focus on all the good times we’ve had together to help me through the process. In time, the grief will pass, and when it subsides, then it’s time to move on. Even though it may still 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 dog 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 accept their passing and move forward in a healthy fashion. Another way to heal is to adopt another dog 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 dogs who need you. Just know a new dog would not be replacing your dog that passed, but instead would be a new love. After all, you can never replace your dog. 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. Grief has to be expressed because if it’s not, it can fester and manifest into something much more unhealthy.

Years ago, after one of the Woody’s Place resident dogs passed, my husband 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.

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