Handling grief and the loss of a pet

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Sadly, I offered my condolences to three friends whose dogs passed away during the holidays.  Having experienced the loss of a dog myself, I understand the need to talk about it to someone who understands.  Many people are uncomfortable with both the talking and the listening parts of the grieving process.  If you are on the talking end, first allow yourself to grieve.  It is perfectly natural to mourn the loss of a friend – even if that friend is “just a dog.” Hard to believe, but some people just aren’t geared toward fur kids.  Our companions mean much more to us than that. Their death leaves a void in our hearts, our schedules, and our thoughts.  We need to mourn. It does not matter if the loss is sudden, accidental, somewhat expected, health-related or not.  It is important that you take the time to begin healing.  Below are some things you can do to help in that process.

  • Talk to a trusted friend about your feelings of loss.
  • Write a poem or letter to your dog telling them how you are feeling or what you love about them.
  • Visit a pet loss chat room or website to communicate with others who are feeling the same.
  • Plan a memorial.  This can be planting a tree, donating to your local shelter in your dog’s name, or making a picture collage.  Make it personal.
  • If you are finding yourself with too much time on your hands, volunteer at your local shelter, or coordinate a food or blanket drive for them.
  • Understand that everyone grieves differently.  There is no timeline. In time, the sting will receed, but the memories will always be in your heart.
  • Do not feel bad when you feel the urge to get another dog. You are not replacing the last one, only paying tribute to the good times.
  • If you have other pets in the house, understand that they too need to grieve. Spend extra time with them, let them comfort you and return the favor.

Many people are uncomfortable with the listening part of grieving.  It involves lots of emotions.  If you find yourself in a position of needing to be the listener, take a deep breath, be calm, and let your friend take the lead.  Because people grieve differently, your friend may want to talk – a lot.  Know that you are not being asked to solve anything.  Your friend may want to re-tell stories that you have already heard.  They may want to tell you about the actual passing.  If conversation allows, you may want to suggest some of the things above to help your friend cope with this loss.  They may have feelings of guilt, “what ifs,” “should I haves”, and “whys.”  You may not be able to handle everything.  If not, suggest support groups that they can contact and offer to do some research for them.  If you are listening to a child, help them understand that it’s OK to be sad. Think of age-appropriate ways to help them memorialize their dog.

I have always found solace in the poem – The Rainbow Bridge.  When I find myself in the role of the listener, I often refer to it. I also acknowledge the loss and pain that my friend is feeling.   One of the things I tell them – because I truly believe it – is that the loss they feel is directly proportionate to the amount of love and happiness they gave their dog.  Grieving is not an easy process, but it is softened by time.  I lost my heart dog Sophie (pictured above) eight months ago, and I still find myself missing her every day.  Whew, I needed that.  Thank you for being my listener.

Terry Meeks is a dog trainer, APDT Member an CGC Evaluator in Pinellas County, Florida.  Find Four on the Floor Dog Training at FourontheFloor-Dogtraining.com and on Facebook.

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