When I lost Gemma three weeks ago, the sense of loss I felt was all consuming. Her absence is so large that at times it’s all I can think about. Fortunately, the people closest to me not only miss her themselves, but understand that this is an extremely difficult time for me. My grief is expected and understood. As I’ve talked with other people, however, I’ve realized that some of them have lost dogs and haven’t had any sort of support to help them through it. These sad people are carrying the pain around with them, unsure how to express it.
For many of us, our dogs are more than just pets, they’re furry family members. Grief and sorrow are expected emotions, but there are other feelings you might have to deal with. You may feel guilt, especially if you feel responsible in some way for your pet’s death. If your dog had heartworms because you didn’t keep him on preventative, or was hit by a car because you didn’t want to put up a fence, the thoughts can be hard to dismiss. If this is your situation, do something proactive. You can’t change the past, but you can, for example, make sure you have a fence before you get another dog.
You might also find yourself second-guessing your actions. Thinking, “If only I had …” often causes you to feel guilt over something you could not control, and makes it difficult to move beyond your grief. Accidents, illness and death happen no matter how hard we try to avoid them, and do not mean you were negligent or uncaring.
You might also feel anger. It may be directed at a person who was involved in the accident somehow, by leaving a door open or by speeding along the road, at the veterinarian who failed to save your dog’s life, or at yourself for not noticing signs of illness more quickly. Sometimes anger is justified, but when you focus on it, it can prevent you from facing your grief.
Depression is a natural consequence of grief, but it can leave you unable to cope with your feelings. Extreme depression robs you of motivation and energy. You may find yourself incapable of thinking about anything but your loss.
Whatever your feelings, it’s important that you face them. Don’t pretend you don’t feel anything. You have a right to feel pain and grief, anger, guilt or depression. Someone you love has died, and you hurt over that fact. Be honest about your feelings.
Don’t be ashamed to mourn for your dog. Cry without shame. Talk about your dog. Laugh at the good memories. You are going to feel grief; it will illustrate just how special your dog was to you. As you mourn, see if you can find a way to express your feelings in a tangible way.
Some people want to remember their dog with stories, poems, songs or letters. You might want to prepare a scrapbook or photo collage of your dog, create an internet tribute to him, or make a donation in his name to a humane society, rescue group or other dog-related charity. You could choose to acquire a special plaque for your home or your dog’s grave, or purchase bereavement jewelry.
Make sure you talk about your dog. If you have family or friends that love pets, they’ll understand what you’re going through and want to help you. If you can’t find someone you feel comfortable crying and grieving with, ask your vet to recommend a pet loss counselor or support group, or check with your church or hospital to see if they offer grief counseling. You might also want to visit the Pet Loss Grief Support website “petloss.com”. Whichever method or methods you choose, your feelings are valid and deserve support as you work through them.
Irving Townsend wrote, “We who choose to surround ourselves with lives even more temporary than our own, live within a fragile circle; easily and often breached. Unable to accept its awful gaps, we would still live no other way. We cherish memory as the only certain immortality, never fully understanding the necessary plan.”
When your circle is breached, remember that you are not alone. There are people who will understand your loss, and will stand beside you as you mourn.
Karlene Turkington, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, is a lifelong animal lover who has been training dogs for over 20 years. Readers are welcome to send their questions to: info@TrainMyK-9.com for possible inclusion in future columns. Information provided here is a basic overview of issues. Specific health or behavioral concerns should be discussed with your veterinarian or qualified animal trainer or behaviorist.