Saying Goodbye

IMG_3573By Pat McCarty, Guest Contributor

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Without a doubt, our dogs are a part of our families.  Sadly, one of the realities of owning a dog is that we will lose them.  That their lifespan is significantly shorter than ours almost assures that we will outlive most of our beloved pets and have to say goodbye.  And, while there will always be people who scoff at the idea of loving your dog so much that losing him or her brings real grief, those of us who are dog lovers know better.

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Think about it – your dog has a real personality.  They have moods, routines, they give and receive love unconditionally, they are your protectors, your companions, your friends.  You know where your dog will be at any given time of the day.  Mornings, hanging out by the family room window watching for deer. Afternoons, up on the landing having his afternoon siesta. Evenings, cuddling with your kids in front of the TV.

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As time goes by, your dog becomes a part of the very fabric of your family.  To some extent, your entire days are built around your dog.  Making sure he’s fed, let out, given affection, walked and exercised…you select pet food on the basis of how it will create better health for him or her, you lovingly snap and share pictures for your Facebook page. This is a member of your family.

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So it stands to reason that when you lose your dog, the grief is real, and it can be remarkably hard to bear. You have lost a member of your family and in some cases, the pain may be more severe than even, in some rare cases, losing a relative.  To be perfectly honest, we seem to handle the loss of grandparents with a stalwart steadiness that comes with seeing our aged loved one pass onto another life.  We often use words like “She lived a long, full, life” and “She’s in a better place now…” but do we ever really feel that way about our dogs? Not likely. It’s hard to imagine the passing of a beloved family dog punctuated by the words “It was time”.

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So, we grieve, and sometimes we grief hard. And as I said, there will always be those who want to ease our pain with the dismissing sentiments of “it’s just a dog…you can get a new one”.

But don’t let anyone take minimize your loss, your pain, or try to rush you through your grief.  Grief is a process and you need to go through it. You can’t go around it, or short-circuit it, because the best way to come to terms with embracing the joy that your dog brought you during his life, is to work through the grief of his death.

First and foremost, it’s ok to be sad. Don’t let anyone take that away from you.  Your feelings are your feelings.  Some other ways to cope:

  • Consider waiting a while before getting another dog. It’s tempting to try to snuff out the grief by immediately finding an adopting a new dog, but be cautious. This rebound rescue can be dicey, because if you’re only getting a new pet to try to ease the grief, you may not fully grieve your former friend.  You will be tempted to compare the actions of your new puppy with the routines of your old lost friend and may actually begin to resent your new dog in some ways. “Lassie never chewed cushions” or “the new puppy won’t sit on my lap like lassie did” is potential land-mine territory.  Consider allowing at least 3 months to pass do you can fully grieve your dog, before starting to search for a new puppy. At that time you will be left with fond memories and not so much raw grief, and your search for a new pet will be informed by the desire to love, rather than the need to relief pain.
  • If you have your pet cremated, put his cremation box, or urn, in his usual “spot”. Odd as it sounds, you may find comfort by getting him or her home from the crematorium and back with you, and placing the container in the spot where he usually sat.  It brings comfort and familiarity, and a calming sense of “he is back where he belongs”. Eventually, you’ll move the box to a permanent home on the mantel or somewhere else, but again, keep in mind, this is part of the grieving process. Allow yourself to express your grief however you feel.
  • Make a shadowbox to remember him or her. A snip of fur, pictures, his collar and tag, and some other memorabilia will help create a permanent reminder of some of the things about your dog that you experienced daily and will allow you to preserve a snapshot in time of when he was at his prime.
  • Have a wake.  Again, sure it may sound odd and it doesn’t even have to be formal, but consider setting aside a little bit of time to specifically talk about memories of your dog to remember the joy. Tell the stories of when he made you all laugh, about his best daily routines and habits, about the time he brought you a dead bird, whatever you want. You will find yourself laughing, crying, and most importantly, processing. 

There are many ways to grieve your best friend. The only thing you can’t do is rush it, so accept the grieving process, embrace his or her life fully and let the emotions come.  And for those of you who have recently lost a dog, I am sorry for your loss.


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