How Can We Recover From The Death Of Our Dog?

Posted June 16th, 2010 in Coping With Grief, Dogs, Friendship, Losing Your Pet by Glenn Plaskin

In our neighborhood, brimming with more than 800 dogs, my cocker spaniel, Lucy and I, bump into our regulars daily–from Herman the Great Dane and Stanley the Dachshund to Sammy the Bulldog, Berta the Standard Poodle, and Captain the Fox Terrier, among numerous wagging tails.

In recent days, three of our canine neighbors have suddenly disappeared from the Esplanade of Battery Park City, which runs alongside the Hudson. One day they were out walking, the next they were gone.

Their owners are devastated. To them, their pet was more child than dog.

Sammy’s owner, Ben, has lost 15 pounds. He stopping shaving and has hardly left the house, in avoidance mode, uncomfortable at receiving condolences. His dog Sammy, at age 17, had survived far longer than most dogs ever do, but it’s never enough, the heartbreak no less when a dog dies at such a grand age.

The vacuum left behind is profound. What could be sadder than putting away your dog’s leftover toys, their food and water bowls, or their collar and chain? And what could be emptier than a bed that’s suddenly bigger than it should be, only the ghost of their spirit lingering in the room. Little wonder that Ben feels despondent and depressed. All in all, losing a dog is simply heartbreaking. Many say they’d almost rather lose an unwanted relative!–than their canine companion.

I’m sure there are many of you who have experienced the death of  your family pet. The bond between owner and dog is a profoundly close one. When a dog looks up at you with adoring eyes, tail wagging, or falls asleep in your arms—there’s nothing more blissful. Our canine companions are like little kids that never grow up. . They need our protection and love—and give it back in spades.

Some nights, my dog, Lucy, is propped up against the pillows, staring into my eyes with wonder as I massage her stomach and stroke her ears. The feeling of total contentment is mutual. In fact, it’s been proven that dogs reduce stress and lower your blood pressure, creating a sensation of total well-being and peace .

And when that bond is broken by the inevitability of death, nothing hurts more.

I can tell you that losing my dog KATIE was one of the saddest moments of my life. Just pick up my book, KATIE UP AND DOWN THE HALL, and read the chapter titled Nocturne, the final good-bye.

On the last day of Katie’s life—though she was blind and deaf and barely able to walk, very much in pain—she still had the strength to let me know she loved me, licking my face one last time. And then, cradled in my arms at the Vet and breathing peacefully…she was sent to heaven. I bent over her, in tears, and nearly choking as I stroked her beautiful head for one last time, barely able to pull myself away.

The devastating pain of that moment, even years later, never completely goes away, just as our 15-year bond never ends.

But I’ve learned to concentrate less on the loss and more on the gift that was given to me. I always remind myself: Our dogs want us to be happy. They live for it. And it would be painful for them to sense, even in death, that they were causing us pain. Knowing this, more than anything, was one secret to recovering.

For those who may be experiencing the emptiness and loss I did, I want to share with you some secrets to feeling the grief and recovering from it.

Go Ahead and Cry: Being stoic in the face of profound loss never helps.  So acknowledge your grief and give yourself permission to express it. Instead of bottling up feelings of sadness, let them out—and let them go. No matter how old you are, man or woman, young or old, crying is cathartic. It reduces stress and eases the loss. It did for me.

Tap Into Your Memories: I’d rather celebrate the memory of my dog than avoid it. So I keep a photo of her in my wallet and carry her engraved name tag on my key chain. Find your own way to remember. Write a tribute. Frame a photo. Compose a song. Take out your scrapbooks or watch videos, reliving the indelible moments that defined your life together. And talk about your dog with sympathetic friends and family who understand your loss, telling funny stories and recounting adventures. You’ll find yourself smiling.

Plan A Memorial: Create an event—a funeral, a ceremony, a party–something that celebrates your dog. Inviting all your friends and family, make it a personalized memorial related to who your dog loved, and what he or she liked to do. When Katie passed away, because of my classical music background, and because she was well-known in the neighborhood, I planned  two memorial piano recitals in my home, inviting 30 friends (and their DOGS!) to attend. I had a big carrot cake (my dog’s favorite) with her picture on it, candlelight, and photos of her around the room. Our local Pastor even came over and said a prayer. It was beautiful and fun—a fitting tribute to Katie’s spirit. Others choose to memorialize their dogs with a headstone or urn or a donation to a dog-related charity. Do whatever feels right to you—but do something special.

Reach Out To The Experts If You Need To: Don’t be embarrassed or too proud to get help. The loss of an animal, whether due to death, or being lost or stolen, is devastating and traumatic. For kids, losing a pet may be their first experience with death. A child may blame himself, his parents, or the Vet for not saving the pet. He may feel guilty, depressed, or frightened. Expressing your own grief reassures the child that sadness is OK. A therapist is another option, one that helped me. You can also ask your veterinarian, local humane society, the Delta Society, or your local animal shelter about pet loss hotlines or online chat groups. Not least important, give surviving pets lots of TLC, as they may whimper, refuse to eat or drink, or suffer lethargy. Maintain a normal routine. It’s good for them and for you.

Welcome Recovery: Much as we think it never will, the pain eventually passes and you’re going to feel better. The shock, depression, and emptiness are going to fade. But in the days following the loss of your pet, look after yourself—exercise, eat well, see your friends, keep active, take up a new interest, and indulge in small pleasures. One little thing that helped me was re-arranging my home, moving the furniture, changing the colors, adding plants, creating a new environment for a different life. Shift things around. Craft your recovery your way, but carve out a new path that fosters increased energy and optimism, without ever forgetting the joyful spirit of your dog. Doing this will pave the way for the next stage—getting a NEW dog.

Don’t Try To Replace Your Dog: Some people are ready for a new dog after days or months, while others, like me, take years. In any case, just as you could never replace a family member, it’s impossible to replace a dog. Give yourself time to recover from the loss before rushing out to get a new one. Consider a different breed, or a female if you had a male, or at least a different color. You can’t replicate what you had. And if you attempt to replace a day, you maybe be setting yourself up for disappointment, for every soul and spirit is different. Don’t be rushed. Take it easy. Take your time.

Do any of you have any other ideas or tips for recovering from the loss of a dog? I’d love to hear from you.

17 Responses so far.

  1. lori says:

    excellant. one of the best books i have ever read. i can relate. i lost my Molly a black cocker spaniel 8 months ago. it helps to know others feel my pain.

  2. Mandy Brodie says:

    For Christmas one year, my entire family gathered at my mothers in South Carolina. This in itself was a great feat because my sister and her family had to come from Texas. My husband and I along with our son lived only an hour away. My daughters were in college, one in Michigan and the other New York. My brother and his family came in from Virginia.
    There was so much confusion with kids everywhere playing with their new gifts, family sharing old stories, the house was full of laughter,the sounds of wind up toys, video games and the smell of moms great cooking.
    I wasn’t even sure at first who brought two cocker spaniel puppies. One as a gift to my sisters children and one to my daughter. It would not be until years later that I would find out that my sister had brought them with her from Texas!
    Needless to say, my daughter would soon have to leave for college in New York. She was not allowed to keep dogs in the dorms. You can guess what happened next…My husband and I were faced with these big pair of puppy eyes and my daughter trying her best to give us that same sad puppy eyed look…Maaaaaaam…pleaaaaase will you keep her for me????
    From that point on, I can soooo relate to Glen when he first got Katie! We just had no idea how this tiny little buff fur baby would change our lives. Nights of crying and “Boo” our cocker puppy biting my nose.
    In fact, biting my nose became Boo’s little “thing”. Boo and I were even kicked out of our first training class with the trainer telling me “that dog is incorrigible! You will never get her to stop biting your nose!” lol
    Boo did in fact stop biting my nose as soon as I figured out what it was she wanted. TOYS! And lots of them!
    For the next 8 years Boo and I developed such a close relationship that she no longer required any training because she instinctively knew what I wanted from her.In fact we were so close that on two different occasions when I needed surgery, Boo did too!
    It was around this time that Boo and my husband became almost as close as Boo and I were. Not to mention the relationship with our vet who once stated “Boo! Your putting my son through college with these ears of yours!” Wish I knew then what I know now about how to stave off cocker ear infections! But then again, my vet’s son may not have finished college!
    One time, ONE TIME, my husband and I decided to take a second honeymoon that quickly came to an end because Boo refused to eat or drink for her babysitters! We never left her again. Oh, Boo was o.k. while we went to work as long as we made sure her steps that led up to our bed was properly in place with her food,water and favorite toy at the top! Boo would also remind me if I forgot to put a pee pad down at the bottom of the stairs. As I would leave for work in the mornings, she would give me that look like as if to say “see you later and don’t be late!” Boo was funny that way. We once went camping and Boo would insist on me placing a pee pad on the grass before she would go potty??? Still not sure why she did that because she knew she could potty in our back yard???
    Boo was about 4 years old when one afternoon she began this loud whining, sort of talking high pitch howl that I had never heard her do before. At the same time she was jumping on her hind feet and pushing me with her front paws. About 10 minutes later I had a seizure. I had never had one before. It was not until after I had 3 seizures before I put two and two together. Boo KNEW! That is when Boo and I really did become inseparable.
    I could go on and on about my special relationship with a very special little buff girl and everything we did together. But this forum is about how to get over the loss of a special furry loved one.
    Boo passed before she turned 9 years old. The vet said it was from a rare disease that cockers can carry for years being inactive.Once active it causes internal bleeding. The vet did everything he could to save her. I have since learned that the disease occurs from poor breeding practices.
    After months of grieving, looking at her pictures, videos and just talking about her to friends and family, my husband and I made it our tribute to Boo to begin a rescue for cockers. To attempt to educate the public regarding poor breeding practices and stop cruelty to animals.
    Eight years later, http://www.happycockers.com is still our tribute to our little fur baby “Boo”.
    Got to go, a chocolate cocker rescue arriving today!
    God Bless you all and take care
    sincerely, [email protected]

  3. Deb says:

    great advice. i just lost my “little baby girl” Roxanne a month ago. she was a little chihuahua that i had for 11 years. i’ve lost alot of animals in my life, but along the way you have special ones that really touch your heart. roxanne was one of those. it was heartbreaking to lose her.

  4. Linda says:

    Hi Glenn…I just lost my beloved yellow lab named Chance just 4 weeks ago…and I miss him so much…my heart is so heavy…he was a special needs dog…with anxiety disorder and seizures. In his short life tho he and I accomplished alot. We completed three puppy classes…one was Star Puppy class and he passed his canine good citizen test…we were going on to become a therapy dog…but every thing went wrong. He was on medications and the seizures were becoming often and the time lengthing. I made a tough decision to put him to sleep…I feel so empty right now. Your article on grieving makes sense but right now…it’s hard to see it thru my tears. Thank you…Linda

  5. Norma says:

    I held my Beau when he was two days old. He died at 18, i found him in the morning. Two months later i lost Maggie, she was 13 1/2 she came in to my life when she was 2. It has been a year. I still cry. But now i have Sasha, she was rescue, mistreated and starve, she came into my life when she was one. I will always be grateful to my friend Danelle for intorducing us.
    A freind of mine asked me if i got the dog i wanted. I said, “Well, she isnt a male, and she is not four years old, yeah, i did. We needed each other.
    Beau and Maggie, now sit on a table in my bedroom. I have a table with thier pictures, ashes and the collars with thier tags. It is my little shrine to the best years of my life. They were with me thru the best and worst times of my life. Someday the will rest with my parents so that i know they will always be taken care of.
    I also changed the house around. Took out the carpet, put down area rugs, small changes.
    Sasha and i now start a new chapter.
    Like you said, it is ok to cry. Remember the good times, charish the memoires.
    The artical was great, Thank you.

  6. Robin Sosnow says:

    What a great blog, thank you for sharing, I lost my 3 years ago and it still feels like yesterday.

  7. I lost my lovable Maltease Duffy from cushings last May 29th, the day after my birthday.
    She was really my granddaughter’s pet but right from the beginning be closely bonded,
    when I was at their home,which was frequently she only had eyes for me and would not even go for a walk without me going along.
    She slept on my bed even though my daughter in law objected , Duffy would come over to me in the morning and wake me gently with her paw for a prolonged “belly rub”
    She opened her own gifts at Christmas and Birthdays and knew how to ask for water and food.
    I have so many beautiful memories, watching her circle the big oak tree trying to catch a squirrel.
    In fact she did once.
    After breakfast she had a favorite place in the hall where the sun streamed through the window panes.
    She enjoyed licking my sons’ feet but only his.
    I would make her chicken and carrots whenever I saw her and after a few buts she would turn to look at me as if to say “Thank you Grandma” Likewise when I put her on the bed or the couch she would quickly turn and give me a quick lick, just to say Thank You.

    A truly wonderful pet that will never be forgotten by me as long as I live and hopefully we will be together again sometime and I can make her chicken and carrots once again.

  8. Baby says:

    My Baby passed away 40 days ago, I’m really miss him. I don’t know how to recover and it will take how long

    I can’t stop thinking him, I went to body work,yoga, running… but i still miss him. Day and night, again and again

  9. Robert says:

    I lost my best friend Jumping Joe on Christmas eve 2012 at 12 1/2 years after a short battle with bladder cancer. He was for me the closest I will ever come to magic. It feels a bit better to see that other feel similar pain. Even though most of my friends do not understand how attached you can get to your furry friends and most consider not abnormal behavior crying after a dog I will always keep Joe closest to my heart. He meant for me a smile each and every single morning, a reason to get up and start the day full of joy, happiness, contentment, and fulfillment.
    I got him when he was 13 weeks old, he choose me not the other way around. I will never forget how he jumped out of his crate and he came running to me and licked me all over my face. He had one reason in his short life… to make me and everybody around me laugh and enjoy all the silly things that he did.
    He was a clown, the best I will ever come close to. I’ve gone through an ugly divorce which lasted years with severe health implications on my end. All and all, he was there for me, support and reason to wake up each and every morning. . I miss Joe very much and is hard to believe that what we had together will remain only in our hearts … it’s unfair that the immensity of feelings that I shared with him won’t last longer than an eternity. I really hope there is life after death so we can meet each other again.
    God has immensely gifted my life with this amazing friend, thank you Jojo for being with me, I learned a lot from you.

    Flickr album

  10. Mark says:

    So very nice of you to share your story and tips. I think that I am going to be a “years guy” instead of weeks or months. My doggy had a bad ending and five months later ai am still teary if I think about her.

  11. Sheri says:

    I lost my Bella yesterday. She was the 1st pet I ever had and she had the biggest, most loving personality. She was fearless! Sadly, she was hit by a car and I am beside myself with grief. My other dog won’t eat, and he keeps looking for her. Should I find him a new “girlfriend”? Thank you everyone for your stories. It helps a bit. I just want her back.

  12. Dee Dee says:

    It feels so good to be able to write about the loss of my dear, beloved Scout. I lost him three weeks ago today and I am grieving deeply. He lived a good long life, my boy. He was over 13 and a big lad….over 100 pounds. Strong as an ox. But a huge suck! I can’t seem to stop crying today. I’m allowing it to just flow. I’m off work for the week, recuperating from minor surgery so I knew it would also be a good time for me to really let it come. I am in my own now….no other pets or people in my home. For the last two years of his life, Scout and I had a wonderful time. Such love and deep affection. He was there with me through many trials. End of a relationship, death of my 21 year old cat and a long term, very painful health issue. It’s interesting that within weeks of the health issue finally healing, Scout should pass on. I think he felt I could cope without him now. I don’t think he would have left until he knew I could handle it. It is so empty without him. We shared so much together. I especially miss our daily rituals . And of course, just his wonderful company. I just can’t believe how much I miss him. I want to hug and kiss him and embarrass him, like I always did. It’s incredibly difficult to think about our last hours together. I want to go back and stop it. But, in his way…I know those last days he was telling me he didn’t want to hang in there anymore. He’d had enough. He wasn’t feeling too peachy. And , deep down, I am thankful that I didn’t wait until things were unbearable for him. I’m glad I acted selflessly and let him go while he wasn’t suffering terribly.

  13. Mayet says:

    I don’t even know how to start. My dearest loving full of energy Peanut..an 8lb pappillon passed away yesterday.
    It was very tragic and terrible death. He was attacked and killed by my ex husbands neighbors German shepherd. I left him for the weekend while I was busy moving to a new house..and I didn’t want him to be stressed and left out. I had him since he was 12 weeks.. for the last 5 yrs it was just me and him. My life feels empty and meaningless right now. I miss him terribly.

  14. Shachindra says:

    I lost my saint bernard 35 days back, he was just 17 months old. I never thought I will loose him, let alone so soon. I find myself thinking about him all the time, even in my sleep. I got him when he was 6 weeks old. He was so cute with his watery blue eyes that we named Teddy Bear. My wife gave birth to our son in December and I had so many dreams for us. He would play with me all the time and if I try to leave, he would sit on me and ask me not to go. Every morning he greeted me with so much joy, that it made my day wonderful.There are so many wonderful things but in a nut shell, he taught me what it means to be a parent, a friend. Now, there is a vacuum. I still cry, miss him so badly. Every night before going to bed,I pray he would come into my dream and say He is in a better place (my heart knows he is). But I just wish that he would come back. I love you Teddy and I will do it till my last breath.

  15. vickie says:

    Thank you this help me because Datcy my dog had die on 24 august 2013 still missing her.

  16. Claire says:

    I lost my baby cockatoo at age 8 yesterday. I know I will never recover from this grief. She died suddenly from an adrenal tumor that cut off blood supply to her intestines. She was always so healthy, it was a shock. More than that it was UNFAIR, mean, and random to take her from me, as nature does. The reminders of her are all good, I cannot think of anything I would want in a new dog that she did not have. She was perfect. Having had many dogs before I chose her well, as a loving, sweet ( her name was sweetie) and devoted pup. My dog-after-the-kids-leave treasure. I truly didn’t it know I could love anything or anyone that much. Didn’t know it was in me, and I have a large family, great spouse and three great children. Not because I did not love before, it was a kind of love that is unique to a dog and it’s owner. It’s perfect. I was always right, my opinions were correct and wise and at the end of the day she knew I was just bouncing ideas off of her and not sure what to do. But I was always sure that she would listen and be there and love me. I was her whole world, even though she was only 99% of mine–she didn’t feed me after all. But she did walk me, help me dress, prepare me for all the battles and kudos of work family, friendships and laugh with me over stuff that no one else would think was funny because theynweren’t y there. Zwee was there. She was always there. It’s not one sided, it’s a two way deal with a dog. If you put yourself in it you getting all back and then some. I loved her so much and now face every day with a heavy heart.

  17. i am sitting here writing this with my beautiful dog Betsy sitting beside me. And I am in tears, because Betsy is a buff cocker, and I love her so much. AND, I have lost 8 dogs in my adult life. I grew up with dogs and always had a soft spot for them. In my childhood I slept with 7 or 8 stuffed animals. And when I moved into my own place after college I adopted my first dog shortly thereafter.
    The loss of each of my 8 dogs was heartbreaking, and each loss and subsequent “recovery” was different. Albert and Vickie died at relatively old ages. I knew it was coming. It still broke my heart but I had begun to accept that it would happen. When my first occker, a stray rescued off the street, died at 9, I was inconsolable. He died of AIHA and went from seemingly OK to passing away in just 3 days. I lost weight. I cried every day for weeks. But I still had Stacy, another dog I’d adopted, at home to help me through. I adopted other rescue dogs and lost them to kidney failure and cancer…and again, each was different. But losing my Shelby in August of this past year was the hardest ever.

    In past cases, I usually tried to find a nice dog shortly afterward, and always succeeded. Some dogs I was “in love” with immediately, and others I GREW to love, but I always loved each and every one. Shelby died after fighting cancer for a year and she had been doing so well. then everything started to fall apart and after two devastatingly difficult days in the hospital she just couldn’t hang on. I rushed there to be with her and she left this earth as I held her, on the table, while she was wearing an oxygen mask. I was so distressed I missed two days of work…I carried a stuffed blonde cocker toy around, laid down by her water bowl, stayed in my pjs, and wept steadily for 2 weeks. having been through the grieving process before I knew I would eventually feel better but this one was hitting me harder than most…the worst loss since Georgie died of AIHA.

    Although I had my two parti cocker whom I love with all my heart I knew at some point I would want another little buff girl. I knew that I would know when the time was right. ABout two months after she died I started just THINKING about it, and out of nowhere came a call from a friend saying there was a dog available I might like.

    I have had cockers for years. When I lost a parti, I got another parti. When I lost a buff, I got a buff. But I never felt like I was replacing a dog. You can’t. They are all as individual as people. But I learned that you CAN love again, and you can love just as much, and as deeply, and feel as much joy. Betsy is a heart healer. I adore her. And yet there are days I cry for Shelby. It’s like losing your mom whom I’ve also lost..you get past the worst of it but it never really goes away. You just compartmentalize it a bit. I like the saying that when you get another dog, you don’t replace the one that lost..it just opens your heart a bit more and if you have loved many dogs you have a very big heart.

    A friend recommended your book, but honestly I could not read it because I knew the dog died and I just go to pieces reading about people losing their pets, especially cockers as they are my heart dog. Kind of silly maybe, but that’s just me.
    To those who have lost pets, I would just say that even though the grief can seem insurmountable, you can and will feel better, and the next love can and will be wonderful, just different. And I would finally say that I apologize for any typos. it is late and my computer keyboard is terrible.
    To all the dog lovers out there, and to those who are grieving, I would say do what you need to do. Cry, grieve hard, let it out. Find a group if you need to…I volunteer at one at a shelter to help people who have lost pets. Honor the one you lost but know that when you have love in your heart, it has to go somewhere..and why not to another deserving soul that will pay you back in love ten times over?

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