Grieving the loss of your beloved hound brings enormous sadness, stress, and anguish. Feelings of loneliness are overwhelming, and all-consuming. The devastation can be compounded by the fact that many people just don’t understand why you feel such despair.
Unfortunately, many people don’t really know how to deal with grief and loss. Try to avoid these people during the initial stages of your grief. It doesn’t mean they’re unlovable, but they’re simply not up to the job of taking care of you right now.
How Do I Get Over the Grief of Losing My Dog?
You will feel vulnerable and raw. The last thing you want, when you reach out for support, is to be met with apathy. Who is it safe to talk to? Is there a trusted friend or family member you can speak to about your heartbreak and sorrow, who will ‘get it’?
I liken grief to the sea tides. At first, the waves threaten to engulf and even drown you. Having someone you can share the initial stages of shock and grief with, will keep your head above water. The tide will soon subside, but it will be back, just as big, and you’ll need that person again. This will repeat over and over in the first days after you lose your dog. You won’t be able to breathe properly.
You need to be able to cry, say your dog’s name, cry, talk about them, cry, say over and over how much you love and miss your dog. Cry, and cry some more.
Eventually, you will notice that the waves are not so high, and they come in a little less frequently. Your breathing will be a little deeper, and you will start moving ‘through’ the process.
Some other strategies you might explore when you feel ready:
- Make a scrap-book or photograph album of your dog
- Write poetry or a story based on your dog’s life and personality, it could be a story for children!
- Volunteer at a rescue organization as a way of honoring your dog, and giving back
- Do something for yourself, a positive change such as learn something new, or get fit
- Think about your dog, and talk to your trusted humans about them
Why Does Losing a Dog Hurt So Much?
Your dog is always ‘in the moment’. Your bond with your dog is a loving and effortless connection. It doesn’t have the many complexities and complications of our human relationships, which can often use up our energy, and become a roller-coaster of emotions. We have to ‘work’ on our human relationships, which can be wonderful, but sometimes problematic.
Dogs, on the other hand, are constant and unwavering in their devotion, companionship and love. And this is no matter how you feel, look or act towards them. Dogs are just happy to be with you. If we could speak their language, they would be saying, “I’m here, I love you, shall we go?, this is fun!”
They teach us to be better people. To love, and be loved back. That, after all, is the true essence of happiness and joy.
Is It Wrong to Love My Dog More Than I Love Other Humans?
Studies have shown that humans have more empathy for dogs than they do other humans. This is because for many humans, dogs are part of the family and occupy the same emotional space as children. We are very protective of the vulnerable, who often can’t take care of themselves. This makes us think we love them more. It’s normal to feel this way.
Some people do love their dogs more than other humans. That’s normal, as well. Love is love. Whoever said that humans deserve it more than dogs or other animals.
How Do Dogs Make Our Lives Better?
Having a dog gives you a sense of purpose. You have lots of things to do together. Walking, playing, sharing. The companionship of a dog is known to benefit children as well as adults. Stroking and touching a dog fulfills our need to have contact with another warm, living being. They help you to keep fit and active. They are a universal talking point, with many social interactions taking place when you’re out on walks.
Being with your best mate lowers cortisol levels. This results in less stress, as your body is not placed in a state of high alert and alarm. Also, the oxytocin system is activated, which is thought to be largely responsible for many biological and emotional advantages.
Oxytocin is known as the ‘love hormone’, and it plays a role in human behaviors such as recognition, trust, love and bonding.
There is a known reduction in epinephrine and norepinephrine. This means that people with dogs have an improved cardiovascular response to stress, meaning less chance of adverse outcomes. Our heart rate and blood pressure are slow to rise, reducing the effects of stress on the body.
Is It Normal to Feel Guilty After a Dog Dies?
It’s absolutely normal to feel guilt when your dog dies. It’s just our way of trying to make sense of things, to put everything in order. Our mind wants to calculate, ‘something bad has happened, and this is why’. It wants to tell the whole story, and resolve the ‘problem’.
If your dog was euthanized, you may torture yourself that you should have waited longer, or that you left it too long before alleviating their suffering. Perhaps your dog died naturally, or in an accident. You may feel there was something you could have done to prevent their death.
This guilt is felt by everyone who loses a dog. It will lessen as you work through your grieving. Try not to dwell on the hurtful aspects of your dog’s death. If it was traumatic, you will naturally go through a process of revisiting the event. It’s your mind’s way of coping and moving through it. Be kind to yourself. Find something to be grateful for.
- The years you had with your dog
- The great age they reached
- The wonderful life you had together
- They didn’t suffer at the end
- You were holding them when they died
- They had a happy life with you
- The love you shared
- You did the absolute best you could for them, even at the end
You’ll also feel guilty when you start to emerge from the darkness and loss. You feel disloyal because you feel a bit better. This is also completely normal. You will move through it.
Rest assured, you are not leaving your dog behind. You are only adjusting to life without them being physically there.
5 Tips For Coping When Your Dog Dies
- Find a Safe Place or Person
Cry, rage, talk, despair. Without any reserve. Let it out. Talk about your dog. Say their name. Reach into your memory banks to bring them closer to you. Smell their blankets, toys and bed if you need to. It will be excruciating, but it will help you start to move through the despair. It’s all valid and normal. Repeat, repeat, repeat, as necessary.
- Be Kind To Yourself
Accept every emotion you experience for what it is. Normal and natural! The tides of grief will come and go. Humans have coped with this process for as long as we’ve inhabited the earth, and made dogs our beloved companions. You will feel as though you’re trying to swim through molasses. Do only what you can manage. Do nice things for yourself. Be the person you need someone else to be for you, right now.
- Collect Your Dog Up Into A Memorial
Making a scrapbook or photo album really helps to sort your mind out. I like to get as many photographs as possible and put them in one folder or slide-show, or even a printed album. I put all my dog’s stuff, bed, coats, toys, etc in one place. It helps to have a special area to go where they are right there, waiting for you. Anything you can do to draw them in and keep them closer is very comforting.
- Help Someone Else
Being of service to others who need help and support is a great way to feel your life has meaning. You may have a shelter or rescue organization close by where you can do a few hours volunteering. If you’re not ready for other dogs, help a friend, neighbor or local care-home out. Older people are lonely, and a walk round or friendly chat means the world to them.
- Know You Have Not Lost Your Dog Forever
If you’re a dog person, there’s a chance you will say goodbye to many dogs in your life-time. Your heart will break apart, and that is the gap you will place your beloved dog into. As my pain subsides, and my heart stops hurting so much, I imagine my dog snuggled up in the wound.
As my heart slowly heals, it envelops my dog and keeps them safe in my heart, forever with me. I do this, and I touch my chest when I want to cuddle them. Our hearts know no bounds when it comes to love. You can fit a billion dogs in there. They are never lost to us.
“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose, under heaven” (The Byrds)
Coping with the loss of your dog is a process, sometimes taking weeks, months or years. Remember, you are not alone. Having someone to be next to you as you start the process of grieving is invaluable. There are online support groups if you can’t find someone you trust.
Try the strategies I have mentioned. It won’t happen quickly, but eventually something will start to shift for you. You will feel joy again. You will be happy, and when you think of your dog it will only be with love and happy memories. Know that you did your best for them. You love each other. They are still there.
Don’t run out and get another dog to fill the gap. You will compare the new dog to the lost dog, and they will never measure up. Give yourself space to grieve. You’ll know when it’s time to love another hound. When it is that time, consider saving a life by adopting a shelter dog. You will never be sorry. Above all, take care of yourself. You are not alone.