Losing a dog is hard. Losing a dog to cancer or any other illness at a young age or earlier than expected is even harder. There are many people among our friends and family who do not understand why the loss of a dog would be so hard. However, there are also many people who understand the hole that is left in your heart. Part of loving a dog deeply is grieving their loss. However, no one teaches you what to do when your dog dies.
The National Canine Cancer Foundation (NCCF) is dedicated to researching curative and palliative cancer care for dogs. We are also dedicated to assisting fellow dog lovers as they journey through canine cancer from diagnosis to loss. Here are some practical tips on dealing with the loss of your dog.
Allow Yourself to Feel Your Feelings
What should you do when your dog dies? Allow yourself time to process the loss. You loved your dog so much, it is ok to feel sad and heartbroken. There will be an intense level of grief that you will need to sit with for a while. Walking around your house and seeing an empty spot where your pup used to be is hard. Being sad is okay, it is normal just make sure you recognize why you are grieving. It is because you love your dog and need to feel sad right now to help cope.
During this stage of mourning your dog, you can do things like watching touching movies or shows, listen to music that reminds you of some good times with your dog, also just sit and be sad in the moment. One of my coping mechanisms is to look at all the photos and then sit and journal as all the memories come flooding in. Everyone must spend the time grieving but each person will do it just a little bit differently.
Create A Fitting Memorial
There are many ways to memorialize your dog and each way is just as unique as the dog you love. Make sure to pick something that makes you feel and recognize the connection you had with your dog. Some of the more common memorial options are online memorials, a special urn with your dog’s ashes and mementos like their collar or favorite toy or you could frame a picture of you and your dog at a place you enjoyed playing or a picture of something you enjoyed doing together. Another option would be to have a Memorial service with close friends and share your memories and feelings.
Reach Out to Loved Ones
After sitting with grief for a while you need to start talking to people who can understand the loss. When we lost Bailey, it was a shock. For me, I normally would reach out to my Mom for comfort, however, as much as she enjoyed seeing our pretty pups, she was not a dog person, and she did not fully understand the loss. It was our friends who we showed dogs with and did agility with that truly understood the loss and offered the most comfort. They were happy to listen to the stories and sit with the tears that came when we talked about cancer and why did he have to be so young.
When you reach out to your friends who understand, talk about what you miss the most and what your dog taught you. Celebrate with them why your relationship with your pup was special and tell their stories. It is also a great time to talk about how you will memorialize your dog. This is just one of many ways to grieve after the loss of a dog.
Join a Grief Support Group
People are familiar with the availability of support groups for various human conditions including grief and loss. Mourning your dog seems to be a little less mainstream to many. There are now many group options available to people who have lost their pet. Reaching out to your loved ones for support is definitely a help as we talked about. Sometimes, you need the support of those who are going through exactly what you are right now. Sometimes you need the anonymity of the group to express some of your true feelings. Or sometimes you just need the extra support and ability to talk it out. Whatever the reason you find, spend some time searching for a group to attend.
If you are involved in a dog sport or community, ask around to see if there has been an in-person group started that you may attend. After the world had to deal with social distancing due to the recent pandemic, there are now many online options available for this type of support group as well. One such online group is the Paws4Potter group. Paws4Potter has supported the National Canine Cancer Foundation for many years now and you can feel Dr. Kyle’s passion for doing something about cancer in our pets.
Get It Out in A Grief Journal
Another way we can deal with our dog’s death and gain closure over a period of mourning is to write it all out in a grief journal. It is highly therapeutic when coping with loss to process your feelings in the form of writing. There are many books about grief and journals as well. The National Canine Cancer Foundation offers a free downloadable journal. However, a blank book is a fine thing to use as well. Here is a list of things you might want to journal about:
- Happy memories
- Things that remind you of your dog
- Sad feelings you’re having
- Reasons you loved your dog
Some people make the journal into more of a scrapbook with pictures and art collages included in it and keep it to reminisce every once in a while. Other people bury it or throw it away once they have finished the process. There is not a right way to grieve, just do what feels right to you.
Keep Yourself Busy
As you are mourning your dog you should also keep yourself busy. Let’s be clear about this, keeping busy should not be avoidance or refusal to deal with your dog’s death. However, you also cannot spend all your time down in sad feelings. Keeping active you will accomplish two different things, keeping your mind off your grief and starting to feel good when doing things for yourself.
Here are some ways to take your mind from your grief:
- Doing physical activities
- Doing chores around the house
- Working on hobbies
- Consuming your favorite media
All in all, to answer the question of what do you do when your dog dies? Process. Process with friends and family. Honor and memorialize your dog, feeling the feelings as you go through it. Keep busy when you start to feel the heaviness of the grief. Give yourself permission to do something that makes you feel good. Grieving is not a one-size-fits-all process. It takes the time it takes. But don’t be afraid to reach out for support, good friends are happy to help when they know you need it.
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