When your dog dies, you feel a sense of loss that seems impossible to heal. My husband and I experienced this unfortunate circumstance in May when our puppy, Hopper, unexpectedly passed away. As this was my first time experiencing such a deep, personal loss, I desperately needed some help to get through the next few weeks and months as the loss of Hopper seemed to consume me. With the love and support of my husband and family, I discovered that what would help me heal would be to acknowledge my feelings about the loss of my dog, to surround myself with support as much as possible, and, when I was ready, to give a new dog a forever home. Hopefully, what helped me during this difficult time can help you as you work through your healing process after the death of your dog.
Whether you parented your dog for 15 months or 15 years, you treated your canine like he was your child. Feel comfortable to grieve for him as such. My husband advised me to cry whenever I needed to, and I did, often at random times during the day. Expressing your sadness is a way to release the pain little by little. If you fear embarrassment from crying in front of your co-workers, take some time off of work, if at all possible.
Do not downplay your feelings, thinking that "he was just a dog". Your four-legged friend spent his life giving you unconditional love. Grieving over him is your way of honoring his life and all that he gave to you and your family.
For a couple of weeks after Hopper passed away, I visited my parents and siblings almost every evening because my husband worked nights and it was really tough to spend my evenings in an empty apartment. My family loved Hopper as much as I did, and they gave me the freedom to talk about and cry over his passing as much as I needed to. At the same time, spending positive, quality time with my family gave me the opportunity to slowly take the baby steps that were necessary to move forward with my life.
Surround yourself with support as much as you can. Temporarily avoid spending time with people in your life who are not dog lovers as they probably do not understand the bond between a dog and his owner. If you feel that more support is needed beyond what's available at home, consider joining an animal loss support group. For many individuals this has proven to be a very helpful outlet because every person in the group knows exactly what you are going through. Also, to receive help while at the same time knowing you are helping others is a good feeling, and good feelings are definitely hard to come by during the grieving process. While grieving for Hopper, I discovered that my local Humane Society offers grief counseling at no charge. A description of their counseling services can be found on their website. Contact your local Humane Society to see if a similiar support group is offered in your area.
Just a few days after Hopper passed away, my husband was eager to adopt again. I, however, was not in a rush to parent another dog. At the time, I equated adopting another dog with replacing Hopper. I felt that Hopper deserved some time to be grieved over before I welcomed a new dog into the family. The fact is that neither my husband nor I had the right answer to the question When should we adopt again? Each individual who experiences the loss of a dog answers this question in a way that is best for him, whether it's owning a new dog three days later or waiting three years before giving another dog a forever home.
My husband was fully supportive of my feelings, and we waited a month before we adopted the newest addition to our family, Taylor. Our new puppy played a huge role in our healing process. Before adopting Taylor, my husband and I could not help but focus our thoughts on the days when Hopper was sick. Having Taylor in our lives gave us the opportunity to remember the happier moments we had with our first child. Taylor loves to play ball, just like Hopper. She loves to visit my mom and dad, just like Hopper. Taylor even sits like Hopper. If you do decide to own another dog, your new furry friend will likely show behaviors that will remind you of your friend that passed on, but in a positive way. All individuals, both human and canine, would like to be remembered for all the happiness that we gave to others, not for experiences that created sadness for the people we love. Taylor helped my husband and me bring back the wonderful, happy memories that Hopper gave us and made the sad memories take a backseat in our minds. A new dog can do the same for you.
My advice on how to work through the grieving process after the death of your dog is not based on scientific study, but on personal experience. The loss of a dog is something that all dog owners will unfortunately experience, but with the acknowledgement of your feelings about your dog's passing as well as the support from others, you can take the first steps towards healing. When you are ready, welcoming a new dog into your life will not only benefit him by giving him a forever home, but will help you as you continue to grieve over your dog while at the same time honor his memory.