The loss of a dog is a traumatic event, and it is perfectly okay to respond to the event as such. While we expect children to go through a grieving process when a dog dies, we seldom give ourselves permission, as adults, to grieve the terrible loss we have suffered. Somewhere along the way we were taught to accept these things as part of life, which somehow translated into not expressing true and unfettered grief when a dog passes away.
Dogs represent so much in our world. They are truly the only creature in our life that are happy to see and love us no matter how un-virtuous we may have acted that day or how bad our hair day mat have been. The simple fact that we show up is truly enough for our dogs, and we love them eternally for it. When we experience a loss of that bond, that friendship, and that finely tuned loyalty, we experience a grief that is deeper than we like to concede. In most cases, adults will simply bury their feelings after a few tears.
Truthfully, it doesn’t matter how the loss was absorbed. Whether your best friend endured a long illness, was struck by a car, or succumbed to a terrible moment of behavioral disassociation and bit someone, the loss is incredibly painful. How you lost him might invoke other feelings as well, but the overall pain of the loss should not be denied.
Often adults feel as though they have to put their feelings away for the sake of the kids. While it is not healthy for children to watch their parent fall to pieces and lose themselves in utter grief, it has been proven time and again that when a parent cries in front of the child, the child learns that not only are their feelings justified, but that Mom and Dad are experiencing that loss as well.
When dealing with the loss of a dog give yourself permission to grieve. Let your heart know that it is okay to be sad, and that it is normal to be sad. Don’t let the misgivings of “adult behavior” rob you of your chance to honor your pet. We often consider our dogs to be part of our family. If a family member died, we would be sad and grieve.
Whether you have kids or not, it is still a good idea to hold a service or funeral for the dog. Just as you would honor any other family member, a funeral or service, even if it an intimate gathering of one, can help form that closure that everyone talks about. Closure doesn’t mean the end of grieving, but the acceptance of the finality of death. It means the moment that you can start the rest of the grieving process, which in some cases might be fairly long.
There is no time table for grief. While some people might tell you that it’s time to get over it, he was just a dog, you are not obligated to listen to such nonsense. Your pain and grief is yours, and he was your dog. You are permitted to grieve the way that is natural for you. Some people feel as though they have moved into a stage of healing only to find a batch of random tears a year later that are provoked by nothing more than a mere thought or memory. It happens. Sometimes, it happens several times at the oddest moments. For others, bringing home another puppy spawns a whole new wave of grief, and the only thing that can really be done about it is to hold on and ride it out.
Just like in every other facet of life, people are going to have opinions. They will tell you the best thing to do is to run out and get another puppy to help you get over it. They will tell you stories about the dog they lost, and how they managed to get over it completely within a month. It is important to keep in mind that what people are telling you is what worked (or what they like to think worked) for them. That doesn’t mean it’s right for you. If you can glean one or two snippets of dog grieving advice that works in your world, then great. Otherwise, try to remind yourself that it doesn’t matter how other people responded, because they are quite frankly, not you.
It is okay to remember a dog. Honoring their memory by planting a tree in the backyard or by keeping their photographs in full view is fine. What isn’t going to work is trying to replace the dog. You can’t. Dogs are as unique and individual as children, and we simply can’t replace whatever we have lost no matter how much we want to. Bringing home a new guy, that looks almost identical to the one you just lost, giving him the same name, and trying to pretend that a dog is just a dog and you can make do with a second rate replacement isn’t fair to the dog you brought home, the dog you lost, or yourself. The loss of a dog is something that you’re just going to have to feel. There are no shortcuts to the grieving process.