Mourning a Dog

20150429_144955_resizedGrief is a funny thing. Everyone handles it differently. But when someone suffers the loss of a cherished dog and shares that news on social media, something magical happens. Caring dog lovers come out of everywhere to offer their condolences. A bond of love is shared. Everyone who loves a dog fiercely understands this intense loss. They cannot help but comment on it. People from all walks of life and in every part of the globe come together in emotional support. Friends near and far offer assistance, even if all that they can actually offer is emotional support. The importance of emotional support cannot be overstated. I have always been moved to comment on someone’s status when the subject was such a loss.

Recently, it was my turn. I had the misfortune and the pleasure to be the recipient of such beautiful gestures of support when I lost my beloved 13+ year old Rottie/Shepherd mix, Siri in early April. It happened suddenly late one night but not unexpectedly as her health had been failing. She wasn’t in pain so I did not choose euthanasia. It turned out that I didn’t need to. I was a mess though when it happened and badly needed a connection. The internet did not let me down. The outpouring of support was tremendous.

It takes another dog lover to truly understand the enormity of this kind of loss. I lost my mother in December and that was huge, but that loss still pales to this loss. I didn’t spend every moment of my home life with my mother. I spend so much of my daily life with my beloved dogs. I love my mother. I will only ever have one mother and the truth that is often stated that regardless of the relationship that you have with your mother, that loss is always shocking is an understatement.

This loss, even as expected as it was, is so much more flooring. Everything about your daily life as you know it changes when you lose a beloved dog. I recently read a lovely article about this subject that put so much into perspective. The interactions that you share with your dogs on a daily basis are prolific. Your dogs never turn their back on you. They love and welcome your presence no matter what has happened in your day apart from them. You are the world to your dogs. They are just a part of your world. This is a relationship like no others. It cannot be replicated.

I have often thought that so much about losing a dog is that the communication on their part is wordless. We can say that we understand their thoughts and gestures but we never really have confirmation with language that WE consider solidly clear. So we hope that we are doing our best to do the right things by what we think they want. But so much of that is subjective on our parts. That creates some uncertainty and a feeling of incompleteness that is left hanging when they leave us. There is not enough closure for our own human needs. I think that we need to try and get past that. It causes so much more emotional trauma in the loving owners left behind.

Of course, it goes without saying that much of mourning is the loss of the daily interactions that are so much a part of who we are. That is the part that slowly gets better with time, though it never truly goes away. The perceived incompleteness of the communication stays with us much longer; always that little voice in our heads saying “what if”. I wish that I could say that I know better than to allow that voice to survive. After all, shouldn’t someone with solid dog behavior knowledge know what kind of communication existed between me and my dogs? Yes, in the rational part of my brain. But we all have that little voice and that little voice can be loud when we allow it.

In closing, all I can offer is what I am telling myself. As loving dog parents, we do what we feel is right for our dogs and we do the best that we can with the knowledge that we have. We love fiercely and completely and we need to view that as enough and not feel regrets for what we might have done differently to have our dogs in our lives longer. Dog’s lives are precious but they are far too brief and grief is the price that we pay to have so much happiness in our lives.


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Positively Expert: Debby McMullen

Debby is a certified behavior consultant and the author of the How Many Dogs? Using Positive Reinforcement Training to Manage a Multiple Dog Household. She also owns Pawsitive Reactions, LLC in Pittsburgh, PA.


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