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.


17 thoughts on “Mourning a Dog

  1. Caitlin Cahill

    Thank you so much for sharing. I lost my first dog in March (also 13 and the kindest German Shepherd), and have been struggling with how overwhelming the loss has been; I've felt guilty at times for how much I've mourned. Thank you for reminding me that my grief is warranted. So sorry for your loss.

  2. gre7g

    Oh wow, what an excellent article. I know exactly what you mean and I had never really put words to it before. If Loki could come back for only a few seconds to say "You did good." (and I *know* he would have said it if he could have said it) it would lift such a burden of self-doubt off of my consciousness. My brain knows that I provided a great and happy life for him, but that nagging corner of my mind will always question it and wonder if I could have done more.

    Thank you for writing this and I'm sorry for your loss.

  3. pridecat

    I just lost my beautiful sweet baby yesterday on the 4th of July. I came home from having lunch and found her dead in the backyard. It was so unexpected. I still don't understand. I lift and she was perfectly fine. Happy, playing. I came home two hours later and she's gone. She was only 3. The vet said it was some kind of trauma. I am having a hard time. I can't sleep because she's not there. I can't stop crying. I didn't feel this bad at my grandparents funerals. Is that sad? I just love her so much. I'm trying to understand. But I just don't. I just feel so angry and upset all the time. I keep running in my head the what ifs. What if I had taken her with me? What if I didn't go? I just can't stop my mind from going there. I came to read this article to see if it would help. It helps me understand why I'm feeling this way. But it doesn't help the sadness or anger. Her name was Charlotte. We called her Charlie for short. I just don't know how to do this. I was supposed to have 15 years. Not 3.

  4. Debby

    I am so very terribly sorry for your loss. Just know that you are not alone in your feelings. She would not want you to beat yourself up. Please take care.

  5. Myla Ofima Sumabat

    I lost my little Twinkie 6 years ago. Up to this day it feels like yesterday. I missed her like crazy and even though I have new pets at home and saved so many, she can never be replaced <3

  6. Myla Ofima Sumabat

    I lost my little Twinkie 6 years ago. Up to this day it feels like yesterday. I missed her so crazy and even though I have another pets at home and saved so many, she can never be replaced 🙁

  7. joanneeck

    About two weeks ago, I sent my two Goldens to the Bridge together. Both were up there in years and ill. The overwhelming sense of loss I felt was tempered by the outpouring of support and emotion from my Facebook friends, most of whom share my passion for the animals and are involved in rescue. That experience was cathartic, and the sense of love that I felt from those wonderful friends will stay with me forever.

  8. Kristal

    I completely understand the what ifs and whys replaying in your head. The uncontrollable crying and likely horrifying part when you found her. My husband and I just lost our dog child last week, Blondee the sharpei. She was fine the day before and after a day at the vet with heavy breathing, she passes last Thursday night. We're thankful she joined the rainbow bridge while at home on her bed. Completely unexpected and we've never been this heartbroken, absolutely devestated. We're trying to keep busy and get out of the house because it only reminds us of her, which is completely fine but then the whys and what ifs come up again. We loved her with everything we had and we know we gave her a good life and she gave us 9 amazing years of happiness and memories. Recusing a puppy (or 2) is in the near future to fill the hole of heartbreak but Miss B will NEVER be forgotten. Good luck in your healing and our condolences again. **Hugs**

  9. Charli Vince

    Beautifully put, I couldn't agree with any of it any more, especially about the uncertainty of whether you've done right by the dog or not. It's something I thought about a lot recently, I unfortunately lost my 10 year old best buddy, Feurgie, to lymphoma cancer, just over two weeks ago. It's been unbelievably hard, as I know you fully understand, and reading posts like yours is really helping me ground my feelings by knowing others go through this too. x

  10. Pam Baren Kaplan

    Pet loss is devastating, this is the living soul that greeted you with a wiggle butt when you came home. This is the best secret keeper ever! You gave and received unlimited and unconditional love. Hard to fathom why you wouldn't be broken hearted. Losing a pet can be and is more difficult than losing our significant family. Pet loss is isolating, people are afraid to share their emotions in fear of judgement or even ridicule, you know those well meaning people who say,"Hey it was just a dog, you can get another." I don't get people sometimes, would you ever consider saying that to a parent who's lost a child? Heck no! Inconsiderate, rude and more. So why say this to a bereaved pet parent? There is a group that I facilitate called Paws to Celebrate. We are kindred souls, love minded pet people who have come together after the loss of a beloved pet. We are there to listen, love and support. Find us at I hope to see you there. Everyone is welcome.

  11. Debby

    I am so sorry for your loss. I am so glad that you experienced the same comfort that I did.

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