On Grieving a Dog You Rescued


Tuck enjoying his last day before crossing the Rainbow Bridge.

There are few things that compare to the heartbreak of losing a dog. But what happens when it's not "your" dog, but rather a dog you saved from death days, months, or years ago and then found a forever home for? It seems that I'm not the only one going through this struggle, so I've decided to share my story in the hopes that it may help others through their grief.

I've been rescuing and fostering homeless dogs since I was a child. I always felt that if I could do something for a dog in need, it was my responsibility to do it. So I guess it was only a matter of time before I had to say goodbye to one of the dogs that started his journey with me.

Tuck was a purebred Golden Retriever that ended up at a local animal control facility, where he was picked up as a stray in horrendous condition. He was a senior, and was weak, emaciated, and almost completely hairless. He had a host of medical issues, and no one was sure if he could even be saved.

Thanks to the help of Golden Retriever Rescue in Atlanta, I was able to pick up Tuck from the shelter, and we started him on the road to recovery. He was in the worst condition I've ever seen a dog, and I covered him in a blanket in my car as we headed to his first vet appointment. Despite the pain he was in, I could hear his tail happily thumping in the backseat. That was a good cry! He stayed with me briefly while the rescue found a long-term foster home, and he was eventually adopted by a wonderful family. Click here to read more about Tuck's story.

I found out recently that Tuck's health was rapidly declining. Although he had completely recovered from the neglect of his past, he was still a senior dog and only had limited time to begin with. I never expected him to live as long as he did, but when the time came, it still didn't seem fair.

Tuck had a wonderful last day with his amazing adoptive family, and peacefully passed away. It was the first time I've had to deal with the death of a dog I rescued, and I was surprised by how hard it was to deal with the loss, even though I hadn't seen him since he was adopted.

I've come up with a few thoughts that I hope will help others in the same position.

1) You did your job. As a rescuer or a foster, your job in each dog's life comes to an end. Whether you're still their primary caregiver in the end or you've passed that torch on to an adopter, cherish the role you played in that dog's life.

2) You changed lives. Of course, you changed the dog's life. But you would be amazed by how many people can be affected by an animal throughout the course of that animal's journey with us. It might be something subtle, like teaching someone about the plight of shelter dogs. For others, that dog may have actually saved someone's life. Be proud that you were even a small part of that journey.

3) You made a happy ending possible. A dog's life may be spinning on a terrible trajectory, but your intervention changes everything. Overnight, a dog can go from shaking in a shelter to being loved and cherished in a caring home. You made that possible.

Dogs handle death better than we do. They live so gratefully in the present that even a few days knowing love and safety outshines the years of abuse or neglect that they may have experienced before you. They live and die with peace in their hearts, and we can't ask for anything more than that.

If they could, I bet they'd pat us on the back and say, "job well done." I sure hope my Tuck thinks so.

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Positively Expert: Alex Andes

Alex Andes is the owner and head trainer of Peach on a Leash Dog Training & Behavior Services in Atlanta, GA.


One thought on “On Grieving a Dog You Rescued

  1. Shiela Lund

    Thank you Victoria.....although it has been over a year since I had to say goodbye to Annabella, I still tear up when I think of

    her.....your article has helped.....here is Annabella's story:

    The Joy of Annabella

    As I sat next to Annabella and her foster mom on the patio and looked at the face of this beautiful dog, I thought back to the first time I saw her. The call had come from a neighbor who had found the little black and white border collie in a ditch on a country road. They had had to carry her to the car because she wouldn’t or couldn’t get up. She was wet from the rain that had come over night, her coat matted and dirty with sores and hair missing down her back from the fleas she had had. When the dog did begin to walk, she limped and we wondered if she had been thrown from a vehicle. Her ears and one eye had a greenish discharge from infection and there was blood in her urine. One lower canine had been broken and her teeth showed years of neglect. Clearly, she had had multiple litters of puppies. Despite her condition, she was happy to see us and delighted in the kind attention that came her way.

    We’ll call her Annabella, decided foster mom, Shiela. She’ll fit in perfectly with our border collies. Anna will look just like one of the family! And Annabella has blended in very well with her foster family. She has learned routines quickly and loves the ability to go out into the large, fenced yard through the doggie door. Anna looks back for her foster sisters to come out and loves to run and play even trying to herd the other dogs.

    Her infections have healed, her teeth have been cleaned and her coat is beginning to fill in. With great care, lots of love and quality food, Annabella’s personality has begun to emerge. She has been given back the ability to enjoy being a dog! Anna is a very curious girl, says her foster mom. She has to check out every open cupboard and drawer. The discovery of the dog toy box was a big thrill for her. She always has her nose in the box, pulling out one toy after another and building a pile in the middle of the living room. It’s so funny to see her stand proudly next to her loot. Quiet snuggling time in the evening has also become a favorite. Anna gets just as close to you as she possibly can.

    It’s sad to think that someone discarded this beautiful dog because she had apparently outlived her usefulness. She is a senior dog and has some arthritis in her hips and back, but with swim therapy and chiropractic care, Anna is feeling like a new dog. This little girl’s name means ‘joy’ and Annabella has brought immeasurable joy to those of us whose lives she has touched. And I am confident we have brought joy to her life as well.

    *************Annabella's passing:


    It is with a sad heart that we had to say good-bye to one of our beloved foster dogs, Annabella, who crossed over the Rainbow Bridge on March 20, 2014.

    We knew that this would happen way too soon; but one is never prepared for the reality. A FON volunteer originally found Annabella dumped in a rural road ditch last July. She was abandoned, afraid and in terrible medical and psychological shape. We got her all fixed up and into a terrific foster home. Shiela was Annabella’s loving Friends of Noah foster mom. Over the months, Annabella blossomed in happiness and contentment. She was living the life she always deserved. Unfortunately, she was diagnosed with cancer with a 1-3 month prognosis. True to her strong spirit, she continued to run, play and love as long as she could…enjoying life to it’s fullest for an additional 6 months, and Shiela was with her every step of the way. Annabella decided that she wanted to die at home, with Shiela’s loving arms around her. In her last breath, Annabella was comforted and loved. God Speed, Annabella. You taught us about perseverance, love, happiness and fighting the good fight. We were so blessed to have you in our lives.

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