If you think you can’t live without your dog, you’re not alone. These tips for surviving your dog’s death are inspired by a question from a reader…
Goodbye, Friend: Healing Wisdom for Anyone Who Has Ever Lost a Pet by Gary Kowalski is an excellent resource for coping with the death of a dog.
Here the comment that inspired this article on living without your dog: “I have no family, I’m divorced, no friends, am very depressed, and my dog is the only friend I know,” says Jeff on my article about putting your dog to sleep? “She needs to go to heaven but what about me after this is over? Who can be with me to do this, are there any organizations to help? I don’t think have the courage to do this alone and I fear for myself when it’s over.”
And here are a few practical tips for surviving your pet’s death…
Living Without Your Dog
“Time always brings eventual relief from the pain and your life will return to normal,” writes Gary Kurz in Cold Noses At The Pearly Gates (a book that offers many spiritual ways to survive pet loss). “There will be a time when you feel guilty for feeling better, but event hat will pass. Nothing will ever take away the sense of absence, but the disabling and relentless grief will subside and eventually disappear. I know it may not seem that way now, but…it has proven true every time.” Time helps. It may not be the best consolation, but it’s true.
For the first few weeks, avoid visible reminders of your pet. Though it helps some people to keep their dog’s collar and tags, it may be too sad for you. People mourn, recover, and remember in different ways. Here’s what pet bereavement counselor Wallace Sife writes in The Loss of a Pet: “Get rid of your pet’s toys and other things…they are mostly painful, and not good for you at this time. If you can’t throw them out yet, put them out of sight in a drawer or a box in a closet or basement. The real memory is in your heart.”
Seeing your pet’s collars, leashes, dishes, and beds in their usual places may make it harder to heal. Maybe one day you’ll donate them to friends or an animal shelter, or use them for a new pet. But for now, it may be best to put them out of sight.
If you feel bitter or angry at the vet, read How to Deal With Anger at the Veterinarian.
Find other creatures to care for. Do you live alone and feel like you have no friends, family, or neighbors to lean on? Think about getting another pet.
“My responses to each of my pet’s deaths differed in duration and intensity, depending on how quickly the end came, how much we suffered during their decline, and how many other pets I had,” says Sid Korpi, author of Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss. “The silence of the house when our dog Ludwig died was deafening because we had no other dogs at the time. It was tougher than when Mortimer left us, because we had our two Westie girls, Blanche and Keely. I didn’t love or miss Mortimer less intensely, but I was forced to pull myself out of my pain when the girls needed me. They reminded me life has to go on whether we’d like to wallow in the past or not. I’d feed them with tears rolling down my cheeks.”
If you get another dog, remember that they’ll never be the same as the one you lost. You’ll need to balance mourning the death of your dog with embracing a new, different dog.
Give yourself a sense of purpose – a reason to live. Maybe you don’t have other animals to take care of, and maybe you don’t want to take care of anyone else. That’s fine, but remember that being needed is something all humans need. “One of the basic human satisfactions is the feeling of being needed, and attending to an animal gives many people a daily sense of being useful,” writes Gary Kowalski in Goodbye, Friend: Healing Wisdom for Anyone Who Has Ever Lost a Pet. “It is important to know you make a difference, at least to one appreciative creature. For some people, losing a pet can mean losing a sense of purpose.”
Have you lost your sense of purpose? Find ways to make your life meaningful. Ask your friends and family what makes their lives worthwhile and interesting, and try something new every week.
Strive for a healthy, balanced life. Do you think your life is meaningless without your dog? If you have absolutely nothing else to live for except for your dog, then you may need to seek help. It’s not healthy to get all your life, love, and meaning from a your pet. I love my dog with all my heart, but I also love my work, my husband, and my writing.
To be truly healthy and happy, you need to be balanced. And that means finding happiness in several different parts of your life, not just from your dog.
If you feel like you can’t live without your dog, you’re not alone. One of my most popular articles is about surviving the pet death – it was so popular, I interviewed veterinarians, grief experts, counselors, and pet owners and wrote Letting Go of an Animal You Love: 75 Ways to Survive Pet Loss.