These 10 steps will help you learn how to forgive yourself when you didn’t protect your dog from an accident or death. These tips are inspired by dozens of readers who commented on my article about coping with guilt after causing a dog to suffer…or die.
I Will See You in Heaven by Jack Wintz shows us that the dogs we love so much will stay with us throughout eternity. Our dogs are resting in peace, joy, and love – they aren’t slogging through pits of guilt, pain, and self-hatred. No matter how your dog died, he is safe, happy, and well-taken care of.
The most important thing to remember is that forgiving yourself for not protecting your dog is a process, not a one-time event. You have to first learn how to forgive yourself, then work through self-forgiveness every day. I encourage you to get help as you work through the process of forgiving yourself for not protecting your dog. Don’t try to deal with this alone.
On Dealing With Guilt When You Caused Your Pet’s Death, one reader said, “I feel so guilty and can’t forgive myself for not protecting my dog. She was in her carrier going for shots. As I was putting her in car somehow she burst out and ran off. I blame myself for the door opening on carrier. We have looked for her for three days now. It’s freezing and snowing. I know she was scared. We started to call her right away. I don’t understand why she wouldn’t come to us. It’s like she just vanished. My guilt is so bad. I felt like dying rather than feel this pain and worry over her. Is she freezing to death somewhere, terrified and hungry? I’m ill over this. How do I forgive myself for not protecting my dog better?”
There are no simple tips for forgiving yourself for not protecting your dog because your personality, past experiences, feelings about your dog, and genes are unique. You may struggle to forgive yourself because of the way you’re wired or were brought up. If you were raised on a steady diet of guilt and shame, then you might not be able to forgive yourself as easily as if you were raised in an environment of forgiveness, acceptance, and freedom to make mistakes and move on. That’s why I can’t offer simple tips on how to forgive yourself for not protecting your dog…but I can share what helped me forgive myself for not protecting my cat.
Ask your dog for forgiveness
How long do you think it’ll take your dog to forgive you for not protecting him properly? About half a second. Your dog loves you so much, and never entertains a bittern, judgmental, or critical spirit. Sit down with your dog’s picture, and ask him to forgive you. Grieve, cry, weep, wail, let yourself fall to the floor in anguish. Process your pain until you feel your dog’s forgiveness start to creep into your heart and soul. Read my article about pet memorials and gifts, and think about holding an informal “service” to commemorate your dog’s life. Say good-bye, and start moving forward slowly.
Spend 10 minutes every morning in forgiveness
Daily Affirmations for Forgiving and Moving On by Tian Dayton is one of the best ways to forgive yourself after your dog dies. I believe that daily prayers, affirmations, and mediations will help you let go of the pain and self-hatred you feel.
Learn how others failed to protect their pets – see that you’re not alone
My small beautiful white fluffy cat (called Fluffy)was a rescue cat, and she hid in the heating vents for the first three days after I brought her home. It was summer, and she was terrified. Eventually I cajoled her out with tuna and water, and we fell in love. I had another cat, Zoey, and they both would romp around in the grassy area of my apartment complex. One day, I called and called Fluffy, and she eventually staggered out of the bushes across the yard. She could barely walk – she was dragging her shattered left hind leg behind her. Blood, bones, it was awful. I took her to the veterinarian, who gave me the choice between $1,300 surgery or putting her to sleep. I said good-bye.
Learn how other dog owners forgave themselves
I lost that cat 15 years ago, and I still feel guilty and sad about the whole thing. I (mostly) forgave myself by reminding myself that she loved being outside, and if I had known she was going to get hurt I never would’ve let her go. My other cat Zoey went outside all the time, and never got hurt. Our current cat Nunki has been going outside every day and sometimes all night for 10 years, and nary a scratch. I didn’t do anything wrong, nor did I deliberately cause her death (though some might argue that putting her down was wrong).
Ask if your failure to protect your dog was something you did on purpose
I think that’s the bottom line and best tip on how to forgive yourself after your dog died, regardless of our personalities, genes, and past experiences. You can’t hold yourself responsible for an accident – whether it was not latching a gate properly, not taking your dog to the veterinarian soon enough, or trusting others to look after your dog when you went away.
Look at your dog’s life in its entirety
Going Home: Finding Peace When Pets Die by Jon Katz might help you forgive yourself because it will ask you to consider if you gave your dog a good life, if you were his advocate in times of need, and if you used your best judgment in the end. If you deal with these issues, you can alleviate guilt, let go, and forgive yourself for not protecting your dog “better.”
Learn why it’s so hard to forgive yourself
On my honeymoon, my husband and I were flying to St Maarten. We were wrestling in our seats, and somehow he caused the armrest to smash down on my nose. It was extremely painful – tears came quickly even though I’m not a crier – and thankfully my nose wasn’t broken! I forgave him immediately and forgot all about it. About a year later, he brought it up and said how guilty and bad he felt – and I hadn’t thought about it again. To this day – nine years later – he still brings it up. It’s like he can’t forgive himself for making that mistake…and I forgave him long ago.
Know that self-forgiveness is difficult because of shame
Our actions are tied to how we feel about ourselves. If I do something I think is bad or wrong – such as not protecting my dog – I no longer see myself as a good person. I feel ashamed of myself, and I think I’m bad. Who can forgive a bad person? That’s why I can’t forgive myself, and why forgiving yourself for not protecting your dog may be so difficult. You see yourself as a bad person.
Accept your dog’s forgiveness
Remember how I totally forgot my husband’s action? That’s how your dog feels right now. Dogs live in the moment, and do not dwell in the past! Your dog forgives you, loves you, and wants you to be free from self-hatred, guilt, and pain. Your dog wants you to be happy – he lived to make you happy! Don’t rob your dog. Forgive yourself, and let your dog rest in peace.
Read books on how to process forgiveness and grief
Melody Beattie is one of my favorite authors – she wrote The Grief Club: The Secret to Getting Through All Kinds of Change to help her deal with the death of her son. I read her book More Language of Letting Go every day – it contains 366 daily meditations on letting go, trusting God, and living deeply fully madly.
If you feel like you’ll never find your way to forgiving yourself because of your dog, please call a counselor or distress line. There may be other issues you need to work through – and you’ll be healthier and happier in the long run if you confront those issues now.
If you feel anxious about not protecting your dog, read How to Cope With Anxiety After Putting a Dog to Sleep.
I welcome your comments on how to forgive yourself for not protecting your dog below. It might help to share your story – and I know other readers will be grateful to know they’re not alone.