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.
7 comments On How to Forgive Yourself for Not Protecting Your Dog
My precious Bella died on June 7th 2021. She was at my moms house like she is everyday. She went outside to potty. I let her go by herself because she never goes near the pool in 15 years. My mom said thats weird she’s not st the back door. I knew right then something was wrong. I thought she went to the side of the house and was looking around. Then I looked and there she was my 6lb baby girl in the pool. I immediately jump in and get her. I performed CPR, but it was to late. How can I go on knowing I let her die. I knew my mom didn’t have a fence around the pool. She stayed at my mom’s everyday and never went near it so I never expected this. My mom is inconsolable as she was her companion when I went to work. She loved grandma day care. I hate myself for this. My mom wanted to put dirt in the pool but no. I wanted her to remodel it so I could use it. My mom doesn’t want me to tell anyone that she drown because we both know she should’ve had a pet fence around it. I can’t believe how irresponsible pet owners we were. I can’t eat or sleep. I’ve missed 2 days of work so far. According to the Bible only humans have a soul so I basically to her life because of my careless actions. There is no heavenfor animals. This poor baby didn’t deserve that, she was an amazing dog. I can’t get the memory of her floating in the pool out of my mind. I am so ashamed of myself that I won’t even talk to my friends about it. I finally told them over text today. 3 days later. I’m so sad and depressed. I really feel such deep guilt. I truly loved her but I let her die. My brother said it was an accident but most accidents can be fixed. This cannot be undone. I miss her so much.
Just this past weekend on Friday Feb 12, 2021, my cavalier mix named Gospel was let outside in subzero temps. We live in Northern MN and we’ve had windchill warnings on and off the past few week or so. He was at the door wanting to go out so I coaxed my oldest son to do it because I was busy in the kitchen. He didn’t want to do it, I didn’t want to do it. He let him out and I said “watch him” to which he said something like… “I’ll let him in in a sec” and/or “you can check” ( his claim) I was busy listening and distracted, engaged in a podcast or something with my headphones will trying to clean the kitchen and get supper ready. He went back to watch his brother play a video game. I flitted around doing other things, the dog completely out of my mind. An hour later, my mind wandered to whether or not the dogs had been fed. Then I remembered. Oh my God….”A, did you let Gospel in? Where’s Gospel? Gospel come!” I yelled for him in the house. Then yelled outside. Nothing. The boys, A’s girlfriend and husband along with myself went out to look for him and yell for him. That’s when a police officer pulled into the driveway. I yelled “did you see a dog?” By his demeanor I could tell it wasn’t good so I went back in. I’d let hubby handle it. Soon I heard my son coming in crying loudly. He had been struck by a car and died on the road that faces our driveway..
I feel so bad. My little guy was out there for an hour in very cold temps. Why did he wander down the driveway? Was he desperately looking for shelter? When left out in the past, he waits at the back door to be let in. Was his brain being affected by the cold because he was getting older (12 yrs old) and he was desperately searching for warmth? Was he suffering? Did he suffer at all after he was hit? My husband said it looked like he was struck in the head and probably died instantly. I keep thinking he died cold, alone and hungry. Was he feeling abandoned? This is not the way we wanted to say goodbye. So abrupt and traumatic!
My daughter was at the neighbor’s across the street having a sleepover so she was unaware. We decided to let her stay there and tell her Saturday morning. She’s very attached to him- he sleeps with her and she feeds him. She is always commenting on how she loves him so much. I feel so much pain and guilt having to break her heart over this news. She sat on my husband’s lap while he told her. It was gut wrenching hearing her yell, “no, no! “ while wailing. I had to sleep in her room with her Saturday night.
Last night we were talking after things have calmed down. The kids were actually doing better than me. My son decided to tell her his rendition of the story. She now knows everything except how long he was out (though that part may not surprise her) and she said she’s not angry. I’m hoping she won’t later resent him. I’m having a hard time not resenting him. I’m feeling better that more details were shared. It was good to see and hear him process his experience.
Something in this article helped me:
Do dogs hold grudges?
No. They forgive. They forgive and forget.
They always are happy to see you and are forgiving. Period. But I’m still so sorry Gospel. I love you. I’ll always miss how you wanting to come sit by me; the goofy way you’d jump up and down for treats; the way you’d hop to the van excited for a ride; your growl when slightly annoyed, or very annoyed; your adorable little freckle face. So much more. I’m so sorry your life was cut short by our distraction and negligence. Please forgive me sweet boy. I’m suffering knowing you were out in the night cold, waiting to come in to be fed and be warm.
But now you’re at peace. You’re at peace. I have to keep telling myself you’re at peace and that’s most important right now.
You were God’s gift to me. I used to tell that to people. How God knew I wanted a cavi but wouldn’t be allowed to pay that price for a puppy. When you needed to be re-homed and I found you online, it all fell into place. Even down to your name. Gospel was already your name. You were good news. How appropriate for our family. So unique. I loved your name.
I hope with all my heart I’ll see you again someday on the other side of this life. I really hope it’s true that dogs do go to heaven. I hope you can give me a sign. 🐶
If your there, will you come open the door me? I hope you let me in.
I feel so awful, my dog Daisy was pregnant with her second litter of puppies, she was overweight from her first litter, and never lost it all the way. I took her to the vet on Jan. 31, 2021, the vet did not do any ultrasound, no xrays, just cut her toe nails, and handed her back to me, stating yes, she is pregnant. New Years day, she started going through labor, I don’t know enough about dogs in labor to recognize she was in trouble!! it was a holiday, I called vets, noone open. My only option was to find an emergency hospital. I called hospitals, vets offices, rescues, humane society. The hospitals all wanted at least $200 to see her, plus, thousands of dollars to give her an emergency C section. I didn’t even have enough money to humanely put her to sleep. She suffered in pain, and agony for almost 3 days before she died, I couldn’t even go to her and say goodbye when she was so bad. I couldn’t bear to see her precious face. My sister made her comfortable on her last hours. I feel so bad, that my baby had to lay there for so long with so much pain. what kind of mother am I? I will never forgive myself for not being able to save her. my heart is completely shattered. why do veterinarians and the emergency hospitals charge so much? they wanted the money upfront before they would do anything for her. I m working paycheck to paycheck and barely making ends meet. I could not care for my dog like I m susposed to, and I will forever be changed.
I’m so very sorry for your loss. Getting a referral might not have saved your little angel. Maybe it would have confirmed that there was nothing more to be done. You did the best you could with the information and advice you were given. It’s obvious how much you cared, and still care. I feel your anguish and my heart goes out to you❤️
I am full of guilt and shame. My precious baby died 3rd april 2020. Was suffering congestion vets investigations were clear. She was mouth breathing i should of asked for referral. I just gave prescribed medication. The 2nd april couldnt get an appointment because of covid 19. She waited for me to come home on the 3rd got in her basket and died. How can i forgive myself i failed her. If i had pushed for referral she may still be here. I feel my delay killed her. She was my precious baby only 1.6kg she needed me and i failed her. Feel like part of me died to. Cant eat or sleep crying day and night. I will never forgive myself.
Hi Paula…I did the exact same thing with my cat who died on Sunday. He was my heart. He was coughing. I took him specifically to the vet in February over this cough. His lungs and heart were good. I was given dewormer and antibiotic and told to administer until he seems to be better. My vet told me that it’s not normal for cats to get asthma at his age. He was 7. He had a physical back in June and lungs and heart were clear. He was coughing the same amount as he was in February and I mentioned it then but my vet was out so I told the nurse who ran his tests and she said his heart and lungs were good and to contact my vet if I had questions. I don’t know if I contacted her or not. I’ve been working from home and noticed within the last three weeks his cough seemed to increase and he seemed tired, but in my head all I could think of was his lungs and heart have always been good. He wasn’t mouth-breathing and loved to go outside and walk around and would still jump on my bed and play with his string. But he still coughed. I kept thinking, I need to get him into the vet. He hated is carrier. So I kept putting it off. Last Saturday, we had a good day together and I woke up Sunday morning and he was gone. I’ve been terrified since I had him he would die and he did, under my care, the best cat in the world. An autopsy wasn’t performed and all indications point toward asthma. I can’t believe I didn’t take him in again. I was almost afraid to take him because I was afraid he’d have a disease that couldn’t be cured but he probably had something that could. People keep telling me I gave him his best life and am a great cat Mom but I didn’t. I took it from him and my heart is broken.
See my reply below. I left it in the wrong place:(