The Tender Subject of Grief

Whether you lose a dog suddenly or your pet succumbs to a terminal disease after battling it for months, you will experience grief after your dog passes away…a grief that is all too familiar to Mary Haynor, CEO of Horizon Home Care and Hospice, and Kayla Waldschmidt, Bereavement Coordinator.  Between them, Haynor and Waldschmidt lost Chewie, an amiable Golden Retriever, and Dozer, a ball-catching English Bulldog, over the course of the last 12 months.

Given their professions and their personal experiences with losing a pet, Haynor and Waldschmidt decided to write the following article that answers many of the questions that pet lovers ask themselves after their dogs die.  Not only will their words provide you with comfort, their offer for you and anyone in need to receive free grief counseling at the Horizon Grief Resource Center, Wisconsin’s only walk-in center that offers grief, bereavement, and healing services at no charge, will provide you with additional consolation.

If you are dealing with the recent, unexpected loss of your dog or are still mourning the death of a dog that occurred a comparatively long time ago, take a few minutes to read the article written by grief experts, Haynor and Waldschmidt.  After reading the following piece, you will know not only how to handle your grief, but that you have a place to go and get help if your sadness overwhelms you as well.

Coping with the Loss of our Dogs

By Mary Haynor, CEO, and Kayla Waldschmidt, Bereavement Coordinator

Horizon Home Care and Hospice

Ah, the loss of a dog, a pain like no other.

We both lost dogs in the last year.  Chewie a big, beautiful Golden with a thick silken coat who was delighted to make the acquaintance of every human she could.  Dozer, a teddy bear of an English Bulldog, who loved to observe, take naps, and catch his ball.

They were our dogs.  The best dogs.  Dogs like no others.

To grieve a dog is oh so clear to us now.  It is indeed a sorrow that reaches deep into your soul and holds on.  You sometimes see it on others, but they often do their best to conceal it.  People often do not share it, least you think them crazy.  But we know, we know they are not.

So how do you handle the loss of your dog?  What are ways to cope with the loss?  How much do you share?  We have provided some of our thoughts and advice.

Why the pain? –  Most dogs are constant companions.  They get up with us, (some get us up), they accompany us everywhere allowed, they lay at our feet or by our side, some even sleep with us.  It is a relationship like none other.  We are often closer to our dogs than most humans.  Do not be surprised by the pain.  It is real and to be expected.

Dogs love us unconditionally. I read a story where a young boy told his parents that our job on Earth is to learn how to love unconditionally and it is because dogs already know how to do this that their lives are so short. It is this unconditional bond that allows us to open our whole selves to our dogs and trust them completely for they not only love us for who we are, but hold our most intimate thoughts and secrets as sacred.

Did I do enough? –  The answer to that is probably a yes. Dogs need us to care for them and we feel the pressure of every decision especially at the end of their lives. We look back and “Monday morning quarterback” each decision and beat ourselves up for what we may have missed, did, or didn’t do. We need to remind ourselves that we did the best we could with what we knew at the time. It’s important to remind yourself that your dog knew that you loved them and were looking out for their best interest.

Is it ok to tell others? – We heal from our grief by talking about it. When people start talking about their pets and the end of their life, you’ll typically find two responses. One, people who don’t have pets, have lost a pet, or love pets will minimize your loss and react in a way that can make you feel as if you are crazy for grieving an animal. Walk away from these conversations knowing that you are not crazy—these people just don’t understand. Two, people will share their own pet stories and talk about the death of their animals. You’ll find that even people whose pets have been gone for some time will shed tears again. Continue to share with these individuals.

Bereavement –  It is doubtful that you have bereavement days at work for a pet who has passed.  That does not usually mean that you can not take a day off, either sick or vacation depending on your benefit plan. It surprises people that we typically grieve more for our animals than humans who have died. Be patient with yourself and allow yourself to fully express all emotions that come up. Know too that it takes time to adjust to not having your dog at home—your environment will be different and your routine may change drastically.

How long will the sadness last? – For quite a while. At first, the intensity of your feeling will be incredibly strong and painful. As you express your feelings you’ll notice that they will begin to reduce in intensity and frequency. Every once in awhile the grief will be triggered and you’ll cry or feel sad. But you’ll notice that good emotions begin to come in again and the space of feeling okay grows longer and longer. We’ll never forget them, but their memory will be a happy one most of the time.

About Horizon Home Care & Hospice: Horizon Home Care & Hospice is one of the state’s largest full-service home care agency and hospice providers, and the Horizon Grief Resource Center is the state’s only free walk-in center dedicated to grief, bereavement and healing.

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