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Dealing With Guilt From The Accidental Death Of My Dog

When a dog dies, often times the ones left behind feel full of guilt. The death of my dog forever changed me. When my Brandy Noel was euthanized, it took me many years to stop feeling like I failed her and ultimately killed her. After all, I knowingly allowed a veterinarian to end her life while I stood by, signed the papers, and watched as she drifted away forever.

my dog

Learning to deal with guilt when a dog dies is one of the hardest things I’ve ever faced in my dog-loving life. I am not alone. In her article on love, guilt, and putting dogs down, Patricia McConnell, PhD., writes, “I slowly began to notice how EVERYONE I talked to who loved their dog, like we all love ours, was guilty about something related to the dog’s death. It didn’t matter how or why they died: hundreds of owners, from prof’l trainers and behaviorists to the dog loving public, found something to feel guilty about. “I should have seen the symptoms sooner,” or “How could I have not known that the lock on the door was faulty and allowed my dog to run out the door?” or “Surely I could somehow have prevented the bite if I just hadn’t……”

What happens then, when your dog dies accidentally in your care? Can you imagine the grief, dread, and angst when a dog has an accident that ends in death? That’s exactly what happened to the two dog moms we talk to in this piece. Both are devoted dog lovers of the highest order, and both lost their dogs to a random, unexpected, and totally shocking accident.

Whether you feel guilty today, did at some point, or wonder what it feels like to deal with the loss of a dog, this piece is for you.

How To Get Over The Accidental Death Of My Dog

A Plastic Bag Killed My Dog

Nancy Carter is a loving dog mom from Buffalo, New York. On a seemingly ordinary day in June of 2013, Nancy and her son enjoyed a relaxing day together. As her son played guitar on the porch, Nancy went out to talk to her son for 10 minutes.

Her dogs, Sugar, Louise, and Sam (a Cocker Spaniel) were in the house alone during this 10-minute period of time.

How To Handle Guilt When A Dog Accidentally Dies

“I came home from work, let the Sammy out of the crate, let them out,” Nancy recalls. “I made sure the three-foot gate to the kitchen was locked and placed a piece of plywood over the gate.  Sammy was obsessed with getting into the kitchen, so we bought a three-foot gate.  That didn’t stop him. He was able to hit the latch and unlock it.  If he couldn’t unlock it, he would just jump it. So, we would put a piece of plywood over the gate.  Not pretty but it had always worked.”

Nancy didn’t hear the dogs rustling about, so she went inside to check. Sugar and Louise sat staring at the gate to the kitchen. Sam, however, knocked the plywood down, jumped the three-foot gate, and got into the garbage. Once inside the garbage, the dog pulled out a box of Cheez-Its and got to the bag inside. He suffocated.

“He wasn’t breathing.  I screamed and my son came running, as Sammy was his buddy. We tried CPR for 10 minutes, called for my husband to come home from work and he tried CPR, with no luck.”

Nancy says it happened so fast, both she and her 18-year-old son were stunned. They wrapped Sam in a blanket and drove him to the pet funeral home.

How To Handle The Grief Of My Dog’s Accidental Death

Guilt When A Dog Accidentally Dies

Nancy remembers the unbelievable guilt she experienced. She replays the day over and over in her mind, remembering the precautions she took that fateful day. She checked the gate, blocked the gate, ensuring the lid was on the garbage.

For 30 minutes, Nancy’s husband performed CPR on Sam. Her son repeatedly asked for the vet to be called. Nancy knew nothing could be done, and she could not believe it was happening.

In her own words, Nancy says:

I shut it out and wouldn’t talk about it.  If I didn’t talk about maybe it didn’t happen?  I basically blocked it out. It took me two weeks to be able to tell my vet’s office. Sam was due for a teeth cleaning, and I had to cancel the appointment. I felt so guilty and was afraid to be judged as being a bad caregiver. I think it took me three months to tell my friend/breeder that he died.  My veterinarian said it happens often and people don’t speak about it for the same reasons.  Perfectly healthy, young dogs gone.  They didn’t judge me, they were great.  Both reassured me, but still I felt it was my fault.   

Nancy hopes by sharing Sam’s story that people will realize bags should be cut open all the way when they are thrown out. She hopes to save other families from her suffering and loss. Any type of bag should be opened and slit down the side.

Sammy was a tri-color beautiful 3-1/2-year-old male Cocker Spaniel who she describes as loving, goofy, and he will be forever missed and loved.

At present, Nancy shares life with four dogs: Sugar, Louie, Jackson, and Henry.

More information about pet suffocation can be found at the end of this article.

Accidental death of dog

A Car Accidentally Killed My Dog

Sarah Wall is a creative graphic designer, is heavily involved in dog rescue, and shared life with a Cocker Spaniel named Baxter.

On July 14, 2014, Baxter, a tri-color Cocker Spaniel was hit and killed by a car while Sarah watched in horror. At her complex with a gated back yard and parking area, Sarah came home from work and began her usual routine with her pooch.

How To Handle Guilt When A Dog Accidentally Dies

“Baxter and I would always walk to the mailboxes in the gated area and then back to my apartment,” she remembers. “I went to talk to my neighbors, Baxter ran over to them to say hi, wiggling all the time. There was an entrance to get into that back area, but we never walked that far.”

In a heartbeat, Baxter walked right through that entrance. Sarah panicked because there is a busy street nearby. As she walked towards the dog, he was already at the sidewalk area. She yelled for him, but he saw a dog across the street. Baxter darted towards that dog at the exact moment a large SUV was coming. It hit the dog on his side.

The gentleman with the dog across the street tried to get to Baxter as did Sarah before the SUV struck Baxter, but it was too late.

In her own words:

I was screaming bloody murder and saying call 911!!!!! Of course, 911 said because he’s a dog, there is nothing they can do. My neighbors quickly ran into the street and got Baxter. He was still breathing, but he had been hit in the belly and it was starting to swell. I was in such a panic and didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t breathe, I threw up, ran to my house and grabbed the keys to my car.

A neighbor heard the screaming, drove me to the emergency clinic, but it was too late. I tried giving Baxter mouth-to-mouth and told him to hang on, please don’t leave me. You are my world and I am so sorry this happened! He passed in my arms on the way to the ER. The ER vet said even if I had got him there in time, he may have not made it due to internal bleeding.

Handling Grief Of A Dog’s Accidental Death

For a long time, Sarah admits to self-medicating by drinking a lot of wine. She kept her emotions bottled up for the longest time.

She is still dealing with the loss all these years later. She blamed herself even though it wasn’t her fault. Being in a gated community with a backyard, this is something Sarah never imagined would happen to her dog.

“I would never EVER have taken him out near a busy street without being on a leash,” she says. He was my world. It was just a freak accident.”

Sarah shares her life with two rescued Cocker Spaniels, DeeDee and Sullivan. 

I Feel Like I Killed My Dog

Living Past the Loss Of A Dog

Your identity as a loving dog parent evolves from the physical presence of a dog in your life to the eventual understanding, albeit it kicking and screaming, that the next time you will see your dog is when you physically pass away.

We make a vow to our dogs when they enter our life, us dog lovers of the highest order. We promise to love them, we tell them we love them. We take them for vet visits, on trips, car rides, and all the things we do with and for dogs. And then in the moment they need us the most, we sometimes cannot make it better. 

Sometimes the worst accidents happen to the best dog parents. I wish I had an answer as to why, but I know this much is true: whether you are religious or not, there are things that have no rhyme or reason. My spouse reminds me that everything happens for a reason, but I just don’t know. The big “why me, why my dog” sometimes comes with no answer. This is when you must challenge yourself to carry your dog’s legacy on and live with love and forgiveness of self in your heart.

As a dog mom who will always be “with dog,” I’ve redefined my definition of letting go. It isn’t goodbye after all. You say goodbye when you know something is never coming back. The next journey is the one I will take to her and to all the dogs I love thereafter. What a huge hello my heaven shall be. Hope is a glorious feeling. Even if you feel our life ends here on Earth when our bodies die, it is true then that you go to the same state of being as the pets you have loved and lost do. You are all simply done from this Earth.

Grief is not a one-size-fits-all process that every person experiences in the same way. Loss and the grief that follows is an individualized experience. There is no wrong way to grieve unless that way involves something that is beyond your control. If you need help, talk to someone, or whatever works for you: Do it. Do not let a family member, co-worker, relative, friend, or neighbor make you feel that this is “only a dog.”

pet loss

More On Dealing With The Loss Of A Dog

Anatomy of a Grieving Dog Mom

How to Stop Dog Grief

How To Get Over the Death of a Dog

The Miracle of Dog Mountain and Dog Chapel

Beyond the Rainbow Bridge: Dogs Who Communicate

Preventing Pet Suffocation

Visit the Prevent Pet Suffocation page to learn more about food packaging and how it poses a serious suffocation risk to your pets.  

Your Turn

How have you dealt with the loss of a beloved pet? Share in the comments below. 

Don’t Stop Now

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Comments

  1. Oh my gosh, both of these stories are heartbreaking, but Sarah’s really hits close to home. When I was a freshman in high school I left our basement door open by accident and our dog slipped out and was killed by a car. Rusty was a dog who despite lots of training was always a little wild and an open door was something he couldn’t resist. He went running and I went running after him. He crossed a very busy street and then turned around and saw me running towards him. I yelled stay, but he saw me and his face lit up and he ran towards me right into traffic and was struck and killed instantly. I went into shock and just stood there. Another car stopped (not the one who hit him) and a nice college age guy picked him up and helped me carry him home.

    The look on Rusty’s face when he turned around and saw me and then ran back into traffic, haunts me to this day. Had I been more careful and checked the door, it wouldn’t have happened.

    35 years later I am insane about closing doors, locking doors, closing windows, etc. for fear of one of my pets getting out and something horrible happening. I recheck and recheck everything. When I travel (like last week) I drive my family and pet-sitters crazy because I constantly call and text reminding them to double check the doors and windows when they come and go. I could go on …this is one of those things that will haunt me forever.

  2. I am crying reading this. Remembering my cocker Magoo. Carol I don’t think I ever told you this cause I still never talk about it but I lost my first cocker Magoo. He had free run of the yard since we are 250 ft from the road. He never left the yard but one my son (who was devastated) was coming up the driveway and ran to the car. My son stopped watched him run back to the woods and started driving again. Just then Magoo ran to the car. He earn right into the car and broke his neck and died instantly. I was not home. Josh called crying so hard and told me what had happened. He was so stresssd out. I usher home and then set on the front lawn cradling Magoo and crying. He was such a special loving dog. The next day was my son’s high school graduation and it was a very tuff weekend. I think of him often but do not talk about it cause I blame myself for not blocking off access to the driveway. Now my backyard is fenced in and the dogs do not have access to the driveway unless on leash. This was many years ago, my son is 40 and has 2 kids and 2 dogs of his own. Every time I see yards where dogs have free access to the driveway I think of Magoo. Still miss him. He was my jogging buddy and loved to jogging with me. Never left my side. As I said I still miss to this day.

  3. My beautiful, wonderful Andy, therapy dog, helper dog in my dog training work has been to an ER three times for eating, oh, a firestarter log, turkey carcass, and possibly an Aleve from the floor. He is bright., loving, loves me, etc. but I may not be the best mom some day and he may die. And I may have to make my peace with that which would be devastating. I am so thankful for your posts!! Because I trust Carol so much, I will post, because I am a dog professional; no pressure here.

  4. Oh my! What a powerful, heart-stopping article, Carol. With tears in my eyes I find myself speechless. Guilt is such a powerful, awful emotion. I’ve beat myself up all weekend with guilt because Poppy had to go to the vet with problems I felt I should have caught sooner. She has an ear infection in on ear and a ruptured sebaceous cyst in her ear flap of the other ear. It has broken open twice now, oozing blood, hardening in her long ear hair. I know it may seem like no big deal to people, since Cockers are prone to ear issues. But guilt is a nasty little worm that takes over your brain function.

    Thanks to Nancy and Sarah for sharing your powerful stories. Love to you both and your beautiful Cocker angels at the Rainbow Bridge.

  5. The one and only time I ever closed my bedroom door so I could get some sleep. A huge crash happened upstairs, and then my dog, Hobie, was at my bedroom door barking like crazy. When I opened the door, there was our other dog, Hector on the floor, having a massive seizure. Hobie was barking to notify me! Hector has never had any problems before. He was only 9 years old. As in your blog post, I called 911. They informed me they can’t help with a pet. The vet’s office was closed because it was only 6 am. Hector came out of the seizure but it seemed to take forever. At 8:00 I called the vet & they said bring him in right away. Due to a language barrier between me & the vet, and my being “too polite” the fact that a huge crash was heard (I think hector fell down the stairs) was overlooked. The vet said Hector was “old” and probably had a brain tumor. He said that with a dog this age, getting a CT scan or whatever at the university would be too costly The thing is, we had plenty of money at the time! I did not press the fact that it was a sudden accident (which I did not witness) that caused the seizure. I did not argue about the money issue . I just “took it on authority” always being the nice little girl who doesn’t argue with authority figures. For the next three months, Hector had multiple seizures daily and was on all kinds of medicine. Medicine that would do nothing because he had an injury, not a disease. In August, hurricane Irene barreled in to town. Hector wouldn’t come inside the house. I remember dragging him by the collar. He had been running in the yard and my spouse insisted I get him inside because the hurricane was coming. He wouldn’t budge, so I dragged him. I got him into the basement and he laid down and wouldn’t get up. I again called the same vet. I said Hector’s paws and mouth were cold to the touch and he had vomited. One minute he was running and playing, the next he was incapacitated! He told me to give him Pepcid AC. I went to the store and got it — in a hurricane! Hector died that night — just 4 days before his 10th birthday. After I notified the vet of Hector’s death, one of the vet techs said Hector probably had an aneurysm and swelling of the brain. How I wish I had talked to her instead of her boss. I’ve never gotten over the guilt of this series of stupid mistakes that cost the life, and quality of the last three months of his life, of my beloved dog. Who by the way wasn’t “old” at age 9!! Thanks for listening.

  6. I just feel like I should have done something more when Emma suddenly was not herself, but it all happened so fast. No one thought she would pass away. An afternoon of fluids, getting her vitals stable, they would do more tests and fix my dog. The vet said she would probably spend the night and then go home. When they called to say she was not going to make it I could not believe it. I rushed back to the hospital and held her as she took her last breaths. She was my world. I love Bailie and Madison to death, but Emma was with me for 12 years, was always healthy. Emma was my dog, by baby, my teammate, counselor, and business partner. I was not prepared to lose her. It’s coming up on four months already and I still cry daily, a lot, especially when I’m driving or other times when my mind wanders for things to think about. It doesn’t matter that she sends me signs, or one day we will be together again. I want to hug her now. All her fans miss her, I want to share everything with her like I always did. The pain is something I can’t get over. I’ve lost many pets but the suddenness of this has really killed me, but I do my best to move forward. We just posted about pet loss a week ago too. It is such a hard thing. The only thing that could be worse for me would be not having a dog at all. After I left Emma, I could not wait to get back to Bailie and Madison, hug, and cuddle them and just be with them.

  7. The death of a longtime pet can often mean more to its owner than the death of a human family member. This may be shocking to say but it is true. Many non animal lovers do not seem to understand what the death of a beloved pet can mean to its owner and the extent of the grief that may be involved, especially if the death was accidental or the owner had contributed in some way to the animal’s demise. A year or so ago a dog died who I knew from walking in the neighbourhood. A week later its owner died and his partner committed suicide a week after. The timing of these events may all have been coincidental but we fellow dog walkers all knew how what that dog meant to its owner and how that death may have affected them. Deaths of our pets can also happen at the hands of the professionals we entrust them to and that can also be a cause of grief and guilt for the owner involved.

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