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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.”
More On Dealing With The Loss Of A Dog
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.
How have you dealt with the loss of a beloved pet? Share in the comments below.
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