How to Get Over the Death of a Dog

If you arrived at this post, your dog has either died or at some point, like all living beings, he or she will pass away. You want to know how to get over the death of a dog and the fact of the matter is this: You don’t. 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.

This blog is called Fidose of Reality, so I am not mincing words when I tell you this: Getting over the loss of a dog is not in my DNA. Anyone who tells you to get “over” your dog dying is either saying so to be cruel or because they truly do not understand the enormity of the bond you forever share with your dog.

How to get over the death of a dog

My Dog Died and I Can’t Stop Crying

The first dog I ever owned as an adult took my heart, infused it into hers, and then took millions of pieces of it far away when she died in 2008. Here I sit nearly a decade later and my heart beats and breaks dog. My journey in claiming grief has not been an easy one, but I can attest to this: I will never get over the death of my dog and I’m fine with that. Allow me to explain.

I looked for books. I asked for help. I carried her cremated remains around with us. I saw a grief counselor. I joined a pet loss forum online until it sucked the little oxygen I had left in my soul from me. I could not bear to engage with the constant barrage of pets dying. I found zero comfort in shared loss back then. In fact, I wanted to scream and curse at these people, and often times, in the comfort of my own dog-less home, I screamed, cursed, and cried at them and in spite of them.

I wanted an answer, a remedy, a pain relief—I wanted something to make the intense angst in the pit of my chest to go away and in some miraculous fashion, bring my dog back.

I cared less how my wife felt in this grieving process and I told her so in my ever so distraught way: I can’t help you grieve because I am lost in my own well of sadness, I explained.

I went to a psychic, who called herself a medium. I just wanted help. Maybe this medium could somehow tell me it was okay and things would get better? I felt comfort in talking to this lady, sitting together at her kitchen table. No, she didn’t bring my dog back. Yes, she did know that I was grieving and she sensed it the moment I sat down for the reading.

I sought the help of a grief counselor, one who understood that my dog was a living being and not something or someone who is replaced. She never once said, “Why don’t you get another dog.”

The grief counselor explained there is no fast forward button on grief. I am a very type A personality and I like to get things done. I deal with public relations and problem solving on a daily basis. I just wanted a solution for the level of hurt inside my bloodstream. Please, I begged her, my wife, and God, just take my hurt away. I never wanted to harm myself: I just wanted my pain to end.

That’s the second worst part of grief, the first being the physical being is no longer with you. The intense pain that courses through your mind and your body 24/7, even infusing its misery into your dreams/nightmares is the second worst part of grief. You do not get over that grief. So what do you do?

The Day My Dog Died

Letting my little girl go is the worst moment in time that has ever happened in my life. I know all of the common sense things, many of which you are probably thinking: It was for the best, at least she isn’t suffering, you had to let her go. I know that. It makes sense. She was very ill and slowly withering away. It doesn’t make it fair nor does it diminish the grief. Death is a part of living that comes with a very high price, at least for this dog mom.

Being by her side when she died, I closed my eyes when she did and I feared my eyes would never completely reopen. I am outwardly heaving and sobbing right now. However, my eyes reopened and I found a purpose and a way to channel my grief, carry her with me, and live her legacy until my time to cross to the Rainbow Bridge comes.

How to get over the death of a dog

When a Heart Beats Dog, It Breaks Dog, Too

Dogs are more like us than not but they are not humans. Dogs are the best of us when the worst of us breaks our hearts and lets us down.

I embrace a passion for dogs and that passion somehow in this crazy, messed up universe so very perfectly found its way to me. A little girl once lost found her forever home in dogs.

My life is a celebration of dog and their time on Earth, a mere flicker. Poof, we blink and it’s gone. A heart that beats dog is all too keenly aware of its ability to break, and oh how it shatters.

Every day is Christmas with a dog. It’s a true celebration, a present waiting to be unwrapped every day. Cliche, but true.There’s a secret unspoken club for us dog lovers of the highest order. On fortunate days, we find each other: At parks, pet-welcoming stores, on vacations, and at traffic lights. Dogs sniff, we smile. Ages are exchanged, stories are passed on, and dogs bring strangers together, even for a moment.

The words change, but the feelings are the same: Those who love and have learned to love more richly because of a dog carry a light in their soul. We have hope when the world goes crazy: Dogs want us in it. We are welcome in their worlds. They celebrate our existence. The circle of life is pretty damned special with a dog in it.

Moving Through the Guilt

I permitted the veterinarian to end my dog’s life. What kind of monster does that make me? I realize now that I would have been a monster to have allowed her to suffer.

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. This is what I held onto for so long: I could not make her better. I am not a miracle worker. What kind of monster am I? I am rotten to the core. I am not a dog lover after all. I gave her all these things, all this love and devotion and time, and now her helpless body cried out to me and my answer is to end it. Who does that? This is the torture that is my grief. 

It took me years and years to realize that I did not murder my dog. You don’t have to understand it. We all walk a different path with grief.

I formed my career out of a love for dogs. That love was even more prominent when I had to say goodbye. I decided to reform 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.

Loss of a dog
My friend, Jan Todd, had this beautiful painting done for me.

How to Cope With the Death of A Dog

Never ever ever, let me repeat: Never ever ever believe that grief is 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.”

I don’t love “only a dog” and I don’t grieve “only a dog.” I don’t live “only a life.”

Here are things I have done to help cope with the death of my dog. Feel free to borrow from this list or change it up as to how and when it suits you:

  • I get people to say or type her name. My Brandy Noel died in 2008, and here I am in 2017 typing her name. You just read her name and so now you know her a little bit, too. Maybe you will tweet or share this post and someone else will know her. Love never ends. Period.
  • Surround yourself with those who understand. Here I am close to a decade later and I surround myself with people who understand. Loss is loss whether it happened yesterday or decades ago. Time does not diminish pain; it does make it real and permanent and changes the construct of who we once were.
  • Sometimes I cry like the day my dog died. I do this when my other dog is not around, perhaps he is with my spouse in a separate room. I let loose.
  • Blog/write. For every cliché that says “writing helps the grieving process,” there is an angry writer that says “to hell with you” in response. This angry writer is here to say that writing works for me. I breathe her life into a new paragraph. She is here again. I write her name and her short time on earth flickers once more. Love never ends.
  • Talk to someone you can trust. For me, it was a grief counselor. I was good to no one if I couldn’t even understand what happened. I am not afraid to own my grief any longer. It’s now a badge of love I carry with me in a big unseen suitcase.
  • Fundraising for dogs in need: Together with my spouse, we created Wigglebutt Warriors, the fundraising arm of my dog blog, Fidose of Reality. We raise money for dogs in need. Dogs live such short lives. All my anger, grief, and tears will not bring my baby girl back. The love she gave and forever emblazoned on my heart is brought forward to any dog in need that we help.
  • Get a Permanent Tattoo: One or more. I have several now, most of them dog related. I carry her with me and am reminded of her permanent place in my life.
  • Look for Signs from Your Deceased Dog: The day my dog died, a white butterfly hovered over her weak body before we made what would become her final ride in the car. I knew it was her time to go. I have had white butterflies visit me at the most interesting times, and I honestly feel her close to me even more so in these moments.

Cocker Spaniel Dexter

This next piece of advice worked for me and I never in a zillion years thought I’d be writing this, let alone living it. Don’t deny yourself the opportunity to love a dog again. I felt like I’d be cheating on my dead dog to give my heart to another. Wait, how could I even give my love away and risk it being squashed again? Do I even have any love left to give or did it end when I let my Brandy Noel go in 2008?

I need a dog in my life. You don’t compare dogs. I hear people say “my heart dog” and it’s so unfair for me. Every dog is my heart dog. I used to tell people I could never get another dog again. I now realize that I could never not love another dog again. Dog is in my soul. I love my current dog, Dexter, as I love my first dog. Love is love for me.

Dexter is my never again. Loving a dog is like breathing to me: It is second nature and an involuntary reflex.

My Heart Beats Dog

Living a Legacy

I live. Someday I will not. I live, I love, I breathe dogs. I can never not share my life with a dog. There is so much love in my heart, to keep it boxed and closeted and under a shroud of blankets isn’t fair to the dog with whom I can share love. I know I will walk the path of hell that is grief again and again and again. I will be a warrior and face that grief but never shall I conquer it. I can’t get over it and honestly, I don’t want to move past it. I choose to carry it with me.

For all of you heart beating dog lovers of the highest order, make that bucket list, embrace your love of dogs, be proud of who you are, and never feed the trolls, haters, or those who otherwise don’t share that bond or understanding of love between human and dog. Love never ends.

If you want to learn more about my journey and losing my dog, please consider reading these blog posts:

Anatomy of a Grieving Dog Mom

How to Stop Dog Grief

Surviving the Holiday Season After Pet Loss

The Miracle of Dog Mountain and Dog Chapel

Beyond the Rainbow Bridge: Dogs Who Communicate

Comments

  1. Very beautiful and true. Though it is callous to tell the grieving person to get another dog, it is true that when the time is right, sharing the love of another dog doesn’t replace the dog that has passed but does heal the heart by letting love in again. It may be days, years, or months, but eventually the time may come to bring a new dog into one’s life. At least that is how it’s been for me.

  2. My sweet Tiffany Lynn passed away July 27th. She was 15 and half years old and having some health issues but she was still trying to play with our other dog Buddy even though I could tell she was tired. On the 27th at 3:23 she closed her eyes for the last time. I was laying beside her on the floor talking to her and petting her head. I cry as I write this. I miss Tiffy so much. I have her ashes in a curio cabbinet, along with her Mama dog Maxi who passed away. I loved your article.

  3. I struggle with grief, especially due to a death of a dog. I started crying when I started reading your post.

    The only disadvantage of growing up with multiple dogs is having had to say good bye to so many amazing dogs. When my Keeshond (who was an only dog) died ten years ago unexpectedly due to a groomer’s negligence, I was so heartbroken. I got another dog after only two weeks, not to replace her, but because I need canine company. I know some people think they can’t go through the grief again, and I respect their choices. Knowing my heart is likely to be broken when a pet dies is worth the joy I have while knowing them. Everyone grieves and heals differently. I still (infrequently) cry over a puppy that died when I was 5 and seeing Theo’s graying face can bring me to tears as well. However, I’ll never regret sharing my life with dogs.

    • Beth, I am weeping again and it’s okay because we share a love and a loss of dogs. I totally concur: I will never regret sharing my life with dogs. Love is love.

  4. When my Mia passed away suddenly from IMHA, fostering healed my family’s heart. Although we initially told the rescue we wouldn’t be fostering for awhile, for us, not having a dog in the house made Mia’s absence even more noticeable. Fostering allowed us to have a dog to love while our hearts healed from Mia’s loss. The joy of seeing dogs go to their new families helped us get ready to experience that joy once again. We fostered for three years before adopting Waffles. When someone loses a dog, I wait awhile before sharing about our experience. I’ve had people say,”But what if I fall in love with the foster and want to keep it?” I answer , “Maybe that means your heart is telling you that you are ready for another dog.”

  5. My Pebbles passed last October. She was a dalmation/shepherd mix. We got her at a year old and she was a rescue. When she died, she was 17 years and 3 months old. When we first got her, I wasn’t sure about her. I didn’t think I’d be able to connect with her. She stuck like glue to me. Where ever I was, she was one step behind. If I left the house, she was inconsolable. I kept her at arms length. Then two weeks after getting her, she ran a low grade fever and got all “droopy”. As soon as I noticed (when I woke up), i cried, “my baby!” I gathered her imto my arms and told my hubby we needed to get to the vet asap. She had been my baby ever since…for 16 more years. I miss her every day. I don’t cry as often as I did, but I still do. It’s hard, but every day is a little better…then i cry again…lol…

  6. Its the same when I lose a my rabbit,kills me every time but I can’t bear to be without a rabbit…and the worse thing is when you get told well its only a rabbit they don’t live long anyway not like a dog or a cat does get over it! who the hell says that when you have just lost your soulmate…..and rabbits can be long live they can live 8 to 12 years,the oldest I know lived to 18.The grief is the same whether it is a dog or a rabbit or a cat an I have lost many over the years dogs,cats and rabbits and it does feel the same with all of them,well written post,xx Rachel

  7. My first dog came into my life when I was 3 and died when I was 18. I remember the great parts of my childhood we shared and all the dogs I have ever had. I grieve for them all.

  8. Carol, I am crying my eyes out reading this , and you are SO EXACT with your rendition of thoughts, emotions and pain I have felt each and every time one of my beloved dogs have made their journey beyond. The passing of ALL pf them has been difficult , and some tougher than others. This month I am reliving the pain of two of my dogs leaving me last year in such a short period of time… 5 days between departures. MY beautiful puppy mill Jessica on Aug 5 and then only 5 days later my heart dog Tucker whose one yr anniversary comes tomorrow. I had him since he was 12 weeks old… purchased out of a store window by my husband for me when we were dating… he KNEW the way to my heart was no a big diamond… it was a black cocker spaniel. Tucker was just short 3 months of his 16 years with us. As you know, many , many cockers have passed thru my life doing rescue, each one special and each one will always be remembered and hold a very near & dear spot in my heart. You are SO RIGHT… you NEVER get over the death of a dog you loved and cared for with all your heart & soul … even the ones you didn’t have that long. What I have done as a reminder to help me thru the pain ( yes .. I have done ALL the same things you did , which brought me no resolve or relief from my heavy heart ) … I have a special tree in my yard that I can see from every window , and on that tree I hanged a windchime for each dog I have lost… every time the wind blows… I know who has come to visit, and it is a great comfort to me. A friend once asked me if it made me sad.. ( the look on her face was one of morbidity) I told her no, the contrary… it gives me great peace. Sometimes at night when the wind is blowing even a little… I awaken to hear the gentle chime of Jessica’s windchime , or the little deeper softer sound of Tuckers and the very gentle sound of Charlie Brown’s and I can smile, think about them and know they are somehow still with me. It is very comforting to me . And when the time is right I know there will be another little cocker waiting to steal my heart again… I still have 7 so for now , all is good. ~ Much love to you Dar & Dex <3

  9. Brandy Noel was, and is, very much loved, as are all who will follow. That is their true purpose in life, to bring love, to show love, and to share love. Brandy Noel fulfilled that promise to you, as you did to her. May you truly enjoy your reunion one day.

  10. That was hands down the best writing that I’ve ever come across about pet loss and grief. I lost my dog companion, Missy, suddenly and unexpectedly in March. I know that I will never get over that experience. I just want a little bit of relief from the guilt and regret that haunts me. Everyone, that I know, quickly and easily told me to just get another dog. That’s exactly why I no longer talk about Missy anymore to friends and family. Thank you so much for your honesty……I needed to read your words today.

  11. Whether it is a beloved dog, a cat, a rabbit, or even a person….the pain is often unbearable. Someone once told me this, “Grief is the high price we pay for sweet love.” No truer words have ever been spoken. When we lost our beloved Pepper, a toy poodle suddenly to a massive stroke, we were devastated. I must have cried a bucket full of tears. One day, two weeks later, I woke with a start….What could I do to honor his life, and show my great love for him? My husband nearly had a stroke when I told him I had been to the animal shelter….and he & I would be getting up early the next morning to go back. To make a long story short, by the following evening….we had made arrangements to adopt two Boston Terriers. They had been seized by the county for severe neglect, along with six or seven other dogs. They were absolutely wild & crazy…my husband said, “Marie, they are nothing like our Pepper.” I said, ” I know, and that’s OK…I am not trying to replace him….but pass on all the love I had for him!” I would later adopt three more dogs, who were destined to have miserable lives….I tell people…” Pepper was so special, it took four more dogs to even try to fill his little paws!” With every dog I adopted, my heart hurt a bit less. Grace, one of the Boston Terrier dogs had little chance of a great home. She was nine & in poor health. She had surgery to remove a large tumor on her hip, dental procedures, spaying, etc. We were blessed to have her for five sweet years. Five years of treats, good food, car rides, and much love. She passed away at home. Layla, the other Boston, is now eleven, but she is healthy & happy. We currently have five dogs….and they mean everything to us. We also help care for my Mother in law’s big boy, Doobie. We love him, too.

  12. Thank you for this post. It couldn’t have come at a better time as I had to unexpectedly put down my 11 year old Lab last Saturday night. My heart aches beyond anything I could have imagined. I am very lucky to have friends, co-workers and family who understand my grief and are giving me the time and space that I need as well as being there for me when I need that. I am also grateful that I have another dog who needs me. My whole life revolves around my dogs and I cannot ever imagine being without. My dog and I will take as much time as we need to grieve Julia’s passing and then we will make room in our hearts and home for a new dog to join our pack.

  13. I will never get over the loss of my sweet girl Kitty. She left me May 14th, 2011. The calendar that hung in my kitchen never changed from that date until I moved 8 months ago. Her ashes sit on my dresser. I never had to worry about getting another dog because I had three others, it didn’t make the grief any easier. For anyone that has suffered the loss of their beloved dog, this is a must read. This is the first open and honest thing I have read since the loss of Kitty. The part about writing her name getting it out there and keeping her actively with you is one thing on the list that I already do. Kitty was a beautiful Rottweiler and the sweetest dog I have ever known. She is forever in my heart. Thank-you for sharing your story it has touched me deeply.

  14. Carol, this is so beautifully written, a wonderful tribute to Brandy Noel and to all the dogs we’ve all ever loved. Losing my childhood dog Ginny was one of the most devastating things that ever happened to me. After 17 years, she had been in my life for nearly all of my 23 years. No longer having her there was really awful and felt so wrong. I grieved for SO many years and never thought I could love another dog like that again…. until I started volunteering at the county animal shelter. After awhile I couldn’t stand it anymore, I HAD to have a dog of my own again. Being at the shelter, and ultimately fostering a dog, gave me the ability to open my heart and love a dog again. I don’t think I’ll ever be without a dog again, not if I can help it anyway. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Your words mean so much to me. I have been wanting to write this piece for so long. It drained me emotionally but it was necessary – hugs

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