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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: