my dog died and I feel empty
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My Dog Died and I Feel Empty

My dog died and I feel empty. A few months after my dog died, I was standing in line waiting to pay for groceries. The woman ahead of me in line was talking on her phone and blurted those words out. Her agony and sadness pierced through me like knives on fire.

It took me several months after my dog died to try to pretend my life was normal. When Dexter died, I felt invisible. I felt like I was drowning but somehow stuck in the deep end of the ocean. I could not move. Research consumed me. I somehow failed him. How did I miss something with as many letters as hemangiosarcoma?!

Every single grief article spewed out the stages of grief and that my dog was in a better place. How the hell could he be in a better place when the best place he could be is here with me on Earth?

Our dogs cannot be with us forever on earth. We will likely outlive our dogs. A complete stranger felt like dying because her dog died. I wasn’t alone. Neither are you.

I am writing this post for anyone and everywhere who feels lost, crushed, unable to get by, and wants their dog back. If I could deliver on that last part, I’d have done it myself by now.

These are the things that helped me, so please stay with me and read on.

What To Do When Your Dog Dies

If you searched the Internet and came across this article, I totally get what you are going through. If you are rich, poor, single, married, alone, or in a big family­­–the immense feelings of pain and angst in your chest unite us all.

For every moment of our dog’s life, we choose what they eat, when they go outside if they see the veterinarian, and how they spend their days and nights. Dogs are special beings but they rely on us to be their caretakers and providers of love, care, and nourishment of the body and soul.

Decide where you believe your dog is now. His or her body died, but what is inside your dog lives somewhere. If you are not religious or spiritual and believe there is no soul, then that’s where your dog resides now. Someday you will reside in the same ‘place.’

It is important to decide where your dog’s soul or inner being resides now. In that way, you can connect with his ‘soul’ or ____ (fill in the blank) even though his body is no longer with you.

Here’s the first article to read: What to do when your dog dies

How I Survived My Dog Dying

It’s no secret that my heart beats dog®. I own the trademark, wear the tattoo, and live the life. I never ever imagined my soulmate dog, Dexter, would die so tragically, suddenly, and without warning.

Hundreds of pet parents have reached out to me since to ask how I survived. Rather than tell you what I did to just about get through those soul-crushing days and nights full of agony and devoid of Dexter, I wrote about it.

I know that we will, in most cases, outlive our dogs. Their lives are a brief flicker, a sandglass turned upside down the moment they enter this world (the same holds true for humans.)

Like millions of pet parents, I started worrying about losing my dog and suffered from anticipatory grief. So I wrote about it. And no matter what I did, I knew the day would come when he would no longer walk this planet with me. He balanced me that little dog. He had no idea, or maybe he did, but his presence enhanced mine. The canine equivalent of completing me.

He wasn’t my first dog and he won’t be my last. He was, however, somewhat otherworldly. Everyone says they have a special dog, and they are all correct. Most people who met Dexter felt that special aura only he could exude. He made you feel important, loved, and that who you are in that moment mattered.

His sudden and unexpected death shattered me to my core. I know I am not alone in feeling this way. Millions of dogs are born in this world every day. Millions will die. Tears will fall, hearts will break, and trying to survive without your canine companion becomes a journey into hell on earth.

Here’s the next article to read: How I survived after my dog passed away

Cocker spaniel facts that are helpful

The First Few Months After The Death Of A Dog

Those first few months are torture. I cannot say it gets better, and by ‘it’ I mean the pain and agony of living without Dexter by my side. It does, however, get more real. I carry the pain with me and live his legacy. I take all the lessons and love he gave me and decided they don’t end with his death.

In this way, Dexter’s spirit, soul, message, and life live on. You are reading about him right now. He’s wagging and fluttering his canine wings from his spot over the Rainbow Bridge. I truly feel his presence as I type this.

My spouse reminded me to change the channel on my grief when it became too much and I could barely function.

“Change the channel when those thoughts come into your head,” Darlene told me.

You have to grieve. There is no fast-forward button on grief. Eventually, you have to function again, even if you hate that thought. You need to work. You need to live. You need to sustain yourself and those who love you.

Your dog’s life will have been in vain if you decide you cannot go on without him. Think of how your dog felt about you on earth. That doesn’t change because his body is no longer here.

The way Dexter made me feel about myself was gone. I cannot pretend that is here because I know he is not. He is, however, a guiding force and one of the reasons I clawed my way back to a life meant to be lived.

As a writer and a blogger, I find it very cathartic to help others going through the same thing. I’ve been reaching out to people who are also in grief and telling them some of the things I’ve been doing. And I opened my heart to another Cocker Spaniel. I always will. This is who I am.

Each dog is different and they should be. Each life is its own entity. Each dog is my heart dog. This much I know is true.

Read this next: What to do when your dog dies and how to handle the grief

By the way, if you’re wondering what happened to Dexter, how he died is in no way a reflection of how he lived. I used to think that. Then a friend reached out and shared this incredible nugget of wisdom with me. Melissa Chapman, these words are seared into my being forever:

message of hope for dog who died from cancer

My Dog Died and I Feel Empty: Talking to an Expert

Dr. Karen Becker is one of the most followed veterinarians in the world. She uses a common-sense, deliberate approach to creating and maintaining vibrant health in pets.

She is also the co-author of the New York Times best-selling book, The Forever Dog. She asked me to be on her show recently to discuss memorializing a dog after death.

Here’s our conversation. Watch this next:

Grieving the loss of a dog video

The Miracle of Dog Mountain

One of the places I highly recommend every dog lover visit at some point in life is Dog Mountain in St. Johnsburg, Vermont.

It was a very moving and other-worldly place to visit and sit in peace. It is unassuming and ordinary but extraordinary when you are on the hallowed grounds.

Rather than tell you all about it, read this article next:

The Miracle of Dog Mountain and Dog Chapel

Cocker Spaniel breed questions and answers

How To Memorialize Your Dog

I will never not talk about my deceased dogs. I will never not honor and cherish the life they spent with me. Of all the people on this huge planet, somehow their lives interconnected with mine and they shared time with me.

A friend asked me where I would be if I never adopted Brandy Noel. My life would be completely different.

I thought about Dexter’s life and where I would be had we never met. My life would be completely different.

My dogs are vessels and they guide me through life. I owe it to them to carry their legacy until our souls meet again.

You have so much intense pain and grief because a love that big leaves a planet-sized hole in your heart when the dog dies.

However, love never ends. Not even death can take that away.

Read this next: 30 Memorial Ideas for Dogs

Finally, a tribute to my Brandy Noel on a life well-lived, forever missed, forever loved, and a legacy that will live in my words and actions.

Who are you missing? Tell me about your dog in the comments below. Keep their legacy of love alive.

My dog died and I feel empty

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30 Comments

  1. I still miss our sweet Mushu who passed away in 2011 at age 13. She was smart, beautiful and loved kids. She was always ready for a walk, knew all sorts of tricks, and followed me everywhere. She was the queen of the castle. When she died, I had to keep telling myself “The only thing Mushu ever wanted was for us to be happy. She would be so sad if she saw how sad we are that she’s no longer here. So, it’s our job to remember all the wonderful love we shared with joy, and invite another cocker into our family to share the same”. It helped tremendously to have that mind set. We got Chandler when he was 8 weeks old, and just 3 weeks after Mushu crossed the Rainbow Bridge. Chandler had a very different personality from Mushu, but we love him just as much and can’t imagine not having him in our lives.

    1. I totally understand. I love your words, ““The only thing Mushu ever wanted was for us to be happy. She would be so sad if she saw how sad we are that she’s no longer here. So, it’s our job to remember all the wonderful love we shared with joy, and invite another cocker into our family to share the same”

      I totally agree. Hugs!

  2. Oh Carol, I’m so sorry you lost Dexter to this awful cancer, it is such a shocking way to loose a dog with little and sometimes no time at all to prepare oneself. I lost my canine soulmate, Nikki, to hemangiosarcoma on February 8, 2021. She was her normal self until the moments right before she collapsed and passed away within minutes. There was no time to prepare, she was just gone and I have never been so shocked and shattered. She died in my arms and I am so grateful I was there in her last moments. And on the flip side, had we found this cancer sooner I probably would have thrown everything I had at it and put her through treatment and surgery that wouldn’t save her in the end. Instead she lived life to the fullest, her happy self right up to the end. She ran and played ball that morning, ate breakfast and then she was gone. Over a year later I still miss her terribly every day. I am middle age now and have had dogs all my life, but she was THAT DOG in my life. I’m getting better now but it’s been a slow process. My faith keeps me going and I know I’ll see Nik again! Prayers and hugs to you. Hemangioma be damned!

    1. This breaks my heart. I am incredibly sorry that you lost your Nikki to evil HSA. It has stunned and shocked me. I totally get what you mean by “that dog.” Dexter was other worldly and had this magical aura. I know you know. You are right, too – I would have thrown everything at HSA to give him a better quality of life. I am still stunned that this happens to our beloved pets and cannot believe there isn’t more than palliative. Hugs and condolences.

      1. Yes, it is incredibly shocking. Even now, almost a year and a half after I lost Nik, I still feel moments of shock that she is really gone, I’ve lost her and will never see her again in this life. It is agonizingly, brutally painful. I have lost human family members, those were hard, this is worse. And that is something that cannot be said to just anyone, those whose heart does not beat dog simply cannot understand and pass heavy handed judgement on those of us who feel that way. I am grateful to have found your blog as your feelings and those of your readers mirror my own.

        1. People just don’t realise the hole that is left in your heart when your little dog dies. I keep bursting into tears at the thought of my little mini schnauzer Winnie. She was such a sweet dog. When I called her in from the garden she would come straight in and sit on the towel for me to wipe her feet. She loved her food so much she would jump around like a springer spaniel. I could go on and on but my heart is fit to bursting.

          1. My heart is broken for you, as I completely understand what you are going through. My very deepest condolences. Carry your dog’s love and legacy every day in your heart and deeds.

  3. Carol,
    I’m so grateful for this article. I am mourning my little girl Lucy who we euthanized 3 weeks ago and I cannot stop crying. The only way to tell you how special she was is to let you know our story. My husband and I had been contemplating having a child and I always wanted a curly headed girl named Lucy. I prayed on it and one day entered the most delightful brown soulful eyed one year old four legged girl Lucy! She was a neighbors dog who had been walking by our house and wondered if we would want to adopt her. It was truly fate! She has been the love of our lives and special to every member of our extended family. 14 years after we got her, we found out she had a large liver tumor that had metastasized and we knew with her heart condition she would not be able to endure treatment. She was that special dog. It was truly helpful to read your article about Dexter and also the responses of your readership. Hopefully you will feel blessed that you’ve helped someone to feel understood without even knowing me. Best to you and all of those who have had loss in their lives.

  4. Thank you for your words. I read them, but have a hard time understanding there meaning as I write this.
    You see, I had to put down my 13 year old Yorkie only 7 hours ago. We did X-rays prior to euthanasia just give me a feeling of less guilt. She went in with a collapse trachea and X-rays found she had a large abdominal tumor, which was never diagnosed. I do hate that I had to put her down, but do know it was for the best as she does not have to struggle to breath.
    I feel numb and sick to my stomach. I feel lost and empty.
    I lived her and she lived me so much. I know U was her everything and she mine.
    As I sit here U sometime think I hear here cough, but maybe that’s what I wish. I know it’s a long rad ahead of sadness.
    I know she will be waiting for me at rainbow bridge as I cannot wait the day.
    This such a difficult time for me and cannot wait to see her again.
    Thank for letting me write this.

  5. I sat here and searched and makes me feel a little better knowing I am not alone. I got codey in 2005 when he was just 9 weeks old. I grew up with him. He was 17 on July 1st 2022. We boarded him at the vet for just two nights for my cousins wedding this past weekend and while I was on my way to pick him up, my mom got the call that friday they took him out to pee and he fell over and his heart just stopped. They did cpr and everything they could but he was gone. My heart has never felt so broken. Of course he was old and had problems and slept a lot and I knew one day this could happen. But the thought of not being able to say bye to him when my parents him dropped him off that day and not me. I think we had a soul connection. The bond him and I had was something so insane and I cant stop crying. I don’t know how to have this life continue without him in it

  6. Thank you for this article. My Chow/GSD Emma passed last Tuesday. She also had hemangiosarcoma and it was sudden. She was around 12 and had dementia. She had started having symptoms of something and we had made an appointment for blood work but she all of a sudden deteriorated and we lost her that day. Shocking and devastating. We just never thought of cancer as she had other issues and with her age just assumed it would be something else. My heart is broken. She was our seventh dog and it just does not get easier. I keep asking myself why I keep putting myself through this. My answer? My life is empty without these wonderful creatures.

    1. Hemangiosarcoma is so evil. I am incredibly sorry.You are so right, my life would be empty without our babies. Hugs to you.

  7. I lost my buddy CoCo several weeks ago. She and I were together almost 14 years.
    She went just about everywhere with me and never wanted to leave my side.
    It has been a heard road to accept her death. I think about her every day and the little things she used to do.
    I had to make the decision to put her down because her quality of life was not there. She was old and her organs are failing her. At times I think I made the wrong decision and could have done more for her.
    I know she is at the end of the rainbow and running free. This just hard to get over and I do feel empty.
    Your article really helped and now I know there are other dog parents that share my feelings.

  8. I found your site today. We put our 11 year old German Shepherd down on 9/23/22. She had bone cancer and seborrhea of the worst kind. Liezl was that one and only, she always will be. She hurt so bad, but my daughter said, mom she wakes up every day because she thinks you need her. That is so true. I do still need her. Her smile and wagging tail never left even on her worst days. I tossed the idea of the vet coming out to help her cross over. Finally, I chose to have her comfy at home. The only part was Liezl not looking at me. I believe she heard me but was nervous with people around. I kissed her, hugged her and held her head. Peacefully she rested. I had walked her to the bridge, and big brother and sister took her over. “Now I’ll have to remember you, for longer than I’ve known you.” Such gut wrenching pain in that quote. Thank you for your articles and story of Dexter. I’m certain Liezl is playing with him now. I feel like my left arm is falling off in pain.
    Best,
    Monica Smith

    1. Oh no, Monica, this breaks my heart. I am sad to say I know how you feel. I felt like my guts were ripped out and taken away when my Dexter passed. I love that you said Dexter and Liezl are playing together. I am sure they are. I believe, too. I know that someday I will see him again, but you are correct: I will have to remember him for longer than I knew him. That is heartbreaking and true. My deepest condolences and may time be a comfort to you. Cherish the memories. Hugs.

  9. Firstly I just wanted to say thank you for the existence of this blog. It is just over 48 hours since we lost our Leo to Hemangiosarcoma. It has brought me comfort that it wasn’t our fault we didn’t spot it. Our Leo was 11 years old, a boxer cross Lab and just as the name suggests had that heart of a lion. Only 2 hours before he collapsed he was jumping and catching apples in his mouth, running around the garden,the signs of age were there but he walked and ate every day defying his age. My wife made the wise decision (as they often do) to get another dog just under a year ago, once he accepted her she was in his pack as all his family were. I have so many happy memories that I know in time will see me and my young family through this pain but it is so raw being in the house and him not being by my side. I am typing this with tears flowing lying on the sofa in the early hours and my boy would always be with me, well on me, all 40 kg of him.
    I feel so cheated that I didn’t get to have a last day with him where he had all his favourite foods, I recently ruptured my Achilles’ tendon so have not been able to walk him, my wife has done this and I hate to admit it but there is some jealousy there. However, she has bonded with him and Leo always had plenty of heart to share.
    Leo was always misunderstood as he was attacked whilst on his lead when young whilst we were with our son in a pushchair and ever since that day he has protected us. He has never hurt dog or human all his life but would bark to let all know he was our protector. I used to dislike this trait but grew to accept it and know he is gone love him even more. Once Leo had greeted you and you showed him affection you were in his pack, if you didn’t show him affection he would always try and win that person over with a well timed lick.

    I always knew this day would come, I have his dog food delivery arriving later today, that will go to charity, I ordered him a new massive dog bed for the winter, please understand this has nothing to do with money but to demonstrate how unexpected it all was and the reminders of him around the house are so painful.
    The bond I had with Leo and the love we shared cannot really be put down in words, we knew each other and often it wasn’t words it was the unspoken look in the eyes between us that meant the world to me. He protected me and my family right up to the last, the vet was amazing and there was that final look between us when I said he was a good boy and let him fly.

    1. My very deepest condolences. I will never understand why these things happen so suddenly and without warning.

      I so appreciate your kind words. Please know we are mourning your loss, too. I am so sorry.

      1. Thank you for your kind response it helps to know that people out there understand how we are feeling. Lots of love to you all x

  10. Thank so so much for making me not feel alone. We lost our 8 year old bulldog suddenly a few days ago. I was sitting on the couch and she was laying with her head in my lap she had what looked like a seizure and died in my lap. It was sudden and she had just started drooling then it happened. I am crushed and don’t know what to do with myself I can’t stop crying it feels worse to me than some of the human deaths I have experienced. She was that special dog and it hurts so incredibly bad.

    1. I am so incredibly sorry you went through this. Your baby was in your arms and then gone the next. That had to be overwhelming. I am glad this piece helped you. You just need to take it day by day – minute by minute if you need to. Your baby would want you to be okay. All my hugs.

  11. I had to put my little Karma down yesterday. I am broken. I thought I had a healthy dog that would be with me for several more years a week ago and now she’s gone. I don’t know how to get through the days without her. Nights are even worse because she used to sleep cuddled up next to me with my arm around her. She was the sweetest dog ever. I’ve had many other dogs in my life and losing all of them were hard, but being without Karma seems like a whole other level of grief. The house is so empty without her. I alternate between zombie=mode and long bouts of crying. I miss her so much.

  12. Thank you for this. I just lost my soul dog Bauer after 12 years to liver cancer. He was my reason for living and I feel so lost without him here. I just couldn’t let him suffer, I wasn’t strong enough to watch him suffer so I let him go.. and the guilt really eats me up that I couldn’t save him. I love you Bauer, I hope you know how I will never be the same without you. ♡♡

  13. His name was Roo. He was a seventeen year old pug and a joy in my life. He joined our family after the loss of my mom. He was disabled, losing the use of his back legs. I cared for him but as any fur mom knows they give you more with just their presence. I will love him until I see his little face again. He is in the best of hands with my mom and dad and our heavenly father. Peace and love to all of you.

  14. I recently came across your website as I’ve been struggling with the recent loss of my souldog Walter to hemangiosarcoma. To know Walter was to love Walter and everyone who’s met him seems to have their own Walter story. His personality far exceeded his 7.5lb body. I’ve been a cat person all my life and never knew I also needed to be a dog mom until Walter came into my life when he was 2 months old. I was working at a local animal shelter when hundreds of dogs were brought in from a local raid of a puppy mill by our state’s Dept of Ag. Walter was in a kennel with two of his brothers who were clamoring at the front like typical puppies. Walter was huddled in the back and I’m always drawn to the ones needing extra TLC. He needed a foster home since he was too young to be neutered and although I knew very little about puppies and also had a litter of bottle baby kittens I was fostering, I didn’t hesitate to volunteer (and didn’t even bother to give my husband a heads up). And from that moment, we were inseparable. I spent more time with Walter in the past 11 years than anyone else in my life. He came to work with me and if there was anyplace I could take him, he was joining me. He also became a beloved member of my immediate family and was such a great source of support after my dad was diagnosed with ALS. Some people simply knew me as Walter’s mom and I was perfectly fine with that.

    On Nov. 25th, I woke up the sounds of Walter screaming in pain and collapsed on the ground and seizing.. I will never forget the sounds of his screams. Everything that happened afterwards has felt like a nightmare I can’t wake up from. I had no idea what could be wrong as he seemed perfectly fine all day. If a hair was out of place – he was going to the vet. I often shared with friends, family and our vet my anxiety over the very thought of losing Walter. My vet assured me that he was a healthy middle aged dog and had several years ahead of him. He recently had a vet visit on Nov. 2nd and everything had checked out fine. We went to the ER we’ve used in the past and they immediately worked on stabilizing him because his gums were pale, his temp was low, his abdomen was distended and they had trouble reading his blood pressure. I couldn’t even believe what I was hearing. This ER did not have an on call surgeon that week so once he was stabilized, we were transferred to another ER. He was the most critical patient upon arrival and we started a series of diagnostics and a blood transfusion. The vet said surgery could be done but the surgeon would be going in blind which was risky. If he remained stable, they recommend and ultrasound to get a better idea of what we were dealing with. The ultrasound was done first thing in the morning and shortly after, the vet was telling me that Walter had hemangiosarcoma that started in his spleen where a mass had ruptured and had metastasized and spread to his liver which had multiple masses. In situations like this, I was told surgery was generally not recommended.. In addition to the surgery risks, the surgeon had also seen cases where removing a primary mass allowed the secondary masses to become more aggressive. Walter stayed in ICU for two days before we could bring him home. I consulted with several vets who didn’t think Walter was a good candidate for surgery due to the fact that the cancer had metastasized and with the limited time he had, a good chunk of it would be spent recovering from the surgery. His post hospitalization recovery was a little rough and at the time, I felt it was the right decision not to proceed with surgery. I wanted to focus on quality of life vs quantity.. He was sent home with pain meds and Yunnan BaiYao and he eventually continued to improve to the point where I felt comfortable scheduling a surgical consult to remove his spleen and the masses in the liver that could be removed. The surgeon said I could schedule the surgery as soon as the next day but I wanted to give more thought since there were risks and the last thing I wanted was for him to die on the surgery table. By the time I reached back to schedule the surgery, the first available was Dec. 16th. This past Friday, he seemed a little off. I checked his vitals which were within the normal ranges and after consulting with my vet, we adjusted his pain meds which helped. He immediately seemed more comfortable and I woke him up later so he could take his evening dose of Yunnan, he ate some and the had another dose of pain meds. Of course I couldn’t sleep at all because I was watching him all night but he seemed to be sleeping well by my side. However in the morning, I could tell he hasn’t feeling well. His gums were pale and his temperature was dropping. Initially, I thought about taking him back to the ER to try and stabilize him. But then the fear of his last moments being in the ER if they couldn’t or dying during surgery prompted me to contact our regular vet. I could tell Walter’s little body was tired and I just didn’t feel like it was right for me to try and force him to hang on when the cancer already had a strong hold of his body. And I felt in my heart that Walter was telling me he was ready to say goodbye. So with the help of our vet, we let him peacefully go, surrounded by love and wrapped in my arms.

    He was so much a part of me and now that he’s physically gone, I feel life a piece of me died with him. I keep second guessing every decision and my days are filled with all the what ifs. I always felt that I needed to gift him with a compassionate goodbye and not allow him to suffer but I keep questioning whether I made the right choices and those doubts are eating me alive. I wasn’t even aware of hemangiosarcoma prior to this and honestly shocked by how common and deadly it is. Walter isn’t even considered high risk (we did a DNA test a few years ago and it came back 100% Maltese). Even more surprised by how little advancement there has been for screening and treatment. Letting Walter go was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. He was my everything. I still expect to see him at home, looking at me with love in his eyes and wagging his little tail. Now I feel completely empty and lost without him. The grief I have right now is so intense that I can barely function. I have scheduled a meeting with a pet loss counselor because I know I need help to try and pull myself through this.

  15. To all the Doggo parents on this forum I am so incredibly sorry for the losses you have all had my heart truly goes out to you all. Our dogs are like our children and the greif that comes from that loss is so deep and so hard to process. I had to put my 6 year old great Dane cross down 2 weeks ago, she had a limp, I got a scan done and she had very aggressive osteosarcoma in her front left leg. I could have let her live longer however the options for treatment were very aggressive and I did not want to put her through anything that would cause her anymore pain. She was only on this earth for a very short time. This article makes me feel less alone. I know the only way through this greif is to feel all of it I also know time will heal the intense pain I feel right now. I feel like my girl lily is with me in spirit every day. I feel like a part of me missing aaaahhh this so hard. Sending you all big hugs and much love. Xo

    1. I am sending you so many hugs, Jemzy. It is so hard to get through the loss of a beloved furbaby. I completely understand. My heart is with you.

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