Karen B. London
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Grieving a Dog’s Death
Easing the sadness isn’t easy

My brother-in-law, sister-in-law, and two nieces said good-bye to their dog today. Lizzie was almost 14 years old and in heart failure. They thought that they would lose her last October, but she survived for months more than they expected. That doesn’t make her death any less sad. Though it’s great when a dog reaches old age, it doesn’t take away from the fact that the lives of dogs are far too short relative to ours.

There are many ways to prepare for and handle the pain of losing a dog, all of which honor the dog’s life and the relationship that you shared.

If you know that the end is near for your dog, and she is able, take her to her favorite place, whether it’s the park or a place where she can swim. Treat her to her favorite foods and give her special items to chew on, so you can make her happy and provide yourself with fond memories of those last days. Take photos of these moments so that you can look back and know that the end of your dog’s life was filled with kindness.

Tangible reminders of your dog can be wonderfully therapeutic after your dog has passed away. Photos are helpful for many people, especially if you have some good shots of your dog over the years doing the things you’d most like to remember—running through the woods, looking through the window as you come home, playing with a favorite toy. Even one of the many times she got into the trash can be a treasured memory after she is gone. A photo of your dog misbehaving in this way can be fun to look at, even if it was never fun cleaning up the mess. Many people like to make collages or memory books of their dogs with photos from all stages of life.

Other ways to create memories of your dog include putting together a record of your favorite stories about her. Write down what your dog most loved to do, how she changed over the years, the biggest trouble that she ever got into, and some of the happiest times you shared. Some people like to save a little lock of fur.

It can be healing to make a donation in memory of your dog to a shelter, rescue group, or any other organization that works on behalf of pets, as a way to pass on the joy that your dog gave to you.

Though it’s challenging, refuse to allow anyone to give you the “it was just a dog” treatment or try to trivialize the pain you are feeling. It hurts to lose a family member no matter what the species, and you need time to grieve, even if not everyone understands what a big loss you have suffered.

There’s no way out of the pain when a dog dies but to move forward through it. My hope for anyone who loses a dog is that over time, the sadness fades and the happy memories linger.


Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

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Submitted by CJ | November 15 2011 |

The best thing I did right after my soul dog died suddenly at home (from complications from anesthesia, she'd been a higher risk breed) was to make an album of my favorite photos onto a CD. I was due to leave for Africa later that day, and it was the hardest leaving I've ever done. I was still in pieces for quite a while, but when I came home my vet and the wonderful vet techs had sent the most beautiful sympathy card. Our family was fortunate - we got several cards of condolence from family and friends who understood what a loss it was for us. It's been three years now and I can look back and smile at the easy times we had and the joy she got shoving her face in the snow.

Submitted by grace m | November 15 2011 |

We were fortunate to have our boy Teddy, a red cocker. For 15 years. Still I miss him everyday. He was my pal. And so much more. We did many of the things in the article. They do help.We have a new little boy now, He does not take Teddy's place.

I still feel the loss deeply and cried good tears when we speak of him, or I think of Ted.just like now.

One thing not mentioned was was. We buried him in the backyard and put a memorial stone with his name and birth and death dates. I go to his grave to visit and tell my new boy, about Teddy.

We lost him in Feb. Of this year..

Submitted by delaney | September 24 2013 |

Key chain memorials help me.

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