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.