Alexandria, VA – This past January, I was left with the hard decision of letting my dog Jack go. His veterinarian called it giving him a gift. I knew I had no choice but to send him over the Rainbow Bridge, but at that moment, it was one of the hardest decisions I had to make in my life.
Jack was my heart dog, and he was a great dog. He loved everyone, people and dogs alike, and loved being part of his human-dog team. He was optimistic and a lover of life. Dogs come to us with lots of “bad” but very normal dog behaviors. But Jack never counter-surfed, chewed up our personal belongings, or dug holes in the yard. He was such a good dog. I was so lucky.
Many of you have made this decision with your canine companions. You know how it feels. Research confirms that for most people, the loss of a dog is comparable to the loss of a human loved one. We go through the same grieving process, sometimes feel the same guilt that we could have done more. We hold onto their collar, hoping that this is just a bad dream, that they will be back soon.
We display their urns on the mantel or bury their ashes in places they loved. Jack loved the beach, so we spread some of his ashes there. We pray that we will see them again one day and visualize them running pain-free with all the dogs that went before them over the Rainbow Bridge.
When our dogs leave us, I believe they take a piece of our hearts with them. I also think that they leave a part of their hearts with ours. They leave us memories of all the wonderful times we shared. Often, our dogs teach us life lessons, and we learn so much from them. It was a very difficult rescue dog I adopted almost 30 years ago that led me on the journey to becoming a professional dog trainer.
When our hearts are broken by the loss of our pet, there are important steps that we can take to help heal the pain.
Take time to grieve. Pets are members of our family. Their loss can be very traumatic. Surround yourself with friends and family who can be there to support you and provide solace in your time of grief.
Reach out to some of the local pet bereavement groups and animal communicators. Facebook has many pet bereavement pages and support groups, some with thousands of members. This has over 60,000 members: www.facebook.com/groups/739466563141011.
Find the right place and time to share this very sad news with your children. Ask them to think about and share their good memories of their pet. Share pictures, maybe ask them to draw their thoughts about their pets. Crying and displaying outward signs of grief are okay for children and adults alike.
Hold a memorial service for your pet. Whether you want to do that in private or invite family and friends, memorials about our pets can help us fill that hole in our hearts with positive thoughts and memories of our special companions.
Take time to heal. The healing process is not the same for everyone. Some may want to go out and find a new pet sooner rather than later, not to replace the one they lost but to help fill the emptiness they feel. Others may need more time to process their loss and think about what they would like in their next pet. Whichever it is, that special next pet often finds us.
There are tons of articles, books, professionals, and groups that can help with your loss. If you feel the need for added support, reach out to them. You never have to go through this alone.
Sandy Modell, CPDT-KA, is the Founder, Owner, and Head Trainer of Wholistic Hound Academy, Alexandria’s award-winning, premier canine training and learning center — offering classes and private lessons in puppy training, adolescent and adult foundation and life skills, behavior modification, agility, dog sports, and canine fitness and conditioning, kids and dogs, pre-pet planning and pet selection. Classes starting soon! Visit www.wholistichound.com to enroll in our programs, and like us on Facebook.com/wholistichound and follow us on Instagram at Instagram.com/wholistichound.