Pet Loss

I was sorting out some old files recently and came across a clipping of a newspaper article from 2011 where I had been interviewed for advice on pet loss. I read the article and my heart warmed at the references and stories I had shared about dogs that I have loved and lost over the years. Each one was unique and had been so dear to me. Some were working dogs that took years of training to hone their special talents and others that were just quirky and always gave me a good belly laugh. All of them shared one ability, to inspire me in some way to be a better dog trainer and dog owner.
Shortly after reading the article I lost my 10 ½ year old German Shepherd Nila. It wasn’t a complete surprise as a few months before we found out she had an inoperable tumor in her stomach. None the less it was still extremely painful to lose her. Nila was “that dog” for me.

Her engaging nature, versatility and complete focus gave her psychic like abilities to understand everything I wanted from her. She was one of my go-to dogs for many, many years, working in many projects and training courses as a demo dog, as well as a personal protection dog. She had my back in any situation and the trust we shared was at a whole new level of most dog/human relationships. Nila was best friends with another of my German Shepherd’s named Dafy. They played together, trained together and grew old together. He was also a very talented dog.

Besides many traits and talents, Dafy had perfected the stop command to a fine art. He could be full out running and when I called out “Dafy, Stop! he would screech to a halt and without taking his eye off the decoy he would back up and fall into position beside me. His sense of loyalty and duty was remarkable, and I was truly heartbroken when Dafy passed away 2 weeks after Nila of a stroke. Experts say that dogs do grieve but recover much faster than people do. From a personal perspective this is mostly true however this is not the first time I have lost 2 dogs that were best friends one after another. It happened in 2015 with a collie and a German shepherd who were also extremely close. The collie passed one week after the shepherd. Some bonds between dogs can be very intense and for older dogs losing their friend can be as traumatic for them as it is for us.

I thought about the article again and the words rang far too close to home. Losing a loving pet is very emotional and there is no easy way of getting over the loss. Society isn’t always sympathetic about pet loss. Some have never had an attachment to an animal so will not always feel your pain or understand the bond animal lovers share with their pets. Some may even discount the loss by saying it is only a pet. Don’t allow anyone to make you feel wrong about your grief. There is no wrong or right way of grieving, it is different for everyone. Just allow yourself the space and time to grieve.
If you are like me, being around other animals is a comfort. I have always had a few dogs at any one time, so my other dogs helped me immensely with the healing process.
No other dog will able to replace Nila or Dafy for me, but they don’t need to as love doesn’t stop when someone departs. Even though I miss them I can still go on enjoying different relationships with different dogs. My heart is satisfied and full with the devotion and inspiration they gave me and they will always hold a special place in my mind and heart.

A few tips to help cope with the loss of your furry companion:

  1. Grieve in your own way, at your own pace.
    We all deal with our emotions differently and that’s ok. Some people like to face their emotions head on, and others prefer distracting themselves and putting all their energies into work or a hobby until the emotion is less painful. Do what feels right for you.
  2. Find people you are comfortable to talk it over with – If you have friends or family that understand, or a community of pet lovers then reach out. Talking about it helps.
  3. Reach out and help other animals in need. There are many options where you can volunteer or foster. Remember love doesn’t stop when someone departs.
  4. Avoid feeling guilty – Give yourself a break. No matter what the circumstances of your pet’s death, be it sickness, old age or accidental, feeling guilty never changes anything. Try to focus on all the wonderful memories.
  5. If you have children help them work through their feelings through expressing themselves in talking, looking through pictures or even creating a memorial event to say good bye. I have seen many great ideas from planting a tree or releasing a balloon into the sky in your pet’s honor or having a special picture framed of your pet.
  6. If you have other pets remember they may be grieving also. Spend some extra quality time playing or even just spending quiet time together. Your presence is as comforting to them as they are to you.

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