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Coping with the loss of a pet

Written By | Jan 31, 2017

SAN DIEGO,  January 31, 2017—You’re not just losing a pet when your furry and feathered friends pass away; you are losing a family member and the loss can be just as devastating.

Over 70 million pet dogs in the U.S. are a testament to the natural bond between humans and dogs.

According to a Japanese research team led by Takefumi Kikusui at Azab University’s School of Veterinary Medicine, dogs are the only animals that have a neurological connection to man.

It is believed that it is the result of thousands of years of co-evolutional human-dog-bonding.

Upon gazing into each other’s eyes, both human and dog produce the hormone oxytocin, which creates a feel-good response.

Very few humans could deny the pure joy experienced as their family dog barks for joy, wags its tail and generously supplies wet kisses upon their return home.

Dogs provide companionship, protection and unconditional love to those they consider their people.

Many dog owners believe that their canine is a member of their family and include him/her in their daily activities, outdoor adventures, special events, birthdays, holiday celebrations and family vacations.

The family dog also shares life’s ups, downs, joys and sorrows, becoming intuitively attuned to the emotional well-being of their family members.

Losing a family dog is devastating.

No matter the cause of the loss of a dog, whether by accident, illness or aging-related issues, it is impossible to fully prepare for the extent to which grief is felt.

In a 1988 study by the Journal of Mental Health Counseling, cited in the Washington Post, the human research subjects tended to rate their dogs as closer to them than a family member.

In the same study, approximately 38 percent rated their dog as their closest family member.

Losing a dog can be as painful for some pet owners as losing a human family member.

Though some may suggest that the death of a dog is not as significant, the grieving process is very real and extremely painful.

Every individual copes with and experiences the loss of a family dog in his or her own unique way.

There is no perfect solution for the grieving process, and it can take many months, even years, to come to terms with the loss.

Similar to the grief experienced at the loss of a human family member, the emotional roller coaster of anger, guilt and depression which are natural reactions can eventually lead to acceptance.

There is no cure for grief and the resulting emotional turmoil it can create.

As the emotional pain subsides over time, it can return unexpectedly in the form of a bittersweet memory, triggered by a sound or an event.

The American Kennel Club offers the following suggestions for coping with the loss of a dog.

  • Express grief openly and freely
  • Make an effort to be thankful for the positive, joyful experiences
  • Spend time with others who have lost a dog
  • Seek bereavement groups for other dog owners
  • Be sensitive to the loss experienced by all family members, including other pets
  • Memorialize the life of the beloved family dog
  • Donate to a dog-related charity in honor of the dog
  • Place a tribute ad at dog shows, on dog-related websites and in similar venues
  • Take time to grieve before bringing home a new dog
  • A new family dog deserves to be celebrated for his/her own uniqueness and personality

If a family dog is suffering from an illness or struggling due to the normal issues associated with aging, it is difficult to recognize and accept when it is time for him to be compassionately euthanized.

The following guidelines from the Dog Breed Info Center are helpful for identifying when it is time to say a painful goodbye.

Signs to look for which can indicate that a dog’s health is declining:

  • Not eating or drinking
  • Withdrawn or lethargic
  • Neglecting himself
  • Incontinence
  • Signs of pain–crying when touched
  • Cannot get comfortable
  • Unwilling to move about
  • Tumors and/or injuries
  • Unable to hold head up when at rest

Discussing any of the above symptoms with a qualified veterinarian is recommended to help determine which ones are treatable, or if it is time to say goodbye.

Each family dog brings a unique life experience for the humans who share his/her life.

For the millions of Americans who are fortunate enough to share their life’s journey with a family dog, the experience will forever enrich their lives, long after their beloved canine has died and gone to a peaceful place of eternal rest.

image via wikimedia/Edwards Hicks/The Peaceable Kingdom

“Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn’s rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there, I did not die…”
-Mary Frye

Until next time, enjoy the ride in good health!

Laurie Edwards-Tate

Since 1984, Laurie Edwards-Tate has served as President and Founder of At Your Home Familycare, a non-medical Home Care Aide Organization, serving seniors, disabled, infirm and children. Laurie is Board of Director 2018 (elected), Palomar Health; Executive Board Member; Chair Board Human Resources Committee; Member of Audits & Compliance Committee; Community Relations Committee.