11 Steps to Grieving My Dog

If you love a dog, someday you will lose a dog.

Everyone grieves differently. But I’ve noticed a pattern in my own grief. And watching friends on Facebook, I suspect I’m not the only one who grieves the way I do.
 

My dogs, Agatha and Christie, post in the garden.

Agatha and Christie in a rare moment of peace and calm.

10 Stages of Grieving a Dog

 
Luckily, I’ve never lost a young dog in an accident or unexpected illness. But when saying goodbye to a single, older dog, these are the stages of dog grief I experience:

Step 1: Intense pain and sorrow.

I can’t stop crying. My heart aches.

Step 2: Loneliness.

The house feels empty. My husband and I say to each other, “It’s so quiet without her.”

Step 3: Escape.

Unable to stand the quiet house and scattered toys that serve as a reminder of the one we’ve lost, we go away. Even the dreaded shopping mall is better than the emptiness of a home without clicking toenails or jingling dog tags.

Step 4: The Big Realization.

Out of the house, we see that it’s dinner time and automatically get ready to go home. After all, we need to prepare food, medicine, or take a walk.

Oh, wait a minute, there’s no one waiting for us. We can stay out as long as we like.

Step 5: Repeat steps 1 and 2.

Yeah, there’s nothing happy about step #4. At first.
 

Shadow, our dog, liked to lay down on Mike.

Mike says I forgot the stage where one recovers feeling in his testicles. I wouldn’t know.


 
Step 6: Relief.

Eventually, the realization that we don’t have to be anywhere at a particular time spawns relief. It’s tinged with intense sorrow. But it’s still relief.

Step 7: Making plans.

We start thinking about bringing a new dog into our lives. But first…

Step 8: A vacation.

Or a trip to visit family. Or home repairs. Or a complicated hobby that is too hard to do with an ailing dog around the house.

Yes, we’re still sad. But finally we can do something we’ve put off while caring for an ailing, senior dog. And we have to get it out of the way. Because soon we’ll start…

Step 9: Getting ready for the next dog.

Old toys get cleaned up, given away, or thrown out. I bookmark the website for local shelters, rescues, and Petfinder. And we start visiting dogs.

Who will be the next dog we love?
 

Honey the Golden Retriever looks back.

Why look backward? There’s so many great memories to come.


 
Step 10: Telling the new dog about the old one.

It completes the circle to tell the new dog about the one who left her scent around the house and warmed up our hearts.

Step 11: Hoping that we won’t have to deal with the first ten steps for many years to come.

This post is dedicated to all my friends who have grieved dogs this year in their own unique ways, especially Peggy, Julie, and Ms. Taleteller.

Your Turn: Have you noticed a pattern to the way you grieve your dogs? Or is every time different?

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Comments

  1. great post as always. I lost our family cat this year and it was soooo painful, I was shocked by how intense the grief was and my pattern was very similar to yours. I hadn’t shed so many tears in years. It hurts less now but it still hurts when I think of it. I can’t even begin to imagine the day Charlie or Hannah passes on…but it’s good to see that you can eventually move on from it.

    • The thing about grief is that it never goes away. It just becomes less intense as time goes on.

      And, of course, you don’t have time to grieve every moment when you have another furry body who needs you. That’s one good point for multi-pet households, huh? :)

  2. We try not to think about it. Mom never wanted to be without a dog, so there are two of us but it did not help when she lost her last dog. Katie, my older sister, was there and they grieved together which Mom says sometimes helped but sometimes it made it harder. The only thing that really helps is time, and Mom still tears up occasionally and that was almost ten years ago. If you really love your dog, I don’t think it is much different than losing a human except that so many humans can’t understand how you feel. Hopefully we won’t have to deal with grief for a long time.

    • I did find it helpful to still have Agatha when Christie passed. It gave me something to do so I wasn’t just wallowing in sadness.

      But I also learned how much Agatha truly wanted to be an only dog. And although I wanted to bring another one into the house, I just couldn’t do that to Agatha.

      You’re right that time helps. But I think the reason we all cry when we read about someone else’s dog passing is because those feelings come right back to us about our own dogs. It’s a universal club that all dog lovers belong to.

  3. Beautiful post! From a young age I’ve lost so many pets, young & old. Even now, many years later, I still miss all of them. I’ve always had the comfort of other pets and find it easier to think that I’m being given an opportunity to help another pet find a new, loving home.

    • I like the idea of opening up a space for another pet to have a loving home. I’ve sometimes said the same thing to myself.

      And besides, my house is too small to have dozens of animals in it. If they didn’t love shorter lives than I do, I would never get to know the ones who come after. I miss Agatha and Christie. But would I want them to live forever so I never got to know Shadow? Or Honey?

  4. Callie, Shadow, and Ducky's Mom says:

    Great post, Pamela! My grieving process 10 years ago was much the same as what you describe. Kissy was my first fur-baby…all the other dogs in the family had been Mom’s. And when I had to say goodbye, it tore my heart into shredded remnants of itself. She and I had been together — through everything — for more than 15 years. We had a bond like no other. And it still tugs at my heart at times. The bonds I have now with Callie, Shadow, and Ducky warm the cockles of my heart, but they’re different. And they should be. Not better or less than, just different. They each round out my life in their own way. I know that I’ll grieve for each of them when it’s their turn to cross over the Rainbow Bridge, but I choose not to think about it until I have to.

  5. You absolutely nailed it! Our process for old man Dylan was exactly like that. And with #6 Relief also came a bit of guilt. Dylan was almost 17 when we helped him across the bridge and was pretty much on 24/7 hospice care. It truly was his time but I felt guilty at being relieved. I was miserable without him, but, boy, what a relief. We weren’t tied to the house any longer. The only mistake we made was not to take some whirlwind vacation in between dogs. John is a clean freak and he really started to enjoy the hair-free house. I felt panicked to get another dog before he was too comfortable with an empty house. I started researching a new dog within a couple of weeks and had Wilson about 6 weeks after losing Dylan. Wilson gets a lot of credit for healing our broken hearts. A puppy will do that :-)

  6. Brought tears to my eyes. Fritz is almost 14….he can’t see or hear and barely smell. He is blessing us by hanging around while we learn the joy of caring for an old dog…making his final year with us as happy as possible. Franny and Izzy are not far behind, either.

  7. BJ is my first dog since I was younger and wasn’t living at home when my first dog died. Besides crying a lot, I remember not being able to watch a TV show with dogs.

    BJ is now 13 1/2 years old and although he is healthy and spry and his life span is 13-16 years, I think about what will happen when I lose him. I know how I will feel, what will I do.
    I’m retired now and home so the emptiness in the apartment will be overwhelming. Should I take a vacation before getting another dog? How long do I wait before getting another dog and visiting the shelters and Petfinder? When those thoughts begin to take over, I pick him and hug him whether he likes it or not. And then, I think about positive thoughts about BJ.
    Thank you for the post.

    • Mike Webster says:

      From the Husband:

      Those questions you have. . . I think the right, or the best, answers won’t come until you’re in the process. Once in it, they’ll show themselves when you need them the most.

      And, of course, you already know this, and that’s why you turn to BJ whenever the thoughts arise. And that, I think, is absolutely the right and the best answer for now.

  8. I’ve had several special Golden’s in my life, and prepping for Sam’s day has been the worst. Cisco and Daisy, while ill, died unexpectedly. With Sam we are finding we have a lot of time to think about it.

    Sam

    • Having a lot of time knowing that the day is coming- does not make the day any easier at all. I’m not sure why I thought it would.

      • I don’t think it matters how it happens….whether you know it’s coming, or whether it’s a sudden shock. There’s no difference, really, it breaks your heart no matter how it goes down.

  9. I couldn’t do it. I would have to have other dogs in the house to share my grief, Humans may be grieving as much as I am, but I couldn’t face life dogless.

    • I do think losing Jackjack would have been worse without being able to come home to Grunt, who wouldn’t understand why we were so depressed. I wondered if he would grieve, but I don’t think the two dogs could ever have been considered friends. Grunt acted no different, and I think that helped us get over the sheer hurting part faster, to realize that really we had helped Jackjack to die in the most peaceful pain-free way possible.

  10. What a wonderful post! The grieving never ends, does it? I miss them all, and I don’t think the tears can ever really “end.” When one leaves us for the Bridge, there’s always another “beneficiary” who will need a furever home, and my heart will always have more room for merry-making!

  11. Well, it’s almost like you have been living with us and documenting it! Although we are still repeating 1 & 2 quite often, we have started talking about another pup . . . as soon as we get all of these projects and traveling out of the way :)

    Thanks for the beautiful post Pamela, it’s nice to know that we aren’t too far from normal! I can’t wait to tell our future pup all about Cali ♥

  12. Diana Drucker says:

    exactly

  13. This pattern is much like what I’ve experienced. As sad as it is, I will experience it again and again because even though those times are tough, the great years my dogs have given me more than makes up for it. The most recent loss for me was at the end of 2011 when Sephi unexpectedly got deathly ill. She was only 10 and I expected more years. I still had my Lab Maya, but I still felt lonely. Then Pierson came along. I still miss Sephi, but Pierson has been great at filling that emptiness. Here’s to many more wonderful years together!

  14. I suppose if we did not still have Grunt, we would have realized that there was no reason to be home at a certain time, and would perhaps venture further from home.

    We did take a vacation, but it just so happened that we had to take Jackjack to be euthanized before the date our trip was planned for. The dogs were both supposed to go with us. It felt very odd to be in a car without Jackjack snoozing in my lap.

    I expected to have a lot of trouble sleeping the day we came home without Jackjack. He had been sleeping next to me since the first night we brought him home, oh, 9 years ago. My own little Jack Russel brand teddy bear, perfect for hugging throughout the night. Instead, I slept just fine, and felt guilty about it.

    My husband and I have also gotten the urge to get another dog. I don’t know if my husband has specific reasons, but I do. Grunt is still our baby and I love him dearly, but he doesn’t cuddle, and I miss that greatly. If the next dog doesn’t cuddle either, well… doesn’t that sound like a great excuse to have 3 dogs?

  15. I tend to get stuck in a cycle between steps #2 and #3…and then I just leap ahead to steps #9, 10 and 11…I learned a while back that I don’t do well in a house without a dog…I feel like I’ve lost a limb and the ache never stops till I find my new love

  16. We did lose a WAY-too-young dog (to cancer – 2 1/2 yrs. old) and it’s pretty much the same process. As someone who shares the last bite w/ her pups, there’s also a very long adjustment to realizing you can just eat that last bite yourself. It sticks in the throat for a really long time.

    Even though Abby’s been gone more than 18 months, we still tell Rita about her all the time. We were just talking to Rita about Abby this morning, telling her what a nut she was!

    We also talk about doing the Big Project of the Big Vacation in between – but I can never wait. The hubs wants to wait a long time, but not me. I need dogness in my life.

  17. We’ve unfortunately gone through this too much lately – the hazards of adopting seniors I guess. We’ve always had two dogs, or at least for the last 20 years we have, so I’ve never been dog less. When we lost our first, Sally, my husband really resisted getting another dog for awhile – she was his soul mate, but eventually we did. I would rather get a new dog sooner to fill up the emptiness I guess.

    • and rescuing seniors – as well as those with undisclosed cancers. I’ve stopped saving ashes but put a plant tag in the memorial garden with each dog’s name after they die. I cry and cry, I wonder what else could I have done, and then, I go back to the Pack who still need the Mom…but for days, I try to feed the dog who is now entertaining God.

  18. Another excellent post. Thank you xx
    Our first dog adoption, Bertie, died this March (aged 10) so I have recent memories of the torture. There is no good way to say goodbye to your dog, but ours ailed for 24 hours, had an ‘all clear’ from the vet and then passed away suddenly that evening. The shock was huge and we literally cried for the next week before entering step 2 for several more weeks. The ache is still there, but more manageable, thanks to our new companion, Nellie (found on the street here in Kazakhstan). I don’t know how we ‘got through’ those first few weeks; part of ourselves died with Bertie. Thank goodness for Nellie, who is reawakening us to joyful doggie fun.

  19. We said good-bye to two of our darlings in the last six months. Both were thirteen and in failing health. This has been so hard. Only others who have been through it understand. The grief is palpable, a living part of us. Harleigh left us in January and Sambuca four weeks ago. This time is much harder as we are still missing Harleigh so much and now our little boy is gone too. I don’t mind the grief; I loved them so much it gives me comfort to mourn.

  20. I don’t know if my grieving process can be broken down to steps. Up close it feels like one step forward, to steps back. With a little more perspective I guess it’s something more like a spiral shape type of thing. It feels like going around in circles but with a bit distance there is SOME progress.

    What is most helpful to me is finding ways of being with her or doing things for her.

  21. I found myself getting misty-eyed reading this. Some things have been very much the same for me, and others have been very uniquely different. With Treat, I knew it was coming, but she owned my heart and I still wasn’t ready for her to go. I would never have been ready. I can honestly say that her death changed me. Something in me has never been the same since she died. With Hawk, we had to make the decision without time to think about it. He’d been ill and fell in the kitchen and couldn’t get up while we were gone. The next day was a day when neither of us were going to be able to be home, and we decided that it was kinder to just let him go. We never found out what was wrong with him. I always carried a touch of guilt over his passing, though, because in some ways it felt like it was a matter of convenience. Lilac was so old when she passed, and I didn’t realize how much our lives had adapted to her until she was gone. Caring for her had been so difficult, and I kept hoping she would make it easy for me and just slip quietly away in her sleep, but of course she never did care about making things easy for me! lol I felt much more peaceful about her passing, though. Her life was just something incredible and I felt lucky to be a part of it. I didn’t grieve her death nearly as long, and I think it’s because we really didn’t have any regrets or doubts. She lived a long life and completely on her terms. She was also incredibly old for a Greyhound. Blueberry’s loss still haunts me some. I still think I’ll see her sometimes, and I feel so badly that she must have been in so much pain there at the end, but she was still doing her best to make us happy. Missing her still pops up unexpectedly, but it is getting easier. For me, it’s much easier to fill that loss with something else to love, which is why Flattery has come to join us. Hubby was SO attached to Blueberry, and he keeps telling Flattery that we’re taking her back when we go to the reunion in September, but he’s getting very attached to her for a guy who says he doesn’t like her. I’ve also caught him working on training her, which I think is good for him. 😉

    • “I can honestly say that her death changed me. Something in me has never been the same since she died.” This part of your comment really touched me. That is how I feel about losing our dog Maggie. 9 years later and I still can’t talk about exactly how it did change me. Thank you for saying that.
      I keep coming back to this post, and it makes me cry every time. Not to make Pamela feel bad! :)

  22. Thanks for the tears! I knew I shouldn’t have clicked on this one, but I couldn’t help myself. I went through the first few steps over and over and over when we lost our puppy last year. Today, I’m always talking about Riley and I was just able to start watching videos of her a few months ago. The pain was unbelievable – I have never felt it before and I know that I’ll feel it again and again. It won’t stop me from adopting. I welcome the pain knowing that I’m saying goodbye to a beautiful soul who will be waiting for me someday. But damn it’s so freakin’ hard!!!!

  23. The dogs I had growing up all passed after I moved out, so while I did grieve for them, it was not the same after having not lived with them for a while.
    It’s really hard to talk about our grieving process for LittleBear without also telling his whole story. But I’m not going to do that here, as it would become a (very long) post of its very own. I’m just going to say that he was our “once in a lifetime dog” and leave it at that. He passed in October 2012.
    He was an only dog for five of his years with us, but was not an only dog when he passed, so we didn’t have steps 3-8.
    We had more of Step 1 than we thought we could stand. I have been with my husband for 12 years (11 at the time) and had never seen him cry. Until LittleBear passed. He cried heavy and hard, just like I did… we both cried seemingly non-stop for the first week, then finally easing up in the following weeks… just having random, but usually at least once-daily jags… the jags gradually lessened as the weeks turned into months. Sometime during the first week, I actually told my husband that I wanted to go be with LittleBear, and that meant exactly what it sounds like. And I meant it, at the time.
    Li’l Girl grieved right along with us. Even though LittleBear had been our only dog for quite a long time, they became fast friends after adopting her in Jan 2009 and had a very deep bond of their own. We had no intentions of adopting another very soon, because we wanted to have more time to grieve, but at the same time, we didn’t want Li’l Girl to get too accustomed to being an only dog herself. So a short two months after Bear passed, we adopted Austin.
    It has been 10 months now. Our hearts still ache for LittleBear, and I still have crying jags here and there. The house still feel empty without him, despite our other two being here. My husband and I just aren’t the same either. Vi (several above) said it best: “The grief is palpable, a living part of us.”
    We find ourselves doing step 10 pretty often, telling Austin about LittleBear… which makes me wonder… does Li’l Girl do the same? She will likely be next, and we are really, really dreading it. Our bond with her is of course different than it was with LittleBear, but still very, very strong. It’s so hard to think about having to go through it all over again. And as our relationship deepens with Austin, more dread for once again. And then likely several more times, as I can’t imagine ever having fewer than two dogs in the house at this point. So hard to accept that keeping dogs in your life means accepting grieving as a routine. But it does. The same for human family. I have already attended more funerals than most people my age, and as the last of nine children, I have many more ahead of me if we pass chronologically. There is no choice but for grieving to become a routine, and I have accepted this for my human family. Why does it seem even harder to accept it for my dogs?
    Oh dear, this ended up being much longer (and more depressing) than I meant for it to be.

  24. Thanks so much for posting this. I think you nailed it. I have an almost 12 year old lab so I’ll be going through this soon. This will be a good guideline to remember.

  25. For most of my adult life I have had more than one dog at a time. When you lose one you have to keep going because whoever is left can’t look after itself. And you can’t do that if you curl up into a ball and cry for days.

    I had another step when I lost a young dog. All my dogs have owned my heart but this dog was my soul as well. He was diagnosed with a very aggressive cancer when he was just 3 years old and I had to have him put to sleep 6 weeks later. And I was damn angry. He was a cross breed, supposedly full of hybrid vigour and health. Mutts are supposed to live to a great old age. The anger, well, I don’t ever want to go back there.

    I do miss out a few of your steps because I’ve always had more than one dog, no vacation for a start :)

  26. My first two dogs are both rescues. Spike, my border collie, is 15 1/2 years old and the past six months have been really difficult. His mobility started to decline after a fall down the stairs, but he, fortunately, does not have any clinical condition other than old age and being fragile. He gets the best care including, once a week physical therapy and laser treatments, in-home acupuncture, in-home massage and plenty of healthy food and homeopathic supplements – and an abundance of love.

    Your steps to grieving are very helpful because I think my first experience is not too far in the future with Spike. I have to honestly say I am terrified for when his time comes. I have never been through this before and am so deeply connected to Spike that I’m afraid my heart won’t recover. I will have my 8 year old Aussie to take care of and she is a true delight. She is sensitive and loving and I know she will be devastated to lose her partner in crime. They instantly liked each other and she hates to be alone so I am worried for her. I had no idea when I got my dogs that there would be so much intense pain involved. I rescued Spike when he was 10 so I am always wishing I had more time with him. I am just trying to enjoy every second I have with him and keep him happy. Thank you again for the advice and for all of the follow-up comments as they make me feel less alone in this process.

  27. I’m dreading the day. But everyone does it different. After we lost Roxanne, I remember the emptiness and the strangeness of getting up and going to bed and not worrying about letting the dog out. I swore as we sat in the Vet’s office that I wouldn’t do it again because my heart couldn’t bear the pain. It took a year, but I got the urge again and Sampson totally changed my life.

    When the horrible day comes I will grieve my dog’s loss and I will focus all my attention, energy and love onto the one left behind and make our remaining time together very special.

    Some people will immediately go out and get another dog, others will not. It really depends on the individual. (BTW, I’ve been dreading reading this post because I knew I would cry and I did. ) LOL