Our dogs are a huge part of our lives: our companions, our best friends, a real part of the family. Losing a pet is a difficult, emotional and even traumatic time. Grief affects everyone differently, and there is no right or wrong way to mourn a much-loved pet.
It can be difficult to know how to support someone who’s grieving for their dog, be that a family member, friend or work colleague. Everyone processes grief differently, and appreciates different levels of support.
Here are some suggestions if you’re looking to help someone who is in this sad situation.
Table of contents
Time to listen
Take the time to let the bereaved person know that you’re there to chat if they would like to, or even just to sit with them in silence. Many people find it comforting to talk about their dog, to share stories and anecdotes about their life and memories made together. They may even want to discuss their final days, or any hard decisions that were made. Dogs are beloved companions, and bereaved owners may feel lonely and bereft without their company. And so providing a comforting presence can be invaluable.
There may have been difficult decisions made in the final days and weeks of the pet’s life. Many owners experience guilt and self-doubt, especially if a euthanasia or rehoming decision was made. Do not pass judgement, even if the decisions made were different to what you would have chosen. Often the exact circumstances are hard to explain. Try and see their perspective. Allow them to process their feelings on their decisions in a safe and non-judgemental environment.
It may take time
As the saying goes, ‘time heals all wounds’, but it can take a very variable amount of time. In the initial acute phase of grief, there may be plentiful support, but grief can last for weeks, months or even years and often the initial flurry of help fades. Try and remember to check in on the bereaved person, even if they seem recovered. Continue to share memories, keep their dog’s name alive, and let them know that you’re there if they need anything.
Celebrate their dog’s memory
If the owner is receptive to this, perhaps when the initial grief has calmed, it may be appropriate to help them find an appropriate keepsake. There are a multitude of beautiful ways you can remember a pet, from paw prints and portraits to decorated urns for ashes. Here are some ideas. Taking the time to assist someone find the perfect memorial for their dog is a supportive and practical way to help.
Some people may find that their grief requires more experienced support. There are organisations available to help those struggling with pet bereavement. The Blue Cross run a Pet Bereavement Support Service; which is a free service for anyone struggling with grief after losing a pet, via phone, webchat or email. The Animal Samaritans also offer a bereavement support service. These services are confidential, and can be offered respectfully and quietly if you see someone having a hard time with the loss of their dog.
What NOT to say
It can be really hard to find the right words to support someone going through the loss of a dog. Try to avoid platitudes such as ‘time heals’ or ‘it was for the best’, as logic is not very comforting at a time of grief. Avoid making comparisons to other forms of grief or personal loss, and don’t comment on the timescale. Grief can last for a variable length of time, and is not any less worthy of support if the bereavement was in the past. It is also not recommended to suggest getting another pet. Dogs are all unique, and part of the family, and cannot be replaced by another.
Supporting bereavement: final thoughts
Grief can be overwhelming, all-encompassing and acutely difficult to deal with. Having a support network in place is essential, and being able to comfort someone who is going through this experience is a wonderful thing to do. Try to be a supportive presence, a listening ear and a non-judgemental companion. Share memories, discuss keepsakes and offer professional support, but try to avoid platitudes or logic and never demean the depth or length of personal grief.