“Dogs, lives are short, too short, but you know that going in. You know the pain is coming, you're going to lose a dog, and there's going to be great anguish, so you live fully in the moment with her, never fail to share her joy or delight in her innocence, because you can't support the illusion that a dog can be your lifelong companion. There's such beauty in the hard honesty of that, in accepting and giving love while always aware that it comes with an unbearable price. Maybe loving dogs is a way we do penance for all the other illusions we allow ourselves and the mistakes we make because of those illusions.”
- Dean Koontz, The Darkest Evening of the Year
Losing your best friend is one of the most difficult times you can experience as a dog owner. We speak to a lot of people who are still working through the grief of losing their best friend, and they have real problems coming to terms with the sense of emptiness a death leaves behind.
People we speak to often feel a huge sense of guilt that they are affected more strongly by the death of their pet, than they were for members of their own family.
When you have a friend who leaves you - your best friend is gone. You have lost a companion who never asked to borrow money, never reversed your car into a wall, never pestered you for a brand new computer, never gave you six months of the silent treatment because of an inconsequential argument, but was always there whenever you need them to be. The void that is left behind is indescribable.
Having spoken to hundreds of bereaved dog owners, the whole theme of this site is reflected on them too; everyone is unique, and everyone is different. The way each person handles a canine bereavement is different. There is no ‘right’ way or ‘wrong’ way. The way that person feels is how that person feels.
It isn’t wrong to cry, even if you’re a burly 6’6” scrum-half for a Rugby team, and it isn’t wrong to feel numb. How you feel is how you feel. It’s common to feel angry that you’ve had a sweet soul taken away from you. It can seem unfair and cruel that their lives are so short in comparison to our own.
In some families, one member will be devastated, whilst others may not seem affected at all. This can cause an awful amount of tension - but everyone copes with situations in a different way. There’s no point asking someone to ‘snap out of it’ if they are depressed, and there’s no point being cross that someone seems to be taking it far too well.
Some people cannot cope without a dog in their lives, and rush out to find another companion to try and help fill that enormous hole that has been left. Others feel so guilty at the thought, believing that bringing another dog in is disloyal to the friend they have just lost. For some, it can take many years before they feel ready to take on another friend.
For some, they will lose a friend young, and for others, their dog will have reached a grand old age. Neither of these situations are easier. Some dogs health will decline and you will dread having to make the decision to help them over the rainbow bridge, and yet others will leave us suddenly with no warning.
Some people, if they know their dog is nearing the end, will get another dog before their old dog leaves - that way they feel as though they are not replacing the soon-to-be departed.
It’s natural to think ‘what if’ and feel guilty. We will always wonder if there was something - anything - we could have done differently. We will always wake up hoping and praying that perhaps today our little friend has had a miraculous recovery overnight. If they have already left us, we will wake up, hoping that their little face will appear around the door, and the loss was just one huge nightmare.
Your heart will break into a million pieces at the loss of your friend, and you will never get over them. There will always be a piece of them in your heart.
And while the heartbreak is the most intense and unbearable aspect of keeping a dog in your life, you can only have your heart broken if you’re in love. And what is a life without love?
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