My dog died and my heart is broken — 10 years later I still miss his presence.
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The loss of a loved one can be an indescribable time in your life. All of those moments you shared together are both a comfort and a source of distress as you’re faced with what the future now holds.
If you’re a pet lover, you know these words are just as true for a beloved animal as they are for the people in our lives.
In some ways, as I learned with my dog Bandit, the loss of a pet can feel as if you’ve lost a part of yourself.
I’ve always been an animal lover, though my friends and family would tell you — and I admit to it — I’ve been more of a “cat person” than a “dog person.”
But of all the animals I’ve had the privilege to love, my dog Bandit will always hold a special place in my heart and memories.
I wasn’t looking for a dog when Bandit came into my life.
I was working at a veterinary hospital, and a co-worker brought him in. Her friends had gotten the family a puppy, not realizing Bandit (a rottweiler/chow mix) would grow up to be a pretty big boy.
I saw him in the kennel, his big puppy eyes staring up at me, his feet too big for his body, and I knew he would come home with me.
Bandit was a happy dog. He was laid back and casual. I never heard him bark, but for one time, he stood to protect me on a walk at the park when a group of dogs was running loose.
He was always content, even when the cat would lay in his bed, daring him to come and try to take it back. Despite his size, he never imposed himself.
Bandit was my shadow, and when I went through a severe bout of depression, he was my stalwart companion, exploring mountains, lakes, and caves with me while I was lost in thought.
He was the best friend I could have ever asked for.
As my life circumstances changed, I had to leave Bandit for some time while I moved. One night, I got a call that he wasn’t doing well. He was older then, his muzzle silvered and his walk slow, and I rushed back to pick him up.
That night, Bandit passed away as he slept next to me. I know without a doubt he was waiting for me to come get him.
Ten years later, I still miss him. I miss his happy expressions, his quiet contemplation.
I have lost both pets and people in life, and one is not greater than the other. Grief is grief.
Pet loss and grief
How close you feel to a person or a pet contributes to the level of grief you feel at their loss.
For many people, pets are elevated to the status of family members — sometimes, they’re the only family members you might have.
There’s no right or wrong way to feel grief. It’s an individual process, and only you can fully understand the depth of the bond you had with your pet.
For me, Bandit was more than a dog. He could look at me and know when I needed him. He could tell me, without having words, that he was there for me.
He treated me better than some people have treated me. It’s no surprise to me that my grieving process was similar to others I’ve experienced for family and friends.
Broken heart syndrome
Broken heart syndrome is a real medical condition.
It’s also known as stress-induced cardiomyopathy or Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, and it can affect anyone of any health status.
Broken heart syndrome occurs from an intense surge of stress hormones related to an emotional event — including the death of a pet.
This extreme stress response can mimic symptoms of a heart attack and may include:
- chest pain
- shortness of breath
- abnormal heartbeats
In some cases,
For me, losing Bandit was like losing my best friend plus a piece of myself. Something indescribable vanished with his passing.
While human friends and family can offer loyalty, love, and companionship, with Bandit, there were no conditions, no measures.
He didn’t get angry at me for miscommunications. He didn’t judge my choices. He didn’t place standards on me I had to achieve. He was just happy to be with me, my flaws and all.
It’s a level of acceptance many people have only found in the company of animals, and it’s part of why losing a dog can hurt more than losing a human.
How long does it take to grieve a pet?
There’s no “right” amount of time to grieve a pet.
You also may not experience clearly defined stages of grief like denial, anger, or bargaining.
Your process is unique to you. It can involve the attachment you felt to your pet, your current circumstances, and how you cope with loss overall.
But if you aren’t working progressively through grief, if it feels as if it’s not improving or getting worse, you may be experiencing complicated grief.
Complicated grief is a mental health state defined by persistent, unhelpful thoughts and grieving behaviors. It’s grief that doesn’t go away over time.
How to accept your dog’s death?
You’re allowed to experience grief for your dog. It’s a natural emotion, and research shows pet owners often mourn pets on the same level as human companions.
To help you accept the loss of your dog, you can try the same methods that can help with the loss of a person:
- expressing what you’re feeling through talking, journaling, art, or composing
- honoring your pet with a memorial, donation, or charitable endeavor
- taking care of yourself by eating right and getting plenty of sleep
- visiting with others who care for you
- joining support networks
- seeking grief counseling
- find outlets, like fitness classes or hobbies
When is the right time to get a new dog after your dog dies?
Knowing when you’re ready for a new dog can be challenging.
Hasty decisions can mean unhappy human-animal partnerships or even cause a type of regret known as the new puppy blues.
Ultimately, the thought of providing a loving home for a new dog should be a source of joy, even if you’re still missing the pet that’s passed.
If you can’t be around dogs without feeling overwhelming sadness, keep unfairly comparing new dogs to your old dog, or resent new dogs, you might not be ready.
A new dog deserves to be loved and appreciated for their individuality. They’re not a replacement and not a lesser version of your previous dog.
You’ll know you’re ready to adopt when the space in your heart for your old dog can share space with the love of a new dog.
If your previous dog was an immense source of emotional support in your life, you might wish to speak to someone about emotional support animals and if one might be right for you.
You don’t have to work through a broken heart alone.
The following options can help you during the loss of a pet:
- The International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association (ICCFA): Offers pet loss memorial services and helpful tips.
- Rainbow Bridge Pet Loss Grief Center: A hub of resources including chat options, forums, grieving tips, and frequently asked questions.
- Pet loss support hotline: Hosted by Cornell University, a leading national veterinary college, reachable at 607-218-7457.
- Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement: Provides education on euthanasia as well as memorial options and support networks.
One of life’s known tragedies is that most of us will outlive our animal companions.
Loving a dog is powerful, but being loved by a dog is something that touches the human heart in a way often absent in other parts of life.
If your dog has died and you’re brokenhearted — it’s OK. You’ve experienced a major loss, and it’s natural to grieve.
Allow yourself to experience the emotions. If you feel stuck, you can help yourself by finding ways to memorialize your pet, honor their memory, and express your emotions.
Bandit was a happy, loving dog, and I know he wouldn’t have wanted his passing to cause me any pain.
I honor him today by loving more dogs — and cats — and providing them with fulfilling, joy-filled lives of their own.