Monday, April 10, 2017

Pet Loss: Grief in the Wake of a Dog’s Wrongful Death

[Reviewed and updated May 5, 2024]

When confronted with a legal problem regarding negligent or intentional harm to a companion animal, there is no substitute for face-to-face, fact-specific advice obtained from one’s own attorney. Accordingly, Institute for Animal Rights Law urges anyone with a potential or actual problem of this kind to consult a lawyer. ~ Professor Henry Mark Holzer

A reader writes: Hello. I'm writing to you because my daughter's dog Sadie was savagely attacked and torn up by 2 big dogs this past Sunday night. This local news report gives the details of this terrible tragedy:

Dog dead, family reeling after vicious attack

My daughter can't stop crying. I think both she and her boyfriend are in shock. Would you be able to say a few words to them? I just found your site and I'm sending her a poem from your Comfort for Grieving Animal Lovers page. 

They really need someone to talk to, if you could help in any way. Thank you so much. 

My response: Dear Debbie, your mom has alerted me to your tragic story, and my heart aches for you and Travis as I read of the savage attack that resulted in the horrific death of your beloved Sadie. I am so sorry that the life of your precious companion was taken so brutally.

In addition to the pain of grief and loss, given the awful circumstances of Sadie’s death, you may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I am especially concerned about Travis, since he was so involved (and injured) in this awful nightmare. As a grief counselor, I can tell you that, before either of you can begin to do any effective grief work, it is very important that these issues be addressed first.

You might consider calling your local hospital or hospice, or asking your primary care physician for a referral to someone who specializes in PTSD, where treatment includes simple tools (relaxation, breath work, meditation and guided imagery) to help each of you master and calm the troublesome symptoms you may be experiencing now, such as vivid memories and flashbacks. 

At the very least, I strongly encourage you to do some reading about PTSD so you will be better informed about it. There are some wonderful and informative resources on the Internet (many of which are listed here: Coping with Traumatic Loss: Suggested Resources) – but I also want to recommend an outstanding book entitled Invisible Heroes : Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal, by Belleruth Naparstek, a psychotherapist and noted expert in PTSD. If you click on the title, you’ll go to Amazon’s description and reviews of the book, and you probably can find a copy of the book at your local library. I cannot recommend this book highly enough, because it explains PTSD so thoroughly, and it also contains some very simple, practical tools that you can begin using right now. Among other things, the author points out that,
All of these people . . . were helped, in differing ways, by strategic doses of applied imagination. In each instance, what got them through was imagery, sometimes guided by a therapist, sometimes by an audio program, and at other times spontaneously generated from within . . . These imagery-based solutions use the right hemisphere of the brain – perception, sensation, emotion, and movement – rather than the left side’s standard cognitive functions of thinking, analyzing, verbalizing, and synthesizing. And that’s why they work. Trauma produces changes in the brain that impede a person’s ability to think and talk about the event[s] but that actually accentuate their capacity for imaging and emotional-sensory experiencing around it. Imagery uses what’s most accessible in the traumatized brain to help with the healing . . . But too few survivors know this and, sadly, too few professionals as well. So people are not only baffled and alarmed by their symptoms; they are more often than not seeking – and getting – the wrong kind of help from people accustomed to using discussion, thinking, and language – help that often misfires. It’s not that talk therapy is bad. The emotional support of a sympathetic listener is as critically important as it ever was. It’s just that it’s not enough by itself . . . (pp. 12-13)
You can learn more about this author and her work at her Health Journeys website, but I think you may find these articles of hers particularly helpful right now:

Healing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - PTSD help - Health Journeys

Combat Insomnia - How to Overcome Sleeplessness - Help for Insomnia - Health Journeys

See also Elena Flores-Breese's website, Still Blooming Me, "where other survivors struggling with PTSD can find support, inspiration and hope."

I don't know if you've considered seeking legal advice about this, and of course I am not an attorney so I'm in no position to offer legal advice ~ but I did find via the Internet a website that might be helpful to you: Animal Legal Defense Fund . Although you live in Canada, this article may give you some helpful advice: What to do when your companion animal has been injured or killed.

As for healing from this tragic incident, I can only tell you that what you are feeling right now is a normal reaction to the loss of a treasured member of your family, along with the stress associated with such a traumatic death and the anger you must be feeling toward the owner of the dogs who attacked your Sadie. Somehow you must find a way to feel and express those reactions in a healthy way.

I hope that you will spend some time reading some of the Pet Loss Articles I've posted here on my blog, because the more you understand about the normal grief process, the less "crazy" you will feel, the more you will know what to expect and the better able you will be to handle your own reactions to Sadie's death. You're also most welcome to participate in our online Grief Healing Discussion Groups, which includes a forum for Loss of a Pet, giving you the opportunity to share your story and connect with others whose experiences may be similar to your own.

I hope this information helps, Debbie. There is a world of help “out there” just waiting for you to find it. Know that you are not alone, and I don't think you should be trying to manage all of this by yourself. You and Travis deserve the support, comfort and understanding that professional counseling can provide, and I hope you will think of it as a gift you can give to yourself.

Please accept my heartfelt sympathy for your tragic loss, and know that I am thinking of you. 

Your feedback is welcome! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question, or share a tip, a related article or a resource of your own in the Comments section below.
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© by Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, BC-TMH

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