Monday, June 25, 2018

Pet Loss: Supporting Your Grieving Pet

Honey and Buddy
[Reviewed and updated April 27, 2024]

No matter where you go, you will always be in my heart.  ~ Anthony T. Hicks

A reader writes: I miss my dog so much and it's so hard. I feel like I'm never going to get over her. This is the letter I wrote to her: 
My Honey, I love you more than words could ever describe. You were a one of a kind dog and so awesome. You were always there when I needed you and you cuddled with me all the time. I always wanted a cuddly affectionate dog and you took the cake on that one. Sometimes it was a little too much! Waking up with your face in mine but I would give anything to cuddle with you one more time.. I wish I would have chased you with your ball more, you would just never give me that damn ball. You even put it in your water or food dish while you ate and drank so nobody could get it. I know your best friend Buddy is having a hard time and if he could talk he would tell you that he misses you so much. I'm doing my best to help him through this and hopefully he will be better soon. I wish I could have been there to hold you after that vehicle hit you. I'm sorry I couldn't be there for you. I'm mad at you too tho for taking off again. It was the worst day for it with the rain and it was dark, that car didn't see you my baby girl and I'm so sorry that you had to die that way:( I wish I could turn back time but I have to wait to see you once I go to the other side too. I have your brothers and your new sister here to look after still and I need to accept that your gone. I made you a memorial with a bunch of your best pictures up on the wall so I can see you everyday and we are going to throw your ashes in the lake next summer with your tennis ball so you can always be doing what you love. Your my angel watching over me now and I hope you come and visit me in my dreams or in spirit. Please don't be afraid to come see me my girl because I will always welcome you with open arms. Even tho your a spirit now, I hope your running a muck up in heaven and doing what you love to do. You were the best dog anyone could ask for and I'm going to miss you forever baby girl. I love you and I'll see you again one day! Xoxoxoxoxo
Honey and Buddy were so close. He was there when she got hit and I knew something was wrong when he came home alone because they always stay together. I miss her terribly and I'm having a hard time. Buddy is taking it really hard. He is not himself and I'm worried about him. We are all trying to heal. He was there when she got hit and I knew something was wrong when he came home alone because they always stay together. I miss her terribly and I'm having a hard time:( I'm having her cremated as well and going to include my letter and her ball. My husband also wrote a song for her. She touched a lot of hearts so many tears have been shed. I just hope I can eventually accept her death and not feel so sad, I have a 4-year old and a 3-month old baby as well who need me to be me again so this is really tough:(

I keep replaying the whole scenario in my head, her and Buddy running together then her getting hit and lying on the road:( I don't understand why I keep replaying this, it's like I keep wishing it never happened and we were back at 2 weeks ago when I could snuggle her and love her again:( I guess that may be the bargaining stage in the grieving process. I keep telling myself that I can't change anything but I can't help but feel so sad! I know it will get easier in time tho.

My response: I'm so sorry to learn that your dear Buddy is grieving right along with you, but I'm not at all surprised. Common sense tells us that, just as we form attachments to our companion animals, they form attachments to each other as well. Judging by the picture you've shared, it's clear that these two were quite close to each other. When death separated them, it's understandable that the one left behind can become distressed. I can assure you that I've read, heard about and experienced myself many examples of animals reacting strongly to the death of their companions (human and animal) with symptoms of separation anxiety. It's also possible that Buddy is sensing distress in you and in other family members (as well as that of others who've come to visit), and is reacting to any changes in routine that accompanied this loss. When you think about it, how animals behave (with anxiety, restlessness, depression, crying and searching) is very similar to how we humans behave when we're grieving.

It may interest you to know that many people, including specialists in animal behavior, have observed what they believe to be evidence of mourning behavior in animals ~ and not only in companion dogs and cats, but also in horses, elephants, chimpanzees, swans and even beavers. Here is just a sampling:

Grief Is A Process, No Matter The Species

How Animals Grieve, book by Barbara J. King

You say you keep playing the whole scenario of Honey's death in your head, perhaps wishing you could change the tragic ending of the story. I think it's also your mind's way of telling you what your heart doesn't want to accept, as each time it happens it becomes more real for you. Besides, this was a traumatic accident, and flashing back to the scene is normal too, even though it's so painful to endure. If this persists, you might try listening to some guided imagery as a way to re-program and change those awful images in your mind. See, for example, Guided Imagery for Post-Traumatic Stress and A Meditation to Ease Grief. (I often recommend Belleruth Naparstek's wonderful CD's as an effective, safe, and relatively inexpensive at-home tool for healing.)

But what, if anything, can you do to help Buddy adjust to the loss of his companion? Here are some suggestions that might help you to help him ~ and you're probably already using some of them:

- Keep his daily routine as unchanged as you can, so it remains as predictable, familiar and consistent as possible.

- Provide comfort by leaving the radio or television on when leaving the house.

- Stick to his normal feeding routine. Even though you may be tempted to offer special treats at such a sad time, you don't want to reward his refusal to eat regular meals.

- If he seems to want it, give him extra attention, petting and affection, but try to do so when he is behaving in desirable ways (with toys, games and exercise). Again, you don't want to reinforce negative behavior, and you don't want to force yourself upon him. (Some animals who've always been friendly may behave in a hostile or aggressive way ~ another symptom of grief.)

- It may help to let him see and smell Honey's "things" (collar, grooming brush, bedding, etc.). Some people recommend actually sitting down and "explaining" to the animal what happened to their companion. Your dog won't understand every word, but your gentle touch and the soothing tone of your voice will provide some comfort.

- Give him time to adjust to this very big change in his life. Like you, he is missing Honey, and more than anything he needs you to be patient with him.

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