Monday, May 13, 2019

Pet Loss: Death of A Service Dog

[Reviewed and updated January 12, 2023]

A service dog can mean a whole new way of life for the handicapped. The activities that able-bodied people take for granted now can be routine for the disabled also, with the help of a four-footed therapist.  ~ Janet Ruckert, EdD

A reader writes: I have been looking at your websites and the materials that you offer for pet loss. I'm wondering if any of it would be of help to me. I lost my dear sweet black Lab Service Dog to malignant melanoma just a few weeks ago. She was not a pet ~ she was my assistant and helper and light of my life for nine and a half years. She was my constant companion and went with me everywhere. She helped me every day both physically and emotionally. I use a wheelchair and a specially converted rampvan for mobility. If I fell my dog would go find help for me. Her loss has left an unbelievably huge hole in my heart. I let her go because I could not and would not let her continue to hurt like I know that she was. I need her so much and just can't seem to let myself get on with the things I need to do in my life without her.

My response: I'm so very sorry to learn of the death of your beloved Service Dog, and I can certainly understand your deep level of attachment to her. I'm not wheelchair-bound myself, but I have endured many physical problems of my own over the years, and I know what it means to have a faithful canine companion by your side every moment of the day and night as you struggle to cope with chronic illness and disability. The loss you are experiencing now must be devastating, because your dog was not only your faithful companion, but an integral and necessary part of your daily existence.  Losing a Service Dog is literally a life-changing experience, and I'm sure it feels as if a vital part of you has been amputated.  As you say, your dog helped you not only physically but emotionally (and, I suspect, socially and spiritually as well).  I cannot imagine how you could feel any other way than how you are feeling now.  This is a very serious loss, and the grief you are experiencing now is a normal reaction to that loss.

I understand your concerns about "getting on with the things I need to do in my life without her," but please know that grief is a process, not an event.  It takes place over time, and there is no hurrying through.  You are just beginning what will be for you a very individual journey, and there is no specific time frame for grief.  Your reactions to this loss must be acknowledged, experienced, and worked through before you can "get on" with and adjust to your life without your canine companion's physical presence in it.  You have much to learn, and there is grief work to be done.

You asked if my pet loss materials would be helpful to you, and I can only tell you this.  I believe very strongly that grief can make us feel very crazy, isolated, and alone ~ unless we understand what is normal (and therefore predictable) in grief, so we can anticipate some of our reactions and discover what we can do to manage those reactions.  I encourage you to learn all you can about what is normal in the loss of a cherished animal companion, whether that is by reading books and articles, attending a pet loss support group, becoming a member of an online discussion forum (such as the one I moderate, Loss of a Pet Forum), or contacting a pet loss support helpline or chat (see Helplines, Message Boards, Chats for current listings). I also believe that grief work is hard work, and you shouldn't be trying to do it all alone ~ nor do you have to. There is plenty of support "out there" for pet loss, and it is as close as your computer keyboard. The pages on my Grief Healing website are a good place to start, because they will point you to all the resources available to you.

I hope this information helps, my dear.  Please know that I am thinking of you, and holding you and your beloved companion in my heart. 

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